pet news

The Leslie Nichols Relaxation Program

By Joanne Holmberg | August 20, 2008

Highly successful, proven techniques and exercises for both the horse and rider revealed at Sept. 14 event at WestWorld

In her professional work with horses over the last six years, Phoenix-based progressive horsemanship instructor Leslie Nichols developed in-hand and under saddle techniques to calm horses: some traumatized; some angry; some highly nervous. Through the training of nine-month-old to 20-year-old horses of many breeds (including Quarter horses, Thoroughbreds, Friesians, Arabs, Mustangs, Paints, Appaloosas and Andalusians), Nichols learned that a Relaxation Response, a conditioned response that overrides the flight impulses, can be taught to horses and called up at will.

Her Relaxation Program, which she has used for over four years, is now the foundation to all her work with horses. “Every horse, regardless of age, discipline, or temperament is taught the program,” says Leslie Nichols. “Intensive learning, training, and teaching doesn’t even begin until relaxation of the mind, body and spirit of both the horse and horse owner is achieved.”

The program goes beyond massage, touch, and breathing exercises by combining: in-hand exercises for horse and handler in the tradition of classical horsemanship; relationship building ground work with an emphasis on relaxation; and inter-connective riding exercises that transform both the rider and horse into a harmonious unit hallmarked by quiet communication and a fluid style of travel. Additionally she learned that the application of specific relaxation exercises on the ground and under saddle, now known as Yoga for Horses™ can significantly quiet the horse’s nervous system in a relatively short period of time and produce permanent changes to the nervous system and temperament in a few to several months. “The transformations that were being produced in horses were nothing short of miraculous,” says Leslie Nichols. “And further, these changes were predictable and repeatable.”

Most importantly, Nichols learned that The Relaxation Response and the Yoga for Horses exercises could be taught to the horse owner easily. Leslie Nichols went on to develop a relaxation program for the owner to complement the changes that were occurring in their horses.

As popularity in the program grew locally, Leslie Nichols began to teach The Relaxation Program to horse owners and horses that presented unique challenges. Some of the challenges where Nichols has applied her programs are: Relaxing a nervous and injured horse that had been stall-bound for 3 months to prepare him for a rehabilitation program; Calming broodmares about to foal that had not been handled by humans in years; building confidence in a partially blind and very nervous young riding horse; restarting racehorses off of the racetrack; restarting numerous horses that suffered trauma in the first 90 days of saddle work; gentling, socialing, and starting rescue horses.

Benefits of The Leslie Nichols Relaxation Program are obvious and almost too numerous to list. Just a few of them are: Safer experiences with horses; handler and riders’ fears dissolve naturally; more pleasurable experiences with horses; riding improves as balance is achieved through relaxation; relaxation in the horse creates a soft, supple and yielding body which produces movement with more grace, range, and ease; a calm, yielding horse is more open to learning; and supple muscles reduces injury in the horse.

This Sept.14, WestWorld plays host to A Leslie Nichols Relaxation Event, with a second event planned for November. “The response to the September event has been overwhelming,” says Nichols. “We are negotiating with Westworld to add an event in October to accommodate the level of interest.” There is limited availability for owners to bring their horses to the clinic. Auditors can attend part or all of the session as well.
Leslie Nichols can be contacted at 602-571-7121 or by e-mail to discuss individual lessons and training or to bring a horse to the Sept. 14 clinic or attend as an auditor. Visit the website at

Top photo: Leslie Nichols is teaching the relaxation response.

Lower photo: Leslie Nichols teaching specific in-hand exercises of her Relaxation Program to a horse owner on the ground prior to working the horse under saddle. Nichols’ goal is to transform both the rider and horse into a harmonious unit hallmarked by quiet communication and a fluid style of travel.

Courtesy photos