In horses and humans, it seems to be the same; when it comes to tension, the methods and strategies you choose to use are either adding to it or relieving it. It’s both a cumulative build and a cumulative release, the magic lying in your ability to notice the microelements that contribute to the build up on tension, or conversely to the creation of relaxation.
From my own work with my horses and with myself, I now see tension as the sum total of many missed opportunities for relaxation, the consequence of our tendency to observe things broadly, generally, as whole chunks as opposed to a progressive sequence of small bites or moments.
For example, we may see the tension, but what we missed was the loss of focus, the disregard our horses had for us when mounting, the tendency to suck back towards the gate.
We may see the tension, but what we missed was the lack of understanding of the basics back at walk, and now at trot and canter, we really have a problem.
In ourselves, we may feel the tension, but we weren’t mindful of our constant rumination on what might go wrong over the course or days and weeks prior.
We might feel the tension, but we never thought to change it or to actively pursue the skills we need to develop to experience relaxation.
We see, feel or experience the end result having missed a series of opportunities to redirect the focus of both ourselves and our horses; to ensure our communication is clear and understood; to find solutions to anxieties.
In both horses and humans, the opportunity to address tension and introduce relaxation occurs in the first instance that thought and focus becomes misdirected. You may be a long way from the arena or trails when your mind begins to ruminate on the concerns and anxieties that you have in the saddle. Now is your opportunity.
Or maybe you find yourself watching a YouTube clip of someone in competition and feel your stomach go tight at the thought of you being out there doing the same. Now is your opportunity.
Or maybe the suggestion of doing something that challenges you is enough to increase your heart rate and make you feel uneasy. Now is your opportunity.
All of the above are not feelings to be denied, avoided or ignored. They are notifications from your emotional messenger system telling you that there’s something that you need to address and pay attention to. And each and every one of these gentle jolts from your subconscious is an opportunity for you to introduce relaxation, to empty out the tension.
The tiny bites that add up to the big experiences.