Taking care of others’ needs, juggling tasks, running errands, waiting at another appointment, attending meetings – I squeeze riding my horse into the middle of the controlled chaos of my life – expecting the find some relief from the stress and constant worry about health and finances. That is what is supposed to happen anyway. I am supposed to drive out to the barn, walk out into the sunshine, get my horse out of his field and feel the tension drain away. Brushing him and tacking up should be therapeutic. Riding should make my body finally breathe out and relax. And after giving him a refreshing liniment bath, I should be able to leave the barn renewed and ready to tackle the stresses of my life again.
But today, I figured something out . . . the constant stress had translated into physical tension and was making my riding deteriorate. Instead of tension dissipating at the barn, I carried my stress with me as a physical burden when I rode my horse. My back was tight, my shoulders drawn up, my head heavy, my arms stiff, my legs shortened, and I braced against the movement of my horse instead of letting his movement flow through me and softening my body. My horse began to react negatively to the tension carried in my body by hollowing his own back, grinding his teeth, and quickening his tempo. Negative tension of the body and the mind is the adversary of good riding.
When I started taking care of my needs again, got control of my tasks and errands, and found mental and emotional calm again, I had no idea that I was still carrying tension in my body. However, my body still held the remnants of the mental and emotional stress that I had been under for the past couple of months. It wasn’t until I paid attention to my body and focused on releasing the tension in my body through healing therapies that I realized how much outside stresses had lodged themselves in my body making it virtually impossible for me to be an effective rider.
Walking in the sunshine, listening to music, and bubble baths were not enough to release the tension. I had to have hands-on therapy. For me that is seeing a good chiropractic doctor, someone certified in structural integration or Rolfing bodywork and a massage therapist. Sessions with these health professionals helped put my body back alignment, release the tension, and dissipate stress. The stress in my life was having a greater negative toll affecting my riding vs. my riding helping me positively manage the stress in my daily life. I had always assumed riding helped me release tension; it was humbling to realize and understand that instead of expecting my horse to absorb my stress, I have a responsibility as a rider to come to the barn without dragging the stress of my life with me in a tension-locked body.
Today, the results of my physical therapies were evident when I rode my horse. I was able to physically release the tension and let it flow out of me, which enabled me to use my muscles in positive tension to lighten my body and absorb the motion of my horse. The result was that today I had a horse willing to use his back, with no teeth grinding, and some lovely steps of passage. I left the barn renewed and ready to tackle the everyday stresses of my life again.