How Do You Define Threshold? How Do You Know If You’re Over Or Under Yours?

Thresholds. It’s a word that we hear a lot applied to both horses and humans.

How do you define threshold?

And what markers are you looking for to determine if you (or your horse) are under threshold? Or over it?

This video snippet is from Stable Hours, the live Q&A session we hold every week in my membership program, JoyRide. The conversation around threshold is, in my experience an interesting one, because we often use highly subjective interpretations of threshold based on feelings of comfort (or discomfort).

In my program, we discuss how to recognize the fight flight or survival nervous system response of the body based on structural indicators rather than subjective interpretations of what we *think* is happening in our body. As we move into a sympathetic response, the structure and biomechanics of our body starts to shift. When we can recognize these shifts, we can start to decouple our thoughts about stress, capacity and being in overload from the reality of where our nervous system is sitting. A liberating and eye-opening experience.

In this video, we discuss thresholds and how having a fixed plan broken into baby steps can hinder rather than help progress.

Onwards.

❤️ Jane

 

If you want to learn more about my online program, you can do so here.

If you find this video helpful, please feel free to share!

 

 

 

{Letters To My Body} Dear Head

Dear Head,

For the longest time we had a complicated relationship. I won’t be so arrogant to assume that I completely have you sorted. To profess sounds like it would create the perfect opportunity for you to help me fall on my face. But I do have a different point of view of you now. A point of view that gives me a certain distance from the things you might tell me, but even more than that, the things that you might have me believe.

When I refer to you head, I’m not refer to the mothership that lives inside you. The brain is a part of you, but it seems to me that if we refer to you, Head, we are referring to a type of intangible conversation. One that accompanies us all day and for some of us, all night, that is not able to be identified by someone shining a light into our skull and pinpointing a geographical location.

Head, those conversations… it’s like they are everywhere and nowhere all at once. And they are completely unique to us. It’s like we all have our very own radio frequency beaming out (or perhaps moreso beaming in) that only we can hear. And the more ironic thing, Head, is that those words that we hear often aren’t the same words that we express. It’s like sometimes we know you aren’t right or true, but you contain us in our own private world that we often try to hide for fear of seeming crazy or kooky or not ok.

I even gave the negative version of you a name.. the Itty Bitty Shitty Committee. Using humour helps me make you seem not so heavy. It helps me step back and go, you aren’t me and I see you all at once.

It’s the weirdest thing.

Anyway. Growing up, I had many conversations with you. Some were good. But many weren’t that good. You talked to me of many things that weren’t so much about me alone but me and other people.

Your body doesn’t look like that, you would say, pointing me to someone over there. We stood together in the musty highschool change room getting ready for swimming and head you told me how to hold my towel so I could hide for the longest time, before getting swallowed by the water.

You said I was too skinny, too flat chested, my hair was too big for my head. You convinced me of that so when other people mentioned it, it was easy to believe them.

I know, I would think. You are just tracing the words I had already written. I know.

When you and I saw people around us suffering we made ourselves blend in. Don’t make life harder, we said to each other. Don’t make any ripples. Be the straight line on the page. Don’t be the cause of someone else’s upset. Be a good girl. Don’t get into trouble.

So, I held my breath and tried to be the straight line.

Head, when I look back, my eyebrows tangle. How exhausting, I think, to always be a straight line, when everyone knows the pencil always slips. How tiring that must be. Was.

And then I think of Minnie. Minnie was my pony. A red mare. Do you know what people say about red mares, Head? They say the strangest things. My red mare was proud and gentle and fierce. So, when you and me, Head, had a rough day, moment, week, she would say, come up. Let me carry you. And I did.

I let her carry us, Head, and she never minded. She never minded my confusion or my upset. I didn’t try to give it to her. I don’t think I even knew I was carrying it. But she took it anyway. She carried it, even when I didn’t know she was.

She always brought me back. My Red Mare.

I went to an astrologer once. I wanted her to tell me what was going to happen. I wanted her to map it out so I could relax and say, see? It’s not up to me. It’s already happening. It’s written in a map, in the stars.

Are there horses? I asked. Horses in my future? Do I work with horses?

No, she replied. No horses.

I paid her money, Head, smiled, and thanked her. But inside me and you didn’t like her.

20 years later, Head, is it too late to ask for a refund? If I’m the norm, I hope she’s in a different line of work.

Head, for the longest time, my work revolved around you. I blamed you for a lot. I gave you a lot of power.

I though, Head, you know what? I think getting you under control is the key. I will flip my thoughts. I will write the affirmations. I will focus on what it is I want. I will do all the things.

Sometimes it worked, Head, but you and I both know that you were always planning your own Shawshank Redemption. You might have been locked in a room, but I didn’t know you had a small spoon that you were using to dig your way out. I convinced myself that I had the answer, thrown away the lock and key, forgetting that you were the one who built the room in the first place.

The thing is, Head, I didn’t extend you enough compassion. I thought you were the engine when you are the caboose. Really, you’re just getting pulled along behind. A satellite station in a bigger galaxy. I thought you were the galaxy.

Now I work differently, live differently. I may not understand you all the time, but I get where you are coming from. I get that you are loudspeaker but something else hits play. I get that now.

Head, I’ve been studying a lot. You know that. You’ve been with me the whole time. And I know it sounds cliché, but …. You’ve changed.

I don’t hear from you as much as I used to. And I get the feeling you like it. You’ve unbuttoned your jeans, sat back on the couch and been like, thank God for that.

Perhaps you knew all along that you weren’t in control of things, didn’t want to be in control of things. But I made you in control. I didn’t know another way, Head, so I’m sorry about that. It wasn’t my intention. But I get it now.

So, here’s what I know now, Head (I’m preaching to the converted, right?). I now know that inside the edges of my skin lives a super-highway. It’s called my nervous system. It’s collecting information, feeding information back to the mothership, back to my brain. Our brain.

The superhighway is designed to be in free flow. It should be like New York from the window of a plane. So many lights. So much movement. I didn’t know it was that big, I would say, nose pressed up against the window. It goes forever!

Our nervous system from the window of a plane.

But then, you see, what should be New York can become a country town with a single street light. We fly over and think, where’s the airport? We don’t know where to land. It’s so dark. It is safe to come down? We watch the CCTV.

The radio controller (that’s you Head) in New York has so many options, so many things to pay attention to. The lights are moving, changing, responding. No two moments the same. You don’t get stuck here, Head, because you’re taking it all in. You’re alive. It’s so big, you marvel.

But for some of us, Head, in some moments, we become the single street light. And we get stuck. We keep looking and think, it seems the same? Do you notice anything changing?

We keep staring at the screen, not noticing that the battery has died and now the screen is stuck.

Things do change, Head, in New York or in the Single Street Light Town but when you are talking to me in the way that you sometimes do- when it gets dark or black or blah blah blah- you are not noticing the change. You are a Single Street Light Town on a screen where the battery has run out.

I understand now. I understand the way you talk to me depends on whether my nervous system is a map of New York or Single Street Light Town. And that all the years I was trying to get you to change, I didn’t adjust the map or change the batteries. You were just telling me what you saw, but the view was staying the same.

I’ve changed the map now, Head, and I don’t know about you, but it feels like we are friends. What do you think, Head?

Shall we take another spin across the skies?

Thanks for everything,

❤️ Jane

 

Afterword: Notes on Controlling Your Head. Or attempting to.

It’s a usual state of affairs that people approach the challenges of confidence, negative self-talk, negative beliefs and everything in between from the level of the mind. If you type in a google search or open any text concerned with wellbeing and the mind, you will find endless sources of encouragement that talk about controlling your focus, controlling your thoughts, thinking positive, how to eliminate negative self-talk.

The list is endless. I know most of all of what is there because I’ve not only lived it, I’ve taught it. The thing with trying to control your mind or your thoughts is that you are always behind the eight ball.

You can only change a negative thought to a positive one after the negative thought has occurred.

Changing your focus also exists in a binary. To focus on what you want, you must first recognize what you don’t want.

It’s easy to get into a situation where we feel like we’re chasing our tails, or we feel shamed or ashamed for our inability to create the type of mindscape we are told is possible.

We tighten, we control, and we exhaust ourselves.

My work now centres on the nervous system and the brain; our thoughts are simply biproducts of where our nervous system is sitting. Within the sympathetic or survival nervous system, there are seven motor reflex responses, seven different ways our body’s change in response to threat. And in line with those changes lives a template of behaviors and thought patterns; a shared human experience. Evidence of our shared humanity.

Understanding your nervous system sheds light on why you experience the things that you do at the level of your mind. It allows you to understand why your Head is the way that it is. Why it thinks the thoughts that it does. And why it’s ultimately doing its best to protect you.

Trying to change your Head without addressing or understanding your nervous system will have limited success. You are trying to change what you see on the screen without noticing the screen may be stuck, or the program you are watching is running on repeat. It’s a nevery ending loop.

Moving yourself to a place where your nervous system is adaptable means things are always changing. You are always changing, responding, adapting. You are no longer a Single Street Light Town. In the best possible way, you are New York. Your brain sees the options, the opportunities and whispers what is sees to your Head.

Change your nervous system and your thoughts change also. But not through force or control. As a natural biproduct of a system that’s engaged, mobile and present.

Meeting Reality Without Embarrassment

I was listening to my lovely and rather fabulous friend Kate Sandel the other day in a conversation that she was having about separation anxiety. She mentioned something that really struck me, which was the willingness to confront the reality of the situation without embarrassment or shame; so in this instance, being able to recognize what truly was going on with your horse without judging either you or them harshly.

I really appreciated the pairing of these two things together- reality without embarrassment- because in my experience, this is exactly what gets in the way of us being able to acknowledge the truth of where either ourselves or our horses are at; physically, mentally and emotionally. Many of us only want to look squarely at reality when it is pleasing to us. When it fits the rules of how we want things to be, or when the outer circumstances create a feeling state or sensation in the body that we have attached a positive label to. Happiness, joy, love, contentment, etc etc.

When this isn’t the case- when the reality of our situation challenges us in some way- we choose to look away, slightly to the side, or pretend it’s not there at all. The irony of this being that in our choosing to not “see” what is truly there, it can never transform. Our lack of a willingness to see is what keeps us stuck.

In the parasympathetic system, our nervous system responds to the reality of the moment by creating a whole new pattern, a whole new response to life that our body has never lived before. After all, the present moment is a moment we have never lived and thus, if we are truly responding to reality, our response is one we have also never seen.

In the sympathetic system, we are reflexive. That response might be appropriate if our circumstances call for it. But if we are operating on a loop that has little to do with what is happening now and everything to do with what is happening in the past, then we are no longer seeing nor experiencing reality. The experience of shame and embarrassment of what is takes us on that loop.

The reality is now. It may not be the same in five seconds, five minutes, five days or five months. But any and all transformation begins with accepting reality as the present moment expression of truth for what is currently being experienced.

And that’s never something to be ashamed or embarrassed about.

Onwards.

❤️ Jane

 

Unconscious, Subconscious, Conscious; Exploring How Your Mind Lives In Your Body

The other day in my JoyRide group, we started talking about the difference between conscious, subconscious and unconscious, and I thought it would be an interesting discussion to have here also. It’s an interesting one because it’s helps to clarify how your experiences live in your body- and how past experience can cycle through to the present. Please note these are the definitions that I use in relation to my work and I appreciate there will be others out there who operate with different ideas in mind.

Unconscious refers to the autonomic nervous system, that is under our unconscious control. It’s the process of my brain deciding, should we send out a parasympathetic or sympathetic (survival nervous system) response in this moment? Depending on which system it chooses, the entire structure of our body, from the invisible layer of hormones to the outer tube structure, changes.

Subconscious refers to thoughts and patterns that were once conscious but are no longer. This may be due to trauma, an inability to cope or surrounding circumstances. The original choice of the body was unable to be expressed in its truth and so it’s now stored as part of a sympathetic reflex pattern. We use subconscious here because although it is now unconscious, it was once conscious.

Conscious is a little more self-explanatory in that it refers to all of that we have conscious awareness of.

So, here’s where things get more fun. In my work, I’m interested in motor patterns. The motor patterns of the body- how the body expresses in movement- and understanding more about it is what allows us to shift out of stuck patterns of behavior, to move beyond limiting patterns in the body that relate to posture, health and wellbeing, and to create the circumstances to be truly present.

Let’s say that we notice that we are cycling through the same pattern, day in, day out when we step into the arena. This could manifest emotionally- anxiety, frustration, constant thoughts of not being good enough; or it could manifest physically; you can’t stop yourself leaning forward, you grab with your hands, or your left leg doesn’t ever seem to do what you want it to.

All of these- anxiety, frustration, constant thoughts of not being good enough- have physically expressions. They all have their own motor pattern that get activated and live along with the thought. The two are so closely linked that it can be difficult to decide what came first, and it’s possible to be one or the other; you are stuck on a story that liberates the physical pattern, or a physical pattern is expressing that is tied to those thoughts. In the case of the physical example, the same is true.

In order to change any pattern in the body, we must first be aware of what that pattern is; the subconscious needs to once more become conscious. As we work through the movement work, the first thing to occur is an awareness of the current, existing pattern. We observe this pattern without consciously trying to change it.

As the brain consciously observes the pattern, it begins to change things at an unconscious level. The unconscious brain receives more information which allows it to decide if the dominant pattern it has chosen is still relevant.

From here, in order for the pattern to leave, the unconscious brain reveals all that is subconscious to the conscious brain and once that has expressed, a new pattern can be established. This is not something that can be forced; it’s something that the brain and body chooses.

It also (hopefully) demonstrates how intimate the relationship between our thoughts, emotions and physical expressions are.

Onwards.

❤️ Jane

 

Spooking Is A Healthy, Natural & Wanted Response

Spooking! We had an interesting discussion on spooking last week in Stable Hours (the weekly Live Q&A in my membership group) that brought a few important points to the forefront. This particular question revolved around a situation at a clinic where a water bottle was thrown on the ground, resulting in the horse spooking.

The horse had, by all observations, been relaxed prior to the spook occurring, which raised questions such as:

Had we missed some underlying tension that resulted in the spook?

Was there anything we could do to perhaps prevent the need to spook in the future?

How can we best deal with a spook?

What we call a spook is in nervous system speak a demonstration of the startle response. There are several stages of sympathetic reflex that we move through in our survival nervous system, and the startle is the first. It’s when the brain begins to limit sensory input to a narrow window of focus so we can better assess a potential threat and decide where to take things from there.

Spooking is a healthy, natural, and wanted. In a balanced horse (emotionally and physically) we want them to respond to changes in the environment. It’s the same for humans. A lack of response to my mind is far more concerning than a horse who is noticing what’s going on.

How easily they “come back” and readjust is more of an indication of where they were sitting at the start. If the water bottle was to drop, for example, and they metaphorically hit the roof and it took you an hour to find an even baseline again, this gives you information that their resting point was somewhere up the sympathetic chain. We definitely want to pay attention to patterns. What this conversation revolves around is the often-held desire to eliminate spooking altogether.

What’s important to remember is we train and work with our horses to support, facilitate and promote their natural curiosity, beauty, and aliveness, and to allow for greater balance between us; we are not looking for our horses to flatline.

And if that’s something that *you* require to feel safe to proceed, then that tells you more about the state of your nervous system than it does about your horses.

A healthy state of being is robust, responsive and notices change. A healthy current of aliveness.

Onwards.

❤️ Jane

You’re Much More Likely To Notice Your Progress If You Let Go Of Your Attachment To What It Should Look Like

Having a sense of progress is important, but it’s easy to miss the small, everyday markers of progress if you are attached to what progress should look like.

Being able to notice and appreciate progress in training involves:

  1. Total acceptance of where you are currently.

If you are desperate to change or escape your current position, you are already fixed on an outcome. When we’re fixed on an outcome, we’ve already created a mental model and how and where we think things should be, which colours our perception and observation, and prevents us from seeing the subtlety and nuance of day-to-day changes.

  1. Letting you and your horse be new every time you meet

I mentioned this a few blogs ago, but letting yourself be new means that allow yourself to meet the training session and see what presents. You don’t have ideas about what’s going to happen. You don’t presuppose that your horse is going to respond in a certain way. You don’t presuppose YOU are going to respond in a certain way.

This extends beyond the mental and emotional to the physical also. You don’t label your weak side or bring the story with you about your stiff left shoulder or how your horse always drops to the inside on the right rein. None of it.

You let you and your horse be completely new every time you meet.

Every thought we have has a corresponding motor pattern in the body. Our thoughts play out in our physiology. If we have habitual thoughts, we are consistently expressing habitual patterns as part of a sympathetic reflex response and creating ground hog day scenarios as a result.

Let yourself be new.

  1. Observation without judgement

The brain learns through consistent and repetitious failure. We make a decision; take an action and we observe the consequences of that action. Our unconscious brain then tries again in an attempt to bring the outcome of our action closer to our original intention. In this way, every action we take is a success; every action we take is making us clearer, more efficient, and more in line with our original intention. Every repeated “failure” is a “success”.

Judgement has not functional purpose in the learning process, other to pull you into the workings of the emotional brain and limit your capacity to truly take notice of what’s happening.

There is no right or wrong, good or bad. There is just “how far from our intention did that action take us?” and “how might we get closer next time around”?

Onwards.

❤️ Jane

The Current State Of Your Nervous System Expresses In Your Movements

Your current nervous system state expresses through your motor patterns. It expresses in movement. This is an easy sentence to read and gloss over but the implications that it holds have far reaching effects on our health and wellbeing- physically, mentally, and emotionally.

If we break it down even further, for every situation we find ourselves in, our brain has two choices about how to respond. It can decide to respond with a parasympathetic response, or a sympathetic reflex. Those are the two choices.

At a fundamental level, what it essentially comes back to is:

Does this situation require us to fire up our sympathetic or survival nervous system?

If yes, this means the brain has registered a physiological threat. A threat to our physical wellbeing. And consequently, we fire off one of the reflex motor patterns in the sympathetic reflex chain.

If not, we respond with a parasympathetic pattern that allows the system to remain open. What this ensures is the sensory information coming in has traveled through our sensory motor cortex, and our brain creates a response that is unique to that moment.

If we then consider our day-to-day activity, every action that we take is a motor pattern come to life. How I rise to the trot. How my body moves at canter. How I apply a leg aid when I ask for shoulder in. The essence of these are all motor patterns.

When we learn any of these skills we can do so in the sympathetic or parasympathetic. What determines that is current nervous system state at the time of learning; the motor patterns we have mimicked from our parents or primary care givers that have informed some of our basic movement patterns; the learning style and conditions of which we were both taught and learned.

Every thought pattern also has a corresponding motor pattern in the body. So, if I am habitually thinking a specific thought, I will be continually expressing the same pattern in my physiology.

These few short paragraphs have covered a lot of territory, but the purpose is really to highlight this:

If you are looking to create a nervous system that is more adaptable and responsive; if you are wanting to shift out of reflexive modes of behavior or experience; if you are looking to change your posture, position, and movement…. addressing your motor patterns is a fundamental piece.

If you have a sympathetically dominant pattern of rising or posting to the trot, for example, you will be inadvertently firing off your survival nervous system, even if the circumstances don’t call for it.

If you are in a situation where your dominant mode of moving in the world is rooted in your sympathetic nervous system, this will reflect in your posture, seat, and position. Your body will be expressing its primary choice of the sympathetic reflex responses. And no amount of willpower or conscious manipulation will override it.

Understanding more about your brain and nervous system- even at a basic level- will gift you not only with self-compassion and empathy, but with discernment. The discernment to unpick what works for you and what doesn’t; to navigate your way through the internet forest of quick fixes and promises; to let go of teachers or coaches who foster reliance and dependency instead of information and self-understanding.

Onwards.

❤️ Jane

If you are interested in learning and sharing in this work with me, you can check out my membership program JoyRide. I’d love to have you join me!

 

 

Look up! Gaze, Eye Line & Posture From The Level Of The Nervous System

Look up!

Many of us consider posture and position from the viewpoint of the outer tube of the body. For instance, we see or sense that we are leaning forward, and so the most obvious correction is to shift the weight back.

We might notice that the shoulders are rounded and so again, the most obvious correction is to draw the shoulder blades back and together.

Or we realise that we are looking down and so we reposition our gaze to look up.

All of the above involves manipulating or changing the position of the body somehow so that it fits the outer form of how we should look when we are in “good posture” and where we “should” be looking when our structure and frame is open.

The problem is this approach ignores some fundamental principles:

 

  1. Why the brain has chosen to position the body like this in the first place
  2. That posture and where and how the structure of the body moves at any one moment in time is unconsciously controlled
  3. The body functions in relationship

 

Let’s use our eyes and our gaze as our focus point for today. The eye socket and the eyeball function differently between the parasympathetic and the sympathetic (or survival) nervous systems. In the parasympathetic, the socket itself is oriented closer to the outside of the skull and higher up, so that your natural gaze would lie in line with the top of your ears, and your focus generally would include a wide range of peripheral vision.

In this state, the eyeball itself orients medially to the socket, and it’s the socket that moves rather than the eyeball. Fascinatingly, our eye socket position is more like that of a horse- oriented more to the 45 degrees- which allows for an open and direct line of the optic nerve travelling to the brain.

In the sympathetic, these relationships begin to change, which naturally means that the relationship of all the rest of the bones of the skull change their orientation also. In the sympathetic system, the eye sockets rotate in and down. As opposed to the sockets moving in the parasympathetic, they now stay more fixed and the eyeball itself starts to move to follow the object of its attention. This, in turn, affects our vestibular system and our posture; the eyeball is attached to the organ bag of fascia and so its orientation affects our body from the top down.

The eye socket also mimics the humeral and femoral sockets, so your shoulders and hips are in direct relationship with your gaze.

At this point, what we need to reiterate is that consciously forcing your head up to look straight again does not change the underlying structures that have chosen this position for your body in the first place; to do so means you will now be creating different points of compression and going to war with yourself as the inner mechanisms and conscious ideas about how you “should” be conflict. And you may have noticed yourself that the adjustments only “work” for as long as you are consciously paying attention; they aren’t corrective.

Considering posture and the body this way is a paradigm shift, and one that can seem somewhat of an enigma. How do we change things if it’s not through conscious control?

The answer lies within the sensory nervous system. Through conscious observation, novel movement and activating the sensory nervous system, we can shift the body out of habitual fight flight patterning and change the way our body moves and holds itself as a result. Not to mention concurrently shifting the mental and emotional patterns that go with it.

This work is the foundation of what I teach; if it’s of interest, check out my membership program. Details below.

Onwards.

❤️ Jane

What Is Success?

An article popped up the other day in my newsfeed and the title was something like “5 Tips to help you become a more successful rider”. I giggle snorted to myself in that moment because my brain couldn’t make sense of it at all. ‘How is it that we even define success when it comes to riding?’, I asked myself. The idea seemed so….limiting.

Perhaps what struck me even more was how far removed I have personally become from judging or measuring my riding or horsemanship by any metric of success in traditional terms. I teach a number of movement classes per week in my membership program, JoyRide, and one of the things I am always saying is “it doesn’t matter if you know the answers to the questions that I’m asking. What’s important is training your brain to consider things in a different way”.

The essence of that statement is asking us to move away from the idea of a fixed outcome, of one place being “right” and the other being “wrong”- moving away from a fixed idea of how we “should” be at any one moment in time and instead, observing what is, taking an action, and noticing the changes.

Anyone who works with me will tell you that working in this way makes any patterns that you have around perfectionism, people pleasing or the need to get things “right” very apparent. When we step outside the framework of box ticking and matching ourselves up to a pre-conceived ideal, we are just left with… ourselves. We are left with… what is. And observing yourself without the masks or pretenses or need to be anywhere or anything other than where you are right now is not necessarily an easeful place to rest. It’s a necessary one, however, to let go of the conscious patterns of control that often rule our lives.

If you want to take care of the future, which is where much of our desire around the notion of goals and success comes from, you have to take care of the present. And for most of us, we are anywhere but present.

But back to the idea of success. To our brains, success is a foreign concept that opposes the very basis of learning. The brain learns through consistent and repetitious failure. We make a decision; take an action and we observe the consequences of that action. Our unconscious brain then tries again in an attempt to bring the outcome of our action closer to our original intention. In this way, every action we take is a success; every action we take is making us clearer, more efficient, and more in line with our original intention. Every repeated “failure” is a “success”.

This is a photo of Merc and I playing on the inlet after a “successful” schooling session. And if we are stuck on the term, to me it’s not possible to ride or work with a horse and not be a success. Sometimes you have greater ease of communication and connection and experience a sense of progress. Success. Sometimes, nothing is clear, nothing matches up with your intention or is smoothly communicated. Still a success. You notice, change, adjust and go again.

Success. It’s just a made up idea. And consequently, you can make up what it looks like for you.

Onwards.

❤️ Jane

The Seat & The Pelvic Floor

What you are looking at in this image is a drawing of the pelvic floor, looking from the top down. You can see how complex it is, and how the fibers run in various different directions.

You have the front to back fibers, running from the tailbone to the pubic symphysis. And then the fibers that fan out to the side like butterfly wings.

The reason for this arrangement is to allow for the independent movement of the left and right side of the pelvis. The long, central fibers elongate and move to allow for the centreline (the superficial front line of fascia) and pubic symphysis to move forwards and backwards in space. At the same time, the fibers to the side fan out like a stingray, allowing for the openness of the pelvis to be preserved and ensuring optimal motor function.

In the parasympathetic, the pelvic floor musculature hangs below the bony structures like a hammock; as it meets and outside force (such as the saddle), the fascia responds with an equal and opposing pressure, allowing for even surface contact pressure and the integrity of the system to be preserved in spite of changing environmental conditions.

In the sympathetic system, the pelvic floor draws up and in towards midline, pulling the bony structures together. The pubic tubercles at the front become compressed; the PSIS move closer together and limit the movement of the sacrum; the entire pelvis moves into a posterior tilt. When this occurs, the pelvis can no longer move each side independently, but can now only move in a teeter-totter action, as the lumbar spine goes in and out of the tube of body to power movement.

When we discuss the seat and position, we are often considering the pelvis within the window of its sympathetic motor patterning. In the sympathetic, the entire pelvic rim folds in and up; it does this to compress the femoral artery, to trap blood in the legs, and the maximise surface contact pressure through the bony structures by bringing bone on bone, to maximise our force output in survival situations.

So many of the cues we are given in riding situations visually recognize this fight/flight patterning but seek to correct it through conscious adjustment- which leads to a never- ending succession of course corrections as patterns of compensation arise in other parts of the body. We have to work with the underlying neurological templates that are choosing to place the body in this position in the first place.

Over the next couple of weeks in JoyRide, my membership program, we are working with the pelvic floor. Details below for those of you keen to join me.

Onwards.

❤️ Jane

To Your Unconscious Brain, Your Response Is Always Appropriate

One of the things we often do is “rate” the appropriateness of our responses according to how we “think” we should be behaving or reacting. I’ve talked about this in previous posts (I’ll link them below) but I want to approach this conversation from a slightly different angle.

To illustrate what I mean, let’s say you have a fall or accident, and it takes you into a freeze response- part of the palate of possibilities in the sympathetic reflex chain. To your conscious brain and conditioning, this makes sense. As either an observer or experiencer, you might think to yourself, yes, this matches. This makes sense.

If we flip to scenario two now and think about someone walking out to catch their horse and take them to the arena. Let’s say they too find themselves in the freeze response, but there’s nothing about the situation that they can rationalize led them to react that way. This one we respond mentally “less favorably” to, as our conscious brain struggles to connect the dots on what it is about our outer world that could have caused our inner world to respond in the way that it has.

But here’s the thing. It can be a dramatic accident or something hard for us to comprehend consciously (perhaps a look someone gave us, something in the environment, a specific movement)… if the unconscious brain sends the body into the freeze response, the internal experience is the same, regardless of how valid we consciously perceive it to be.

The internal experience is the same.

In this way, “ranking” our responses according to our perception of appropriateness is not useful. How we respond is not conscious. It’s under our unconscious control, and the reasons can often lie far outside the realm of what we can consciously understand or identify.

To your unconscious brain, it makes sense.

Onwards.

❤️ Jane

 

Let Yourself Be New

A little while back, I read a post on another page from someone who felt like they’d done the wrong thing by their horse in a training session. The crux of their question revolved around the idea of forgiveness. Essentially, how do we ask for our horse’s forgiveness when we know that we’ve screwed up?

Forgiveness, in many ways, is such a human concept that I’m not sure it’s possible to transfer it to the equine world. But I do have something that perhaps allows for a practical action to be taken when such situations occur, and I believe it to be the biggest gift that you can give both yourself and your horse. It is:

You have to allow both you and your horse to be new in every moment.

What does that mean?

Letting yourself be new means that allow yourself to meet the training session and see what presents. You don’t have ideas about what’s going to happen. You don’t presuppose that your horse is going to respond in a certain way. You don’t presuppose YOU are going to respond in a certain way.

This extends beyond the mental and emotional to the physical also. You don’t label your weak side or bring the story with you about your stiff left shoulder or how your horse always drops to the inside on the right rein. None of it.

You let you and your horse be completely new every time you meet.

Every thought we have has a corresponding motor pattern in the body. Our thoughts play out in our physiology. If we have habitual thoughts, we are consistently expressing habitual patterns as part of a sympathetic reflex response.

Let you and your horse be new.

It’s the biggest gift you can give both of you.

Onwards.

❤️ Jane

 

What Is The Purpose?

Movement. From the perspective of the brain, movement is only ever performed with a functional reason in mind. We are designed to move with a functional, practical purpose. Our modern lives, however, mean that in many instances our movement is far less functional, and much more mentally driven. We use movement not in a responsive way, as a means to meet the needs of our body, and more in reaction to what we think we “should” be doing.

If we then swap from humans to horses, every move a horse makes is for a practical reason. There is no point in your horse’s life where they think to themselves, shall we just walk a figure of 8 together to get our steps up? Or, who’s up for a brisk 5km jog to keep trim? It doesn’t happen.

Our horses are so brave, magical and mystical that they let us do all manner of things where the purpose to them is entirely unclear. My riding adventures this week with Merc have very much been about motivating movement (can we go forward with energy?) whilst making it clear to him that this movement is FOR something… be that to reach a destination I’ve decided on, move the ball around the arena, shift the sheep in the paddock.

I need to consider; can I make the reason for this movement make sense to my horse? Can I make him not only understand it, but be an enthusiastic participant?

As riders, there are many times when we want more forward, more lift of the shoulders, more sharpness in the aids, and yet when we ask this of our horses, we have nothing in mind beyond that particular aid.

Forward to where?
Lift for what purpose?
Why does the movement from walk to trot need to be so exact?

Which might be…

… to reach that destination
… to move up and around these barrels/gate/object
…to move the stock/chase the ball/keep up with “x”

If relation to anything of the above, what can you add to your training that would naturally encourage it? That would make your horse understand a purpose behind the request?

Part of an ongoing conversation.

Onwards.

❤️ Jane

 

Mapping In Sensation (And How We Get Ourselves In Trouble)

We’ve spoken a little bit about the dome of the diaphragm this week, and this particular part of the body is a great launch pad to discuss something that us humans do that causes us quite a lot of challenge at various points along the way- especially when it comes to our interpretations and experiences of fear and anxiety.

Before we get into that though, let’s consider where it is that most of us physically experience the sensation of anxiety. If we took a general survey, there are some common threads that we can identify that lead people to believe they are amid an anxious episode. They are:

 

  • Tight chest
  • Racing heart
  • Lump in the throat
  • Butterflies or fluttering
  • Upset “stomach” or nausea

 

If you look at all of these, they are centered on the torso/chest area. This is also where all the organs are housed in the body.

From a physiological perspective, we are supposed to be getting feedback from the body all the time. Nothing in the body is static, including the organs. They move and shift around, creating physical sensations as they do so.

They move in accordance with how the nervous system is responding to the environment. In the sympathetic, or survival nervous system, they move and condense towards midline. In the parasympathetic system, they move out and expand in all directions; one is a closing sensation, the other an opening.

Regardless of whether the body is opening or closing, sensation will be experienced. The only way to interpret what is happening is to learn to read the structure of your body to understand which direction it is moving in.

But instead, what many of us have done is attach subjective interpretations to our physical experience- for example this tightness in my chest, this lump in my throat, this shallow breath- to mean something. And running with the example of anxiety, we take these sensations to mean that we are anxious.

Now back to the diaphragm. In the parasympathetic system, the dome of the diaphragm moves up towards the base of the armpit. The dome of the diaphragm is also where the bottom of the heart and lungs rest, so consequently, they move up also. The resulting physical experience is an increase “fullness” in the chest (these are big organs that increase the internal pressure systems), a lump in the throat (the top tip of the lungs sits just under the thyroid), and the experience of a shorter breath (air doesn’t have as far to go, the lungs have more tone so these big deep breaths we are so attached to are not required).

If we have attached the label of anxiety to these sensations we actually interrupt the movement of the body in a more healthful direction. We essentially “map” the sensation into the brain and instead move it into a sympathetic response NOT because of the physical reality but because of our mental interpretations of what’s happening- which is entirely subjective and, in most cases, inaccurate.

Decoupling our interpretations from the reality of our physical experience is a big part of my work, and a game changer when it comes to being able move through the world in a body that’s vibrant and alive; where we aren’t consistently interpreting physical experience and sensation as dangerous.

Onwards.

❤️ Jane

 

The Organs Relationship To Postural Support

The last couple of weeks in JoyRide, we’ve been focusing on the dome of the diaphragm in our movement work. You can gather information about where the dome of the diaphragm sits by locating the widest part of your ribcage. If you are lying on the ground, it’s also the place that you will feel the most contact pressure with the ground.

In the parasympathetic system, the dome of the diaphragm sits higher in the thoracic cavity and maintains a stable relationship with the bottom of the armpit. It also tells us where the bottom of the lungs and heart rest, and consequently their position in this space also.

Despite many conversations around posture centering on muscles and bones, it’s actually organs, fascia and our internal pressure systems that are primarily responsible for postural stability and support.

When the diaphragm sits high, the lungs and the heart sit higher in the chest cavity also, with the upper most part of the lungs sitting above the first rib in the lower part of the neck, just below the thyroid. In this way, the position of the lungs not only stabilizes the cervical vertebrae but adds pressure to the deep front line of fascia, causing it to increase its tone.

When the lungs stretch and move down and the diaphragm drops, pressure is then placed in the upper thoracic, causing it to bulge out behind. This is more often addressed with prompts to strengthen the muscles in between the shoulder blades and lengthen those at the front of the body- an outside in approach- rather than considering organ position as the primary reason our structure is arranging itself the way it is.

And what decides where and how things are placed at any one moment in time?

Your nervous system.

Onwards.

❤️ Jane

Who Gets To Decide? Talking About Reactions & Responses

A week or so back, I wrote a post about what I consider to be the “goal” of working with the nervous system. Here’s a snippet from that conversation:

“What we are seeking to develop is not calm if we feel anxious. It’s not energy if we feel flat. It’s not the ability to up and go if we’re frozen to the spot. Not exclusively. What we are really wanting is accurate responsiveness; a brain and body that responds to reality of its present moment in way that matches and meets the situation.”

Someone commented on that post, ‘well yes, but who gets to decide what’s accurate?’ which highlights one of the greatest misunderstandings we have about ourselves that gets in the way of our physical and mental wellbeing.

The answer is: No-one gets to decide and everyone gets to decide.

Confusing right? Well, here’s the thing.

That question- who gets to decide what’s accurate?- is based on the idea that we are or should be consciously controlling our reactions and responses. The principle of conscious control underlies many streams of practice when it comes to the development of mental and emotional strength and balance. On the whole, we are obsessed with conscious control; positive thinking, affirmations, controlling the focus. Those are just the first that spring to mind but the well is deep.

It’s also our downfall.

How our nervous system responds to the moment it finds itself in is not under our conscious control. It’s the domain of our autonomic nervous system, which is unconsciously governed. And it’s not a matter of opinion or methodology. It’s just how the body works.

When I’m talking about accurate responsiveness, I’m not talking about making a conscious decision about how to respond to what’s going on, nor relying on the thoughts or ideas that someone else has about it.

I’m talking about a sensory nervous system that is alive and online, feeding the unconscious brain information so that IT can decide and guide us. When this is the case, the conscious brain works in support of the unconscious; as the observer and ‘decider’ of the next action, but NOT as the information gatherer.

Your responses are going to happen before you’ve had a chance to consciously consider them. This is the way it should be. When we’ve lived in our survival system more often than out of it, sensory information coming in starts to get limited. In this way, our brain starts to lack new, incoming data and as a consequence can respond only in ways that it has previously (hello ground hog day loops).

Which brings us back to: No-one gets to decide, and everyone gets to decide.

No-one gets to decide consciously.

Everyone is already deciding unconsciously.

Adaptability and responsiveness is not about controlling the outcome. It’s about working with the body in a way that allows it to listen to what’s happening in the present and to move forward accordingly.

Onwards.

❤️ Jane

What We’re Seeking Is Accurate Responsiveness

One of the things I’m interested in learning about (and consequently teaching others) is how to read the structure of your body, and understand, based on its positioning, where it is your nervous system is sitting at that particular moment in time. In last week’s movement classes, we were focusing on the frenulum, or the tendon of the tongue, and learning how our tongue positioning can give us more information about whether we are in the midst of a parasympathetic, active fight or flight or collapse response.

It’s really easy to fall into the trap of understanding and labelling the various nervous system states as good or bad, with the “bad” usually being given to anything that falls within the survival nervous system bracket (fight, flight, freeze and collapse). But the thing is, there really is no good or bad. In both horses and humans, there’s no one state that we want to avoid, or be desperate to escape from. It’s more a matter of “is this state appropriate for the moment and situation I find myself in?”

What we are seeking to develop is not calm if we feel anxious. It’s not energy if we feel flat. It’s not the ability to up and go if we’re frozen to the spot. Not exclusively. What we are really wanting is accurate responsiveness; a brain and body that responds to reality of its present moment in way that matches and meets the situation.

Onwards.

❤️ Jane

Looking At Asymmetry From The Inside Out

Part of my ongoing “work” as a horseperson involves increasing my knowledge base on really understanding more about my horse’s body and how it is that the work that we do together can assist them in feeling a greater sense of wellness inside the edges of their skin.

Both Dee and Merc have asymmetry patterns that present, even if the specifics of their manifestations are slightly different.

For Dee, the imbalance is most obvious behind. He’s weaker on his right hind, and so much of our work is looking at stabilizing the pelvis before we move onto doing any work that requires more strength and precision.

For Merc, he has more of an oppositional asymmetry; the left shoulder, right hind rest and work differently to right shoulder, left hind.

I’m loving understanding and learning more about the exercises I can do to assist them in bringing their body into balance so when I add the complication of me on their back, I am not a burden. What becomes important from this point forward is marrying together what is presenting on the outer tube of the body (the outer tube being everything that we can touch with our hands) with the understandings I have of the nervous system and how that governs where and how the body is sitting at any one moment in time.

From the perspective of the nervous system, asymmetry in the body is a flight pattern, or a pattern of dissociation. In both horses and humans who are adaptable (whose nervous system is changing to meet the moment) you can notice the flight pattern changing. One person I worked with (they were 16 years old) I noticed their structure change to orient at one point towards the exit, and at another away from their mother; both were in different directions.

As soon as we restrict a horse’s natural movement with a halter or something similar, we naturally limit their ability to respond. If flight is there reflex of choice but this is physically unavailable to them, this is when you start to see the mental dissociation; I can’t flee physically so I will flee mentally, they say to themselves.

We may not apply a halter to a human but many of us feel similar restrictions, depending on our circumstances, and employ the same methods. We check out, distract, lose focus and concentrations. Being anywhere other than where you are now mentally is a flight pattern.

From a structural perspective, the organs shift to one side to support the external body moving in a similar direction. You’ll notice one shoulder blade sits closer in towards the spine, and one closer towards the outside of the body.

One foot will also be the loading foot (matching the side where the shoulder blade is closest to the spine) and the other will be oriented towards the path of “escape” (matching the orientation of the other shoulder blade).

My “job” then as a trainer of both humans and horses is to recognize how the outer structure of the body is presenting but to understanding the neurological template that’s motivating this. Yes, I have physically asymmetry but if I dig deeper, what is happening at a nervous system level that is causing the brain to choose that position for the body in the first place?

And how can I assist it in making a different choice, in creating a different set of circumstances for it to respond to?

All ongoing and ever-present questions.

Onwards.

❤️ Jane

Setting The Intention. Letting Go Of Controlling The Action.

One of the beliefs I have around movement and “training” generally is that “good training” and “good movement” should be a form of therapy. It should ultimately leave both us and our horses in a position where we are physically and mentally “better off” than we were when we started.

If we consider training in this way, what we hopefully create is situation where the further into our training and movement work we progress, the less need we have for interventions or assistance from the outside; we have both more skills to know what should be applied and when to remedy imbalance or “dysfunction”.

We allow the body to inform us of its movement needs, rather than applying a “fixed” program onto what is an ever changing and ever adapting form.

Concurrent to this belief lies another, which tells me that the body is inherently wise, and capable of self-healing and self-correcting. This principle, or understanding, is not new and yet there is often a disconnect between the principles that inform a practice or methodology, and the practice of it.

If I truly believe that the body is capable of healing and self-correcting, then my work and practice with both horses and humans becomes about assisting the unconscious brain to make those corrections, rather than forcing it to assume a particular form through gadgets or otherwise, or abide by a set of rules about exactly what should happen when.

For instance, I was at a training the weekend before last continuing my work with body mapping and understanding how the nervous system and unconscious brain ultimately determine where the structure of the body is at any one moment in time. We observed ten different people, ten different bodies (myself included) and were all given the same points and the same cues to work with. What was fascinating was that how each body corrected of its own accord to find balance was different.

Some moved forward and back. Some move left, some moved right. Some moved in a combination of all of the above. All of this was unconscious change that we were able to consciously observe, rather than us forcing a position or dictating how and where the body should move.

What this highlighted for me was that we cannot consciously know what precise adjustments any one horse or human needs to take in order to find “balance”. We cannot predict the route of “rearrangement” that the unconscious needs to follow. We can simply give it more information by increasing sensory information to the body and then observing the changes that it makes for itself.

When we consider the horsemanship saying ‘set them up and let them find it’, to me, this is so much of what this is about. We create an intention of how a movement might look or where to direct the body. Our aids should essentially be a framework of possibility towards achieving a particular outcome. But HOW the body achieves that outcome is not our concern.

We set the intention… I would like you to move in this way

We take an action… I apply this aid and offer this suggestion

We observe… how the body needs to arrange itself in order to bring itself closer to my intention.

We suggest the action, but we don’t control how that action is taken. Because that is outside our conscious awareness and control.

Onwards.

❤️ Jane

Overthinking

Overthinking can be a real scourge for those of us interested in pursuing a peaceful mind. It’s certainly been something that I have wrestled with in the past, and I have many conversations with riders looking to curb an overactive brain space both in the saddle and out of it.

When I first started teaching and working in the manner that I am now, I really considered things from the top down. I tried to deal with thoughts at the level of, well, thought. The positive thinking, the “training your mind”, the thought replacements, the affirmation, the focus on what you want. The list goes on. All of what I’ve listed here is pretty common practice when it comes to any kind of mental or psychological training.

The thing is though, if it’s your thoughts that are the “problem” it’s a kind of faulty methodology to think that you use your thoughts also as a corrective tool. All that does is leave you in a “chase your tail” type situation where you are course correcting after the thing you want to avoid has already happened; you can only “fix” a negative thought and replace it, for instance, after you’ve already had the thought. It doesn’t change the underlying mechanics of what caused the thought to arise in the first place.

In essence, many of the mental and mind-based struggles that we face are actually secondary “symptoms” of a nervous system that’s out of whack. If we consider overthinking in isolation, it’s part of a freeze pattern. In that space, we feel unable or unwilling to act, and consequently, get trapped in a cycle of thought.

The brain requires sensory input in order to make a decision on what action is the best next one to take. So, I make a decision, I take an action and the information I get off the back of that allows me to modify or adapt my next action. In the case of overthinking, the action is never taken; we never get to the stage where we have the information we need to confirm or negate something and as a result, we are stuck in an endless loop of only imagined possibilities.

We are also using our conscious brain for purposes it’s not designed for. Your conscious brain is there for you to make decisions and observe the consequences of those decisions; it’s not the information collector. THAT is the role of your unconscious brain, in all its sensory glory and possibility. It has so much more capacity for information collecting, and that information is then spat through the conscious brain so it can make a decision, take and action and observe… allowing the unconscious to collect yet more information and proceed forward.

We have been trained out of trusting our innate unconscious capacity and trained into considering literally everything consciously. We think our way through life, rather than feel our way though. And sooner or later, we blow a fuse simply because we are using parts of ourselves for functions they are not equipped to handle.

A huge part of my personal practice these days is allowing things to happen and things to be revealed to me as opposed to trying to force them to happen or to cogitate on possibilities within an inch of their life. The former might take some undoing on my part, but the latter is bloody exhausting. It sucks the soul out of you.

See how often you try to control with you conscious brain. See how often you have trained yourself out of taking action. Don’t stay too long in your head. Make a decision, act on it, and on the other side, you at least have something real to go on to pave the way forward.

Onwards.

❤️ Jane

 

One For The Long Gamers

Here’s one for the long gamers.

Dee is my big bay horse that you see in many of my photos. I’ve had him since he was 2 years old and he’s one of the great loves of my life. He’s taught me so much being the first horse that I’ve started under saddle myself, is sensitive, forward and proud.

We’ve had a few stops and starts along the way. Just prior to me beginning our work together under saddle he fell very ill and was out of action for 18 months. I brought him back into work slowly and carefully, and I’m proud of how soft and responsive he is to ride.

Due to his frame- he’s 17.1 + and took a long time to grow into his body- it took a while for all the moving pieces to come together. Balancing the relaxation with the forward was (and is) an ever present conversation, and canter especially has been something that we have been working with for many years.

Up until very recently (and I’m talking over a period of 2-3 years here), the most canter we would do under saddle was the transition and about half a circle. From there, he would tend to get a bit “up” and rushy at trot, and consequently, we spent time emptying out that concern before we tried again.

I’ve had many conversations with myself about this, and the not inconsiderable amount of time it was taking us to get the canter established. Was I not asking enough? Was it me that was shutting it down when I should just “push through”? Did I lack the skills for this piece of the puzzle to come together?

What I understand about the relationship I have with Dee having spent thousands of hours together is to trust what I feel. If it feels tense or concerned, I don’t have to second guess that message as a lack of confidence on my part; there’s a very real communication of dis-ease that I need to pay attention to and meet. And any attempt to ignore that is simply me throwing a penny into the wishing well and expecting things to happen sooner than they were able to.

I had the idea this week to return to the round pen to see if we could play with canter more in a controlled area. The last two days I worked him on the ground and we focused a lot on our transitions. He moved in and out of canter in a lovely, collected, relaxed way and I thought to myself, I would love to ride that.

Today I got on and we played. And for the first time, the canter was truly heaven. On the buckle. Rhythmical, balanced and relaxed. I wanted to ride all day but knew that the best thing to do was to stop, get off, loosen the girth and call it a day.

But that canter was everything I could have wanted and I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.

We are presented with so many ideas of what should be happening when, and time frames that things should be happening within. But it really is so individually dependent. On the horse, their physical capacity and how they feel within the edges of their own skin. And how we feel within ours.

And when you strike those moments in time when it all comes together, you realise that there was never any other option than to just keep on keeping on. Patience and practice.

Onwards.

❤️ Jane

 

 

Facing Frustration

Frustration is something that you might find yourself experiencing a little or a lot in your riding adventures. In and of itself, frustration is part of a sympathetic thought pattern for the simple reason that it’s an emotion that’s not truly of the moment.

In fact, if you think about the times when you’ve found yourself frustrated, you’ll find that you’re either been:

  1. In a state of comparison (and consequently thinking something should be better, easier, or more accessible based on your experiences before)
  2. In a goal-oriented mindset (and finding yourself frustrated that your present moment efforts aren’t lining up with what you’d hoped or imagined the outcome to be).

 

The thing about frustration is that it’s something of a gateway drug to unleashing the Itty Bitty Sh*tty Committee. It usually doesn’t “end” with the simple experience of being frustrated but instead evolves to become whatever our most practiced and dominant story is; how we are no good at this, useless at that, how it’s never going to be this… you get the picture.

And seeing as though every thought pattern we have has a corresponding motor pattern in the body, pretty soon you’re physically and mentally expressing something that has very little to do with the moment that you find yourself in.

If you catch yourself getting frustrated, see if you can observe what is without creating a story around it.

Frustration often has us feeling that what’s going on is:

  • Permanent (rather than just something that’s happening in this moment)
  • Personal (it’s really not), and:
  • Pervasive (like it’s going to colour the rest of your day and life)

Notice the frustration. Observe the moment objectively. Take whatever action you can in the moment to continue on.

Onwards.

❤️ Jane

New Dances & New Conversations

I always love the beginning stages of forming a new partnership. It’s such a dance of discovery.

I love asking the questions of ‘how do you feel about this?’, and, ‘do you understand what I mean when I ask this?’

Whether they answer with certain or unsure, clear or unclear, the response is always welcome. It’s all just information to clarify the next steps we take together.

No matter how old or young the horse I’m working with. Regardless of whether we would describe them as sensible or sensitive, I never assume.

I never assume they will be comfortable when they land in my paddock.

I never assume they will be the same under saddle as when I last rode them.

I never assume I can just get on and go.

I think in so many instances, we underestimate how destabilizing it is for a horse to arrive in a new home, and how long it can take for them to settle into the edges of their skin.

I’m in the privileged position of having many daily conversations with horsepeople, many of whom are starting out on their journey with a new horse, sometimes after spending many years with a different horse previously.

The conversations are full of many emotions, and sometimes what’s experienced is frustration and disappointment.

“You are coming from a marriage,” I often tell them, “And expecting to experience the same sense of knowing and comfort with your new horse when you’ve only just texted and met for coffee. You have to give yourself a bit of time.”

Every horse is different. You have to let yourself enjoy the not knowing as much as the knowing and build your steps from there.

This photo is of me and Merc riding on the farm today. It’s our two-week anniversary of getting to know each other, exploring together. And I’m loving every minute.

He’s my patchy warrior pony of awesomeness.

I hope he knows I’ve got his back. And if not, in time I hope he learns it fully.

Onwards.

❤️ Jane

The Low Down On The Neck Rope

In the various photos I’ve posted of late, my horse has been wearing a neck rope (or lariat) and I’ve had several questions asking why I use it. The neck rope is something I put on every time I saddle up, and I use it frequently and for varying purposes, with all my different horses.

In the first instance, adding a neck rope allows me to increase the sensory input to the horse when I am teaching an aid or movement whilst allowing my rein and body aids to remain subtle. My big horse Dee, for example, is naturally more go than whoa, and I use it frequently as part of our downward transition work to reinforce what it is I am asking of him without applying any more pressure through the hand or bit.

In my groundwork and in hand work, I often apply pressure at the chest for various cues, and the neck rope allows me to take some of that understanding and apply it to my time in the saddle.

The actual base of the horse’s neck also contains a large cluster of proprioceptive cells, and their ability to engage this part of the body will also have flow on effects to the back and the entire hindquarters. Given that it’s the unconscious brain that is ultimately deciding how and where the body is positioned at any one time, the neck rope stimulates this area and increases the sensory feedback, providing the brain with more information to be able to adjust itself in space.

The other reasons I use my neck rope include:

 

  • Teaching neck yielding
  • Encouraging the wither and back to lift in more collected work
  • Supporting myself out and about if I feel a certain exuberance and I don’t wish to increase my contact on the rein
  • Supporting any work I do with the bridle and bit

 

I’m big on knowing why you use the gear and equipment that you do. Many of us saddle up and use various items simply because that’s what we’ve always seen or been shown. I ride by the principle that less is more, and if I do use something, I want to know exactly what purpose it serves and how it supports the experience of my horse.

Onwards.

❤️ Jane

 

Productivity & The Comparison Trap

A week or so back, I shared a collection of photos on my own social media page of my horses, and a few “between the ears” shots of rides from that day. One of my friends asked how I managed to keep four horses in work, and I replied that on that particular morning, I’d worked things out so by 10:30 am, everyone had been worked and tended to.

Nothing about what I said here was untrue, and yet later that day I was thinking about the conversation and felt a little uneasy.

Why?

Well, the idea of productivity and “getting things done” is something we so easily beat ourselves up about- especially when we start comparing ourselves to other people and feel like we’re coming up short.

I consider myself to be a pretty productive person on the whole. My days are full and I have a lot of plates spinning at the same time. I have a handful of horses in work, my own business, two young children, a husband I love to spend time with and yet, just like everyone else, I have days where I think, I have no idea what I did today.

And whilst I can’t speak for anyone else that you might compare yourself to to see how well you are doing on the productivity scale, I can speak for myself and say…

 

  • I have days where I faff around and know that the only reason I didn’t get out to ride was because I didn’t manage to get myself organized in time
  • I have days where I wish not to adult.
  • I have moments where I find myself scrolling social media and then next minute, I’m watching some random clip of a dog in Thailand peddling a unicycle that goes for just under ten minutes whilst only moments earlier I complained to my husband that there isn’t enough time in the day

 

How much you get done the day does not in any way give you a higher ranking on the “better human being” scale. It’s such an insidious premise, and one that I personally would like to do away with.

You can be a “productive person” and still:

 

  • Whittle the time away on something that would most likely be classified as having no productive purpose
  • Throw yourself down on the couch and watch the entire new season of Afterlife in one sitting (this might just be a note to self)
  • Not get everything done on your to do list (like, ever)
  • Not get all the things done all the time and all the horses worked every day

 

It’s ok. It really is.

We just have to wake up, meet the moment, and do what’s possible within it.

Onwards.

❤️ Jane

Knees + The Sympathetic Reflex

This week in JoyRide we’ve been working with the kneecaps and looking at the different movement patterns generally that exist between the parasympathetic and survival nervous systems. Knees are something that many of us have a lot of “stuff” around; we might have injured them, experience/d pain in them, grip or cling on with them.

The knee is described as a sliding, gliding, rotational hinge joint. The “hinge” bit comes last because it’s actually all the other bits- the sliding, gliding, rotational bits- that primarily support and motivate movement in the body, in addition to protecting the joint space of the knee itself.

Fascially, the knee cap is part of the superficial front line of fascia; the train itself begins at the ASIS (the frontal hip bone), runs down to the kneecap, to the tibial tuberosity at the front of the shin and then to the front of the foot. In parasympathetic movement patterns, the knee cap itself moves along with the lateral line of the body and coordinates all the way up on its corresponding side.

The kneecap is affected by something called the tendon guard reflex which kicks in as part of the sympathetic nervous system response. This draws the kneecap up, compressing the joint space, which naturally has flow on affects to the rest of the body.

Consequently, if your survival nervous system is firing, you are going to have some challenges maintain a soft, long leg in the saddle and relaxing the knees. In fact, it’s going to be nigh on impossible; you are amid a sympathetic reflex chain that’s causing your body to do the opposite.

What’s more, any time we grip with the knees, we fire up our survival nervous system; that action is part of fight pattern motor reflex response.

If you want to learn more about your current nervous system state and how it’s affecting your behavior and biomechanics, take my two minute nervous system quiz and you can read all about it.

You can take the quiz by clicking here.

Enjoy!

❤️ Jane

The Benefit Of Exercise Is Not So Black & White

Understanding more about my nervous system has fundamentally affected how I approach movement, and beyond that, exercise generally. We have developed a world view that exercise as a whole is always good, but what I now understand is that exercise in and of itself is not intrinsically healthy or not healthy- it really depends on my nervous system that will cause it to be one or the other. The same goes for our horses.

If I’m in a sympathetic state, exercise and physical exertion is going to have a deteriorating quality on my body regardless of what exercise I’m doing. As my body moves into the sympathetic system, the structure of my body moves towards my midline, reducing the space in my joints and causing the lumbar and cervical spine to work overtime to power movement.

The reason for this is functional. Force equals mass times acceleration; if I want to maximise my force output (as I do in a survival situation), I want to make sure I have as many surface areas to power off as possible. The compression of joint surfaces facilitates this.

From a chemical perspective, if I’m in the active stages of fight or flight, it can be useful to burn off adrenaline, but if I’m in a collapsed state, exercise will directly go against the wishes of my body and trigger an auto-immune response.

We live in a world of “blanket prescriptions”, a one size fits all approach.

The reality is we are much more nuanced. What is beneficial or otherwise will always depend on the person, the moment, and the state of their nervous system.

Onwards.

❤️ Jane

Failure Is A Choice

I’ve talked a lot about failure before, and the more I do so, the more convinced I become that failure doesn’t actually exist. It’s just a construct we’ve made up.

What we are talking about when we consider the idea of failure is how far the outcome we created lies from the intention we had in the first place.

For example, if I am learning a new movement with my horse, I have an idea in my head- a map of sorts- for what needs to happen for that movement to take place.

The action that I then take is one in support of that desired outcome.

When I take the action, what I’m left with is information.

My brain then asks, did the action I just took create an outcome that matched up with my intention?

It then assesses what happened and what needs to be tweaked and changed for both intention, action and outcome to all line up.

This process is the nature of learning.

The idea of failure and success, then, is nothing more than a judgement call in the observation phase of the cycle.

We have an intention, we take an action, and that action yields a result.

When the result is neither good nor bad- it’s just the result- it carries no emotional charge.

We are free to simply try again. To revisit our intention, take another action and all the while, our brain is changing, growing, adapting so we can get closer to the outcome we are working to create.

When we have an intention, take an action and label the outcome a success or failure, we interrupt the learning cycle of the brain, and activate our survival nervous system.

In this way, failure is very much a choice. It’s the choice to not allow yourself the required time, repetition or investment that it takes for your intentions to match the outcomes you wish to create.

It’s the choice not to allow yourself to learn by the very means you are designed to do so.

Through constant repetition, observation and adjustment.

Onwards.

❤️ Jane