The emotional and physical exchange between rider and horse

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Riders are aware of the numerous aids, equipment and body positions employed to influence a horse’s movement. However, few are aware of the much deeper exchange — what is not so readily obvious is that a rider’s own health and balance is intimately intertwined with the well-being of their horse. Few riders look towards themselves and their own body as contributing factors to their horse’s health and behaviour.

As a veterinarian, my focus is on the health of the horse, yet after years of experience I could not help but observe an interesting relationship between a person and their horse. This relationship becomes even more evident when the person becomes a rider. With time the horse will mirror aspects of the rider’s emotional, mental and physical makeup.

It became interesting to note how on many occasions, owners and their horses seemed to share similar stories of illness or lack of well-being. When a horse carries a rider, his body yields to the misalignments and tensions within the rider’s body. Compensations manifest in various ways depending on the horse’s own patterns and alignment. Physical ailments like arthritis, lower back pain, lamenesses and even injuries may become shared.

Digestive disturbances, thyroid conditions, skin conditions and others may similarly manifest. Emotional relationships such as anxiety, frustration, anger, and unease can also be created. To any individual horse owner, it may seem to be a “coincidence” that they share their horse’s illness and issues, yet within my experience such “sharing” is commonplace. The stronger the bond between the horse and person, the more likely it is that they will share such a relationship.

To the horse, the emotional world of the person, even suppressed emotions, appear to be readily apparent. Besides picking up on a rider’s patterns of muscular tension, the horse also picks up on the rider’s emotional issues. A great deal of information about an individual’s emotional state can be revealed through their breathing patterns. The horse is wired to read this information and responds accordingly. This is why the same horse can have different responses to different individuals.

The medical profession recognizes emotional health to be closely linked to physical health and that many modern diseases are emotionally rooted. So then the emotional health of the horse’s caretaker/rider is crucial to the well-being of the horse itself. Awareness and responsibility of one’s own emotional state prior to interactions with any horse frees the horse from the responsibility of bringing it to the person’s attention.

Happy, healthy people tend to have happy, healthy horses. One of the most common New Year’s resolutions is better care of one’s self. It turns out that following through with that resolution will also bring benefits to the well-being of your equine companion.

About the author


Carol Shwetz is a veterinarian focusing on equine practice in Millarville, Alberta.



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