Optimal Performance Program: Self-Study
Optimal Performance Program is not another training method, or horsemanship path people engage for a while to later discover it wasn’t yet “the one” and they return to searches for something better. Optimal Performance Program is not something that discriminates other training techniques, which you may be using now or in the future.
Optimal Performance Program is another WAY OF DOING THINGS: it teaches you how to teach your horse to Consciously Relax PRIOR, DURING and AFTER each action and each movement through a Relaxation Technique, which every horse has, but is not aware of it. You are going to teach your horse how to be able to access his Relaxation Technique no matter what is happening in the environment and with him internally (it’s like yogic practice in which you learn to meditate in a closed room and then you wrap yourself in wet sheets and you do the same in Himalayan cave – you rise access to the technique to become independent of the environment).
If we are meeting here, it means that you are seriously interested in relaxation of your horse. Relaxation is the most powerful force one can harness for his personal profit in Life. It’s like a high quality dressage horse — when one can enter Relaxation, then the only job one has to do is not to disturb it. After all, the whole world yields to the mind that is at peace.
No matter what’s the reason you found yourself here — may it be increasing your horse’s performance, and helping him to make most of his natural qualities and skills, turning your horse into the roaring lion of the competition field, making your horse feel more self-aware, and self-confident in all every-day life situations, opening-up your horse’s gaits and unzipping all the energy that you feel he holds within, or calming your horse down, and supporting him in dealing with his anxiety attacks — I want you to know that you are in the right place.
Ball Dresses and Suits Made Out of Tensions
When I speak with horse owners, I often hear that their horses can act like two, or even three totally different horses depending on a situation. In one situation, usually on the paddock, a horse can be super relaxed, sweet and affectionate, and in another situation, for example in the arena or when being ridden, the horse is tensed and feels like a ticking bomb ready to explode in any moment.
Based on these observations many horse owners come to the conclusion that their horses don’t like to be ridden, trained, or even interact with humans and that the only thing a human can bring to a horse is disturbance, bother and turmoil.
If you are one of these people yourself, here I am to tell you that you were mistaken. Horses love to be trained, spend time with humans and some of them even enjoy being ridden, but there is one condition under which all of these can happen: the horse must be really deeply relaxed in these situations. If your horse gets tensed in the arena, or when being ridden, or if your horse tenses up just by seeing you, he will be able to neither enjoy these activities nor enjoy spending time with you.
Tensions are like outfits: yoga outfits, pajamas, suits and ball dresses. Our bodies have a great memory of how to dress-up in the tensions for the given occasion. How the body learns what to “put on” for the given occasion? It experiences the occasion for the very first time, and it remembers forever (or at least for a very long time) how exactly it made the body tensed.
If your horse had been started under the saddle in a way that made him very tense, his body remembers this Dress Code, and the next time, and all following times, when the horse sees the saddle or is mounted he will dress-up accordingly to the situation: he will tense up in the very same way, as he learned he must when in the given situation for the very first time.
It’s very hard, if not impossible, to change the tension dress-code of the body using the regular training techniques. This is because the body is convinced it really needs these tensions in order to survive and cope with the situation. In the same way as you are convinced that wearing breeches is the best outfit to go to the stables, and you would never wear breeches when going for a job interview, your horse’s body believes it must “wear” certain outfits made out of tensions for the given situations. Let’s take a look:
- Being in the paddock — wearing pajamas,
- Being groomed — wearing yoga outfit,
- Being in the training arena — wearing suit or a ball dress,
- Riding outside in the forest — wearing a suit with a very tight tie, or wearing a ball dress with an extremely tight corset.
As you can see it would be very hard to convince your horse that he can go wearing his fluffy pajamas or his cozy yoga outfit for a ride in a forest, if his body’s firm belief it’s that he needs a ball dress with a really tight corset, or a suit with a tie tightened firmly around his neck. It’s not a matter of seeking comfort, it’s a matter of what we believe is required from us. If your horse’s body learned once it needs a ball dress or a suit to be in the dressage arena, it will be very hard to convince him, he is going to be absolutely alright there wearing stretchy sweatpants.
Optimal Performance Program is not another training technique, a new way of holding the whip, or a manner of exchanging the whip with a string to a flag, it’s not positive reinforcement, clicker timing, presence or lack of treats, or a special “spiritual” approach. Optimal Performance Program is a very special, methodical way of teaching your horse’s body to wear NEW OUTFITS for the old, and new occasions. In fact, during the duration of the Program we teach horses that there is just ONE OUTFIT suitable for all occasions and situations in Life, and this outfit is DEEP MUSCLE RELAXATION.
In Optimal Performance Program all exercises are thought, and designed in such a way, so that your horse’s body learns how to change it’s outfit, and learns a new dress code suitable for the SIX MAJOR TENSIONS that all horses experience on every day basis, and that some of them have a really big struggle with.
This feeling of a struggle is nothing different than a feeling of having to dress up for an occasion in an outfit that you really don’t like, and that makes you really uncomfortable, but you simply don’t see another option. Optimal Performance Program will teach your horse that it’s always OK to take the ballroom dress or a suit off, and seek a different, a more comfortable outfit for the situation. Optimal Performance Program teaches horses how to chose Deep Muscle Relaxation as their forever desired and loved outfit. To feel better, perform better, be healthier, and excel in everything they do.
Optimal Performance Program PLAN
During Optimal Performance Program you are going to learn SIX RELAXATION PATTERNS in order to teach your horse how to release tensions, and therefore be able to change his beliefs about his body’s Dress Code that is required from him under SIX different types of tensions appearing in SIX different contexts. Then, during the WEEK 9 I am going to show you how to use Deep Muscle Relaxation to Change & Improve your horse’s Movement Patterns. After that we are going to use the RELAXATION PATTERNS’ PUZZLES that you have developed with your horse to build out from them many complex behaviors, and show you how you can implement Optimal Performance Program into any Training Method, and Horsemanship Path you wish to follow, now and in the future. You will very quickly see that Optimal Performance Program is a non-discriminating technique that focuses just on teaching the horse relaxation. It mixes well with high-end sports performance, competitions, trailer-loading, natural horsemanship, clicker-training, positive reinforcement training, and all spiritual paths. Simply because no matter what you do together with your horse, your horse will do it better if he knows how to take his Ball Dress or Suit off, and just relax at the task ahead.
WEEK 1-2: Developing Relaxation Technique
During the first week of Optimal Performance Program you are going to learn how to increase the number of your horse’s Relaxation Signs, and therefore the time your horse spends in the state of Spontaneous Relaxation. This is one of the two most important weeks of Optimal Performance Training, during which you teach your horse how to recognize appearance of physical tensions in his body, and release them. During the Second Week’s practice you are going to learn how to support your horse in learning how to turn moments of Spontaneous Relaxation into Conscious Relaxation, available for your horse through a conscious act of will. Your horse will learn how to look for tensions in his body consciously in order to be able to have them released, and relax. The process of looking for tensions consciously while performing an action will be your horse’s first experience of his Relaxation Technique.
WEEK 3: Relaxation on Restrictions of Food
Relaxation on Restriction of Food is a Relaxation Technique for every single horse: it’s perfect for horses who eat too quickly, and too much, and therefore have problems with excess weight, and it’s equally suitable for horses who are fussy, tend to eat too little, and have problems with maintaining their weight. It’s suitable for horses who are trained with treats, and for those who are trained without treats. It’s an essential tool in life of every horse who eats.
WEEK 4: Relaxation on Distractions
Distraction is everything in the environment of your horse that causes him distress, pulls his focus away from the trainer and the training routine, and therefore causes the horse to become more tensed. Of course, the fact that your horse becomes distressed by changes in his environment is already a sign that his body has been already quite tensed at the beginning. A truly relaxed horse notices everything, but responds adequate to the external trigger.
WEEK 5: Relaxation on Orders
At the beginning of the OPP course a horse trainer may ask: “Why cannot we work without orders and rules?”. He thinks that rules are an unnecessary formality, and orders unnecessarily control his horse. In fact, rules are the main and first form of help a trainer receives from work, and orders are not meant to provide entertainment neither to the trainer nor to the horse, but to communicate what is going to happen in order to allow the work to be completed. When your horse is able to relax at orders given to him, he doesn’t unnecessarily lose energy on thinking if he agrees or disagrees with what is going to happen next, he takes an order as a simple information and guidance of what is going to happen next and he just follows it. This Relaxation Technique is an amazing saver of the energy, and you wouldn’t believe how much energy your horse can have if he stops bracing against (internally or externally, or both) with what is happening around him, and to him. When trainers see their horses change after this Week’s practice, they call me and say they want the same for themselves!
WEEK 6: Relaxation on Restrictions of Movement
Horses are not coping very well with restrictions. Any restriction to the horse’s movement or suddenly felt desire is tensing the body in a very certain way, and this certain tension is interpreted by the horse’s mind as fear. When the horse is scared, his natural response is to escape the situation, to run away from it. Fear is a product of the mind. When there are specific patterns of tensions in the body, the mind can interpret them as fear. When a horse knows his Relaxation Technique and can perform it at Restrictions, he can release these tensions and lower, or even release, sensation of fear completely. In such a situation we say that such a horse is not coping with restrictions, he is accepting them. This Relaxation Technique has already helped me tremendously with working with horses prone to panic attacks.
WEEK 7: Relaxation on Difficulties
Difficulty is everything that evokes tension in your horse: the exercise he is doing, but also the one he expects. Going into a new task your horse tightens the body, and later remembers this specific net of tensions for a very long time. When a horse starts that exercise, or begins to expect that he will be asked to do that task in the nearest future, his body starts to tense in the exact same way, as when he tried that exercise for the very first time. During this Week’s Practice I will show you how to teach your horse to deepen his Relaxation in face of Difficulty approaching. After this Week’s Practice you will discover how your horse can become more relaxed in face of expected difficulty, and how the closer the difficulty becomes, the more he becomes relaxed. This exercise is a real GEM in the tool-box of Professional Equestrians whose horses are exposed everyday to many difficulties connected with training and lifestyle (competitions, transportation) they have.
WEEK 8: Relaxation on Elevated Heart Rate
The ability to maintain and deepen muscle relaxation during movement with an elevated heart rate is the basic ability that distinguishes an ordinary mortal from a professional athlete. Without this ability, movement tires body very quickly, and makes the performer avoid the movement. Relaxation on Elevated Heart Rate is a crucial skill when working with all lazy horses, and horses who respond to movement with excitement. It’s also especially important for sports horses.
+ EXTRA WEEK 9: Changing Movement Patterns
Movement Patterns define how your horse moves. Teaching new movement patterns is an essential part of horse training. You need to teach your horse how to move in balance before you can introduce him to advanced exercises and riding. In this chapter, you will learn how to teach your horse new movement patterns using Relaxation. Thanks to relaxation your horse can improve and accept a new way of moving without tensing his muscles.
+ EXTRA RELAXATION ON COMPLEX BEHAVIORS
- Relaxation on Saddling, Girth, and Mounting: A proven way of starting young horses under the saddle, and re-starting horses with saddling, girthing & mounting related issues. After this Relaxation Technique you will be able to deepen your horse’s relaxation while preparing him for a training session and thanks to that you will be able to start a training session with a horse who is optimally prepared to face the challenges ahead.
- Relaxation on Taking Deworming Paste: For horses who are extra shy when taking a deworming paste, rear, pull themselves loose, escape and avoid taking the paste, and for whom neither positive reinforcement nor pressure/release oriented training methods were working.
- Relaxation on Showering, and Fly Spray: This Relaxation Technique is dedicated especially for extra shy horses, and horses who are sensitive to touch.
Testimonials from OPP Students:
Charlotte Vanlerberghe and Frida, dealing with separation anxiety: I started the Optimal Performance Program because my mare was constantly spooky and anxious about leaving the other horses or just being alone. When I wanted to work with her in the arena she was constantly tensed and neighing to the other horses. You could see the tensions on her mouth, always pressing here lips together and nervecontractions around her mouth. Her nostrials were also lifted.
The first sessions she gave me not much relaxation signs, only lowering the head at chest level was already quite a progress. But the further we went in the OPP the more she begans to relax. Now she is giving me big relaxation signs!! She is constantly walking with her head towards the ground, licking, chewing, shaking her head, snorting, … I even saw here standing in her box with her lowerlip hanging loose!! In the 6 months that we have her, she never did this before!!
I also feel a deeper connection with her, she is more willing to work with me. I can’t wait to go further in the OPP!! It is already such a big difference!
Thank you Anna Marciniak for your help!
Barbara Pirnay, impressions after Optimal Performance Program Clinic in Belgium, 2018:
Barbara Pirnay, Ultima & Valea, three weeks into OPP Program: It’s so heartwarming to see my 2 mares eating together and peacefully. Previously, it was just unthinkable … Valea (the black mare) was so excessively dominant about food and Ultima (the chestnut mare) so scared to come closer to eat that I had to put a hay pile for Ultima at least 10-15 meters away from Valea. Previously, sharing hay was just impossible and thanks relaxation and OPP, things are totally different now and even if Valea is always the dominant mare, she allows Ultima to eat close to her at the hay rack.
Kerstin Norrman and Corredor, dealing with stereotype behaviours and excitement towards other horses: There has been a lot of changes in my relationship with Corredor during these two months of practicing the Optimal Performance Program with Anna Marciniak`s guidence. I will now tell you a little was has happened lately: Corredor had some stereotype behaviours in his paddock. He lives alone in his paddock, but very close to the other horses. The herd has a very big paddock and when the herd walks away far from Corredor, he used to walk along the fence manically turning hís head towards the fence in every step. It is clearly stress-related behaviour. Yesterday, I came to think of that I haven’t seen that behaviour for some time. I have also noticed that when I am working with some other horse Corredor can stand watching us and doing relaxing signals for himself in his paddock.
When I was yesterday practising canter-work according to the Optimal Performance Program with Corredor, the other horses were having some issue in the paddock and were running around chasing each other, beside the riding arena. Corredor were not paying any attention at all to them. He kept the same rythm in the canter, only paying attention to me. Normally, he would have joined the others from his side of the fence, forgetting about me and what we were doing.
The Calmness that I look for working with Corredor affects me also. Often when I go to Corredor I feel stressed and tensed from a long and demanding day at work. After working with Corredor and the other horses according to OPP I go back inside my house happy and relaxed. The Calmness and looking for relaxation in my horses goes both ways.
Iga Mackiewicz and Boogie Blues, dealing with lack of engagement and willingness to move: Boogie Blues is my 3,5 year old Oldenburg, recently gelded. I’ve owned him since his birth but has only just started regular “work” with him. He had a lot of unfortunate accidents in the past and he is a pretty big fellow maturing slowly, so I am really focused on giving him as much childhood and freedom as possible. I did the Foal class with him – but because he was in a stable 100km away from where I live it was only once a week and most of the time he was just enjoying his herd of young stallions. Now, I moved him to the stable where I see him every day. My first observation after bringing him here was that whenever in the round pen – he seemed pretty closed up and acting as if there was a little “knot” inside of him, making him stiff and unwilling to move. It was virtually impossible to make him trot, without using force. I was pretty devastated and didn’t know what to do – cause he was clearly healthy and quite expressive when in the field. I was thinking about buying the Energy Course from Anna, but ended up contacting her and upon consulting the idea with her I decided to go with the OPP course. We have just started really, focusing on the relaxation of course. Making kilometres walking and enjoying our relaxation moments. What I wanted to share is that all of a sudden, Boogie started offering pretty relaxed trots completely by himself! No chasing, no sticks, no force whatsoever. He is far away form relax in the elevated heart rate, but still the change is so significant and coming really from HIM – that I decided to share it. He is also really at ease with treats and much easier to manage when around mares (he still thinks he’s a stallion). This was a big and fast change, that I didn’t really accept. What’s more I observe time and time again quite vigorous peristalsis in both him and me – while training! I think I need to relax, also in everyday life, about as much as he does, cause we are both pretty sensitive and worrying-about-everything types. I’m really looking forward to where the OPP takes us! Thank you, Anna! 😊
Michelle Hellendoorn a professional horse trainer from the Netherlands and her horses, dealing with food fixation: My horses changed their eating patterns! They look better and they also doubled the time they finish a big hay roll (around 400kg). Before they needed about 1,5 week, but now they need more then 4 weeks!
Valerie Caspary and Crossby, dealing with excitement and disengagement: I began Optimal Performance Program with the thought that this course will be only about Crossby, his relaxation and his autonomy. Trough Anna’s guidance I could not only experience how Crossby became more independent and more relaxed in his everyday life but also how to let go of unnecessary thoughts and worries and to do what has to be done. My heart was melting when Crossby ran to the gate after only a few days of OP. In the last years both of us lost the lightness and motivation to just do things together with whole engagement. Now he comes to the gate when he sees me, waiting to start the training.
Another beautiful experience was to observe Crossby letting go of all unneeded tension at the arena. Day by day both of us became more active, more engaged and more light. What is always surprising me the most about Anna’s courses is how much I can learn trough them. OP Programm and especially Anna’s honest and on point guidance helped Crossby and me to carry on, relax and let go of everything that is not needed for the here and now. I am so happy to see the relaxation spreading trough his body and to see how his tissue texture has changed in such a short time.
For me the most beautiful change was to observe how his eyes became more and more relaxed. How the muscles around the eyes became soft and how Crossbys view has changed. His eyes are speaking for themselves and all I can tell you is that they have never been so relaxed ever since our paths have crossed.
Kerstin Norrman and Corredor, dealing with anxiety and stereotype behaviours: In life there are ups and downs. The first years together with Corredor contained a lot of ups and successes. However, in recent years we have struggled a bit more, Corredor becoming tense and explosive. As I tried to be calm and nice, he started to react with panic or stress. The things we could do became more and more limited, and as a result I started to do less and less together with Corredor.
I had for some time looked at OneHorseLife and the Optimal Performance Program, I got interested and decided to join. The program starts from scratch and built a good foundation for us to continue on. After the first initial steps things started to change fast. Today, after 6 weeks in the Optimal Performance Program, I could work in the arena with Corredor together with another horse, and then go for a long walk in the forest.
I’m very happy to able to do simple things, like walking with my horse in the forest, but now I feel like the limitations have lifted and I can achieve anything with Corredor.
Wendy ten Wolde and Sam, dealing with Sam’s food fixation, being bloated and being out of shape due to excessive eating: Dear Anna Marciniak, like I told you Sam’s behavior towards the food has really changed. We have a paddock paradise system with 24/7 hay: Sam was most of the time eating. After some weeks OPP his food patterns are changing not only with the bucket with food [on which we have been practicing]: in the paddock Sam is eating less, and he is even standing with his buttocks to the hay, see foto below!!! 😂 Other horses say to him: “If you don’t eat please go away”, but he is looking with his calm look at them and says: “I am standing fine here”. He is playing a lot with other horses, and he is more standing still and relaxing and doing nothing [than just eating].
I like what I see, but thats not all! Because his mare (girlfriend) which is always close to him is also changing her patterns and showing more calmness (deals with separation anxiety better).