Tension the enemy of all horse riders.
Some riders who have experienced a bad fall develop a problem with tension and its consequences. Riding a horse is all about maintaining control of the horse and staying up on the horse’s back. Style is fine but it is the alert, relaxed, confidence of the rider that counts. What permits we humans to ride a horse is that part of the brain which controls the muscles and provokes the instinctive responses that counter the forces of motion and gravity which are constantly trying to unseat us.
However there is one emotion in all of us which can bring us to the ground namely: tension. Unfortunately the horse can readily sense any stiffening up or rigidity in the rider and the result is that the sensitive horse itself may become nervous. A tense rider, whose muscles and ligaments have tightened, cannot so readily absorb and redirect the significant forces of motion and gravity generated by a skittish horse. Indeed such forces will be projected and even magnified by any tension in the rider. A rider who is tense is at risk of falling.
My DiDi is a skittish, fizzy mare who, when out on a hack, is constantly thinking of shying at anything from a plastic bag to a bird flying up from a hedge. Following a serious fall a couple of years ago, the problem for me ever since has been to relax. I know a shy will be coming at some stage on the outing; although I also know that it will not be anything that I can’t handle. Nevertheless I start to stiffen up in anticipation. Instinctively the horse senses the change in my posture. My posture loses flexibility, I tilt just a little forwards as body weight is transferred to the stirrup bars; my hands harden; I begin to grip with my thighs. My voice takes a different tone. I am nowadays well aware that suppressed anger is as much a trigger for tension as anger itself.
As a result of my tension the mare lifts her head and her ears prick up. She too is starting to become tense and fearful of what her master might be fearful of.
The circle has joined - we should think of going home.
So how do I resist getting just a little anxious then jittery, then angry and then tense?
How do I break the circuit?
How do I tell my sub conscious brain not to worry?
When learning to fly I was told to wiggle my toes to avoid gripping the yoke and much to my surprise the suggestion worked. Are there any such quick solutions for dissolving tension when riding a horse? Any suggestions?