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Somatics (Horse + Rider)

Relax your Horses Back & Ribs with this Hands-on Exercise

Supple your horses back and relax his whole rib cage before you ever get on to ride with this simple exercise. Kinetic Mirroring is one of the three techniques we use in Equine Hanna Somatics® (EHS). Kinetic Mirroring is easy to do, works with natural reflexes, and is gentle enough for all ages and fitness levels of horse or rider.

This post is an excerpt from my 35-page ebook that that will teach you how EHS works and how to do three of my favorite EHS exercises for all horses (download your free guide here).

In this article, I’m going to teach you how to do a basic version of Kinetic Mirroring of a horses rib cage. I use this exercise in most of my 1-1 EHS sessions, and I always do it with my own horse before I ride. Lately, I have also been using it as a quick and easy way to help give some relief and comfort to horses with gastric issues, mild colic or free fecal water syndrome. Before I jump into the hands-on instructions, let me briefly explain what Hanna Somatics is, and why you should try it with your horse.

What is Somatics?

Relax your horses back and ribs with Somatics by Alissa Mayer

The word ‘Somatics’ has become quite the buzzword in bodywork and therapeutic circles these days, and you will see it used to describe all sorts of different types of movement or exercise. Somatics comes from the Greek word soma, for body. The Soma, as described by Thomas Hanna and Eleanor Criswell, the originators of Hanna Somatics, is not just a body, but is the body as experienced from within.

Thomas Hanna is the one who coined the term Somatics to describe the entire field of mind-body integration work. Eleanor Criswell is the one who took their Hanna Somatics teachings (with humans) and applied the principles to horses, creating Equine Hanna Somatics(EHS). I co-teach the EHS Professional Training Program with Eleanor, and I also teach Somatics for Riders online.

Hanna Somatic Educators (who work with human clients) and Equine Hanna Somatics Educators (who work with horses and dogs) help each client let go of chronic tension and the associated pain, crookedness and restricted movements that go along with tight muscles. We do this mainly by teaching you how to access a natural reflex called Pandiculation. We also use a couple other techniques based in natural movement and basic physiology, like Kinetic Mirroring, which you are about to learn more about!

Relax your Horses Back & Ribs with Kinetic Mirroring

How to do the exercise:

Begin on the side that the horse tends to bend most easily toward. If you aren’t sure which is the easy side, begin on the horse’s left side. This exercise is best done with a horse that is not wearing a saddle.

• Stand beside the horse’s barrel and place your hands flat on the horses side – one hand behind and above the armpit, the other at the back of the ribcage, just behind and below where the back of the saddle pad would sit, and in front of the hollow before the hip.

• Using a gentle feel and almost no pressure, bring your hands very slightly toward one another – you are moving so small that someone watching you won’t be able to see your hands move, but the horse will feel it. Seriously, you are only moving your hands a millimeter or two. This feel will invite the horse to bring their ribs closer together by bending toward the side you are on.

The horse may seem to totally ignore you, or some horses will immediately follow the feel of the invitation and do a big movement under your hands, perhaps reaching their nose around toward your shoulder or hip.

• Slowly return your hands to neutral, letting the feel of the invitation fade away. This will invite/allow the horse to un-bend back to a neutral posture.

• Repeat this gentle invitation for lateral flexion through the ribcage 3-5 times before moving to the other side, where you will do the same thing 3-5 times.

Hand position for relaxing the horses back and barrel with Kinetic Mirroring

Here you can see my hand position for Kinetic Mirroring the rib cage. In the first photo at the top of this post, I’m smiling because the lovely bay mare is doing a great job of tuning-in and following my invitation. She chose to bend her whole body in my direction so she could follow the feel in my hands by shortening the right side of her barrel. (And then slowly releasing back to neutral, of course!)

If you aren’t sure where to put your hands, I find it helps to visualize the skeleton, or even to take a few minutes to palpate (feel) where the ribs are located, so you can place your hands in the most effective position. The mare in this photo did not seem very interested in participating in my invitation for flexion… 😉

I like to use this exercise after I ride as well as before tacking up. I will often dismount and unsaddle my horse in the arena so he can have a romp and a roll at liberty while I put everything away. If he doesn’t immediately wander off to roll, after untacking I will offer him a few repetitions of Kinetic Mirroring on his ribcage, and he almost always gives a big sigh and a few yawns when we do this!

Want to learn TWO more Equine Hanna Somatics exercises for your horse?

I want you to have all the tools you need to get your horse out of pain and as supple as possible so he or she can be comfortable and performing at the highest level with ease. The more supple and body-aware your horse is, the easier it will be for you to communicate and move together in harmony!

So if you found the exercise in this article useful, imagine what two more EHS exercises would do for your horse! Get the detailed training guide I wrote for horse-lovers, riders and trainers just like you, for FREE. Download it at equinehannasomatics.org.

By Alissa Mayer

I’m a horse-girl obsessed with Hanna Somatics and behavioral science, which led me to develop a whole new approach to Horsemanship, Riding and Fitness. Find me in riding tights, eating pumpernickel bagels and working from home with my twins playing nearby and my horses out the window. My mission? To help horses and riders (and mama’s!) to unleash their inner athletes and feel great every day!

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