Testimonial by Guest Blogger Leah Dennis

I have been riding since I was six years old.  My most active of which was for a ten year period, where by the end of it, I was riding two or three times a week doing mostly dressage but also hunter/jumper work. As you can imagine, during that time period, I had many opportunities to learn horsemanship and practical riding skills.  I always felt, however, that there was a whole dimension that I was lacking in my experience, but since owning my own horse was not an option for me at the time, I felt that I had reached my limit.  How wrong I was!

My equestrian approach was always based in the best of intentions - for the love of horses, and the bond between horse and (wo)man.  I was always eager to learn more about these phenomena, but I was rarely given the opportunity to see beyond the formulaic and business-like one-hour group lesson.  There also always seemed to be such a focus on achieving dominance over the horse, which resulted in an unbalanced power dynamic and lots of unnecessary methods or harsh accessories to “correct” behaviors rather than searching deeper towards the cause.  This never sat right with me, but I also was not aware of another way at the time.

Working with Nina Heller, the founder of Bitless and Beautiful and Summerwood Stables, has been a transformative experience.  I finally feel the opportunity to explore a deeper relationship with horses - centered around riding bitless. As someone who had never thought bitless riding would be a practical or safe option, I was intrigued by the idea, but was absolutely shocked at the results.  Not only is riding bitless absolutely practical and safe, it is not limiting in the least.  As a rider, I almost immediately picked up where I had left off and I continue to work on dressage with a more rewarding and balanced approach.  I’ll never forget the first day I tried riding bitless with Nina and how effortless it was of a transition and how much happier the horses seemed.  I’m definitely a stronger rider through it as well, and I rest assured that my relationship with the horse I am riding is much more of a balanced partnership than before.  I’m excited for what is to come and I urge any equestrian to not be afraid to try riding bitless!

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Month of Massage - Parts 6 & 7

None of us are just one thing.  We are all made of different elements.  One of those elements is energy, and this energy lives in a vessel that is our body.  It’s the same for all of us, including our horses.  Our bodies and our energy are often not in sync.  Sometimes we need to relax the body in order to access the mind, heart and the soul.

Relaxing the body through massage allows your horse to realign her body with her mind, realign her body with her heart and soul.  Massage can also help you, the rider or partner, to realign your relationship with your horse, by offering a selfless service to your friend who gives so much in return.  By offering massage you will find that you start to feel more of a balance in your relationship with your horse, and you just might find that this gift of massage is a gift that keeps on giving as it improves not only your bond, but your horse’s performance as well.  Don’t surprised if you yourself start to benefit from giving massage.  As your horse relaxes, it is difficult not to go along for that ride and find that at the end of a session you feel just as peaceful as your horse!

Check back for more content! www.bitlessandbeautiful.com
Check back for more content!

Month of Massage - Part 5

Massage can be as simple as touching someone while filled with thoughts and intention of bringing that someone healing, or it can be a very systematic therapeutic process of learned and practiced movements, but the best is when it is both!

Medicine is of the sciences, but I believe that healing is of the arts, and when art is involved, it is important to develop your own style. 

Thanks to the internet and YouTube, you can now study the concepts of massage quite easily and if you have a horse or horses to practice with, the horses can and will be excellent teachers and study partners.  Let your horses help you develop your own style of massage, which should include a nice balance of intention, intuition, and learned skills.

Always be safe, and listen to your horse, and respect what your horse is telling you.

To get you started, please have a look at 2 of my favorite methods, the Masterson Method by Bill Masterson, and TTOUCH by Linda Tellington-Jones.

Month of Massage - Part 4

How will you show your equine partner some love on valentines day???  How about a massage??

Besides the benefit to the body, your hands can transmit a message of love and caring to your horse that will support his/her emotional well-being.  The release of endorphins and oxytocin will have your four-legged friend in a state of bliss and it lasts long after you have finished.  So why not give your horse just another reason to love you??

Have look at our vlog on DIY massage for some pointers and inspiration, or just to get a look at the expressions on the face of our massage subject.

One happy and satisfied customer!

Month of Massage - Part 3

Massage is something we can all do.  It’s one of the more innocent and simple acts of healing.  The laying on of a well meaning and loving pair of hands, if only to offer warmth to a sore muscle, is not a bad place to start.  Touching and feeling your horse with a flat palm or palms, all over the horse’s body, is a great introduction for horse and human.

We have a mare that does not like to be groomed.  We thought she just did not like being touched.  Oh boy, were we wrong!  I became curious to see if we could reframe her idea about human touch.  We started with very, very gentle massage, and yes, she was suspicious at first, but it did not take long to win her over to this non-brushing, non-currying thing with the hands. We now start her with a massage before grooming, and she is so relaxed by the time the brushes come out that the grooming goes smoothly for all, and even tacking up for this mare is now easier. 

If you don’t know how to start this journey, just touch your horse.  Calmly, slowly, and with love in your heart and hands.

Keep checking back all month for new content! www.bitlessandbeautiful.com

Month of Massage - Part 2

Let me start by saying that the last thing i want to do is put your masseuse out of business!  By all means, if you can support your horse with professional massage, do so knowing that you are offering a wonderful gift to your equine partner, and providing healing therapy for your horse.  Massage is also a really good mode of preventative care.  Sadly, many of us are not able to afford the services of an equine body worker, some not so often, and some not at all, and others may be able to afford it, but not have access to it.

Putting aside the logistical aspects of finances and availability, performing massage for your horse with your own hands provides more than just relief to the equine body, it builds and strengthens the bond between you. 

Humans are always coming at their horses with demand in their hands.  The human hand is almost always saying,

"I want something from you."

"I want to take something from you."

"I want you to do this for me.”

Sometimes, but not as often, the human hand comes with a stroke, a pat, or a treat, but those moments are fleeting and few compared to the demands.  The human hand says,

“Go here.”

"Go there.”

“Do this.”

“Do that.”

The human hand pulls, pushes, and often punishes.  Offering massage to your horse, your hands can at last act in a loving way.  Massage enables your hands to say,

"”I want to help you.”

“I want you to feel good.”

“I want to show you love.”

Massage offers you an opportunity to give something to your horse without expecting anything in return.  It allows you to be close to your horse, to feel your horse, touch your horse, all without expectation.  Grooming is a wonderful bonding experience too, but even grooming has some hint of human agenda attached to it.  Massage for the horse by its own human is such a great example of something unselfish that we can do for our horses. 

Again, I am all for professional massage, but not at the exclusion of the human laying their own hands on their own horse.  The health benefits that come from a professional massage are undeniable, but the opportunity to build your bond, strengthen your relationship, and weave the threads of love and trust between you and your horse can only occur when you lay your own hands on your own horse.

I hope you enjoy the second video in our series on DIY massage!

Part 2 of the Summerwood Series on Equine Massage. Check back all month for new content! www.bitlessandbeautiful.com

Month of Massage! - Part 1

This month, February 2018, I finally feel ready to start to share some of my feelings and findings on the mind/body/spirit connection, and a little about what I have been learning about the different energies that exist in life.

I have purposely refrained from reading or studying this matter, so that I could take a pure journey in discovery. I did however, come into this with a bit of an understanding about the Theory of Attraction, and how we can manifest things in our life through our beliefs.  I have seen first hand how our attitudes can affect what we do.  I have also witnessed that there seems to be a relationship between our attitude and our health, and that there has been proven that a strong spirituality can lead to longevity for humans.  I have also seen that horses that have happy lives seem to be healthier, and have noticed that healthy happy horses do seem to live longer.  I firmly believe that the mind, body, spirit and soul work with each other, depend on each other, and need each other. 

I have long been a fan of massage, and I believe that getting in touch, literally, with the body, can have a profound effect on the mind and spirit.  I am not a professionally trained body worker, nor have I studied at length or depth in books, but what I have done over the course of many years is study, in a  "hands on" way, the horses in my life, each one gifting me a piece of a very fascinating puzzle of what this "complete connection" is about.   There are so many different techniques for massage and you can learn about them and study many of them online.  I enjoy the Masterson Method and TTouch, but the very best massage instructor is already in your barn!  That’s right!  Your horse will guide you and teach you in this journey as well. As long as you are safe, careful, and thoughtful, if you are comfortable and educated enough to groom your horse thoroughly, you should be able to massage your horse as well.  Of course, if your horse has soundness, lameness, or health issues you should always consult with a practitioner, but generally, a well intended, love-filled laying on of hands should not be something we should feel insecure about trying, and that’s a great starting point for you and your horse if you’ve never tried this before.  Just put your hands on your horse, gently and with a heart felt intention, and watch your horse respond.  Listen to your horse.  Let your instinct and intuition play a part in guiding you, too.  Spending time with your horse with the intention of wanting your horse to feel better, can only be time well spent, and these moments go a long way in building your relationship, trust, and your own connection with your horse. 
As always - be safe, and respect your horse’s boundaries.  Your horse will tell you if it’s not the time or place.  To help inspire you, have a look at the first video in our little DYI massage series, we will follow it up in a few days with more blog, and more video!

Part 1 of the Summerwood Series on Equine Massage. Check back all month for new content! www.bitlessandbeautiful.com

New Year, New Practice. New Opportunities.

Working with horses from the ground, or in-hand, is almost a lost art in our modern world of equestrianism and horse training.  This centuries old technique for training, conditioning, gentling, and gymnasticizing the horse has long taken a back seat to other methods of starting and training horses, methods which would appear to be quicker and more efficient, yet sadly, have proven in the long run to create generations of horses that are prone to be unsound in mind, body, and/or spirit - horses that are tense, nervous, stressed to the point of being unwell, plagued with ulcers, and with a short working longevity.

Any horse of any age or experience level can benefit from working in-hand.  This work can be performed with mature horses at any point in their training, and is an excellent foundation for starting young horses.  And, very importantly, let us not forget to mention the benefits for the human!  Working from the ground offers us humans an entirely different perspective of our horses:  their strengths and areas of weakness.  It gives us a deeper understanding of our horses’ balance and imbalances.

Working from the ground places horse and human at the same level, both literally and figuratively, and through this platform of equality, the bond between horse and human can flourish in ways that are not even imaginable to those who have not experienced it.  When working from the ground, horse and human build an entirely new and improved language and level of communication and can establish a trust that can only enhance any other equestrian activities one chooses to pursue, mounted or unmounted.

As when exploring any new equestrian discipline, starting the work in-hand can feel clumsy and awkward for both human and horse, but with patience and perseverance, continuity and commitment, working in-hand quickly becomes an extraordinarily satisfying and holistic workout for both horse and human.  Many find that working in-hand is so enjoyable, beneficial, and satisfying that they often will choose working in-hand over work in the saddle.  Whether you chose to use the work in-hand as a supplement to your riding, or as a discipline on its own, working from the ground offers the human a canvas to create a true work of art with their horse, shoulder to shoulder, eye to eye, heart to heart.

Please enjoy my student's testimonial below, as she talks about her in-hand journey.

Happy riding!