Excess muscle tension in the rider and how to solve it

Too tense muscles in the rider. You would think that mainly novice riders have it, but you also see it quite often with very experienced riders.

And you also see it when people do groundwork, or liberty. It often has to do with tension built up as a result of stress, or negative – sometimes traumatic – events. That tension then remains in the body. Many people carry accumulated muscle tension over the years.

However, it can also emerge in the moment, for example because the horse is startled by something and the rider gets tensed because of it. Or due to frustration of the rider because an exercise is difficult.

Since body and mind are one, tension in the body often arises from mental and emotional tension.

Excess muscle tension of the trainer

You can have excess muscle tension in your face (jaw clenching, for example), in the shoulders and neck, the arms, the back, the pelvis, the legs, the toes, … Anywhere actually.

You will then see that the movements of the trainer are less smooth. In the saddle, the rider’s seat is tense, and it is difficult to follow the horse’s movements. Or the rider seems to have stiff arms and clamps the reins between his fingers instead of holding them softly.

The aids that are given – on the ground or in the saddle – are not soft and smooth, but rather hard and jerky.

Excess muscle tension in the horse because of the trainer/rider

Horses read us like we read a book, so they immediately notice when their trainer tenses a muscle too much or moves in a tense way. And of course, when that trainer is on their back, they féél it too.

Tension in the trainer/rider can have a major influence on the movements of the horse. And not just on his movements. It also influences how the horse feels mentally, and can therefore cause physical ánd mental tension in the horse.

Horses can therefore move tense on the ground, with short strides. Sometimes you see tail swishing. Some horses slow down, others get nervous. Maybe they fall more on or over the shoulder. Especially under the saddle.

How do you solve this?

If you get tensed because your horse suddenly jumps to the side, but you can recover yourself by breathing consciously and calmly, to start riding again afterward, then there’s nothing wrong. Everyone comes across this from time to time.

The problem arises when you can’t let go of physical tension when that tension remains. And that you carry (long-lasting) tension with you when you’re with your horse, and often move and communicate with unnecessary tension in your body.

There are a few things you can do to release any excess muscle tension that you feel when training your horse. Here are 5 tips:

  1. Since physical tension is very often the result of mental and emotional tension and being “in your head” too much, it is good to reconnect with your body. One way to do that is to connect with your breath.
    So if you feel that any part of your body feels tense, stop the exercise for a moment and take a moment to breathe in and out slowly. When the muscle tension is gone, move on.
  2. Try to move more slowly or give your aids more slowly when you feel tension. This way you become more aware of your body and your movements. The more aware you are of your body, the easier it will be to soften your body. I deliberately use the word “soften” and not “relax” here.
  3. Visualize the tension flowing through your body, down your legs, through your feet, into the ground, like water from a water hose.
  4. If you feel tension somewhere, just touch that tensed area. For example, if your right shoulder is tense, ‘stroke’ that tension out with your left hand. Or if you find yourself clamping the reins too hard, give your hands a massage. Touch creates awareness, it improves the connection with your body and it helps you release excess tension.
  5. Apply The Softness Response, a technique that you can learn in about 2 weeks and which makes it possible to release excess muscle tension quickly and effectively.

The Softness Response

This is a very valuable technique in which you program your body and mind to immediately release excess muscle tension with the help of a “cue”.

Suppose you are lunging your horse and suddenly you notice that your shoulders are tense. You may be pulling them up, or you may be pushing your shoulder blades towards each other too much (happens when people are taught to keep their “chest forward”). By applying The Softness Response, you will be able to release this tension easily, without having to interrupt the lunging.

Or you are riding and you feel that your back is tense. Then this technique can help you to release tension and to ride with the correct muscle use  (= not too much, not too little). Horses react super to this by immediately softening themselves in their muscles and their movements.

That’s logical, tensed muscles in the rider promote tensed muscles in the horse. Soft muscles in the rider promote soft muscles in the horse.

A softly moving rider therefore also helps his horse to move more softly.

The Find Your Feel Masterclass in December

In the Find Your Feel Masterclass of this month I dive into The Softness Response with my students. They are going to learn all about this technique, which is extremely valuable for every horse trainer and rider, even indispensable in my opinion. Everyone deals with tension from time to time.

Do you also want to

  • discover the difference between ‘relaxation’ and ‘softening’?
  • learn to feel where you are holding unnecessary tension (maybe since years …)?
  • learn to program your body and mind to release tension “on cue” (within seconds)?
  • move and communicate with your horse with more softness in your body?
  • develop a soft seat, so that you can better follow the movements of your horse and give your aids softer and smoother?
  • help your horse to move more freely, with less tension?

This is possible in December’s Masterclass on the Softness Response.

More info can be found on this page: https://programs.horsefulnesstraining.com/find-your-feel-join-now/