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Healing via the Hyoid

Aaah, the wonders of the internet! As you know, I only started this blog and joined Facebook a few years ago to blog about my journey as a 50-year old ex-polo player and trail rider training two colts for the first time and discovering liberty work, groundwork, and so much more...

Almost immediately I found an incredible group of horsepeople from around the globe with whom to share ideas, get feedback from, and learn from. Some were my mentors, others my peers, all just incredible. I am eternally grateful to all of you (you should know who you are!) for being my Facebook and in person friends.

The journey continues...and just the other day a friend posted a great video from Richard Maxwell about helping horses reset their mandibles and release their hyoid apparatus. The WHAT APPARATUS? you ask?

To quote Mr. Masterson: "We connect all three main junctions of the horse through the bones of the hyoid in the horse’s jaw when we connect the muscles from the scapula and the sternum up to the hyoid; then from the hyoid to the occiput and finally from the poll to the nuchal ligament which then connects with the supraspinous ligament.”

“Dr. Ridgway presented it to us, muscle pathology of the long hyoid muscles ‘goes beyond just TMJ pain, it affects the entire balance of the body’. Specifically, he clarified for us that a contracted omohyoid muscle results in the following: it retracts the tongue back into the throat; interferes with the bit; locks the horse’s jaw; limits lateral flexion; interferes with shoulder freedom and range of motion; and interferes with balance and proprioception. When these long muscles are contracted, they mimic the body’s response to fear—they are a part of the Fright and Flight Muscle Groups. Dr. Ridgway reminded us that when humans react to emotional stress, we tighten our neck muscles, clench our teeth, and hunch our shoulders. It’s the same with horses.”

The Masterson Method

Through mindful groundwork, spending time allowing horses to let down and release, I have been able to help horses release their hyoid apparatus and find healing (Warwick Schiller and Anna Blake were the first to bring the "Lick and Chew" to my attention). Since then, I am a huge fan of the "yawn breakthrough", too. Here I show you a little clip of my soon to be copyrighted method of helping a horse release his hyoid (teehee). I call it "Kiss for Release". This would be a "passive" way to go about it.

I also have picked up an "active" way to do so through a variety of mentors and peers (Patrick King, Holly Linz to name a few), but not quite this way--actually, I believe Julie Goodnight did teach it to me EXACTLY this way back in 2016! I just wasn't ready to understand all the nuances then, and the importance of the tool took a back seat while I figured out a bunch of other things! (You can read all about my insights along my journey by scrolling through my blog posts on this site, or clicking on the "written musings" tab!)

In recent years, as I've understood the importance of the hyoid apparatus, I have helped horses release it with mindful groundwork, waiting for them to find the release without my interference (see video).

I like how Richard Maxwell explained not only how to do the release (putting your thumb on the roof of the horse's mouth), but what to look for!!! The idea is to observe how the horse is or is not using his mandible--does it only move laterally to the right? can his mouth open vertically well?, etc.

All of these observations provide a benchmark for you to hopefully improve upon over time such that the horse can easily move his jaw from side to side and up and down...

And then it's good to see how deeply those releases resonate throughout the horse's body (especially all the way to the hind feet!).

In this next video you see me trying his approach with Leonidas for our first time. Wowza.

Julie Goodnight? Thank you. It took me 6 years and a clip from Richard Maxwell to remember what you taught me and understand it...but better late than never!

I made this little video to show you, then, the two ways we can help the hyoid apparatus get unlocked and offer release and healing to our horses:

And, for all you diehard horselovers, here's some more to think about with regards to the hyoid apparatus, helping our horses find release, and those quiet, companionable moments where your horse(s) surround you and find peace, comfort, love, and scratches.

Warning--this is a long clip, but so worth it if you're trying to connect with your horses on a variety of levels: be the initiator of healing within their bodies, help them feel safe and loved, build partnership through quiet communion, and initiate a give and take of attention, peace, interaction, and leaving each other alone.

But, first! I started the video where I decided to try the hyoid release on Patxi--see my post of two days ago for the first time I did it with Leonidas and why.

WHOA! I didn't expect such a REACTIVE REACTION! Poor Patxi. It made it all too clear to me that the stiffness in his hind end was as bad as I thought, even though he tries to hide it as much as possible. Releasing his jaw was so painful for him! So, I didn't insist too much, but, as you will see, if you stick around watching, when I tried later on, it was already better!

So, it's a lot like our journeys with our horses. There are ups and downs, there are moments of hyper reactivity and sweet softness...

We keep working through, helping them as best we can by watching their reactions and knowing when to stop and when to continue.

They will tell us.


If we listen.


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