THE AMAZING POWER OF RELAXATION
“The SpotLight Course RELAX THAT STOMACH is simply AMAZING. I can’t find words that are good enough to describe it, cause what Anna gives you here is just out of this world. It is crazy how much you can benefit for REAL from just this clinic.
I tried this clinic as a last resort to make my dream for my horse real. I wanted him to be happy, healthy but most of all I wanted a good friend for him.
Every friend we found for my horse was chasing him away from the food and hay which also caused more tensions in their companionship. Because of this problem I started this clinic with my own horse but also with his paddock buddy who is VERY angry and tense around food (as like almost every horse I know). And of course my own horse would become tense as well since he was never allowed to eat in relaxation.
After just a COUPLE DAYS they are more relaxing by themselves at random moments in the paddock, during trimming of their feet etc. When I started to practice on the food I saw almost instantly results, it was crazy. I almost couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the paddock buddy waiting for me to bring the food with his head low, smacking (his lips) instead of being tense and being angry at my horse. This was just after TWO OR THREE times of practice!!!!!!!
Now we are still practicing and I can see and also feel how they are slowly getting more relaxed in eating the hay during the day as well, now they are eating together many times!!!! Of course there are still moments of frustration, but we are only in the food practice for 1.5 weeks and the results we have now are amazing, I can’t wait to see what the future with the technique will bring for us!!!
I can also relax now when I see some frustration happening, cause I know it will get better, because I can truly trust this technique. Especially for me this is a huge thing. (Before this) I could literally cry and not sleep because my head was spinning about what to do to make this right for my horse. In the beginning I was so unsure about this program because everything I had tried failed. THANK YOU ANNA.”
Student from the Netherlands. Relax That Stomach Online Course
What Is “Relax That Stomach” And “The Optimal Performance Program”?
The Relax That Stomach techniques, presented in this book, are the first fundamental exercises taken from the Optimal Performance Program, developed by Anna and Pawel Marciniak at OneHorseLife. The Optimal Performance Program is a series of Relaxation Techniques designed to address the most common, very specific and real tensions which affect most horses’ health, performance and well being. The glowing testimonials above are just a few of those that arrive daily from our online students and clinic participants, illustrating how amazing the results can be.
During the Optimal Performance Program (OPP), we gradually raise the challenges and the level to which the horse is exposed to various stressors, but we do this in a way that allows him to discover true Relaxation in the task, rather than simple obedience. It is a non-discriminative training approach that your horse can continue to use no matter what else is happening in his life. At the same time, it can complement any of your other training methods or disciplines.
The Results Of Conscious Relaxation
With the exercises presented here, your horse will learn the skill of Conscious Relaxation, an ability that will dramatically improve his life. This is not another method to control your horse, nor do we expect your horse to learn self-control but, in the same way that a person may learn relaxation techniques to help her through stressful circumstances, these techniques will teach your horse how to access the pathway to Relaxation, instead of his normal responses, such as flight, fight or freeze. And since humans and horses hold most of our stress and tension in our internal organs, particularly our stomach, learning to release those particular tensions that perhaps have affected him for years will bring about startling and beneficial change.
Switching Focus To Relax The Horse
Early in our OneHorseLife career, we designed our programs to increase relaxation in the human and with this change and new awareness naturally promote relaxation in that person’s horse. But the fact is that we humans are inconstant creatures, tending to alter our desires and interests frequently. Even a tried and true method that’s been bringing good results may be entirely discarded to experience the excitement of something new. And after all, why not? A person should be free to follow their path and gather a variety of life experiences. But we can’t ask our horses how they feel about these unexpected disruptions. Instead, he’s forced to follow our lead as suddenly all the rules are overturned.
With The Optimal Performance Program, therefore, we switched the focus onto helping horses deal with these life events and find their own relaxation, independent of external triggers. As your horse learns how to relax and deepen this experience, soon he is able to come to it no matter what his day might bring – his owner’s emotional turmoil, an overstressed vet, an impatient farrier, even his sale to a new home.
A Beautiful And Empowering Gift
This is such a beautiful gift to give your horse. Once he feels something works FOR HIM, not in a manner of exercise or action-reward based way, but really seeing how OPP Relaxation Technique changes his health, wellbeing, attitude and perception of the environment, the effects are incredible. When a horse sees how by calming himself he can calm and relax other horses, helping them also to de-stress, he will stick to it, following the technique no matter what. Teaching them how to find and keep their relaxation independent of the environment represents true invincibility.
In these Relax That Stomach exercises, we are not seeking relaxation that is triggered by something, but a conscious access to the body and, therefore, the mind, attitude and mood of the horse. Because relaxation spreads, its waves will also hit you and your body anytime your horse relaxes (even if you are stressed). Imagine how empowering this is for horses, showing them that by changing themselves they have the tool to change their human!
A Relaxed Horse Is Not Dull Or Sluggish
And what does relaxation look like in the context of our horses? First let’s look at what it’s not. A relaxed horse is not inactive. A relaxed horse is not sleepy. A relaxed horse is not a sluggish horse. A relaxed horse is not a frantic horse. Nor is he dull, shut down or apathetically resigned in a state of learned helplessness. Instead, relaxation brings our desires and wants into balance so we are free to access all our abilities and resources when we need to act.
So if you think that a relaxed horse will never spook or that his heart rate will never change, think again. Relaxation is expressed in variability, in flexibility of behaviors. Actually, if your heart rate is steady no matter what is happening, we would guess that rather than being relaxed, you are under a lot of stress, unable to mobilize and take down your nervous system. When you are naturally at a high level of tension, your reaction or the jump in your cortisol response may not look so extreme, but your system will need a longer period of time to lower back down to its standby level of elevated stress.
In practice, this means that while a tense horse, after spooking, may stay anxious and be unable to settle or return to work, a relaxed horse might also jump but two or three steps later the incident is forgotten, allowing training to happily resume. You can compare this with a relaxed person who has a problem with someone and shrugs it off minutes later, whereas a constantly tense person might have a similar argument and be unable to forget it for days, months or even years.
A Relaxed Horse Is An Affectionate Resilient Horse
Relax That Stomach exercises and Optimal Performance Program are not about making horses bomb-proof or unresponsive. They are about releasing tensions and making the central nervous system and body more available for the horse. Indeed, your horse’s momentary spook might be even bigger than in the days when his body was locked in freeze mode. But now his recovery is amazingly quick and instead of walking stiffly, unable to engage his body, he is affectionate, has learned to enjoy touch and has stopped attacking other horses. Relaxation Allows Us To Be Our Best Selves
In the Optimal Performance Program, we see Relaxation as this magic state that doesn’t kill our desires or traits of character but allows us to put them to full use, turning them from obstacles into assets. With relaxation, all your horse’s qualities will be bigger. If your horse is observant and notices every detail, this trait will not be squashed but be able to be redirected into work. Perhaps you’re frustrated because your horse spooks, startling at every bird or fluttering leaf, so bothered by everything that he’s unable to focus on his work. But imagine that this same highly-intelligent horse with such an amazing ability to notice every slight change in the environment is so beautifully relaxed that he can redirect this attention to perceiving your subtlest aids. What a huge powerful gift you’ve been given then.
Why Is Relaxation So Difficult For Most Of Us?
For humans, true moments of Relaxation – synonymous with mental repose, tranquility, peacefulness, calming oneself – have become something of a rarity in our Western culture. While our great-grandparents may have happily sat on the porch watching the clouds go by or stared trance-like into a blazing fireplace, today, if you’re not a regular meditator or living on a remote beach or mountain-top, the thought of having nothing to do or no electronic device to entertain you probably makes you feel a little bit anxious. We stress about ‘wasting time’. Even yoga, for many, has become yet another method to challenge the body’s limits rather than the dictionary definition of Relaxation as a ‘state of being free from tension and anxiety.’
This is why when we start teaching people our Optimal Performance Program we often hear: “I am a doer. I like doing things. I like achieving things. This kind of training will be difficult for me and my horse because we love to engage in actions.” Then we explain that this training is NOT about ‘no longer doing things.’ It’s not about abandoning actions or ambitions or protecting your horse from unpleasant emotions. Yes, you will be doing things, lots of things, in fact, but you will be doing new things. These new things include refraining from or releasing the need to take actions that, for these anxious students, are very often a way of talking over their stress. But it’s difficult for these ‘doers’ to see because they scarcely ever give themselves enough time to experience relaxation.
This is the hardest part of teaching the Optimal Performance Program because many people are very accustomed and skilled in teaching behaviors but relatively few understand and recognize moments of relaxation and are able to increase their occurrence and intensity without adding excitement. Scientists inform us that people generally need three weeks to one month away on vacation to start to feel relaxed. Along with our suitcases, we all pack up books and ‘things to do’. Or we stay home and think, “Free time! Great! I’ll catch up on my email. I’ll start cleaning the house. I’ll tackle this pile of books I’ve been meaning to read.” Or we run, hike, or bike. We get busy filling the suddenly empty days.
In fact, hardly anyone today allows themselves to ‘just be’ because ‘being’ feels so difficult. In moments when nothing’s happening, you suddenly become aware to what extent your central nervous system is permanently over-stimulated. And so your mind, no longer preoccupied, promptly becomes filled with recurring or obsessive thoughts: “I should be doing this, I should be doing that.” Maybe you feel the urgent need to clean something, or call a friend, anything to distract yourself. Seldom does anyone have the time or experience or even the courage to guide themselves through this process and find the moment when all of this overstimulation of the central nervous system ceases and we start to relax. It’s only then that we can start to feel how the need, anticipation or desire to ‘do something’ arises and in that moment can be released.
Relaxation Complements Any Training Methods
However, the approach we present here is not about ‘doing’ versus ‘being’. It is about balancing what other training systems offer with something that allows people and horses to develop better. Whereas positive reinforcement (clicker) training reinforces the will and the desire to do something, in the Optimal Performance Program we reinforce and encourage moments when we let those external concerns go, returning to the beauty and pleasure of relaxation. Only in moments when we or our horses are at peace, can we see and discover our true essence and those wishes that support our life, sustain our health and return us to balance, rather than those born from tension and stress.
Optimal Performance Program Is For All Disciplines
We designed the Optimal Performance Program especially for all humans and horses, who wish to enjoy the countless benefits coming from an infinite source of Conscious Relaxation. Whatever your current path, the skill of Conscious Relaxation goes equally well together with clicker training, all shades of natural horsemanship programs, classical dressage, show jumping, showing, hacking and trail riding and being a family pet. No matter what you train your horse to do, or wish to do together, your horse can do it OPP-style, seeking deeper relaxation while in action.
What Lies Ahead
As you progress through this book, you will learn a lot about mind and body and how tension and relaxation affect you and your horse in ways you may scarcely imagine. Rather than a 101 Exercises type of training manual, our intention was to provide an educational resource and enough information to get you started and supported on this journey. Rather than overwhelm, we have kept the practice itself simple. From experiences with hundreds of students, we have discovered this is the best and most effective approach.
You will find only a few, deceptively easy, training exercises within these pages but those few are fundamental and, once mastered, will transform your horse and his relationship with you. They offer a whole new way of being with your equine companions, a way that will make them seek your company, see you as a source of peace and comfort, and hopefully turn your hard-to-catch, resistant horse into a willing partner in the adventures you have planned for him. Perhaps, like many of our student practitioners, you will eventually find that your horse is the one refusing to leave the training arena and asking to share more time together.
Relax That Stomach = Releasing Internal Tension
Relaxation of the skeletal muscle system is, of course, well known and understood. However, focusing on releasing internal tension is, as far as we know, a completely new concept in horse training. Yet it has been our experience that many of our horses’ issues, health problems and ‘misbehaviors’ – nipping, pushiness, sensitivity to grooming, dislike of affection, inability to get full benefit from food, overeating, undereating – are connected with tension in the stomach and internal organs. Many believe these smooth muscles are buried so deep within they’re impossible to access or affect. But our results from training hundreds of students and horses have clearly demonstrated to us that this belief is wrong. Let’s show you how it’s possible with our program: Relax That Stomach.
“It was one year ago that I signed up for the Relax That Stomach course mainly for the benefit of one horse. However all my horses have benefited from this work. My mare was all the things that you described in the article – food obsessed, extremely aggressive towards others around food and at times this spilled over towards me. She would attack my gelding without warning, and the communication was extreme and brutal, he lived on eggshells. At that stage I had only owned her for a few months and was feeling at a loss as to how to handle her behaviour. There was no flight in this girl, just fight. Daily activities like rugging/trimming were hot and cold, some days ok, some days she would lash out. Within about a couple of weeks of starting the Relax That Stomach work I noticed big changes. The outbursts towards everyone reduced and feed time became less of an event. After a couple of months this was the result. Eating happily next to each other and my gelding finally felt safe enough to nap in her presence. This technique has also allowed me recently to introduce two new mares to my little herd successfully with minimal drama, which I guarantee would’ve been almost impossible previously. The One Horse Life relaxation work is now the foundation of everything for us. Thank you Anna and Pawel.”
Angie. Australia. Relax That Stomach Online Course.
The Stomach as Power Center
In every ancient culture, from Indian yoga to Chinese martial arts, our body’s middle section is acknowledged as the Power Center, responsible for strength, balance, and coordination. It’s also the first place affected by our worries, concerns and those pesky tensions we accumulate every day. Through teaching hundreds of students, we’ve discovered how common it is that their horse’s physical or behavior problems start from the stomach and pain and tensions of the internal organs.
The list of stressors in our lives is endless: a bad experience with our horse, a heated argument, worry about our health, weight, insomnia, or work. Your horse has his own list: separation anxiety, training, a new boarding environment. These tensions affect the central nervous system and, if not released, will start to influence every part of the body and our general well-being. The stomach is inevitably the first place that any problems will make their appearance, often spreading through the digestive tract. In this way, the stomach acts as a barometer or a seismograph alerting us to the body’s overall condition.
The more your horse gathers tension in his skeletal muscles, the more it tenses his stomach. When the stomach tenses, the digestion starts to be disturbed. In effect, the body develops multiple inflammations and health issues may start. These can include many problems that are not traditionally associated with the digestive tract including:
LUMBAR AREA PROBLEMS,
LACK OF ENERGY & INTEREST,
SIGHT and HOOF PROBLEMS,
IMMUNE SYSTEM DISEASES
Conscious Muscle Relaxation as taught in the Optimal Performance Program is the most effective way we know to show your horse not only how to recognize smooth muscle tensions, i.e. tensions of the stomach, but also to intentionally release them. You can do these exercises alone, making you self-sufficient without the need of bodyworkers, massage, or calming supplements to relax your horse. The more your horse practises the techniques, the more his relaxation develops over time. Eventually, it becomes self-triggering and easier for him to access in all situations. It can be an easy addition to whatever training you are doing just now, requiring only 10 minutes a day, and it doesn’t need any special equipment, special skills or a special place to practise. In the process of releasing tension from the stomach, you may be amazed at watching your horse’s behavior change and how many problems disappear.
10 MOST COMMON SIGNS That Your Horse Suffers From Smooth Muscle Tension:
- The horse is overeating. The horse is crazy about food; he can eat non-stop and can even skip drinking in favor of eating.
- The horse shows irritation without a reason, an ‘angry’ expression, pulling nasty faces even if trained using positive reinforcement and with a lot of calmness.
- The horse shows sudden, unjustified spookiness.
- The horse moves as if he has restricted the reach of his limbs. The horse doesn’t move fluidly and it feels as if his legs are tied.
- The horse is unable to work through the back. Horse owners often ask: “I work my horse every day, so why aren’t his back muscles developing?” Our answer would be: “Your horse has a tensed stomach, and therefore he cannot use his body properly.
- The horse is prone to ulcers, colics, and sensitivity of the digestive tract.
- The horse performs tricks with anger, the so-called “angry” or “stomping” Spanish walk.
- The horse shows heaviness and lack of lightness in the gaits. The trainer feels as if he has to “push the horse forward” with every step.
- The horse doesn’t like to be cuddled, escapes affection, feels distant or irritated when being approached or touched.
- The horse is cribbing or chewing on fences and stable walls. In more serious cases, the horse is biting himself on his sides, biting his leg or biting other horses.
“Oh it works so well, stomach and gut issues affect the majority of horses and is just hidden by medicine and supplements but nobody tries to find the cause EXCEPT Anna Marciniak, she has developed a unique way of getting to the root of the problem and I have used it for the last year and boy has it changed my horses for the better.
I was given a 5 month old foal who turned out to be seriously stressed and ended up having colic twice before she was one year old due to ulcers. The vet could only recommend omeprazole which temporarily would relieve her. She slowly became more aggressive, biting and kicking and difficult to handle, even with all the best intentions. She was especially aggressive when given food, positive reinforcement with food was a no no, I would have a dragon on my hands.
We started relaxation on foods and OPP style training in everything we do one year ago at 1.5 years of age and she has now turned into a cuddle monster, a quick learner and relaxed in everything we do.”
Maria. Ireland. Optimal Performance Program.
Although not coming from a family with an equestrian background, from a very early age Anna Marciniak expressed her love and desire to be around horses and to work not only with them but most importantly — for them. Getting her first horse only at the age of 16, Anna always showed a great natural talent, ease and intuition in connecting with horses, both from saddle and from the ground.
Anna is now a world-famous horse trainer known for introducing the concept of Conscious Relaxation to horse training and for paving the way for other horse trainers and horse owners to go in this direction. Many of Anna’s students consider her work in this field to be truly revolutionary, innovative and above all a true step that will help to move horse training fully into the new century.
Based on discoveries made by Anna and her husband, Pawel Marciniak, in the field of Conscious Muscle Relaxation, the couple invented and developed many successful and effective horse training techniques: Optimal Performance Program, Residual Tensions Release Therapy with the bit, and Relax That Stomach Technique, which are now practiced by OneHorseLife students from Canada, USA, through European countries right to Korea, Taiwan, Australia and New Zealand and many, many other countries worldwide.
Most of all, Anna is a teacher to thousands of students who learn Anna’s programs in person and online.
Lately, Anna has started teaching Anna’s Riding Method which introduces the skill of Conscious Relaxation to the world of horse riding. Anna believes that these innovative techniques can support professional and amateur riders worldwide in making a switch to a totally new approach. She wishes to show that being ridden not only can be horse-friendly, but positively desired by the horse, if the techniques used allow the horse to consciously increase his level of physical, emotional and mental ease and relaxation. Anna’s work demonstrates every day that relaxed horses increase their awareness, and therefore gain access to special abilities such as self-healing and self-regulating their energetic field. With Conscious Muscle Relaxation, doors are now opening before horses and humans, and in this new space they can safely and on totally new terms get to know one another and at the same time enjoy the most brilliant and expressive performances and emotional bonds.
Deep connection, emotional awakening, and visible, hard-core training results with horses — this is the everyday experience of Anna and thousands of her students from all over the world.