Masterson keeps the horse relaxed by not pushing or using a lot of pressure in his techniques in order to prevent bracing and encourage relaxation. This synchs with what I’ve been thinking for the last four years which a horse who is NOT RELAXED CANNOT PROCESS LEARNING.
With horses if they cannot run away from what is irritating them – for example a touch on their poll, their second survival skill will kick in – which is to push or brace against the irritation. To counteract that you lighten your touch, and then ask again.
If you push harder, the horse will only continue to brace and you won’t receive results. You can liken a horse bracing to two people pushing each others hands. If one person stops pushing the other individual immediately stops pushing (or they fall off balance). The converse is true – push and the other must push to maintain balance.
Let’s get started… What you are looking for are signs that are related to your touch. For example, when you place your fingers at a certain location the horse blinks, nose trembles, his head bobs, etc…
Often the horse may resist letting go and this behavior could be (depends on the horse) fidgeting, moving away, bracing (lighten your touch and then ask again), tossing the head away etc…
You stay at that location, looking for a release, which could manifest itself as a softened eye, a yawn, licking and chewing, a head shake etc…
Another release would be stretching or scratching the legs:
Here Z has stretched down, eyes closed, licking as if she is feeling how differently she feels:
The Bladder Meridian is an extremely easy technique that anyone could learn to use. I could see doing this before you ride to connect up with your horse or after you ride to relax the horse. When starting a session, you start with this first because it can give you an overall feel for whatever is going on with your horse but more importantly it starts to build the search and response interaction you need to make this method work.
You work your hand down, very lightly (Air Gap pressure) the entire length of the horse (please read his materials for the how-to) while looking for responses from the horse in terms of blinks, twitches, head bobs etc… When a response is given you stay lightly on the spot until the horse releases (this is very general, please read his materials for a full explanation).
Some observations of mine: the first session took us a LONG time to do this right because we were learning and both of us did it twice for a total of 4 times. We wanted to give Z enough time to respond and she was extremely slow to release, especially in the neck where I found like four areas that she resisted and had tension.
The second day she started releasing quicker and relaxed far more. This may be due to the weather. Saturday was cold and blustery; Sunday was warm and sunny (half the horses were laying out in the pasture on their side as maximum solar collectors). However, I do think in part it was because she knew what to expect and was relaxed from the work done on Saturday.
Lateral Flexion – Using a hand lightly on the nose you wiggle the nose towards the shoulder, while moving your other hand gently down the cervical bones of the neck. The joints are released and moved with this gentle pressure.
My thoughts: This specific technique is the one I really want to get down at the clinic – I think the feel of doing it is a bit tricky especially when you have a horse like Z who has a thick fleshy neck and who is resistant to be moved in this flexion. At 3:10 on the video he does some of the scapula release. My tendency is to use far more pressure then what is needed – I have to remind myself to LIGHTEN UP!
I knew this would be tough for Z as she has a lot of pain in the sideways flexion and when we had done some Peggy Cummings Groundwork she was extremely resistant to being touched in these areas. I found her still resistant but with some ideas that Masterson had put forth in his book and dvd on how to handle it without causing more bracing, she settled down quicker then I expected.
You might remember that when asked to do lateral flexion especially to the right, Z would flatten her head vertically instead of moving laterally. To counteract that, the hand holding the halter’s noseband brings the nose gently upward and then you ask again. This did seem to help in getting her to give me some lateral flexion.
On the second day she was a bit easier with having this done. I’d like to add in some of the Connected Groundork like the cheek press and throatlatch stroke. I’ll work out a full list of what I’ll work on and how I’ll combine different methods in a later blog post.
Head Up – The horse rests it’s head on the crook of your elbow, later your shoulder, and releases tension while you massage the poll. Start with the nose on the inside V of your elbow while you massage the poll or any ouchy area behind the ears or the side of the neck:
On the first day it was difficult to get Z to agree to this as she did a lot of head tossing. You need to be careful of your nose so the horses’ head doesn’t bash into it when tossing it. My hand holds the top part of the halter and if she tosses, my hand goes with her before I ask her gently to come back to me.
Once the horse has become fully relaxed and dropped his weight into your arms, start to transfer the nose to your shoulder by bending your knees and slightly lifting up to see what is comfortable. Continue to massage areas with the amount of pressure comfortable to the horse.
This last photo shows her weight fully released onto my shoulder. Note the mouth, eyes and ears.
On the second what was interesting is she initiated this release on her own! I was just finishing up with head down and was going to move into lateral flexion when she put her nose into the V of my elbow so I just went with it and we did this instead. Obviously, this will be her favorite!
Head Down – massaging the poll while the head is lowered. Be very careful to keep your head off to the side as a horse raising it’s head could smash your face!
Again, on the second day, Z initiated this on her own… she put her head down not to eat and since she was presenting it, I went ahead and massaged her behind her ears. Be sure you loosen your halter so you can easily reach under with your fingers without pulling the halter tight around the nose.
We did more on the second day such as the scapula releases using the legs, wither rock, and upper hindquarters. I’ll post about it in another blog entry probably tomorrow.