Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood” (Marie Curie)
Lumbar tension in our back is one of the first things that happens when fear kicks in. We also tend to hold breath, push our tongue up on the roof of our mouth, clench our jaw and grip with hands and legs.
On horses, when we are tense, our chest tightens, we curl forward into a protective posture, our butt muscles tenses up and lift us off the saddle and out of our "grounded good seat" as we try to hold on tighter with our thighs, knees and legs. We perch forward with a hollow back in what's commonly called a 'fork seat'.
Its then pretty obvious to our horse that something is seriously amiss and of concern. So naturally they are entitled to, and do react with similar tension and fear - which shows in their mouth, jaw and back. Horses can then go into a state of conflict due to a lack of leadership. As one saying goes... "Tension mounts and rides away..." :-) The horse gets tense, we start to pull more or tip more forward, the horse starts to brace, hollow, shy, resist or rush... or worse (as all experienced riders know).
Tension, like most other things - increases with repetition. It can become a habit for the horse to carry tension in relation to particular things, places or people. Similarly, and the good news is - letting go of tension CAN become a new habit. If you can replace it with something more positive. Though you may need to have a good chat with yourself about trust. You may find it helps to: - stop, take in some oxygen, listen to the birds - release the jaw (speak to your horse, breath deep, or sing) - release the lumber (let breath into the lower back) - release the seat (sit tall but deep, and spread the bottom) - release the legs (soften thighs, knees and drop the legs) - release the grip (open the fingers and soften the hands) - release and drop the shoulders (let them hang) - soften the elbows, armpits, wrists and hands - lift the head up and back to make a long spine - look ahead where are going - start again from the top - and while moving. Success comes from finding a strategy that works for you. I find that self-talk can be a very powerful thing - both in a positive or negative way. What that little voice in our head says can make or break a moment for us. Sometimes we need hear ourselves 'sound brave', in order to 'feel brave'. Telling our horse in a calm and soothing voice: "You're OK, everything is fine" ...becomes the perfect advice for our ears too.
How about you. Let me know what you think here. How do you cope when tension kicks in?