Five years ago I wrote this post – Secret Language of Sweat Marks – after teaching a lovely young rider who was sure her loaned horse’s saddle wasn’t fitting him very well but wasn’t sure what to look for. I wanted an easy way to describe to her what to look for and how to spot pressure points and areas of concern that were not immediately visible and so we went for taking photos of the horse’s back directly after the lesson.
There are now many articles out there talking about it issue very eloquently.
This post has since proved one of the most popular on here and I have received many messages about it. There are a few things about sweat patterns as well as structure / feel of the hair on the horse’s body that I didn’t mention at the time and that I reckon are worth mentioning so here we go!
NECK & SHOULDERS
There are horses that sweat profusely whatever they do and those that barely break any sweat whatever they do but observing the muscles that work hardest and therefore sweat more can be a good guide to how correct (biomechanically) the training is.
Repetitive marked presence of sweat alongside the horse’s lower neck muscles could indicate the horse is overusing those muscles in place of engaging the top of the neck musculature that assists in developing better self-carriage.
Sweat patches in front of the wither (base of the neck where many horse’s has atrophied muscles and a smaller of bigger “dip”) and over the middle and top of the neck could on the other hand point towards the fact that those muscles are the ones undertaking harder work and therefore increase in strength and functionality.
Having no clavicles, horse’s scapulas are suspended in a powerful muscle sling that has an ability to significantly lift the horse’s wither (think of those moments when your horse “grows a hand” when they see something that excites them). This anatomy detail means the front end conformation can appear unrecognisable when a green horse is compared to a more advanced one in their training.
Sweat over the shoulders might at first indicate “forehand driving” but it is also believed to be a sign of that powerful muscle sling being employed, especially in collected work (front end has a significant part in “lifting” the horse in collected work).
Observing the sweat patterns over the barrel (belly, lumbar area/flanks) helps in assessing whether the powerful core muscles are being used. Slight belly sweat and flanks sweat is believed to be a good sign of the right muscle chains being tasked.
Sweat over gluteal muscles and sweaty upper thighs are usually thought to be good indicators of an efforts being sustained in the rear engine but it is worth noting that too much localised sweating around stifles is not so desirable, especially if coupled with a feel of lack of power from the saddle.
Although many of these observations are of very old origin and quite possibly don’t apply to every horse working well, I personally see a fairly accurate correlation between functional work and sweat patterns, especially over the neck.
Have you ever observed sweat patterns of your own horse post training? Do they correlate with “the feel” the horse gave you in his/her ridden effort?
By Wiola Grabowska in collaboration with Brackenhill Stud & Emma Brinkworth Eventing
Today we decided to loose jump several horses for different reasons and I will shortly describe them together with the goals for each.
Ettie owned by Lou
Warmblood mare recently purchased by one of the riders training with me regularly. She has good jumping breeding with some jumping experience. For Ettie the session was to add variety to her training, for us to assess her natural way of jumping, attitude and capabilities.
2. Repo owned by Emma
Thoroughbred ex-racehorse. Repo has very little bascule in his jumping under the saddle and jumps with pure take off power rather than technique. He also has a tendency to push stronger through one side of the body/one hind leg and drift strongly in flight when ridden. He has been loose jumped once or twice before. It is believed by some show-jumping trainers that lack of bascule can be improved via regular loose jumping over specific types of jumps and I have seen it used for this reason with success over several months of regular weekly sessions. The goal for today was to refresh Repo’s loose jumping memory and see how he feels over bigger jumps as Emma would like to step him up a level Eventing this season.
3. Merehead owned by Emma
Thoroughbred ex-racehorse. Big, strong and powerful horse to jump he becomes very excited on the course. I personally was interested how he copes as he tends to lack confidence at times. He tends to over jump under the rider giving the jumps plenty of air but leaving his legs hanging. The goal with him was to assess his self-confidence as a jumper and observe whether ridden behaviours repeat themselves in free schooling.
4. Prince owned by a Livery client at Brackenhill Stud
Thoroughbred ex-racehorse. A mysterious “stopper” – very inconsistent in his jumping performance, Prince has days where he is terrified of polework exercises to days when he confidently jumps small courses of unknown jumps. He does regular groundwork and is responsive to the handler but has not been loose jumped before. The goal was to observe him without any interruption from the rider, assess his natural confidence without interference and see how he deals with the situation.
5. Ferris owned by Emma
Thoroughbred ex-racehorse. A ‘green’ riding horse, this was to be Ferris’ first loose jump session with the goal to add to his education, assess his uninterrupted jumping style, confidence and natural tendencies. He has done a few jump sessions over small single jumps and a small training course at home. His ridden jumping is very green but honest with variety in style/technique but with tendency to over jump and leave the cannons hanging.
I personally like if the horse lunges well and responds to body language of the handler without undue stress or worry. I like that the horse goes forwards when asked and slows down when asked and does so reliably as when jumps come into play the excitement can sometimes override training.
It’s a good practice to do 1-2 loose schooling sessions letting the horse trot and canter in the corridor (built alongside the wall with poles, stands, fillers) without anything in it yet to jump. The idea is to get the horse to travel in a calm manner through the corridor, maintaining rhythm and tempo.
If they tend to lose balance in the corners or go into them too deeply, it might help to put a pole on the ground across the corner to encourage smoother turns.
TODAY’S SET UP
A line of two jumps: A placing plank 7m from x-pole/vertical followed by 11m distance to an oxer. I like to use a plank instead of a pole as a distance marker if at all possible because some horses become overexcited when loose schooled and can easily step on the pole and twist the leg/slide/lose balance. An old plank works great even when stepped on as is flat is unlikely to move anywhere.
EXAMPLES OF BENEFITS TO HORSES AND RIDERS
great re-training tool for horses with difficult jumping habits (hollow back, dangling front leg(s), crooked jumping etc)
good introduction to jumping for young horses
develops a thinking, aware horse that learns to act on his tempo and adjust energy for efficient jumping efforts
re-establishing confidence in horse’s natural ability without influence of the rider
riders learn to “read” their horse’s movement on the approach, take off and landing which can improve harmony with the horse when mounted
riders learn to “read” the distance in relation to tempo by observing how the horse tackles different problems
riders learn to understand their own horse’s preferred jumping style which can help to decrease unnecessary interference
riders build own confidence in their horses’ ability to jump “by themselves” (especially good for riders who over-ride and try to “carry their horse over the jump”)
riders can observe and understand the biomechanics of the jumping horse, how they use their neck, back, shoulder so when mounted, the riders actions like sufficient give with the hand or not sitting down too early on landing, increase in meaning and importance.
RESULTS & REFLECTIONS AFTER JUMPING THE 5 HORSES
Ettie – the mare started very wobbly in the line which initially consisted of poles on the ground for her to walk and trot over. She tended to overshot her approach and lacked focus over the first jump but after a few rounds her whole attitude changed and she improved to the point of a very straightforward jumps performed with easy to 1m20 (our wings don’t go higher).
She showed no issue with the height at all, it was the purposeful straightness that was missing at the start and made me keep the jumps small. I would;t hesitate to put the jumps higher for her if we had such option but for the goal of training diversity and athletic exercise going any higher isn’t necessary.
She was in the exercise for a total of 9 minutes during which she went from looking green to professional 😉 She either did it before or was simply rusty to start with or is a very quick learner with natural jumping ability.
Repo started very chaotic with haphazard turns to the line but he remained fairly calm and with a few adjustments to the set up to help him find a straighter line of approach he improved each round. His jumping style is very similar free schooling to ridden at this stage which could potentially improve with more free schooling sessions but his overall power allowed him to jump to the same height as Ettie successfully (clearing all the poles). I didn’t hesitate to go up the height with him because he showed a very good attitude to solving his problems, stayed calm despite a couple of serious mistakes and looked confident throughout. I feel he could really benefit from more specific, targeted exercises to address the bascule issue.
Repo’s session was about 11 minutes long with a couple of breaks to calm him down between the rounds and adjust the set up.
The big grey proved too excitable to do the exercise well and showed lack of stride control in the similar manner to his ridden behaviour. We ended up just trotting him over the x-poles and poles on the ground because there was no point him approaching the exercise at his chosen speed and without much focus. I feel he would really benefit from methodical free schooling work to help him build confidence in own abilities and body control. He is a master of faster but in a destructive way.
The most stressed of all the horses we schooled today, Prince showed very little self-control loose schooling which surprised me somewhat as he does regular groundwork. Definitely something to think about when checking how focused he really is in those sessions. He found being let loose very stressful and after a couple of wild rounds to a single x-pole we settled for just corridor training – calm walking through the set up. Prince is the type of horse with whom I would not attempt any loose jumping until he can calmly work free around the arena in walk, trot and canter. His adrenaline overtook him completely and continuing the exercise in such a state is counterproductive since no learning can happen then.
Last to go Ferris proved to be calm around the arena and through flat corridor where he was first led in walk and jog. He remained receptive to us guiding him around and his technique improved within a few goes. He was reasonably eager to continue which we let him and he is a good lesson in how easy it is to over-do the good things. After a few educational rounds where he made a very honest effort we should have stopped him but we let him go that “one more time” where he lost momentum and stopped. We repeated over x-poles which he jumped well.
I think Ferris is a typical horse where exercise should be stopped even before we think it should. Calm and willing attitude can be a trap to unnecessary mistake so always stop before you think you should stop. All Ferris’ jumps well kept below 0.6m but his technique improved with each round.