It is obvious wild horses have difficulty relaxing around humans and training can be extremely stressful for them, but in order to achieve any proper learning a mustang must be calm and relaxed. To discuss ways we can teach our horses how to relax, let's look at common human relaxation techniques and how they can be applied to horses.
A quick google search of relaxation techniques provided the following list:
I haven’t yet met a horse that was much of an artist, unless you count my mare who created “sculptures” with her teeth in the wood of my barn, and my horses don’t appear to enjoy my music much. I’m not an expert on what scents work well with horses for aromatherapy, although I have heard some people say it is very effective and I only wish I had the facilities to try hydrotherapy. Since I don’t have experience in those areas, I will proceed to the ones I do.
Grooming, massaging, and petting your horse are all easy and highly successful ways to relax and bond with your horse. There is nothing like a good message to help calm your horse. Tai chi and yoga both use physical motion to encourage deep breathing, we can apply some of the same principles to our training to promote relaxation.There are a number of ways we can encourage our horses to take slower deeper breaths and when their breathing is relaxed their mental state will usually follow.
Yoga uses stretching to open the rib cage allowing for deeper breathing. Encouraging a horse to bend and stretch not just through their neck, but all along their spine will help them achieve a more relaxed state of mind as well as improve their self carriage. Practicing lateral movements, both ridden and with groundwork will help a horse stretch and breathe. Also,because lateral maneuvers are more complex for a horse to coordinate in their body it also causes them to think more carefully about what they are doing, ergo we are helping them to “meditate”. Tai chi makes use of slow repetitions of physical movements to a relaxed meditative state. Repetition is comforting because there are no unwelcome surprises, starting and ending your training with predictable exercises your horse knows well will help them manage their emotions throughout training. Going back to those predictable exercises, or lateral stretches any time your horse's fears begin to rise is a valuable way to teach your hose to have greater self control.
It cannot be emphasized enough the importance of allowing your horse time to think when training. View each task as a mental activity for your horse, even if you are asking them to learn a physical exercise, make sure you are not ignoring the mental aspect of the horse’s learning. Anything you want to teach a horse can be approached as a meditative exercise if you present the task with the least amount of pressure possible and give the horse as much time as they need to figure out what you want them to do.
Relaxation is vital to a horse being able to learn. It is easiest to address the horse’s nerves before their emotions get out of control. We all know how stressful it can be associating with other people who bring negative energy, so be mindful of your own energy and emotions. Try to exude calm. Your horse will not be inclined to relax if you are tense. You also cannot help your horse’s stress level if you do not notice their mental state; one vital step to building relaxation is to pay attention. Being attuned to your horse’s emotions and giving them the tools they need to manage their stress during training will build their confidence and respect for you.