Tag Archives: horses

“Falling in through the shoulder” and other issues not to ignore…

skeleton (2)When your usually healthy, sound horse appears to be lame from one day to another , you might quickly run through all the possible events that could have happened to him in order to determine any possible injuries.

What if there are no signs of any trauma, no scrapes, no wounds, no lost shoes, no seen kicking matches at turn out time…? Lameness can sneak in on any horse in form of repetitive strain injury and that’s indeed were it often brews disguised as tendency to cut the corners on one rein, feeling heavy in rider’s hands, one stirrup that always seem to be a little longer than the other, “funny” walk to trot transitions with bunny hops, squealing in canter transitions, saddle that always seems to slip to one side etc etc

The everyday schooling challenges are where every rider needs to seek potential areas to work on to keep the horse healthy, happy and sound.Let’s look at several very common issues experienced by many riders out there and why they shouldn’t be ignored.

BALANCE GAME

Before we start, it’s useful to remember how much rider’s body affects the natural way of going of the horse. The moment we sit in the saddle we change the horse’s balance as he knows it. If you ride a horse that is very much an asymmetrical animal favouring strong muscles on one side of his body to maintain motion, and you do not correct that tendency to some extent, you are bound to end up with a horse whose one set of legs/muscle chains/joints work much harder than the other set…and while this might not be an issue for a horse in the field it certainly is one for the ridden horse.

The most crooked horses I have personally ridden have been those often described as “happy hackers” possibly due to them never or rarely having any symmetry/straightness focused schooling sessions. If all they do is walking around the countryside, they are likely to be just fine as they are. However, it is always worth adding some gymnastic training into any ridden horse’s life – it simply helps them to “wake up” the structures that do a little less than they should.

FALLING IN or OUT THROUGH THE SHOULDER

Pretty much all horses will favour one foot over another when distributing weight in their bodies. This applies to both front and hind feet. If you watch 100 different people walking by, you can see that similar pattern applies to us too. We tend to drop more weight on one limb than the other, drop one shoulder a little lower than the other, swing one hip a little more than the other…you get the idea 🙂 There are not that many people walking with absolutely even weight distribution through both sides of their bodies.

You probably also know that your horse’s left hoof is a little different than his right hoof – perhaps one is more upright and the other flatter…the shape of the hooves reflect the body use and vice-versa, the way the horse uses his body will be reflected in the shapes of his feet (which by the way, is hugely dynamic and can change from month to month, year to year depending on work the horse is doing, feed he is on, illnesses he went through etc).

Why shouldn’t we ignore the “falling in through the shoulder” then? Every time this happens your horse is overloading the inside foot potentially micro-straining the structures in that foot with every unbalanced step. This is especially important for anyone riding in the arena as the boundaries given by the fence will automatically encourage the horse to “guess” the turning and therefore arrange their body into leaning in posture.

Similar situation applies when we experience “falling out through the shoulder” – that’s when the horse’s favoured foot as far as weight load goes, is on the outside of our turn or circle or even straight line.

Good schooling plan aimed at teaching the horse to use both limbs with more even weight load will go a long way towards his soundness.

TRIPPING

Ignoring the tripping is another easy journey to potentially serious limb issues. Many shod horses do trip due to decreased proprioception (“the ability to sense the position and location and orientation and movement of the body and its parts”) in the their feet (equine hooves naturally work like “ground feelers” so if we take that function away there are bound to be come problems) but unless you hack over hundreds of craters and rough ground, the noticeable tripping needs to draw your attention pronto.

Shoulder or neck pain (for example due to ill fitting saddle, use of gadgets that dictate neck posture, rider’s position issues, tense hands on the reins) can also lead to tripping as can riding the horse out of balance (letting it move with most weight on the forehand).

Kingsley remedial shoeing
Example of badly shod feet (remedial shoeing for navicular problems) – this horse tripped frequently on various surfaces, including perfectly flat ones. Even though this picture often causes gasps, this shoeing style is not at all uncommon…

Tripping tells the rider that horse’s motor skills are compromised and need attention. At times, riders tell me their horses “have always tripped”as if that’s some kind of endearing feature that’s there to stay. If you have control over the horse’s management (i.e. it’s not a riding school horse or someone else’s horse you have no say over) I would really encourage you to address the issue.

Start with hoofcare – check feet balance and how correctly the horse is using himself as far as biomechanics of movement goes (very useful articles on this here, just scroll a little to the list of articles on Hoof balance, conformation and symmetry); try chatting with your farrier or trimmer about the issue. 

If you use training aids like pessoa, chambon, side – reins and your horse trips you might need to closely observe how the “aids” actually aid the horse’s balance and whether they help or hinder the development of it.

SADDLE SLIPPING

The glorious array of various pads available that lift here, hold there and offer non-slip areas yet somewhere else do make it seem like wondrous saddle just needs some help staying put.

There is now, however, quite a bit of research available on correlation between saddle slipping and hind limb lameness (which when low grade can be difficult to spot). Below are a couple of articles worth looking at:

Saddle Slip – A Sign of Lameness?

An investigation of the relationship between hindlimb lameness and saddle slip

LEANING “ON RIDER’S HANDS”

Many horses learn to use muscles around the poll and within the length of their neck in a way that functions like a barrier for rein aids preventing the latter to reach the mouth. What feels like the horse leaning on the reins or having “wooden/dead” mouth is in fact a combination of muscular effort and ability to set a joint (poll) against the traction of the reins.

Ignoring or fighting the “heavy head” can again lead to various soundness related surprises. In fact, it can be a symptom of them too. Some examples of issues can include: back pain, neck and poll pain, hind limb lameness, poor overall balance and inability to move freely with rider on board.

Providing there is no underlying health problem present already, improving horse’s general balance (i.e. ability to transfer weight laterally and front to back in a way that allows movement similar to one without rider on board) can immediately improve many “contact issues”.

OUR OWN “BODY USE”

If a horse has only one rider responsible for his well being then that rider’s issues, smaller or bigger, sooner or later, will be very likely reflected in that horse. If you ride for recreation or sport it’s important that you do look into your own postural habits and reflect upon their influence on your horse’s soundness. There is a reason why riding school horses often end up with various physical problems – every month they deal and cope with hundreds of different postural issues in riders who learn on them. Just 15-20 minutes once a week of some form of awareness enhancing exercise (like Pilates, Yoga, martial arts, dance) can make a huge difference to working comfort and soundness of a riding horse.

It’s impossible to correct something we don’t feel so even if we receive fantastic instruction from a trainer who sees what needs changing, we first need to be aware of when something happens and how it feels to us personally. Many a time, a position that is even to us, is crooked in reality. Awareness and visual feedback (mirrors, videos, photos) are a great and very important addition to any rider’s education (unless you only sit on a horse in order to travel from A to B on a holiday trip then I guess you don’t need to build your awareness too much 😉

Do you have any experiences with seemingly unrelated aspects of how we ride and use our horses that led to unsoundness? Please share in the comments below!  

 

Spooking in the Dark

Tonight, my young rider found her horse tense and spooky at the various secretive noises in the dark. The horse is very quick on his feet and very agile when he spooks so she was understandably nervous herself. I would like to share with you a few steps that I followed with this pair tonight which let them focus on each other and finish relaxed and content.

KK

I took the horse to the lounge pen and worked with him in-hand focusing on three main elements:

1) yield response to the poll pressure. He has naturally high head carriage which he uses to his full advantage to see everything around. We worked towards him dropping his neck on light downward pull on the lunge line which the rider then did herself too. It gave her immediate attention of the horse and now she can work on this for it to become his conditioned reply.

2) lateral neck yield. The horse being tense and outward focused responded by quickly spinning to the left and right with his hindquarters every time he was asked to move his neck but with repetitions, he began to relax and yielded the neck a few inches without his whole body following. Again it gave the rider a tool to gain his attention as well as having a suppling effect on the tensed body of the horse.

3) calm walk and trot on the lunge. We worked through a few spooky moments to finish on much softer, more peaceful but still forward gaits first with me then with the rider. Again the slight vibrating pressure on the lunge line helped the rider to call for horse’s attention and for lowering of the neck.

The above work lasted about 20 minutes which improved the horse’s focus and relaxation.

Once on, we worked for further 30 minutes on large circles and leg yields which transformed him from a tense escape-waiting-to happen into a quietly relaxed horse ready to listen to his rider. The rider was rather relieved too and found her nerves disappearing with the horse’s calmness.

We did all the ridden work in walk to prioritise the horse’s obedience and trust in the rider as well as to build the rider’s self-confidence.

It was such a positive session even though it could have gone very wrong which prompted me to write this quick post before it escapes me. Sometimes, the less is more formula really is the most effective and benefitial one.

I’m running a busy little grassroots clinic tomorrow so off to catch some sleep.

Happy Riding!

Wiola

Very Quick Guide To Becoming a Better Rider

Phurtive

Riding might be an art and science married together which makes it seemingly a bottomless well of possibilities but let’s try to short list a few things an average ambitious rider can do to better their skills month after month instead of stagnating in one murky pond 😉

There is no particular order here:

1) DO the Dreaming and the Wishing

Dreams-Dont-Work-Unless-You-Do

For every dreamy, wishful thought, have 10 action thoughts. The power of dreams lies in acting upon them. Imagine yourself doing things very well. Then make a detailed plan of action for each of those things. Work backwards from the imagined outcome and educate yourself on time scales for each step. However, don’t be scared or put off by the amount of time it might all take. Working on your dreams or goals can be a dream process in itself 🙂

2) Find an instructor whose values line up with yours

Search for the best one for your current situation and best one you can afford. Why the same values? Because if you line up those, you will often be happy with the methods used too.

I hear some of you saying, I don’t need an instructor to do well, have you not seen International Velvet? Ok, let’s look at a few facts:

Even to play Sarah Brown, Tatum O’Neal went through an intensive training prior the movie with Marcia Williams, a member of USEF National Show Jumping Hall of Fame (oh and later awarded the USEF Living Legend Award). “During production in England, four British and American Olympic medallists also worked with Tatum”*. Apparently, she showed a lot of talent and could have gone on to great things if she wanted to take up riding professionally. Aaaand, it’s Ginny Leng riding in the more “riding” scenes…

I am not saying there are no riders out there with exceptional body awareness, horse sense, discipline, commitment and passion (aka talent) so if you are one of those, great. Maybe you can skip on point no 2 and just watch as many lessons as you can instead. But if you are part of an average riding crowd (and no shame in that, I consider myself an average rider too) and you want to better yourself step by step, look out for trainers who can guide you, who never stop learning and who genuinely want you to ride better (not just for your horse to go better).

3) Live in a moment but ask what’s around the corner

Do your best to do the best you can in your lessons but ask questions…you want to know if your instructor has any sort of plan for your learning (if you ride with them regularly that is). What skill is leading to what outcome. What’s the plan to work on this or that. You want your instructor to have an idea for you (and for your horse), an individual plan of action for your particular riding adventures (and/or your horse’s development).

4) Push yourself before you push your horse

Like in every sport, we need to push ourselves beyond our comfort zones to progress and that includes the horses too. It’s never easy to go through that push so if you tend to get negatively emotionally involved with your horse’s difficulties, put yourself through similar experience first…Ask around and find a trainer who is impatient, easily frustrated with his/her pupil and takes your physical inability to follow his/her instructions personally. Go for someone who gets easily annoyed when your struggle when you try and fail. You want to truly experience that feel of emotionally draining training that’s on the verge of bullying. Then, next time when you are tempted to do the same to your horse, think how effective it was…

match demands

If you are planning to push your horse to their limits in terms of physical performance, get yourself a session with a positive personal trainer who will make you work like no tomorrow. Be it running, cycling, weight lifting or extreme yoga – try out the total body workout. Make some notes. Adjust your horse training accordingly…

5) Demand only what you can keep up with

Being a good rider means being in harmony with your horse, supporting them with your own body action and matching their effort. Be prepared to do the work with your horse. If they need to be more supple, work on your own suppleness too, if they need to be stronger through their abdominal muscles, get on that workout too, if they need to be mentally calmer, you might need too…You know this saying “show me your horse I will tell you who you are”?  

It’s supposed to be a very quick guide so I will stop here 🙂 What would you add to this list if we were to make it into a Full Guide? Add your own suggestions 🙂 

*Source: http://www.tcm.com/this-month/article/78138%7C0/International-Velvet.html

 

Video Day Wednesday: Christmas Countdown Day 6 – Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are…

I chose today’s video thinking about all the riders I have taught who suffered from various confidence crisis or are simply lacking in self-confidence with certain tasks or movements be it jumping higher, cantering bigger, letting the horse have its head…

I also thought about many trainee riding instructors I have worked with over the years who struggled with voice projection, believing in what they need to teach, believing in exercises they prepared or their feeling at ease in a big open space of an arena filled with riders to be responsible for.

I chose today’s video thinking of many riders who say “my horse doesn’t respect me”, “my horse never listens to me”, “my horse walks all over me”, “I can’t do this with my horse”…

We often seek equestrian specific advice on many horse related subjects but I think it’s important to sit down for a moment and honestly revise our own body language, how it affects us and then what message do we pass on to our horses, the animals highly tuned in to every single movement, weight distribution, muscle twitch.

It’s not about dominance or overpowering but being in control of own emotions, giving the horse confidence through own self-belief. What I liked about the below talk is the mention of cortisol levels…In my opinion that’s the key when dealing with many horses…Do let me know your thoughts if you watch the video.

If you watch  until the end I really recommend doing the little exercise Amy Cuddy proposes before you go out and work with your horse or have a jumping lesson or go for a hack or do groundwork with your horse or go out to teach or…[insert your own little challenge here]. 🙂

How would you like to take part in something amazing in 2014? Introducing our next year’s offer…

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THE TIME HAS FINALLY COME…

… to invite all inquisitive riders and challenge seeking riders-to-be to our 2014 all-levels training programmes which will initially be available at the following two locations:

1. Cullinghood Equestrian Centre, near Reading, Berkshire (5o min from West London)

2. Moorwards Farm Equestrian Coaching Facility, Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire (25 min from West London)

CHOOSE YOUR PROGRAMME: 

ASPIRE2014STARTFor real first timers or anyone who wants to go back to basics and establish a safe, correct seat both for jumping & dressage. You don’t need your own horse to sign up for this programme. You will be free to progress to the next programme once you’ve achieved the following skills: Start Skill Set

ASPIRE2014FOUNDATION

For all you ambitious leisure riders out there! You will be challenged within your level, encouraged to progress your skills and better understand horses as riding companions. You don’t need your own horse to sign up for this programme. However, horse owners are welcome to join in as well as non-owners who would like to loan or share a horse for duration of training (help with choosing the right horse is given free of charge). You can stay training and riding at this level indefinitely but will be free to progress to the next programme once you’ve achieved the following skills: Foundation Skills Set

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Both for leisure and sport minded riders who have keen interest in training a horse that moves in a bio-mechanically correct, happy and healthy way. No gadgets training aimed at understanding rather than quick fixes. You don’t need your own horse to sign up for this programme. However, horse owners are welcome to join in as well as non-owners who would like to loan or share a horse for duration of training (help with choosing the right horse is given free of charge). You can stay training and riding at this level indefinitely, we never stop learning to school different horses. The skills worked on during this programme: Development Skills Set.

ASPIRE2014PERFORMANCE

For grassroots, amateur competition riders with passion for dressage, show-jumping or eventing. You will be a horse owner or Development Programme level rider who is keen to loan or share a horse to compete.

12 PLACES AVAILABLE…

From March 2014, each month we will have up to 12 places available and they will be offered on first pay first serve basis. There will be 5-6 places for non-horse owners and 5-6 for horse owners. All training will be available in form of packages consisting of 8 ridden training sessions (average price: £40-£60 per 90 minutes session) and 8 Aspire Coaching Sessions. Stay tuned for ‘Early Bird’ Packages coming up on the 6th of December! UPDATE: Click here for further details

HOW WOULD YOU LIKE TO RIDE REGULARLY WITH A CLEAR PROGRESSION PATH, EXCEPTIONAL ATTENTION TO DETAIL AND INTERESTING CHALLENGES AHEAD OF YOU? 

Email Wiola at aspire @ outlook.com and be the first to receive Aspire offers.

Looking forward to meeting many aspiring riders in 2014 🙂

And The Winner Is…

In the last couple of weeks riders around the world were able to enter a great competition organised by Hay-Net Social Blogging (if you blog about equine and country related subjects do join in, it’s a free site with an opportunity to share your posts with many horse mad individuals 😉 ).

The winner gets 2 weeks of Aspire E-Academy virtual coaching free of charge, whilst the runner up can claim 50% off 1 month of Aspire’s virtual coaching. I will tell you more about the process of Aspire’s online coaching on Thursday but today, huge congratulations to the winner and runner up!

AND THE WINNER IS…CLICK THE IMAGE TO FIND OUT! 🙂

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you to all who entered the competition in the last couple of weeks. I loved reading your comments on how you think virtual coaching could help you reach your goals and what difficulties you have with using video in your training.

Continue reading And The Winner Is…

The Management Dilemma: 24/7 Turnout. Are you in or out?

Kingsley9thJuly
Kingsley in the field with his “friends”. Horse with many ailments. Often bullied and kicked by field “buddies” at a livery yard with no herd choices.

Sometimes I have this idea of having all horses (including sports horses) living out 24/7,  just being horses, playing nicely together, having no social issues, being brought in for when we ride them then freed again onto their paddocks, walking around with healthy guts, never colic, never weave from stress as they have plenty of space to roam about it and indulge in their motion and chewing instincts, never gain too much weight on rich grass, never lose weight etc etc, I am sure many of you will get the picture.

It seems like the perfect way to go isn’t it? Why argue with million years of evolution and keep horses under the roof, rugged up in 5 rug layers, in lycra hoodies, special no-dust bedding, hay straight from a hay steamer?

Continue reading The Management Dilemma: 24/7 Turnout. Are you in or out?

Old Horse Books. 1827. Secrets of top horse dealers by major S. von Tenneker…

The full title translates as something in the following lines: “Revealing of methods which horse dealers use to beautify horses, make them look younger and subsequently use those methods to cheat on horse buyers”

[rather long title!]. 

Written in 1827 by a major in the Royal Saxon cavalry, a vet and horse carer, member of some intellectual societies (couldn’t find any more information), this little book has been sitting in my horsey library since since around 1997 and as far as I am aware it’s available in German and Polish only. There is a 2001 edition (in Polish translation) available to buy through the below link:

Tenneker
Click on image above to go to the Bookstore (in Polish)

The book is full of fascinating bits of information and I will share a few gems! Although the title suggests it is all about how to cheat the buyer, the book actually is also a little bit of a guide of good practice for horse dealers too. Next to advice on how to trick the buyer there is usually a sound advice on how to avoid having to have to trick in the first place. However, there is plenty of questionable advice too!  Continue reading Old Horse Books. 1827. Secrets of top horse dealers by major S. von Tenneker…

Aspire Coaching Weekend 17-19 May 2013. Photo Snippets.

Claire and puzzle
Learning turn on the forehand in-hand
Building awareness through visual feedback
Emma and Hazel
Learning turn on the forehand in-hand
Emma and Hzel ridden
Ridden work after in-hand work. Using the knowledge from groundwork to achieve better gymnastic results

Continue reading Aspire Coaching Weekend 17-19 May 2013. Photo Snippets.