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Biomechanics Question
 Moderated by: DrDeb  
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MarionD
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 Posted: Fri Nov 2nd, 2007 02:45 am
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I hope Dr. Deb or someone here can help answer.  I am aware that this is not a vet forum and I am not looking for a diagnosis, although my post may read like I am.  I do have my vet involved in my current problem and I am in the process of getting a bone scan appointment set up.  I'm not confident that I'll ever know what is going on with my horse.   Ok, here's my question.

If a horse, obviously in discomfort, prefers going backwards to forwards, what area of the body would you suspect has problems?

My horse is sound in the limbs.  He's a dressage horse working at the 4th level and I am a decent rider.  Over the last 5 years, he has occasionally shown some resistance to various things, and his way of showing it was always to just stop and sometimes back up a few steps.  He would do this if he was confused, annoyed, or I made a mistake with my timing, etc.

In June of this year, he started some serious resistance.  He will be going along ok and then 'jolt' to a stop.  If you then ask him to go, he will reinback.  It's as though he is afraid that moving forward is going to be painful. 

I tried many things including 3 acupunctures, several massages, chiro, saddle fit.  I took some video of his behavior and showed it to my vet, and he thought it was pain related and not behavioral.  With his digital radiograph machine, he took a number photos of the spine.   T4&5 and T14&15 were close, but not impinging from what I could see.  My vet injected the back with cortisone and sarapin and I gave my horse 7 days of rest.  I brought him back to work slowly and he was doing ok for the first 12 days.  Yesterday he started resisting a little bit, and today was a complete disaster.  I could not even get through a decent warmup. 

It is my undertstanding that horses don't particular like to reinback, but he was reinbacking probably 80% of the time I was on him today.  I wasn't asking anything of him except to just walk and trot on a long rein.  This was not a shutting down from work; this I know for certain.  I would eventually encourage him to go and when he did, he felt terrific.   After a circuit ore two around the ring, something would cause him to stop quickly, and then the reinbacking would start.  There was some mini rearing happening too, if I got too insistent about asking him to walk forward.   Something was clearly hurting him.

I apologize for providing such a long history, but I think it is necessary in order to get a response here.   I did read the other Kissing Spine thread, but I didn't think my post belonged in that thread.

In your opinion, would a spinal impingement in T4&5 and T14&15 be less painful if the horse walked backwards?  I feel that he is stuck somewhere in his shoulder and that it can't rotate forward.   I keep thinking this is nerve related, something like sciatica in humans.  The ribs could be involved in this, too.  Often his resistances start when asked to give in his rib cage and bend, but I wasn't doing that today.

ShotenStar
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 Posted: Tue Nov 6th, 2007 05:28 pm
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Have you and your vet discussed / tested for EPM ?

I ask because I encountered similar issues with my mare ... reluctance to move forward, kicking a leg aids, etc.  After an MRI and Nuclear Scintigraphy, which showed some issues but nothing that accounted for all the issues or the intensity of her reactions, we finally arrived at EPM.  The fact that one day she could not move her right front leg was the defining moment in the diagnostic process.

My vet's opinion / experinece is that the nerve damage in the spinal column causes them to loose control / sensation in their limbs, and they resist movements because they are not comfortable that they know where their feet are.  In my mare, it also seriosuly affected her ability to coil her loins and lift her back.  I went from having a horse I was planning to debut at Third Level to one that I could barely walk-trot in straight line without bucking, kicking, and crabbing sideways ... does lovely things to your riding confidence.

*star*

MarionD
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 Posted: Tue Nov 6th, 2007 06:35 pm
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No, I have not tested for EPM.  I don't think my horse has the symptoms of EPM at all.   I just showed this horse at Psg in June of this year and got a 7 on Gaits.  He doesn't show any hind end problems and he is sound w/t/c on the lunge.  He is willing to work at the walk and will do all lateral work at the walk.  It's only when you put your leg against his ribs to ask for trot that he objects.  It's as though the pressing on the ribs creates a nerve response somewhere that is painful.  My vet does not think this is a problem with the hind end at all, and neither do I.  Yet, his symptoms don't mimic those other other horses with kissing spine either.  He goes for a bone scan this Thursday, but I am not optimistic that it will bring diagnosis or a treatment.

danee
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 Posted: Fri Nov 9th, 2007 02:29 am
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When I was young I rode a horse for a short while that in the middle of trot or canter work- eve if on no contact- she would stop and FLY backwards in little circles.  It was obviously a training resistance, but i never did find what "button" sparked her tantrums.  Well, they seemed in fear looking back, so maybe tantrum in not hte right word, but it still seemed like this was the only way this mare found release from pressure- it probably made her previous rider quit all attempts at what they were working on, even if only momentarily.

 

I would be very interested to now how my perception of her would differ if I had her today to retrain.

Is your horse running backwards in escape, or slowly/rationally walking backwards?  The sudden halt and rearing- even if mild- makes me think this is ALL emotional/mental- not physical at all.  Sorry- probably not what you wanted to hear!!!!

I think i would do more relationship building on the ground for some time.

Last edited on Fri Nov 9th, 2007 02:29 am by danee

Helen
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 Posted: Fri Nov 9th, 2007 03:14 am
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I have to agree with danee, when I first read your post my first thought was of 'stereotypies', behaviours that horses display habitually as their birdies are not with them; things like stall-weaving or windsucking. Now I think it through, I am reminded more of something I read of in the birdie book. The name escapes me now, but it was about behaviours that the horse displays through an unconscious desire to relieve pressure - one that, perhaps, at one time solved a major or minor problem for the horse repeatedly, which is now their response to pressure they don't understand.

I don't know if this applies to your horse, but it did sound to me as though, perhaps, another rider of his would stop riding or take a break when he did this, and through this he learned not to be 'naughty', but that this was the way to relieve the pressure - like the way to relieve rein pressure is to turn or leg pressure is to go forward, it was just another response for him.

DrDeb
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 Posted: Fri Nov 9th, 2007 08:29 am
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Dear Marion: The problem of which you speak is not an uncommon one among those who have followed the currently-accepted, but entirely wrongheaded, ideas of how to train a "dressage" horse. There are many women like you, Marion, in this division of competition who have been told by people who should know better that they are pretty decent riders. So I sympathize entirely with all that you have said, and I appreciate the clarity of your description.

Danee and Helen, Marion's horse's difficulties are not due to sterotypy. Stereotypies are repetitive, nonadaptive behaviors that have a compulsive quality. They "outcrop" as a side effect of the horse's need to relieve painful inner feelings that arise when his Birdie is not with him. This is not what Marion is describing.

Neither do I believe that Marion's horse's responses arise primarily as a result of any medical (including chiropractic) problem. This is not to say that if investigation is pursued something may not be found, but if something is found it will not have been the cause of the difficulties Marion reports. The cause of Marion's problems is Marion, as I will explain below -- and remember please, I am saying this with the greatest sympathy.

I have to chuckle at the suggestion about EPM -- you know how fond the medical and veterinary professions are of shortening the names of diseases and syndromes to acronyms in capital letters. So I tell my classes that "EPM is a CFD". Do you know what a CFD is, folks? It's a Currently Fashionable Diagnosis. I do not believe that most horses diagnosed with EPM actually have a disease -- especially when EPM becomes the "diagnosis of last resort", a label applied when nothing else can be found. Note the emphasis on the word "disease" in the last sentence: the vast majority of horses carry antibodies to the protozoan that causes EPM. The fact that the horse carries antibodies that can be identified by examining the fluid from a spinal tap does not mean that the animal's symptoms come from a disease resulting from activity of said protozoan.

Nevertheless, the animal certainly does have symptoms -- as Marion's report reveals and as echoed by others who have had experience with horses stopping abruptly, jumping back, reining back, or fleeing backwards. Does this sound like a disease to you, in all reality?

Right. It isn't a disease, or at least not of the low-grade, chronic type. It IS an attempt on the animal's part to communicate. We then need to investigate the obvious before anything else. "The obvious" includes:

(1) Marion, has this horse been seen recently by a competent equine dental practitioner? You need to get someone qualified (this person will not necessarily be your veterinarian, but rather either a layman or a veterinarian who specializes in equine dentistry and who can present good credentials and word-of-mouth recommendations). They need to perform a thorough manual and visual oral examination and then follow up, if indicated, with equilibration of the teeth to remove malocclusions and restore proper bite and grind.

(2) What kind of bit are you riding in, Marion, and can you attest that this bit fits the horse and has been properly adjusted when you are riding him in it? If you are riding in a double bridle, is the curb chain attached via rings that are separate from the rings to the headstall, so that there is no possibility that the curb strap or chain is pinching the horse in the corners of the lips? If you don't understand what I am saying here, then maybe a peep at the "Anatomy of Bitting" DVD set that Dave Elliott and I did would help you. This 8-hour mini-course not only explains how every major type of bit works but also gives extensive, detailed, clear information about the anatomy and functioning of the head, mouth, neck, jaw joints.....and about "true collection" in general.

(3) Now we come to the part that you are going to like least, Marion. It is a commonplace in competitive dressage that the horse has been taught to go with a brace in its neck and back, and that the rider is taught to regard the pressure that this creates in her hands as "proper contact". Unfortunately, this is far from the case; although contact does involve the horse and rider mutually touching each other, it has nothing essentially to do with pressure.

If your horse moves like most other competitive dressage horses, however, he will have that brace in his neck. This in turn prevents him from being able to freely and fluidly coil his loins. That, in its turn, prevents him from being able to comfortably move his hind legs (i.e. what you would think of as "tracking up" or "bringing the hind hoofs forward under the body"). In other words: when a horse has a brace in its jaws and neck, by no means will the rider be able to influence the hindquarters. Neither will the horse be able to offer himself to the rider.

The more braced the horse's body becomes, the more likely he will be to rear. Rearing begins when the horse shortens his hind step. It is not, in fact, possible for a horse to rear when being ridden under saddle without first shortening the length of the hind step. You need to feel for this the next time you go for a ride on the so-called "problem" horse. For your own safety, I will say further that you need to become EXPERT at feeling this particular bodily motion.

I said above that it is not possible for a horse to rear without first shortening the hind step. The first stage in accomplishing this is that the horse will feel reluctant to go -- like he's trying to slow down or like his feet are in molasses -- another common complaint of the competitive dressage riders who come to me. So the horse slows down, and that is when he may stop abruptly. Once he's done that a few times and gotten his coordination together, he may, with your help, teach himself to rein back or flee backwards. The next step, I warn you, will be that he will begin rearing.

You see, Marion, this is all that any horse lives for: the relief of pressure, release of pressure. If YOU do not provide this -- each and every time you ask for anything -- then the horse, if he has any spirit and gumption, will seek it himself. This is the essence of training in fact: you crowd the horse in every area except the one spot you want him to go; you pressure him in every area but one. And you had better make sure that the ONE is the ONE you want him to find. But you see, it works the same whether you were conscious that this is the process, or whether you have any skill in it: your HORSE is always operating in this way, whether you are or not. So, the process you have been following has taught your horse to look for relief SOMEWHERE and where he has found it is BEHIND HIM.

Now I have saved the last "obvious" point for last, and that is, that any horse who learns this is being ridden by someone who does not understand the concept of release. The horse is to be ridden primarily in release. The part that confuses people here is that a properly trained horse is on contact when he is in release. Reiner Klimke once said to a clinic "99% of horses need to be ridden on long reins 99% of the time." So Marion, how much of your one-hour ride do you spend:

(1) On long reins

(2) At the walk

(3) Making "up" and "down" transitions on the buckle

(4) When was the last time you performed a walk-to-canter transition on the buckle?

(5) Does your heart rate rise when you are asked to perform/do perform a walk-to-canter transition on the buckle?

Your honest answer to these questions does not need to be reported to me. But I want you to report it to yourself. In other words -- what is the MOST obvious cause for a horse being reluctant to move forward, shortening the hind steps, rearing, or running backwards? Is it not the rider's misuse of her own hands?

This is not to say that I expect you are "hard" handed. I think, instead, that you do not understand the concept of release. The horse is to be ridden in release. I am repeating this because I think, if you have been rewarded with prizes at dressage shows, that those who have rewarded you do not understand this either. How is the student ever to achieve her goals if those in authority lead her into the pit?

The biggest and best suggestion I can give you is that you betake yourself to Harry Whitney at your first opportunity. Bring your horse to Harry (http://www.harrywhitney.com). Or, if you live in western Canada, take yourself and your horse to Josh Nichol at the Eagle's Wing Ranch outside Edmonton. If you live in Texas, go see Joe Wolter. If you live in Florida, go see Tom Curtin. Or in Pennsylvania/New Jersey, go see Mike Schaffer. In California, make an effort to go see Bryan Neubert. Find Buck Brannaman on the road -- he'll be glad to help you. And by all means, go meet Ray Hunt wherever you can meet up with him.

The reason I recommend these people is that I know that they can help you. You need to understand where release fits in to the moment-to-moment dance between you and your horse, and you also need to learn the techniques to create it and sustain it (and then you'll understand what I mean by saying, 'when the horse is on contact he is in release'). Like everybody else, you need direct, one-on-one instruction before it would be reasonable to expect you to make the needed changes.

But make the effort, Marion, or you're soon going to get your neck broken.

Best wishes, and do please write back here to let us know what your plans are for which of these people you would be planning to visit with. -- Dr. Deb 

 

 

 

MarionD
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 Posted: Fri Nov 9th, 2007 01:56 pm
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Thank all of you for your comments.  At this time, I am awaiting results from the bone scan and gastroscopy.  I will report back with information on the tests and also respond to some of the questions Dr. Deb raises.  I am not insulted at all at the finger pointed at my riding as the cause.  I will say, though, that I do not think I fit the mold of the current day dressage rider of which Dr. Deb speaks.  In other words, I am not a front to back rider, and I understand the concept of release.  Before focusing on dressage, I evented.  I don't think one can event successfully restricting a horse. 

Sadly, I do believe I am dealing with a behavior problem that was initiated by rider error.  I think some of this originated from the previous rider(s), but I also contributed I'm sure.  At least I am looking to myself as the cause and trying to listen to my horse.  I have not worked with any trainer for three years because I am concerned about the forceful tactics many of them use.  I know I need help, but finding the right person isn't easy.   I hesitate to say this, but many years ago I  worked with one of the people Dr. Deb suggested.  At that time, this person was not at all the good horseman that is thought here and had quite a bad reputation.

Pam
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 Posted: Fri Nov 9th, 2007 07:26 pm
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I learned to ride with long reins "in release" from watching Mike Schaffer ride and by reading his book.  I was first taught by dressage instructors to ride with a stranglehold on the reins and was told my horse would never be able to ride on a long ride because of his training.  It was hard to make the change after watching Mike, but now just the thought  to shorten them up feels very strange and I know my horse will act up if I do.  I am quite comfortable with the long reins now and my horse is so relaxed.  I find if I watch other dressage riders too much I want to shorten them up - sort of reverting back to an old habit - but I never actually do it because my horse has given me the feedback to know better.  As far as I am concerned he gets the final say about his own comfort level.  I have learned to listen to my horse, and a few selected instructors, and not to anything the dressage world has to say about horsemanship.   Also, there are some great cowboy instructors out there to learn from, outside of the dressage box.

Happy Riding,

Pam


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