A Place To Start – Stretching Under Saddle

Some times we just don’t know where or how to begin. In a recent article (Virtual Horse – A Must See!) I linked to a video showing the biomechanical differences between a horse being hand ridden and forced into a false frame; over flexed in the poll, chin on chest and one allowed to stretch and seek contact, and how that affected the horse’s movement. Following is a short (4 min) video that starts to show how you do the latter.


Though I don’t agree with everything said and shown (such as the reference to and title of video ‘engaging’ the back – why even go there?!), there are some really important things happening in the video that I’d like to point out.

First is the forwardness of the horses. Before anything else can happen, a horse must be forward. No forward, no nothing. That is not going fast, though for some it may appear that way, but rather having a purpose in getting from point A to point B. This is a major issue I often see, horses piddling about, dragging their feet, and otherwise lacking any sort of energy or motivation in their striding. The horse must actively and willingly move forward, be in front of the leg, and stay in front of the leg without being constantly badgered. Once that is achieved, the horse on its own will begin to relax into a rhythmic gait and stretch. This applies to our Western riders as well. You all should be riding forward as shown in the video until the horse has, over time, developed the strength and condition to slow down the stroke of the legs via right and proper engagement. The jog and lope that is so often seen today in the Western ring is an atrocity, but I digress.

A lot of the video shows the horse on the circle. The circle helps to encourage weight to shift back onto the inside hind, which in turn will lift the back and so on. But don’t get stuck in the idea that this can only, or should only, be done on the circle. Alternating between straight lines, circles and changes of direction will keep the horse thinking and thus forward. It will increase suppleness and straightness, and as you make the figure changes it’s a challenge and a check that the horse remain relaxed and rhythmic throughout.

I also liked that Mr. Faerber mentioned the rider lightening their seat and that this work is done primarily in rising trot. ‘Driving’ with your seat to get the horse forward only results in triggering the back to contract and then hollow, as does banging around like a sack of rocks in sitting trot. Of course, some riders also bang down on the horse’s back in rising trot, so the execution of the rising trot by the rider may need to be examined if the horse continues to hollow.

You can not achieve any of what is shown in the video via the use of side reins, draw reins, martingales or any other tack contraption. I repeat: CAN NOT. The horse must be free of restrictive devices including the hand, so put away the tack and lengthen those reins. The horse’s head WILL come down once it is forward, relaxed, and rhythmic, and its back will lift. Note that at the four minute mark a young horse is being longed with side reins on, but those side reins are overly long. They are not restricting the horse in any way. So why use them at all? In this instance it’s for the education of the horse’s mouth, to begin to understand weight in its mouth, and to encourage the horse to be straighter (not over bend) through the neck on the circle.

It’s important to also note the time period given in the video: One year to develop the topline of a horse, and that’s for a horse that hasn’t already developed inverted muscling and poor posture from bad riding and training; those horses are going to require even more time. This is not a process that happens over night, nor can it be fixed in 24 hours. But don’t think you should be riding your horse as in the video every single minute of that year. Stretching is not a static position either on its own nor as part of training. Remember that you should be testing your horse’s development, asking for the poll to lift little by little BY engaging the haunch.   You’ll be doing other exercises and figures, cross training.  And don’t forget, the horse’s haunch should be lowering as that poll lifts, otherwise it’s incorrect.

Even out on a hack, you should be encouraging your horse to stretch, to be forward, relaxed, rhythmic in its gaits, straight and so on.  Horses are not toys and require constant consideration, care and management.  There is joy and pleasure to be found in understanding that.  You can enjoy the horse even while knowing that every step is training mind, body, and soul for better or worse.

Neglect in Redding, Connecticut

Sadly another clear situation of the system taking too long to act and giving someone multiple chances.  There’s no excuse after the initial complaints in 2011 that this woman should have had another opportunity to neglect animals.  She even has an option of appealing the seizures. What!?

NBC Report

I wonder if this woman’s age has anything to do with the situation? Is she mentally, emotionally and physically able to care for animals?

If anyone here is in the state/area can you get us any additional information or updates moving forward?

The Long And Winding Road

I’ve been asked a number of times to discuss in detail how a horse can be improved with correct work; how musculature and posture can be changed. Intellectually we all understand the importance of correct work/exercise, relating it to human activities like something as simple as doing a sit up the right way versus the wrong way, and the implications – the development of a strong core or a week in bed with a sore back.

The problem is that I don’t often know where to start. The topic is immense. Just thinking about it is overwhelming to me, trying to then share the information and not overwhelm the recipient is next to impossible. Moreover, I’ve discovered that hardly anybody seems to be able to execute even after they have the information. The task is always more involved than just knowing or having good intentions. You also have to have some skills and talent; patience, tenacity, common sense, an aptitude for critical thinking, good judgment and instincts, and the capacity and will to continually learn. If that’s not enough, it can often times be financially draining and time consuming.

I can always find pictures of horses in need and point out what’s wrong, but rarely is there a chance to get ‘after’ pictures. Since a lot of us learn best with visual aids, pictures are important to connect all the dots. Additional to the pictures would be a comprehensive summary of treatment, exercises and the like. Following is an example that tickles the vastness of the topic.

Thank you to Earthshadows (the human) and Capataz (the horse).


 photo Cap-Before_zps0d85e799.jpg

Capataz was purchased with the intention to advance his rider in Dressage. We could nitpick a few things, but overall he’s well-suited physically to the task and should breeze through the lower levels on his way to medium. Except for one thing; he’s injured.

I’ve marked the injury in the photo below, some might have seen and called it a ‘hunter’s bump’. I don’t care what you call it, or whether it appears on a horse that’s not head bobbing lame, or whether it’s on a horse competing successfully at a high level. It’s an injury, all day long, every day, and should not be dismissed or ignored. Indeed, when purchasing a horse this should, in more cases than not, be a deal breaker. It’s an injury that often occurs in horses that jump, race, and/or slip at speed.

 photo Cap-Before-Marked_zpsd35867c9.jpg

Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on your point of view), Capataz injured himself after his purchase. This at least meant that Earthshadows knew when and how it happened. The sooner treatment can be administered, the better chance of recovery.

Here’s a condensed version of events from Earthshadows:

So it was a bit of a rough start for me and my horse. Within the first few months he spooked and had a bad fall on the cement aisle, his chest hit the floor and legs were everywhere. I’m not sure if he maybe had a pre-existing issue at this point, but this set him lame for sure. Not dead lame, but something was wrong.

My coach at the time wanted to do nerve blocking, but it didn’t quite feel right yet to me. So before doing that, I had a certified chiropractor vet take a look at him, and she said his hip looked off. She adjusted it, but wasn’t sure if it would solve things.

Still lame.

Soon I received a recommendation for a very talented lady that also did manipulation therapy (but not a vet). At this point, I was very skeptical, was never one to believe in these things. But she came out, and after some heavy adjustment (she had to pop his leg into his pelvis or something as equally gross–there was a quite the loud pop), the very next day, no longer lame. Just like that, after months of lameness. I was ecstatic.

Of course, that meant recovery was only starting now. He had lost most of his muscle definition, and had now a very prominent calcium bump on his hindquarter that may or may not shrink. So I started having his bodyworker come out somewhat regularly (bodyworker suggested that it not be frequent), and we saw his pelvis hold itself together longer. For you see, his hip wanted to remain tilted the wrong way.

At first, he would never stand square, legs in all directions. Now, I find him more and more standing naturally in a square position–he’s finding himself straight. But that was only half the battle. The other half was learning to ride him correctly. I went through a few coaches (and styles of teaching!) until I found the one I have now, one dedicated to riding from back to front, and about engaging those hindquarters. And so with strength coming back, his pelvis has remained correct even longer.

He still has a bump today, although the muscle sorta tricks the eye, but you can see it. There’s still stiffness at the start, and I have to be very careful to warm up his hips properly before asking him to work. But he’s come leaps and bounds, especially with a novice owner who’s had to learn everything along the way!”


 photo Cap-After_zpsff7ff9af.jpg

Some points to take away from this example; even with early diagnosis and treatment, the rehabilitation of this type of injury to a horse is still time consuming with no guarantee of complete recovery. The longer the injury goes unnoticed or ignored, the more difficult it becomes to repair and the less likely the horse will fully recovery. Scar tissue, bone remodeling and calcification occur rapidly due to the amount of stress this area of the horse takes, and it’s not unusual to have significant, chronic inflammation and fluid build-up.

I refer you back to the previous blog article Hind Limb – Part 1 where I discuss the attachment of the horse’s haunch to the rest of its body. (See second paragraph). Refresh yourselves on the stay system of the hind leg and imagine how if one of those joints is injured or stressed how that must affect the rest of the joints of the leg. Imagine too if just the surrounding area of one of those joints is affected how that too is going to have a trickle effect to the rest of the hind end. Keep in mind that our intent for any riding horse is to have it transfer weight from the forehand to the haunch via that itty, bitty LS joint. If there’s any sort of natural, structural weakness in the haunch; long loin, poorly placed LS joint, post-leggedness etc…, then not only is the potential for injury increased but also the amount of injury that can occur, with time added to rehabilitating such an injury since the structure contains a general inherited weakness.

There are a lot of horses out there performing for their riders with loin/sacrum/pelvic/hip injuries of this sort, whether from direct or secondary sources. Lameness can be subtle from a shortening of the gait, or carrying the haunch off to one side, or as predominant as head-bobbing. But even if it’s not at first obvious or apparent (not everyone has an eye for subtler unsoundness) and the horse has continued to win in the ring, know that the horse is injured and unsound if any sort of topline or pelvic unevenness is in evidence. It is the nature of prey animals to hide illness and injury, and the nature of the horse to get along and please. Through compensatory actions (ie., travelling heavier on the forehand) the horse will more often than not, keep right on truckin’.

In the case of Capataz, he dislocated his hip. This pulled all the soft tissue around the hip joint, around the pelvis, and up into the sacrum and loin, stressing the entire haunch. And even then he wasn’t head-bobbing lame.

It may seem that the topic of this article has now changed from the opening paragraph, but I assure you it’s all very much related and intertwined. One of the first things we must make sure of when wanting to correct the horse’s musculature and posture is that an underlying injury does not exist. While remodeling muscles and improving posture can take several months, it’ll never happen if the horse is suffering from an undiagnosed injury.

Virtual Horse – A MUST See!

Even though many may not understand the language in this video, the computer generated images speak for themselves.  Of special note is the relationship of riding the horse’s head and how that affects the rest of the horse’s body and movement.  There’s a really good example of a correct trot and an incorrect trot.  Be sure to watch, not just the changed posture of the horse, but also the changed movement, ie. the swing of the limbs, the placement of the feet.  Also note the difference of pulling the horse’s chin into its chest, versus pulling the horse’s head up and then the chin in, and then finally encouraging the horse to stretch forward and down with its neck and head, and opening its throat.

Bob & Spring…err Dink & Saint

Recently I’ve been inundated with videos of bad riding – thanks so ever much, Amy. Mostly it’s apparent that it’s unintended, based in ignorance, lack of good instruction, practise and/or natural talent. We’ve all been there and I can only hope that as time passes, people learn, and things improve. The following video, though, bothers me far more than many of the rest. There’s a willful intent to use the horse as a toy to show off. It’s as if a bunch of men dropped their drawers and slapped their manhoods on a table to see whose measured biggest…and this guy lost.


Yes, that is suppose to be ‘reining’ with rollbacks and sliding stops. Praise the horse (this one and the entire species) for putting up with such ego-based chest thumping disguised as *cough* riding. ‘Look, Ma! Look at what I can do!’

There are another half dozen videos from the same poster showing more head shaking, jigging, bucking, bad preparation for jumping and a fair bit of just ‘run ‘em’ – much of it sans helmet (which might prove to be Karma’s last laugh when all is said and done).   I remain confused by the artistic presentation, entirely unaware of the thought process that went into the editing, but mostly I’m confused by the moments of real affection shown for the horse mixed with treatment no better than that of a five year old riding their tricycle over their plastic pail and shovel.  Somebody enlighten me.

Another One Bites The Dust

Today California Chrome had a chance to take home The Triple Crown, if he could just cross the wire first.  Instead he finished in a deadheat for fourth.  From where I was sitting, he just didn’t have the distance in him, but quickly after the race we had a desk jockey (sports commentator) blaming the jockey for a bad ride (I disagree – thought the jockey did a great job) and a really upset owner claiming it was ‘the coward’s way out’ referencing how fresh horses showed up for the race (having not raced in either the Kentucky Derby or Preakness or both) and then having the other jockeys gang-up on his horse in the race.  No matter what side you’re on, horse racing gets people emotional.

I have a real issue with how Thoroughbreds are generally trained and prepared for racing (in North America).   It confounds me how almost every year we sit and ask the same question:  Will so and so be able to make the distance of The Belmont Stakes?  Heck, sometimes we’re asking that question at The Kentucky Derby.  While there are clearly horses of sprinting bloodlines, none of those are ever being aimed at The Triple Crown, why are the horses aimed at mile+ races not being trained and conditioned for the longest distance possible?  That just makes sense to me.  Even if the horse only ever races once in its life at that distance, it only makes sense to prepare for it.  It doesn’t hurt the horse to have more stamina then is used in most races.  I never trained my Standardbreds just a mile; that would have been stupid.  And it never was good if a horse staggered across the mile marker in a training session, even if that training session was at race speed.  Nope, I’ll never understand the thinking of these TB trainers.

Steve Coburn thinks that only the twenty horses that start The Kentucky Derby should be eligible to race in the The Preakness, and only those that race in both the first two legs should be eligible to race in The Belmont Stakes.  On one hand, he’s got a point.  On the other hand, how about you tell your trainer to condition your horse better and train for the distance, then you won’t feel cheated when your horse loses – Mr. ‘I got the NY Racing Commission to change their rules and allow my horse to wear a breathing strip’.

I’m disappointed another year has gone by without a Triple Crown winner.  Rest assured the day it happens, that horse and his team of humans will have deserved it…at least until someone claims it was a bad crop of three-year olds.

Breaking Down The Sale Ad – #2

Amazing Athletic Percheron Paint $23,500
Gentle Giant Ready for Career

Sendero Alza is one of those horses that comes around only once in a lifetime. He’s a kind, gentle giant with an amazing disposition and a true desire to learn. Standing an honest 16.3hh this magnificent Percheron Paint Gelding has an outstanding confirmation, well balanced and true.

Sendero has a strong fundamental and intermediate level foundation on the ground and under saddle. He is forward moving and solid in the walk, trot and canter in a dressage saddle or western saddle. Collect him or ride him out on a loose rein, your wish is his command…


Hmm…that’s a lot of money to be asking of this cross – amazingly athletic or not – so I wanted to take a closer look. His conformation doesn’t hold any surprises. He’s a bit post-legged, downhill built, and too straight, upright, rigid and light through the front leg. On the plus side he’s got a big hip, well-placed LS joint, strong loin, and medium back. His neck is set on medium and structured well. That makes him a potentially ‘okay’ riding mount; neither horrid, nor exceptional. Certainly he’s strong in the right areas to help nullify the full effect of the faults.

He’s listed as ‘trained all-around’ because that’s what this kind of horse can do – a little bit of everything, particularly if he’s got a good temperament, which this fellow appears to have.

I have no criticisms about the majority of this ad. It’s unfortunate that the seller decided to stretch reality. This horse is not a Dressage, Eventing or Jumper prospect in any pure sense of those disciplines as listed.

Certainly he could be taken to a Dressage show and plod around at the lower levels, but he possess no natural suspension to speak of, and his post-leggedness and downhill build are going to make engagement more difficult – though that big hip, LS joint placement and loin will help a lot. He won’t ever get great gait scores, and he’ll always look like a construction worker trying to do ballet. One would want to do Dressage for the benefit of the horse, not as an aspiration to ‘take him up the levels’ in Competitive Dressage.

Certainly he can be taken into a jumping ring; he seems a willing sort. His form is average at best, definitely not going to get those knees to his ears. He’ll have plenty of power to push off with, but will lack some scope. And again, he’ll be handicapped the way a body builder would be if trying to high jump.

Certainly he could be entered in Eventing, but he’s not getting past the lower levels. He’d be unable to make the times on Cross Country beyond those levels, not to mention there’s a lack of cat-like agility, which is often the difference between negotiating a challenging obstacle and disaster. He might suit a youngster for Pony Club.

It would have been much more honest for the seller to stick to the all-around route, since you never expect such an individual to excel in one discipline but rather to provide a safe, enjoyable ride, while piddling around at whatever. That kind of a mount suits a lot of people, and is worth its weight in gold.

If you have the time, check out the videos the seller provides. Those are the most telling. Full praise to the trainer of this horse, because that is exactly how you start a horse and turn it into a valuable asset for a wide range of people, even if the horse isn’t a spectacularly individual. If more people took the time to put this kind of a base on a horse, the equine world would be a significantly better place for horses.

Even with all the basic training this horse has received, providing a real solid base with which to move this horse forward, I still find it hard to swallow a $23.5k price tag.