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Teaching the Horse to Carry the Rider
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MtnHorse
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 Posted: Wed Aug 23rd, 2017 11:45 pm
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Some years back, I purchased a Saddlebred gelding with a swayback. I don't really know if it is lordosis, high withers, a "Hunters bump," or just what cause his back to look like it does. I am not sure that it even matters at this point; it is what it is. I did set out to find ways that I could make it better or at least to keep it from getting any worse. From the recommendation of an internet friend I came here.

So with a lot of work I feel like it is really starting to come together. However this pictures illustrates the problem I am seeing. On that weekend, I had been doing a lot of circles and stepping under, he was calm and somewhere close to this time his neck telescoped out and down. Since it is something that we have talked about here in the last few years, I don't usually carry my hands that low, I just followed his head down. I am also not trying to blame anything on the horse. He is really incredible and I hate posting a picture that makes him look less so.

Anyway the point is that I expect that when he does this he will lift and straighten his back with less sway and more of a rounded up look. Instead he looks like he just relaxed every muscle and his back looks sunken and "swayed" the lowest extent that it get. Am I doing something wrong?

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DrDeb
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 Posted: Thu Aug 24th, 2017 02:48 am
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Mountain Horse -- Would learning to drive this horse appeal to you at all?

You aren't doing anything wrong, except that trying to ride a horse that has already gone swaybacked is not going to help the swayback.

Swayback is relatively more common in ASB's than in other breeds; there is actually a bloodline in ASB's that is almost impossible to ride without having the back deform in this way. Of course swayback can happen in lots of breeds, but in general it takes more to get it to happen in a QH, Appy, or Standardbred (I post images below of swaybacked animals belonging to these three breeds).

I also post an image of my mostly-ASB (he was actually ASB X QH) gelding, Painty. Painty is of the "old type" 5-gaited ASB which was a heavy, substantial horse. He had one of the strongest backs you can imagine. The photo, taken when he was 26 years old, shows mountain-high withers but no swayback at all. But the so-called "new type" ASB -- a skinny, squibby ghost of an imitation of what the breed used to be -- bred all for long neck but hopelessly insubstantial -- is more and more often simply not suited to be a riding horse.

Now, the reason I post the variety of breeds here is that you'll notice that although all of them are swaybacked, they're not all swaybacked in quite the same way. This is to respond to your expression of doubt as to what's "causing" the swayback in your own animal. It is as if, in different horses of different bloodlines and builds, the "focus" of the swayback, the first place where the body starts pulling apart in the long dimension, can be different. In every case, however, what has broken down is the deep ligamentous sheath -- like a tough nylon stocking -- that binds adjacent vertebrae together. The sheathing in a horse that becomes swaybacked has broken down, either from old age, or from too much length in the coupling, or from hard use, or from misuse, or from being used too young, or because no matter how good and careful the riding, it was going to happen anyway simply because the animal is squibby and insubstantial.

There is absolutely nothing that you can do to make this "much" better once it's occurred. Ligaments do not respond to conditioning nearly as well as muscles, and a ligament that's been stretched/torn/microtorn so that it has a length greater than its original, natural length will never return to the natural length.

I think you can, however, by doing certain things, preserve the horse's back in its current condition -- so that it doesn't get any worse. Those things would include:

(1) Stop riding the horse. Weight on top of the back can do only one thing, and that is cause the back to drop farther.

(2) Stop trying to fit a saddle to a swaybacked horse, because you will not be able to. The only way to saddle a swayback is to fill up the hollow spot in the middle with blankets and padding, until you "float" the saddle off the withers and loins. If you don't do this, the saddle -- I don't care what make or brand or Western or English, Arabian, Australian, etc. -- will gouge the horse with the buttons of the fore-arch and also with the hind-arch. This is called "bridging". When the saddle bridges/gouges, it causes the horse to tighten the muscles of its back, the long perivertebral muscles or the longissimus dorsi if you will; and that same tightening will cause the animal to drop its back further.

(3) Do perform quality groundwork, especially backing one step at a time.

(4) Do go find Harry Whitney, or one of our other recommended clinicians, and have him show you to train the horse to lie down on command. This is absolutely mandatory before you even THINK of putting the horse in harness with a cart behind him.

(5) Do teach the horse to perform every "trick" in the book, including mounting the circus drum, jumping low obstacles at liberty, free-longeing, Spanish Walk, the plie bow, fetching, sorting flags, and working with stuff like dragging a tire or a burlap bag full of cans, crossing tarp, going under a tarp that's been cut into ribbons, crossing water, OK around flags and other "boogers". Not only does this raise the animal's practical and commercial value and give him meaningful work to do, it will help make him bombproof once you get started in harness.

(6) Do line-drive the horse and in the long lines, teach him all three classes of lateral work, i.e. leg-yield, shoulder-in, and half-pass.

Some projects, Mountain Horse, you just have to think in broader terms about. Some horses are unsuitable for riding, and this is one of them. That does not mean they are totally without a use; it's down to you to figure out how to bring the best that this horse has to offer out of him, in a way that won't damage him further.

Have a look at the pictures below, and do some thinking, and then let us know what you decide. -- Dr. Deb

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DrDeb
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 Posted: Thu Aug 24th, 2017 03:10 am
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In these two examples, the focus of the swayback is, or will be, in the lumbar span. Quarter Horses are frequently long between last rib and hip; this is less often true of Appaloosas, but it is possible to find an example of just about anything cropping up just about anywhere.

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DrDeb
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 Posted: Thu Aug 24th, 2017 03:19 am
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These two examples are both substantial, heavy-built Quarter Horses who, unlike the QH mare above, have perfectly good couplings. I attribute the cause here to the fact that nobody knew how to ask these horses to 'round up', or you could say they were never taught how to carry themselves and a rider. Years and years of riding a horse as if it were a Jeep, i.e. just riding its LEGS and thinking only about the legs, leads to this in thousands of horses across the U.S. and worldwide.

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DrDeb
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 Posted: Thu Aug 24th, 2017 03:33 am
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This set represents two mares similar to your own, Mountain Horse. They are insubstantial. The insubstantiality shows up in the legs, yes, but the catastrophic failure occurs when the joints between vertebrae tear apart. Breeding for 'refinement' is dangerous. We do not need more refinement in our horses; Przewalski horses average 9 to 14 inches of cannon-tendon circumference per 1,000 lbs. of weight, whereas the domestic horse average is shy of 7 inches. We have plenty of refinement; what we need to do is guard the soundness and durability of our horses, by breeding riding horses that have 8 inches of BTC/1,000 lbs.: that means a 1,000-lb. horse needs to tape 8" at the standard measurement-point just below the knee.

It is possible for a horse to have substantial limbs and an insubstantial spine, or to have insubstantial limbs but be OK in spinal substance. However, the two things usually go together: when the limbs are weedy, the whole skeleton is usually affected.

A direct test of spinal substance, and of the strength and resiliency of the deep vertebral ligamentous sheathing, is for you to gently take ahold of your horse's tail, so she knows you're back there and isn't inclined to kick. Then, grasping the fleshy tail "bone" with both hands, slowly lean back, putting all your weight on it. Can you feel the tail stretch? How wide is the dock -- it should be four or five inches wide in a 15-hand horse. If the tail is thin and insubstantial and/or you can feel it stretch, the spine is insubstantial.

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DrDeb
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 Posted: Thu Aug 24th, 2017 03:43 am
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This last example is the most extreme; the photo was sent to me by Dr. Joe Lally, DC. The horse was euthanatized shortly after the photo was taken. As swayback proceeds to this degree of severity, the spinal cord, which runs within the spinal canal, gets stretched as the vertebrae continue to separate and imbricate. This kills the cells of the cord, and as a consequence the horse becomes more and more uncoordinated and ataxic behind, until it can no longer locomote normally or rise from recumbency.

I hope these examples have helped you and others to get a little perspective on swayback. I repeat, trying to ride a swaybacked horse is never advisable, despite the fact that there are a couple of famous historical photos of cavalry mounts with deep swaybacks still in service. What they don't tell you is how wierdly these horses moved and -- because it's probably impossible to express -- how uncomfortable they were, despite their magnificent willingness to go on being ridden or jumped.

In a world where there are ten gazillion horses looking for homes, I would advise the purchase of an animal that is both suitable and at least workably sound. Or, if the person does as you have done, Mountain Horse, and take one with a swayback in as a horsemanship project that you can learn from, then find work for the horse that he can do comfortably, and use that as a way to show other people how much can be done with a horse that cannot be ridden. -- Dr. Deb

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MtnHorse
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 Posted: Thu Aug 24th, 2017 04:53 am
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Dr Deb, you might be right but I wonder if we have mis-communicated. The picture I sent is how my gelding looks at the spot that is his worst. He has just let it all go for some reason. I include a picture here of his back as he stands at rest. Sorry for the shadows making it a little difficult to see his body but the back is outlined well from it.

Note how it has a bump or dip near the SI joint, then high withers. He just doesn't look like the horses you have shown as unrideable. I have a picture of the dock of his tail but the camera distorts it so it makes him look really tiny and he has a pretty substantial tailbone. That spot on his leg below the knee is in the 7.25 to 7.5" area and since he is kind of skinny I thought was about right but I haven't weighed him.

I might add that he is fairly easy to fit a saddle to as long as it has very little rocker in the back as he is very flat as his back approaches the lumber span.

Can you please take another look and see if perhaps that picture did to good a job of showing the problem I am having and made him look worse than he really is?

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Last edited on Thu Aug 24th, 2017 04:55 am by MtnHorse

MtnHorse
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 Posted: Thu Aug 24th, 2017 05:11 am
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I don't want to appear like I am arguing with the teacher but I don't want to get advise that is based on faulty information. It's tough to do the driving thing around here. Well dangerous might be a better word for it with the way cars drive.

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DrDeb
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 Posted: Thu Aug 24th, 2017 06:10 am
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Dear Mountain Horse: I'm not hearing you argue at all. You just didn't give me enough, or the right, photos the first time. I agree with you that your horse does not have a swayback -- so far.

However, he does show every evidence of having a stiff and somewhat strained back. To this extent he most resembles the buckskin QH gelding, the upper photo in the second set that I posted above. In that horse too you may see the lump-hollow-lump contour over the loin coupling, the thinness and hardness of the longissimus dorsi muscle and subtle horizontal lines within and marking the edges of that muscle that indicate strain.

I think what your horse needs most is to be taught to bend or what Buck Brannaman terms "do perfect circles". To this end, MH, do you have easy and regular access to an arena that has level footing? Or are you trying to train this horse just by trailriding?

The other thing I'd advise is -- take a look at the front legs. Notice the subtle calf knees? A lot of ASB's have this. You can help him a lot there by making sure you keep heel on, even raising the hoof angle a degree, just a subtle amount -- see how many degrees you have to wedge him up to get the fore cannon bones not to angle at all backwards but instead stand up plumb vertical.

The calf-knee configuration impacts the horse's back! This occurs through the forelimb reciprocating apparatus, a set of parallel, tensionally co-adjusted tendons and yellow-ligaments that invest the bones of the forelimb all the way from the shoulders down to the hoofs. Calf-knee stance indicates that the tension on the rear or caudal half of the system is too high. This will force the horse to stand and move 'under', i.e. it will make him want to stand on the forelimb too long with each step. This in turn will induce him to tighten his back, especially just behind the withers, and carry his head all the time too high so that he's continually 'over the bit'.

I get the impression that you yourself are just discovering what the effect of raising or lowering your hands is. You cannot, as I think you realize, get a horse to lower its head by pulling down with your hands or lowering the hands as if to pull down. To get a horse to lower its head, you actually have to raise the hands, even as high as your breast! However, once the animal gets the picture and responds by offering to lower its head, then yes you are definitely supposed to follow him down. Not to do so would be to tell him not to lower his head. So you follow him down, and then after a few strides he'll raise his head and hollow his back again, and that's when you start over with hands at breast height, twirl the head, flex the neck, get him to untrack or drift as Buck says, and thanks to these aids he will pretty quick offer to lower his head again. Gradually over time he'll get to where he can move with his back lifted, his neck arched, and his head low for more and more steps, until it'll be all the time.

The main thing is for you to realize why we twirl the head and untrack. To twirl the head is to induce the horse to stop bracing in the poll area or anywhere through the neck. To untrack is to induce him to stop bracing through the loin span. The strain configuration in your horse's back shows that he has been for a long time in the habit of bracing all along the topline.

So, you work both ends, and finally the day arrives when you get to the middle -- in other words, what you have done on the front end and the back end will penetrate to the middle, and then all of a sudden he'll let go in the middle, in the part right under your seat. I think this may have been what happened in your first picture. You describe it as if you're not sure it's a good thing but I am pretty sure it was a good thing. It felt to you like his back was softening, and indeed, it WAS softening. We want the muscles of the topline absolutely and perfectly soft, otherwise he cannot round up! Remember! The back is lifted by the muscles which lie BELOW the spine. Those muscles -- the main ones being the rectus abdominis, iliopsoas complex, and longus colli -- we want strong, even extraordinarily strong -- though not tense or braced.

The most effective way to get your horse to improve his back is, as I said, by working him in an arena. It's almost impossible to do riding that would be physiotherapeutic for a horse in a lumpy old pasture or meadow, or on a trail. Riding that is to be physiotherapeutic to the horse requires certain tools, and one of those tools is an arena.

The two most effective exercises will be, first, figures of eight, where the O's that compose the upper and lower halves of the "8" are perfect circles conjoined at a single point, "X", at which the bend changes. Note that there are NO diagonal lines in a correctly-ridden figure-8. It is the three steps before "X" and the three steps after "X" that count most in helping the horse to loosen his back, because during those six steps -- which will later reduce to four and then two -- his ribcage changes its arc from left to right or vice-versa.

The other real good exercise is the Butterfly, which Buck has some other name for which I have forgotten. The Butterfly is ridden along the rail. Start on the right hand, ride 3/4ths the way down, make a half turn and reverse returning to the rail upon a diagonal line. Somewhere between the top of the arc of the half-turn and the point where you arrive at the rail, there will be a point called the "node" at which you must reverse the bend. Again, as with "X" in a figure-8, this is the most important point.

After you reverse the bend, then you'll be against the rail again but now you'll be going on the left hand. Complete the butterfly by riding 3/4ths the way down in that direction, then make a half-turn and reverse, and again return to the rail on a diagonal line, reversing the bend at the node. Repeat this two or three times and then go do something else. As you gain skill and the horse loosens up and becomes more able to arc his back, you can write back and I'll coach you how to use the butterfly figure to learn first leg-yield and then shoulder-in. Even later, it's a great way to teach half-pass too.

Your horse will need you to become good at all these figures and maneuvers, and please not just trail ride him, because that will guarantee slow or no progress on the level of helping his body to loosen, even if it creates great results on the level of his confidence and willingness. -- Dr. Deb

MtnHorse
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 Posted: Sat Aug 26th, 2017 12:24 am
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Thank you,especially for the information about the horse being calf kneed.

He is now trimmed to subtly modify his stance and we have had a successful first ride using the information you suggest. He is quite cooperative the challenge is teaching me. Thank you again.

MtnHorse
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 Posted: Tue Sep 19th, 2017 05:41 pm
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DrDeb wrote:
As you gain skill and the horse loosens up and becomes more able to arc his back, you can write back and I'll coach you how to use the butterfly figure to learn first leg-yield and then shoulder-in. Even later, it's a great way to teach half-pass too.

Your horse will need you to become good at all these figures and maneuvers. . . .




We have enjoyed doing these exercises during the dozen or so rides since this thread started. There has been some very nice changes. I have had to review other threads to help me to get things right. One of the first things I had to work on is getting the horse’s attention while in an arena, which has also been a reminder on being aware of their need for self preservation. I guess it should be no surprise that when I think to move on, it begins with going back to square one and taking it with me.

I find a little humor in the fact that on both of the horses I have been riding, when their heads went forward and down they wanted to lay down. I think you have some pictures in Eclectic Horseman that convey a similar idea.

So anyway, you have told me that I need to learn the above maneuvers for my horses sake and I don’t want to lose this opportunity for coaching by not asking for it. At this time I do not have an indoor riding area and I feel the press of the season getting shorter. I would like to ask if can we please move on to the leg-yield/ shoulder-in?

However, after this last weekend I am also feeling like I am doing the exercises but not. . . . encouraging or allowing the head down enough. When it goes down I am shortly asking for something else and up it comes and then soon enough I realize I have been going along for some minutes doing all kinds of cool lateral movements, brace releases and bends but not really getting the head down and out. Especially with the tall boy in the beginning of the thread, I would like to say it is because he is not offering it but I think it has more to do with me trying to accomplish things rather than remember what the purpose is all about.

I am kind of disgusted with myself but I am at least glad that I was able to see it. Do you think we should move on to the other maneuvers?

ilam
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 Posted: Tue Sep 19th, 2017 06:33 pm
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Buck has changed the name of the exercise a few times, the first time I audited he called it the ying-yang exercise (shaped like the ying-yang sign), then later he called it the teardrop exercise. This year he just referred it to the half circle exercise (perhaps he is trying to avoid creating jargon). There are 6 progressions to the exercise (actually, it is more if you count all the steps leading to flying lead changes).

The best thing would probably be to ride in a clinic. After all these years I am just now finally putting some things together (I hope...). My Arab is high-headed, and just now this year I finally got enough pieces together to be able to ride the teardrop exercise more properly. Buck said that you can spend quite a lot of time just on walking perfect circles, and the same goes for riding serpentines (snake trails) with the proper bend on a loose rein (working towards using legs only). If you don't have the basic basics working correctly, you cannot accomplish much, you will just be struggling. Once you get to those feet, the head comes down.

Isabel

DrDeb
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 Posted: Wed Sep 20th, 2017 03:11 pm
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Dear Mtn. Horse: I'm sorry to have taken a while to get back to you, but your message caught me in transit between Calif. and Kansas, where I am ensconced at KU for the next couple of weeks for purposes of research.

As to moving on to the leg yield: surely you must mean that you're wanting specifics on how to perform leg-yield within the context of the butterfly exercise -- because every time you have ever untracked your horse, 'set the hindquarters a quarter-turn to the outside' as Ray used to direct, or else 'drifted' from one circle to another in the opposite direction (Buck likes to use the term 'drift'), in all those instances you and your horse were in fact performing a leg-yield. The turn on the forehand and the leg yield belong to the first, simplest, class of lateral work, and they are identical except for the turn on the forehand not moving much or any in a given direction. Or, thinking of it the other way around, a leg-yield is a turn on the forehand in which you don't turn more than a sixteenth and in which you do displace your position to a noticeable degree.

All exercises of the first lateral-work class are performed with a little bend, down to almost no bend, in the line of the horse's spine from poll to tail; what bend there is, is such that the convex side of the horse faces the direction in which you intend to turn and/or progress. In other words, you bend him in such manner that  his head and eyes point away from the direction in which he is moving. Further, in class I lateral work, the inside hind leg (the leg on the concave side) steps under the body-shadow; but this latter is very old material, long mastered in context of groundwork and/or untracking. Again: to untrack is to leg-yield, to perform an exercise belonging to the first lateral work class.

So in context of the butterfly, if you have understood my previous where the 'nodes' in the exercise were mentioned, they are the points at which the bend must change. So let us say you are coming off the rail to the right hand, and you're arcing back toward the fence. About halfway between where your horse's head first points at the fence, and where he will arrive at the track, is the point where the node on that hand is. And at this point you will see to it that the horse ceases to flex his spine so that it is concave on the right, and begins flexing it so that it is concave on the left. This is what it means to change the bend at the node.

To add leg-yielding to this is then simple. 'To change the bend' MEANS to change hind legs, that is, to change which hind leg steps under the body-shadow. This is because it is the leg that steps under the body-shadow that determines the bend. So when arcing to the right, the right hind hoof will be stepping under the body-shadow and therefore the horse will be on a right-hand bend or bent to the right hand. When he arrives at the node, a step before the node, you change your aids and tell him to straighten for one step, and then on the next step to step under the body shadow with the left hind leg, and voila, at that moment he will adopt a bend to the left hand.

When he does this, the door is wide open for you to simply aid him again, a little stronger than you might ordinarily do -- at least on the first step -- so that on the second step after the node he steps under the body shadow from left to right a little more strongly than he swings the leg from back to front. This will cause him to move obliquely sideways-and-forward from left to right. This is 'leg yield' in the more formal sense.

Then you just repeat this aid, more lightly because he will have already gotten the idea, with every step or every other step until you reach the track.

You then ride the track as usual, until you get down toward the other end of the arena, at which point you come arcing off the rail with a bend to the left hand, and repeat the exercise as above described, except it will be on the other hand.

If this is not clear, please write back. Cheers -- Dr. Deb


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