Note to all current Aspire riders: if you like the sound of Mariana’s clinics let me know and we will organise it in London and Henley!
Today we had to resort to more unconventional methods:
Stella keeps slipping her lower leg back. She struggles to keep it forward, especially when she is a bit unsure. A little stress, something new, or even simple up, or down transitions; that leg just won’t stay in place. As a result her foot won’t stay in the stirrup and she loses them all the time. She will lean on her knees and her upper body comes too far forward. This way Stella struggles to keep balance, and often feels and looks wobbly and unsafe.
We tried to find out why this is happening and found that Stella finds it really hard to use her ankles as a support. She feels uncomfortable and her ankles and lower legs hurt.
So I took her shoes off. We worked on placing her foot correctly into the stirrups. And voila! As soon as she put her foot in the stirrup as she should; straight and under the ball off the foot, her ankles could do its job and stopped hurting. Her leg was where it should be and stayed there 🙂
This is Finley; a 17hh Irish draught x TB.
Finley is what you could call a project horse. Brought over from Ireland, where he wasn’t ridden much at all, he is an 8 year old “beginner”. And to make things just that little bit harder, Finley suffers from shivers. He struggles to lift his hind legs when he stands, so for example scratching his belly with his hind leg is not possible for him.
Finley worked roughly at prelim level and could do a few low jumps. When ridden it took him quite a long time to warm up and soften. He lacked balance and the confidence to move forward, so seemed a little bit lazy. He wasn’t particularly stiff to any side or crooked, but bending him was not easy.
I treated Finley 3 times, and after each treatment he was better. It took him less time to warm up and to loosen up. This enabled Liz, his owner, to ride more effectively and she now doesn’t need to spend a whole lesson just loosening him up. He can now go on the bit and in a nice outline pretty much straight away and so his training can progress much faster. Lately he has been able to take more weight behind and as a consequence now can work in a shorter frame.
So how has Bowen helped?
The Bowen Technique is a complementary hands-on therapy that specialises on rebalancing the body, through influencing the nervous system and the fascia. Fascia is connective tissue, fibers, that form sheets or bands beneath the skin. These attach, stabilize, enclose, and separate muscles and other internal organs. Fascia surrounds and connects every muscle, tendon, ligament and bone. It surrounds all organs. It runs from the top of the head to the end of the toes. It provides protection and cushioning, it stretches and moves. Fascia allows movement within the body and makes it supple. But what if this fascia gets hurt? Let’s say through an accident like a fall or slip or a bang of some sort. Or what if it just simply doesn’t get used and stretched enough? Then fascia can become stuck together. This is called an adhesion, and it results in restricted muscle movement along with pain, soreness and reduced flexibility or range of motion. Bowen can relieve these adhesions by “talking” to the nervous system. The entire nervous system functions as a vast communication network. Feedback is constantly exchanged among the body’s parts and the central nervous system (CNS), which integrates and coordinates all body systems and activities. Bowen will add new information to these feedback loops, stimulating the CNS to do a systems check and initiate a healing response.
The autonomic nervous system (ANS) regulates the stress response and controls over 80% of body functions. Most people today live in a constant state of elevated stress, or sympathetic nervous system dominance (fight, flight or freeze mode). When in this state our internal resources are mobilized for survival (so we can run away quickly from that bear). There is no time for healing and restoring the body.
Nowadays a lot of horses are in this stress mode too. Competing, not enough turnout, daily work, injuries, you name it. Lots of horses today have ulcers for example, which can be a direct result of stress.
Bowen helps shift the nervous system into parasympathetic dominance (rest, relax and repair mode), sending the message to the body’s systems that the emergency is over. Once this shift occurs, stress symptoms are alleviated and the body can do what it naturally does: heal itself. In relation to soft tissues, the stress response can be activated by injuries, illness, surgery or trauma, causing the surrounding muscles to become locked in a protective contraction. This contraction may be initially helpful, but, if not released, over time it can create imbalances in the myofascial system. When Bowen moves send the signal to the nervous system that the emergency is over, tension levels in the muscles are reset to normal resting length and strain patterns in the fascia are released, allowing a return to optimal functioning. Stress is a fact of life; Bowen is the perfect antidote.
This is Finley after his treatment. His nervous system is most definitely in a parasympathetic state. Sooo tired ☺
Sadly horses can’t tell us if they are unhappy or in pain. And very often the pain has to be quite severe before we notice something is wrong, because it is the horse’s natural instinct to hide pain. In the wild pain equals weakness equals death. So very often small aches will go entirely unnoticed until it is too late and we have a big problem.
And on top of that sometimes we as riders or owners ignore the little tell-tale signs that something is not quite right, or we don’t do anything about it, because we just don’t know what to do.
For example a horse that doesn’t want to stand still when being mounted or doesn’t want to lift a leg; mostly we just put it down to bad behaviour, it doesn’t even occur to us that something could be wrong.
Other problems we might see can be sore or tender backs, stiffness in the body, sudden temperament changes, reluctance to give correct canter lead, muscle wastage or restricted lateral movement. If the problem is big we would of course consult the vet, but quite often we won’t do that if the only thing wrong is that the horse puts his ears back more then normal.
Luckily horse owners are now much more aware of complementary therapies and are not afraid to use them any more. The great thing about Bowen is that it is so gentle that nothing can go wrong, so even vulnerable horses or people can be treated without having to be scared of manipulation or pain.
At other times we might have a problem the vet has diagnosed, but it’s a long term condition that will take a long time to heal and sometimes the outcome can be quite uncertain. One example could be spavins. I met a horse who was diagnosed with spavins a year before I saw him. A lot was being done to help him (medication, lots of turn out, very little gentle riding, he was also kept barefoot) but still he was lame and not too happy. This is him:
Only a week later he cantered across the field, which is something he hasn’t done in a long time. And he was now only 1/10th lame.
During the second treatment S again relaxed quickly. When I came back a week later his owner greeted me with: “you gave me my horse back”!
He is now apparently much happier. He chases other ponies in the field, which he hasn’t done in 2 years. He is playful and has his attitude back. He is not a grumpy old man any more, so his owner thinks about starting to ride him more again, where before Bowen she thought about retiring him. His trot is now short rather then lame.
I love my job 🙂
What happens during a Bowen treatment?
Before any treatment involving a horse takes place it is necessary to obtain permission from your vet to treat the horse. Before the start of the first session information about the horse’s background and general state of health is collected. The horse’s static and dynamic conformation is assessed to give a starting point to measure any improvements by. A discussion with the owner/carer to explore some of the possible causes of the problem (which may not be immediately apparent) is useful because if these causes can be eliminated or minimised then the likelihood of re-injury (so the problem recurring) can be reduced.
Such causes include poor saddle fit, rider imbalance, accidental injury, stress or management issues. The Bowen treatment on the horse is best undertaken somewhere the horse can stand quietly for approximately 45 minutes. As it is a gentle treatment many horses soon relax and some even drop off to sleep. They can have access to hay if they are more settled whilst eating. The effects of the treatment can last for at least 3-4 days as the body is rebalancing and healing.
Advice will be given on when the horse can be exercised and what sort of work would be appropriate. Most conditions respond to three treatments about 1 week apart. For many horses, to maintain their condition and performance levels, a single ‘top-up’ treatment every 3-6 months is sufficient unless there is a re-injury.
Mariana is available to teach Aspire riding courses in Orpington, Kent. Please contact Wiola at email@example.com for details. Bowen therapy can be an optional addition to your lessons (at special prices for riders on Aspire courses) or taken as stand alone treatment. Please contact Mariana at facebook.com/MarianaBroucherBowenTherapy for more information.
I have qualified as a riding instructor nearly 20 years ago now and have been teaching practically ever since. I have also qualified as a judge, because I wanted to be able to see more and understand more. Then I found out about the Bowen Therapy and now I think I have found the missing-link in my teaching and training.
If a horse is having problems making a symmetric circle, no amount of inside leg and outside rein is going to help if the horses back or poll is out. Likewise if a rider’s hip is rotated, the horse may pick up wrong canter leads or disunite.
So to be able to progress and get better, we have to not only learn to ride theoretically, but we have to be physically able to follow instructions. Just ask yourself: Have you been having problems with your horse on turns and circles, canter lead or jumping? Take a moment to consider how you are sitting in the saddle. Are you balanced, with your weight evenly distributed? Are your stirrups the same length? Are you sitting over your horse’s centre of balance?
Pain and tension often goes unnoticed (or ignored) in riders as the body is very adept at compensating; after a period of time however, you ‘mysteriously’ begin to feel pain in for example, your shoulder. Sometimes this pain is actually referred pain, in other words, the original problem may have been in your knee but the pain is now being felt in your shoulder, and so on. By helping to relieve pain and tension, Bowen encourages the rider to provide a more even, balanced weight on the horse’s back.
An unbalanced, crooked rider often results in an unbalanced, crooked horse – and vice versa!
The benefits of Bowen for the rider include:
• Improved position in the saddle
• Improved balance and feel
• Increased joint mobility
• Improved recovery time after injury/fall
Other common problems addressed in riders include:
• Lower back pain
• Hip/pelvic pain
• Shoulder pain
• Whiplash/neck pain
Just to give an example:
S. had problems with her horse’s general way of going. She struggled to keep him in an outline and he was always stiffer on one rein. He had trouble to canter on one rein. S was aware of her problems. She knew that she carried one shoulder higher, that her arms where stiff and her back not very supple.
As a result she would ride with very short stirrups to make it more comfortable for herself. S spent lots of time and money trying to fix her problems; she had many lessons and even learnt a series of exercises to help her straighten up. It didn’t work, because the back pain and tension in her shoulder just wouldn’t ease off, so she couldn’t straighten up. Bowen has helped her a lot. The pain and tension went and she can now use the exercises and lessons to be more aware of her body and finally progress in her riding.
This mounted photo was taken before S had Bowen. The left shoulder is much higher then the right one. The photo on the right shows S after her treatment. She is now much straighter.