Communication is a Two-Way Street

Communication is a Two-Way Street

Recently, a woman contacted me for help with her young gelding. She wanted me to ask him to collect more at the canter and to stop running off with her when she rode him in the field. She also mentioned that he had been lame for the past two weeks; she suspected a stone bruise. I explained that collection and running off are training issues, but I agreed to work with her horse in the hope that I would be able to identify the underlying problems, which the woman would then be in a position to address. My sense was that the lameness issue was a contributing factor, certainly in the inability to collect.

I conducted the session across distance.

When I began working with the horse, he presented very stiff shoulders, especially the left, as well as stiffness and discomfort in the muscles along his spine. His sternum and ribcage were also somewhat sticky, reluctant to slide easily, indicating additional muscle tension. Rather than speaking to the horse about his difficulties collecting, I visualized him collecting and was immediately drawn to the middle of his back—the saddle area.

When I asked him about his saddle, it became was clear to me that it did not fit, that it was pinching his shoulders and putting pressure on his spine.

Armed with this information, I worked with his body for awhile (using NeuroMuscular retraining methods coupled with Reiki) to release tension and to show his body a more effective way of going. As I worked I also felt my hands drawn to his feet, which pulled in quite a bit of energy.

When I spoke with the horse about his habit of running away with the woman (he did not do this with the younger people who occasionally rode him), he clearly did not understand the problem. He just wanted to run across the field and have fun. He also indicated that he would like to take more trail rides. I got no sense of willfulness as I spoke with him, just the powerful, joyful energy of a young horse.

At the end of the session, I called the woman to discuss what I had learned. More information surfaced. It seems her horse had been “overworked” by a trainer several months earlier and had been intermittently lame ever since. This made sense. If the horse had been asked to physically perform at a level he had not been conditioned to achieve, he would have become sore and tight. The strain on one or more areas of his body could then have caused him to compensate in other areas, causing strain in those areas as well. The result would be a horse unable to move smoothly or efficiently.

I asked about his feet and was told that he was shod in front, that she was using a new farrier, and that her horse did not seem comfortable on his feet.

So we had a horse whose feet were bothering him, who had tight shoulders, a sticky ribcage, and a sensitive back, and who was wearing a saddle that did not fit properly. It was no wonder that the horse was unable to collect properly! Further, the woman said that in order to get her horse into shape, she needed to ride him every day. So we had a horse who was fairly uncomfortable in his body being asked to perform at a level that caused him discomfort—every day.

I suggested a physiologically correct barefoot trim that would bring the horse’s entire body back into balance, continued body work of some kind (with me or another practitioner) that would help him to regain his balance and strength, and a saddle fitting session with a knowledgeable professional. I also suggested the horse be given a bit of time off while these issues were being addressed.

The woman thanked me, but she seemed genuinely surprised that all of this was necessary. She explained that she had just wanted me to tell her horse what was expected of him—collection and good manners in the field. I explained again that collection is a matter of strength and proper training in using the hind end; it is not something that you can merely request. I also gently explained that riding in a field is very different from riding in an arena (she was relatively new to riding) and that perhaps the issue of his running off had to do with her confidence and experience as a rider.

She did not sound convinced.

This was not the first time someone had asked me to resolve a problem merely by telling the animal to stop (stop running away, stop digging in the yard, stop peeing outside the litter box, stop biting . . .) Sometimes this is possible, for example the cat who did not know that her early morning howling was annoying and stopped as soon as I explained it to her. More often, though, the animal reveals to me the behavior’s underlying cause (physical or emotional), which the human caregiver then needs to address.

It can be difficult at times, because of the tunnel vision we sometimes have, because of our desire for quick fixes and immediate results, but we need to fully hear and address the messages, physical or otherwise, that our animal companions are sharing with us. True communication is mutual; true communication is a two-way street.

Until next month,

Be well,


*This column originally appeared in From the Horse’s Mouth in September 2007.

© 2007 by Pamela Sourelis