Tag Archives: soundness

How Can I Ride my Horse ‘more evenly’ and in better balance – Part 1. Exploring The Bowen Technique for Riders

`The last blog post, “Falling in through the shoulder” and other issues not to ignore” had an interesting comment left by Bryony who asked “Can you give me some examples of good exercises to teach my horse to use both limbs with even weight load, or recommend websites that would give some examples?”

There are probably as many answers to the above question as there are trainers out there so I thought that perhaps it might be a good idea to discuss in more detail how we look at this aspect of riding within Aspire training courses. Our approach is based on belief that nothing changes in the horse unless the rider changes and this is why rider’s awareness and ability to either straighten themselves or learn how to have that effect on the horse is at the basis of all Aspire coaching.

Leisure riders, with their often sedentary day jobs, benefit hugely from balance and awareness specific exercises or therapy. Healthy movement is fluent and harmonious and that’s what we aim to achieve at every level in both horse and rider.

I personally use a combination of awareness exercises on equine simulator with postural assessments consultations with Kari, which I will write about in more detail soon. Today I would like to give the blog space to another freelance instructor working with me – Mariana Broucher. Apart from being a riding instructor, Mariana is also a Bowen Technique therapist and uses her dual skills to help both riders and horses. You can see Mariana’s Bowen related website here: http://www.equinebowen.net/

Over to Mariana now!

All the best,

Wiola

bowenWhy use the Bowen Technique for riding?

Why do athletes use Bowen? Anything that can help improve performance and help prevent and deal with injuries while keeping the athlete’s flexibility can translate into tangible results like knocking off a few seconds from one’s personal best.
And this is very important not only for top athletes, but also for the everyday horse and rider. Preventing injury and enhancing performance is what saves us money (vet bills are quite high nowadays) and who wants to live with pain anyway. How can we get a more effective and more balanced position if that shoulder keeps aching and that back hurting and we can’t sit straight because one shoulder is higher or the pelvis tilted?

What is the Bowen Technique?

Created by Australian Tom Bowen in the second half of the 20th century, the Bowen Technique is a gentle hands-on remedial therapy. It works with your whole body to bring its muscular/skeletal, emotional and physiological systems back into balance. A series of rolling type moves is made over superficial and deep fascia at specific points on the body. Working through light clothing or directly on the skin, the gentle moves trigger a response in the body to kick-start the natural repair process more specifically; the moves stimulate the nervous system to release tension in the soft tissue.
“Bowen Technique prompts the body to reset, repair and balance itself and clients report the experience of pain relief, improvement of function and recovery of energy”

The body has an innate ability to fix itself. The aim of the Bowen Technique is to facilitate and stimulate this process, while ultimately achieving freedom of movement and equal tension through the form.
So how can Bowen help riders and their horses?
Quite often unforeseen problems arise during lessons which can slow down or even stop progress. This could be anything, from unexplained back pains (for the rider or the horse) to various imbalances and levelnesses issues, or just the inability to learn a certain move or exercise.

By having a closer look it is sometimes possible to find the root of the problem, sometimes not. The Bowen Technique always addresses and rebalances the whole body, regardless of the symptoms. This is very clever, because quite often a symptom like for example an aching left knee has its origin somewhere completely different, maybe in an old shoulder injury. As the body has been compensating to relieve pain in the right shoulder it might have slightly shifted its balance, resulting in a sore left knee maybe months later, when the old shoulder injury is long forgotten. By addressing the whole body, Bowen can not only relieve the “referred” pain in the knee, but hopefully release tensions around the shoulder, which was the initial source of pain.

Case Studies:
Alice and Ruby

alice2
Photos copyright http://www.equinebowen.net/ Please feel free to share the entire post but do not copy the images.

When I first saw Alice’s mare Ruby I met a very bossy horse. She would run people over, barge out of her stable and generally be very strong and “stressy”. In September 2011 a vet examination showed some abnormal cells on her ovaries. This cleared up by January 2013 but thermal imaging showed an area of muscle tightness in the right gluteals and also muscle spasm in both hamstrings.
When ridden, Ruby would be quite erratic. She refused to go in a straight line (even in walk). The walk and trot were very irregular. When turning she would lean on her inside shoulder. She would hurry into canter transitions and just wouldn’t canter on the correct lead. She also wasn’t capable of going in an outline.

After 3 treatments Ruby was more relaxed in her stable and when being handled. She seemed much less stressed and happier. And she started to canter on the correct lead without rushing into the canter transitions and she generally looked straighter and more regular.
Ruby’s rider and owner Alice was very happy, especially as she could now see a progress in her lessons. But treating only the horse was in this case not enough, as Alice herself had quite a few issues. Alice suffered from back pain that would often be so bad, that she couldn’t ride at all. And when she did ride, she was very unbalanced herself; she would be leaning forward too much and at the same time collapse in her hips and her pelvis was shifted to the left. So it was actually hard to tell if the problems were Alice’s or Ruby’s.

As is visible on the picture below, Alice sits more to the left, because her pelvis is shifted that way, as a result she is collapsed in her hip and her left shoulder seems higher.

alicebefore
Photos copyright http://www.equinebowen.net/ Please feel free to share the entire post but do not copy the images.

Pelvis is “shifted” to the left

alicepelvisshiftedleft
Photos copyright http://www.equinebowen.net/ Please feel free to share the entire post but do not copy the images.

After receiving Bowen the pelvis seems much straighter

aliceafter
Photos copyright http://www.equinebowen.net/ Please feel free to share the entire post but do not copy the images.

The below picture is taken after 3 Bowen sessions.

on horse
Photo copyright http://www.equinebowen.net/ Please feel free to share the entire post but do not copy the images.

After receiving 3 Bowen treatments each, Alice straightened up in the saddle and no longer suffers from back pain which would eventually stop her from riding. As a bonus Alice can now walk up or down stairs without having to lead with one leg.
Ruby is calmer, straighter and more regular. In addition she is now more attentive to her rider so both seem to enjoy the riding much more and can now get the most out of their lessons.

From May 2014, Mariana Broucher co-runs Aspire 2014 courses in Orpington, Kent. Please contact aspire@outlook.com for more information. 

“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!