I get it. We all want the best for our horses and sometimes we use different training methods. What works for one horse, doesn’t work for another and all that.
However, with all the world wide web education, with coaching becoming more and more professional, with training becoming more and more focused on equine soundness and longevity – why do we still see things like this at an affiliated British Eventing event…?
I thought I would just jot a few points as shown by the bay horse on photos for those of you who perhaps do use side reins with best intentions but would like some help in knowing whether they really work for your horse or not.
Notice that even though the lunger is lunging the horse to the right, his whole body is inverted and twisted. I do have a video of this horse but I chose not to post it since it shows the lunger and it is not my intention to shame anyone. Suffice to say, the bay sustained this posture for most of the time he was lunged. This is not beneficial for the riding horse and in fact, can cause plethora of issues when ridden: poll discomfort/locking, avoidance of the contact, tight shoulder muscles, choppy stride upon rein contact to name just a few.
It also “teaches” the horse a very dysfunctional posture on a circle.
The same horse a few circles later, still going to the right…Notice how his wither is tilted to the inside, how he commits his weight to his inside shoulder and then rescues his balance by moving his neck out. Now imagine sitting on this horse…You would feel as if you were “falling in” and motorbiking around the corner/circle. You would feel as if you were sliding to the inside with more weight on your inside seat bone. The horse might feel as if he is “pulling” on your inside rein and you “have nothing” in your outside rein.
A lesson from Photo 1 and 2: a very unnecessary “training” is going on that teaches the horse to look after oneself in a way that is bound to make him load his limbs unevenly and potentially make him unsound long term.
Notice: the horse looks fairly upright through the wither (no more motorbiking) but notice an odd buldge/broken line at the base of his neck on the outside followed by a tilt at the poll to the outside. The horse is trying his best to mould himself into the contraption of the side reins and creates an unhealthy posture once again. Instead of curving the neck very gently to the inside and flexing at the poll to the inside, his neck takes a shape of an “S” letter and that is neither promoting soundness nor better marks in dressage.
Lesson from Photo 3: Look after your horse’s neck, once the horse learnt to be afraid of the bit and squashed himself into dysfunctional, ugly looking broken neck line, it is not easy to gain his trust again and re-train those “bonsai-ed” muscles.
At first glance you might say that from the wither on, the neck line doesn’t look too contorted but how much this is wrong and how constricted the horse really is you can see in the action, or lack of it, of his hind legs and in the stiff line of his back. The neck, that is an important balance tool for the horse, is blocked. His balance is non existent – he is forehand heavy and avoids adding any more push from behind so he doesn’t cartwheel over his head…His handles are “behind him” rather than “underneath him”.
The lunger is determined for him to go forward but he can’t having been restricted so much in front. The lunger chases him and an awful, disjointed, unbalanced, angry and inverted to the outside trot follows (Photo 5 below).
Behind the light bay horse (who on Photo 6 is testing another option – tensing the muscles on both sides of the neck and leaning onto the bit and side reins) is a dark bay horse that is also being lunged in side reins. His are adjusted at the length that allows for natural neck carriage and they only come into action when he puts his head well above the bit or drops it well down/left or right. His whole biomechanics is much healthier, relaxed and his body (from poll to tail) follows the line of the circle fairly accurately.
Both horses undergo a training session but whilst the dark bay is potentially learning how to enjoy school or at least, just get his muscles warmed up well before the rider gets on board, the light bay is learning how to skive it and how to hate the subject of this lesson…
PHOTO 7 shows this lovely, athletic horse in a nice, forward, uphill stride which might fool you into thinking it’s all good and he just needs to learn to repeat that stride over and over.
The problem here is he isn’t learning how to move better but how to avoid discomfort in a more clever way. Sadly for him, he finds ways that potentially will cause him neck pain, poll pain, limb issues, pelvis and back issues etc etc
Side reins have been around for many years. They are used by many trainers from classical school to plain abuse. Used in an intelligent way, they help the horse understand the concept of straightness and relaxed reach towards the rider’s hand.
Those aims can never be reached by attaching the side reins very low, very short and then chasing the horse around a “circle” – those would only teach the horse evasive, ill techniques that damage his body with micro injuries.
P.S. If you saw a horse being lunged in such a way at an affiliated event (or any event) – would you report this as a misuse of equipment? If yes, who would you report this to? BE after the event? Stewards during the event? If not, why not?