Bet­ter Than Body­work

An in­tro­duc­tion to Equine Hanna So­mat­ics and its ben­e­fits to the dres­sage sport horse


Ev­ery horse, at ev­ery age and stage, de­serves to be happy and com­fort­able phys­i­cally in work and in ev­ery­day life. Whether we are com­pet­i­tive dres­sage rid­ers or just lovers of equines, we all want the best qual­ity of life for our horses as well as to see them live up to their ath­letic po­ten­tial.

Equine Hanna So­mat­ics® (EHS) is a nat­u­ral method of mind–body in­te­gra­tion for per­for­mance en­hance­ment, pain re­lief, longevity and an in­creased sense of well-be­ing for both horse and han­dler. Based on your horse’s nat­u­ral move­ments and thought pat­terns, EHS is a hands-on pro­ce­dure for teach­ing horses, along with their rid­ers and han­dlers, about vol­un­tary and con­scious con­trol of their neu­ro­mus­cu­lar sys­tem. It’s gen­tle enough for ev­ery horse at any age or stage of ath­letic devel­op­ment and can be very com­ple­men­tary to the heal­ing and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion process once your vet has de­cided that the horse is ready to be­gin gen­tle work post-in­jury or ill­ness.

EHS is an adap­ta­tion of Hanna So­mat­ics®, a proven, nat­u­ral and safe method of pain re­lief and sen­sory-mo­tor train­ing for hu­mans (read “The Train­ing Be­tween Your Train­ing,” Jan. 2016). Like hu­mans, horses ex­pe­ri­ence stress and de­velop chron­i­cally con­tracted mus­cles that re­strict move­ment and cause dis­com­fort. Over time, these chronic, low-level mus­cle con­trac­tions, which can also be de­scribed as “ten­sion” or “tight mus­cles,” be­come in­cor­po­rated into the horse’s ha­bit­ual pos­ture. This is known as Sen­sory Mo­tor Am­ne­sia (or SMA—more on this later). Once this hap­pens, per­for­mance and com­fort are re­duced, and the new pos­tural pat­terns are dif­fi­cult to change with phys­i­cal train­ing or ma­nip­u­la­tion.

Eleanor Criswell Hanna, co-founder of the No­vato In­sti­tute, co-cre­ator of Hanna So­mat­ics and cre­ator of Equine Hanna So­mat­ics, has ap­plied the proven method of Hanna So­mat­ics to the horse and dis­cov­ered that it works just as well, if not bet­ter, on the equine body and mind.

From the HorseEs Per­spec­tive

Rather than work­ing on the horse’s mus­cles or ad­just­ing the horse’s body,

in EHS prac­ti­tion­ers are invit­ing the horse to par­tic­i­pate in the move­ments by work­ing with them vol­un­tar­ily. This is a very im­por­tant point, be­cause for EHS to be ef­fec­tive in help­ing a horse find and keep new lev­els of re­lax­ation, the horse must par­tic­i­pate in and be al­lowed to feel the com­plete ex­pe­ri­ence of us­ing his brain to send in­struc­tions to the mus­cles, feel the mus­cles move the body and con­tinue to both par­tic­i­pate in and re­ceive the sen­sory feed­back from the body dur­ing the slow re­lease of the move­ment. When EHS is done cor­rectly, the horse will use a par­tic­u­lar part of his brain—the vol­un­tary mo­tor cor­tex—to con­trol the mus­cles dur­ing So­matic Move­ment.

There are many parts of the mam­malian brain that can ini­ti­ate mus­cle con­trac­tions, but the mo­tor cor­tex is the only part of the brain that can me­di­ate mus­cle re­lax­ation. What the horse feels dur­ing the move­ment (quick, slow, smooth, jerky, etc.) and the ac­tual im­pulses sent from the brain to the mus­cles com­prise the in­for­ma­tion the brain needs to re­cal­i­brate how much ten­sion is left in that mus­cle when at rest—this is called “re­set­ting rest­ing mus­cle tonus.” From the out­side of the body, a prac­ti­tioner can man­u­ally cause a mus­cle to re­lease, but the brain will of­ten re­assert the con­trac­tion and the pat­tern of ten­sion usu­ally re­turns. By ask­ing the horse to re­lease ten­sion in a mus­cle from the inside us­ing his or her own cen­tral ner­vous sys­tem (the brain and spinal cord), the re­leases are deeper and usu­ally don’t wear off be­cause the horse has ef­fec­tively changed his own pat­tern. (For ex­am­ples of im­me­di­ate re­sults with be­fore/af­ter pho­tos of horses, and a few longer-term case stud­ies, visit alis­­ies.)

What is Sen­sory Mo­tor Am­ne­sia?

As a nat­u­ral con­se­quence of daily liv­ing, both horses and hu­mans de­velop SMA—an ac­cu­mu­la­tion of mus­cle re­stric­tions that build by de­grees as a re-

sult of ex­pe­ri­enc­ing stress, one-time or on­go­ing trauma, pain from in­jury or poorly fit­ted tack, travel or even just from ev­ery­day train­ing. SMA not only lim­its the abil­ity of the af­fected mus­cles to move freely, but it also lim­its the amount of sen­sory feed­back that the brain is re­ceiv­ing from the af­fected tis­sues, af­fect­ing body aware­ness. That old say­ing, “use it or lose it,” has never been more ap­pli­ca­ble than to brain cells, neu­rons and neu­ro­mus­cu­lar con­nec­tions.

Ac­cord­ing to Hanna, SMA refers to un­con­sciously con­tracted mus­cles. Her con­cept of SMA de­scribes the ten­dency of hu­mans to for­get cer­tain move­ments or ways of or­ga­niz­ing mus­cles or mus­cle groups, leav­ing the mus­cles chron­i­cally con­tracted. The con­trac­tion is the re­sult of on­go­ing brain-stem-level im­pulses—in other

Vol­un­tary Mo­tor Cor­tex Mo­tor Cor­tex Brain Stem Cere­bel­lum Spinal Cord

Equine Hanna So­mat­ics (EHS) is brain­work not body­work, and is based on “pure phys­i­ol­ogy,”as Eleanor Criswell Hanna, cre­ator of EHS, fre­quently says. This is the horseEs brain, in situ on the left, and in more de­tail on the right.

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