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Short back vs long back
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Julia Zdrojewska
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 Posted: Fri Oct 7th, 2011 01:11 am
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Dear dr Deb,

I was given a job translating an article by a well known anti-rollkur doctor from Germany. In that article I found an interesting paragraph which seems to me untrue. It's about the carring ability of the horses back - dr X says that the theory of short back, square horses being better made for carrying weight of the rider than the long back horses is a mistake. His arguments are that the short back horses are more difficult to soften and loosen up, because of less space for distributing vertical stress and that on such horse the saddle lies on the lateral processes of the lumbar vertebrae and causes discomfort and tensing. There was also the third argement that the rider can be to big (I think he ment "to wide" from front to back (???)) for that kind of horse and make things even worse.

Iberian horses are fairly "square" and they are perfect to ride. I have two Arabs and they seem to be perfect to ride to. No trouble releasing the back. When I imagine how the biomechanical leverages inside of the horse work I am quite certain that the short back is easier to lift than the long one. I mean - I was quite certain. Was I wrong?

I found faulty theories in dr X's writings before (as 'abdominals play no part in lifting the back') so I'am just trying to be more vigilant this time.

Thank you in advance for your response.

DrDeb
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 Posted: Fri Oct 7th, 2011 06:00 pm
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The German says what he says because he is a nationalist. How many short-backed Warmbloods have you seen lately?

All the technical manuals of the Germans are full of errors, great and small; and oftentimes, very insidious errors, some of them politically-based, like this one. So you continue to go by what you know through direct experience to be true, Julia. -- Dr. Deb

Julia Zdrojewska
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 Posted: Fri Oct 7th, 2011 06:26 pm
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Ok, thank you, that's clear :) How about the theory about abdominals and iliopsoas muscles working only to bring the hind leg towards the body in suspension phase, and not as a support for the back? Can't find any nationalism or politics here. Maybe it''s how veterinarians are tought in Germany? Is it different in America? Sorry for digging so deep, but it just seems weird to me, as the anatomy is absolute (besides pathologies) and still there is 'controversy'.

Ok, I had a lightbulb moment just now - this guy just ignores the pelvis a lever! He really belives that it is only the nuchal ligament pulling on the back and supporting it. How odd is that for the DVM?

AdamTill
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 Posted: Fri Oct 7th, 2011 07:44 pm
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Many generalities, many oversimplifications.

First, short vs long back is a function of proportionality. A small horse can have a long back and a large horse a short one, and their absolute overall saddle fitting range can end up exactly the same. That doesn't mean the body balance will be the same for both horses, just the physical room for the saddle ends up the same.

Where the saddle gets placed has obvious ramifications, and has been discussed at length here. Within a limited fitting range there are only so many options.

Likewise, there are some people who require saddles of a length that prevent them from riding certain horses. Those are in the extremes, but they exist. I couldn't take my 16" seat Wade and put it on my friends' 12hh Shetland, even if the general shape "fit", because the rear bar tips would overlie the points of her hips or lie over her shoulders.

Within reason though, people stress too much about such things. As Dr Deb has pointed out many times in the past, people will look for any excuse to blame their own shortcomings on things that aren't their fault, and it's especially handy when those are things that they can't change. Therefore, their own inability to get a horse loose in the back has to be because it's too short, not because their attempts to do so actually encourage the horse to brace.

I'll grant that certain structural or proportional realities make things more challenging, but nobody ever suffered from being challenged appropriately. My horse is on the smaller side, and probably built "square" by your definition, but he can be as tight or loose as any other horse, and he can lift his back just fine. The difference between those might be more obvious then on a larger horse, but such is life.

Attachment: Coil.png (Downloaded 380 times)

DrDeb
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 Posted: Fri Oct 7th, 2011 08:38 pm
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Adam, the terms 'short' and 'long' -- applied to anything -- are relative. Nobody was talking about saddle fit. I took Jill's question to have reference to what we normally use for the denominator in the ratio for calculating the length of a horse's back, i.e., the body length as I explain it in "Principles of Conformation Analysis" or as in my more recent series in Equus Magazine. A 'short'-backed horse has a smaller denominator relative to the back length, and appears blocky or square in overall outline; a 'long' backed horse, with a longer denominator or in other words less difference between body length and back length, appears rectangular. Note that in 99.9% of all horses, body length and withers height are within a smidgen of being the same -- so in other words, you'll get the same result if you calculate the ratio back length:withers height as you would if you calculated back length:body length.

As to iliopsoas function: there is no controversy; there is only what is. The German guy is incorrect, and what he is saying -- so very typical of Germans -- comes from the attitude 'but ve haff always known dis in de fatherland', in other words, he repeats to perfection what he heard his teacher say, who in turn repeated to perfection what he heard his teacher say, who in turn repeated to perfection what he heard his teacher say....this is how quote-unquote education works, and has worked, in Germany: you get more praise the more closely you can repeat exactly what the teacher said. INDEPENDENT THOUGHT and REASONING and OBSERVATION do not come into it and are not encouraged.

The dorsal (or nuchal) ligaments DO NOT support the back. This is taught throughout Europe, because most of Europe copies the Germans. It is absolutely incorrect. The dorsal ligament system is a passive, tensionally-operated system which must be activated by the contraction of muscles which anchor below the spine. Without this effort, there is no stretching (technically, tensioning) of any ligament anchored above the spinal chain.

The most important muscles for tensioning the dorsal ligament system -- all of which anchor below the spine -- are the longus colli underspanning the basal declivity of the neck, the rectus abdominis complex, and the ilio-psoas complex. The longus colli everts the basal declivity; the iliopsoas protracts and slightly outwardly rotates the femur and also flexes (coils) the lumbo-sacral joint and the lumbar span; and the rectus abdominis flexes (coils) the thoracic and lumbar spine.

When the spine is flexed (or coiled), the line of the abutting centra becomes more concave ventrally and more convex dorsally. This acts to spread or 'fan' the dorsal processes, and in this way it tensions any ligament fibers that connect from one dorsal process to another. Note that 'connecting from one dorsal process to another' can mean to the one next adjacent or to any one at any distance away. The passive dorsal system, considered in toto so that we're not only talking about the dorsal ligament system but also the sacro-sciatic ligament, the lumbo-dorsal fascia, and even the rhomboideus muscle of the neck and the semitendinosus of the hindlimb, includes structures that connect vertebrae and/or limb elements that are quite far apart, yet still obtains the tensioning effect.

I don't know, Jill....maybe you would like to hand this job over to somebody else. Translating the book into English (just like Schusdziarra's book of a number of years ago) may only serve to perpetuate wrong philosophy, wrong ideas, and the persistent desire of Germans to have German supremacy. -- Dr. Deb

AdamTill
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 Posted: Fri Oct 7th, 2011 09:03 pm
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I think I zeroed in on the comment about the saddle sitting on the lateral processes of the lumbar and just ran with that. Too many hours modifying saddles lately apparently!

Julia Zdrojewska
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 Posted: Fri Oct 7th, 2011 10:33 pm
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Thank you, dr Deb, for this enlightment. I never even questioned the theory that the nuchal ligament pulling on the spinal processes of the withers rises the back a little - and wouldn't if it weren't for you. But thinking of it - I felt that there was something not right. I wondered once how in earth is that possible that just lowering the head in release would create such enormous tension in the ligament. Clearly I am a conformist after all :) So the common theory that it works passively all the time when the horse grazes on the pasture and lifts the back a bit is also wrong?

I think I understand now the role of the supraspinous ligament - it a kind of a stabilizer, with little give for some elasticity of the bond. But what is the role of the nuchal ligament? I've read it plays a great role in the stay apparatus.

CarolineTwoPonies
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 Posted: Sat Oct 8th, 2011 01:15 am
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I know Dr.X  and I asked this precise question 2 years ago and the answer as I recall it was that what Dr.B describes is correct, of course the psoas and abdominal wall have a key role. I think he was more concern in that book to make clear that the back does not rise because the horse is ridden with the neck hyperflexed which at the time was what the proponent of rollkur were saying their method did so focused on the topline. I think the book was meant to prove anatomically that soundness riding requires a long soft neck with a slight arch, soft poll, nose in front of the vertical.  As far as traditional riding is concerned, this clinician was very complimentary of people he worked with who worked with Sally Swift and of an older western horseman he has gotten to know so seems to have some flexibility where riding/training is concerned.

Regarding short vs. long back I have not read the article you are translating but I have heard lectures where he discussed looking at overall conformation rather then making generic statements about what is a good mount for a particular size rider - context is everything.

This clinician wrote this in a german magazine two year and that was translated by a friend of mine. I think it is very obvious to us because we are lucky to know Dr.B but think about how this was received in a place where every other horse is ridden very severely rolled.

  " In order to keep its balance, the horse needs its neck, its “balancing rod.” The horse has to find this balance through movement, and in so doing, must repeatedly let go (relax) any unwanted muscle tension. A horse that’s going well must be ready at any moment to follow the rider’s hand forward, down and out. This readiness to stretch is the touchstone of a relaxed back. Only a horse whose long back muscles are free of unwanted tension can stretch CORRECTLY. The first syllable is FORwards, down and out, which means that the horse can allow its pushing power to flow unhindered, out of its unvarying tempo, through the channel of a supple seat (adductors/seat muscles). So the horse steps forward to the rider’s hand. This has nothing to do with riding wildly forward. Only when the horse readily opens its throatlatch and poll angles and carries its poll as the highest point, can a correct stretch be released as he takes his next step. Necks that are rolled in towards the rear and downward are completely counterproductive. "

My sense is that  Dr. X and Dr.B would appreciate each other if they met, all I have seen in the last 3 years from this person is a lot of goodwill and a real desire to keep on learning and improve which is unusual, at least in my limited experience with clinicians in general.

Last edited on Sat Oct 8th, 2011 01:33 am by CarolineTwoPonies

DrDeb
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 Posted: Sat Oct 8th, 2011 05:08 am
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Jill....I have never said that lowering the head does not raise the back. Of course it does raise the back. However, the lowering of the head is caused by either one of two things: either (a) gravity pulling down on the head, or (b) the base of the neck being raised by active contraction of the longus colli muscles that underspan the declivity. This is why the rollkur is wrong and destructive; it is a technique that seeks to raise the back entirely from the front end of the horse, by the RIDER over-tensioning the nuchal ligament through pulling the nose behind the vertical. When the horse instead raises the base of its own neck, it is raised relative to the head and/or withers; therefore, the head goes down when the base of the neck is raised. The horse that is ridden in rollkur never learns to raise the base of its own neck, and the more the rollkur is practiced, the less able the horse becomes to do it right.

When the horse uses muscles to 'round up', and is allowed by the rider to telescope its neck (telescoping involves simultaneous downward movement of the head combined with lengthening of the neck -- what the old German school called "showing the horse the way to the ground"), this creates the maximum possible tensioning of the dorsal ligament system. Note that this must involve not just the front end of the horse but the coiling of the loins also.

However, even when the horse simply allows gravity to lower its head, as it for the most part does when out grazing at liberty, this creates some degree of tensioning or stretch in the dorsal ligament system, and thereby does raise the back at least a little bit. The back of a younger or fitter horse will rise more under these circumstances, that of an older horse or one with a back that has begun to sink, hardly at all. This is because when elasticity in the dorsal ligament system is lost, either through aging or through years of wrong movement under weightbearing, the mere lowering of the head will not be enough to raise the back much.

Jill, your comments are exactly the kind of misunderstanding that makes me forbid the numerous people who write to me offering to "do us a favor" by translating one or more of my writings into French or German or what-have-you. Something is indeed lost in the translation -- most of the time -- for two reasons: (a) the intrinsic difficulty of making a good translation that is not literal word-for-word but which nonetheless accurately conveys the author's intended meaning; and (b) that the translator very frequently is not sufficiently expert in horsemanship to fully understand the intent of the author. I cannot think of one book originally written in German that I would fully trust in English translation; indeed such translations (really, mis-translations) have been the cause of horrible practices by American dressage riders. The older generation of German dresseurs -- those who learned the art prior to WWI -- were usually gentlemen.

Another example of this are the works of Nuno Oliveira; you just have to be able to read French to really understand what he means. There are zero translations of Oliveira to English that I would trust. The 'Equestrian Sketches' is one of the best books with Nuno's wisdom for this very reason, that Oliveira himself wrote both the French and the English texts -- and they are clarity itself.

And of course, we also think here of Francois Baucher, whose works I stuck my neck out myself to translate into English. You may from this realize why I say these things; I indeed know what the difficulties are.

As to your comments, Caroline....well, I'll have to judge what is going on when and if I meet the guy. Meanwhile, please be VERY careful with your use of the word 'forward'. We do not want people asking their horses to go forward. Green, stiff, and worried horses go forward far too much -- at the expense of going upward. The idea is to get the horse to bounce elastically from step to step -- which is what I mean by 'going upward'. The idea is to school the horse always at a tempo that dressage people would call 'under tempo'; to practice the doux passage as the ideal of collected trot; to be able to change the length of the step from tiny to maximum by merely touching the horse with the calf of the leg, and to have him make rapid transitions minimum-maximum-minimum without losing his balance either to the side or to the front; to work for instant responsiveness to the lightest aids, with canter departures from the halt an ideal; and to value softness above all else, so that when softness and inner OK-ness are lost, the rider's commitment is to drop all other objectives until that most crucial condition is restored. -- Dr. Deb

 

 

Julia Zdrojewska
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 Posted: Sat Oct 8th, 2011 06:49 am
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I think the book was meant to prove anatomically that soundness riding requires a long soft neck with a slight arch, soft poll, nose in front of the vertical.
Yes, I know that he's advocating this kind of riding and it's much appreciated. In the article and in the book are just some strange theories, that are hard to agree with. And maybe it really is so that the translations are bad, because the book I've read in polish language and the article is already translated into english. But in both there is about the abdominals and iliopsoas not playing any significant role in rising the back. Well - maybe I should write to dr X with those questions, otherwise I'll never know :)

Thank you dr Deb for explaining about the ligament.

David Genadek
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 Posted: Sat Oct 8th, 2011 02:03 pm
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Personally, I feel DR X should be commended for his work. I have attended his lecture and have spoken to him in a more informal setting. I found no contradictions between what he taught and what I have learned from Deb. He has done a real service to our industry by bringing forth factual information to combat a widely practiced abuse. I did feel he had really good grasp on the functioning of the neck I gained a lot from his lecture. I did wish there was more on the relationship between the hind end and the neck but that was not what he was lecturing on. Learning this anatomy stuff is no small feat and no one has all the answers. I consider Dr X as one of the good eggs that is on his path to help the horses. In the end the best thing for everyone to do is to come to Debs anatomy class and get on their own path. Deb is clearly much further down the road and is very willing to help you on your own journey.

Julia Zdrojewska
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 Posted: Sun Oct 9th, 2011 04:39 pm
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I think I unscrumbled it. Dr X says that the abdominals and iliopsoas muscles work only when horse's legs are in the suspension phase (do they?) and the true carrying work is done by the horse when the leg is on the ground (that's obvious), therefore those muscles don't play any big role in carrying, not lifting the back. It looks like it really has been mistranslated.

Thank you for guiding me.

Maybe dr Deb should make a "dissection class" video? :) That would be a worldwide hit.

DrDeb
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 Posted: Mon Oct 10th, 2011 04:56 am
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Julia, the "dissection class video" you request is already available. It's called "Conformation Biomechanics" and you can buy it for $89.95 through our Bookstore section. Click on the "home" button above to begin.

And P.S., don't pay any attention to the term "carrying". Again, this is a distinction made by the modern German school. Dr. X may indeed be trying to do some good, and I believe you folks when you tell me you think he is, but you do need to realize that he is influenced by and fuddled by terms and concepts current in his own culture, and he will pollute you with those just as much as any other German.

The horse puts his foot down against the ground. He pushes down against the ground through that foot. In that moment, he also activates the iliopsoas complex and the rectus abdominis and longus colli, and he thereby rounds his back. How else do you think a horse could perform a levade -- while flying through the air??

Yes, during the trot or canter for example, when the horse is in the moment of suspension, then too he activates the iliopsoas complex and the other muscles, as part of the effort of hindlimb protraction. But the horse most certainly also uses these muscles, in coordination with the retractor muscles of the hind limb and the longissimus dorsi extensor of the back, when the contacting hind hoof is pressed against the ground.

A horse can only move forward when there is a contacting hind hoof. If neither hoof contacts, the horse is either standing in place kicking out backwards like a mule, or else he is walking forward entirely upon his forelimbs, i.e. 100% "on the forehand".

Normal forward locomotion in the horse (as well as in the human) involves a coordination between the hindlimb extensors (which push the contacting foot downward against the ground), the hindlimb retractors (which push the contacting foot backwards against the earth, and which thereby create forward movement of the body, as per Newton's Third Law), and the three abovenamed muscles which create and maintain roundness. If this were not so, not only would the horse not be able to make a levade, he would also not be able to walk forward in collection: for neither levade nor walk involve any period of suspension.

Now, I say 'normal' forward locomotion. ABNORMAL forward locomotion is very common. A healthy horse locomotes normally when at liberty and locomotes 'well' or 'beautifully' under saddle when effectively asked to do so by a skillful and sympathetic rider. Both when he locomotes normally, and when he locomotes beautifully, he is perceptibly 'round'. However, when he locomotes abnormally, he under-uses or totally does not use those muscles which cause him to round up -- and you better be aware that any horse can do this at any time, either when at liberty or when ridden by an unskillful, unknowledgeable, or unsympathetic rider. Any horse, at any gait, at any time can move without the effort that should be made at ALL moments to round up.

Don't get the idea from this, however, that 'the effort' is some kind of extreme. When the horse is soft, the effort required, even with the rider on the horse's back, is no big thing. The whole problem for the horse is that, the moment the rider gets on, their mere weight hyperstimulates the long dorsal muscles, tending to cause the animal to contract those muscles MORE than normal and thus overwhelm the minimal effort normally required by the ventral muscles which act to 'round the horse up'.

I am, of course, always very frustrated by the fact that it often takes riders so very long to hit onto how to get the right balance -- to "get the knack of it" -- even when they are trying their sincere best and have been for a number of years. I have a very good student in New Zealand who has a nice Arab mare that she's been bringing to my clinics for four or five years -- the mare being a classic example of a horse that will swing the legs pretty big and pretty freely, but not 'round up'. The rider has definitely made improvements but somehow the final breakthrough was not happening. I rarely offer to ride a student's horse but this spring when I was there, I just could not conscience letting it go on any longer, so I hopped on. Now I probably weigh twice what the lady that owns the horse does so you can bet your bottom buck that I am highly stimulating to that Arab mare's back muscles! Nonetheless, I am much MORE stimulating with the calves of my legs! It took quite a few firm thumps before the mare started to breathe right and turn loose to me. When she did, it was lovely to ride her....soft and round and easy to make straight....her nose below her knees....her ribcage flexing softly....her head easy to twirl....the rhythm just right 'under tempo' as we like it to be, elastic, soft.

Then I got off -- this took 20 minutes -- and the student got on. Not to be too gross, but you know I liken riding somebody else's horse to wearing their underwear. After ten seconds on that Arab mare I knew just where the rider's deficiencies and misunderstandings lay -- much better than I had known them by merely watching her ride the horse. And likewise, after she got on after I had ridden the mare, she was wearing my underwear and knew it. This is where the breakthrough must often lie; they can't get it by an explanation; they must get it by getting on the 'motorcycle' AFTER it has been properly warmed up and loosened. I had two teachers before I met Ray Hunt who would regularly do this for me, and it made all the difference in my being prepared to truly appreciate all that Ray was, once I did meet him.

This, by the way, is MUCH more important than figuring out what Dr. X did or did not say or mean. -- Dr. Deb

Julia Zdrojewska
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 Posted: Mon Oct 10th, 2011 05:01 pm
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Thank you! Lot's to think about, as always :) And I already have Conformation Biomechanics - I was just thinking about something more like The Anatomy Lesson of dr. X.

Last edited on Tue Oct 11th, 2011 04:12 am by DrDeb

MtnHorse
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 Posted: Mon Oct 10th, 2011 10:12 pm
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DrDeb wrote: I am, of course, always very frustrated by the fact that it often takes riders so very long to hit onto how to get the right balance -- to "get the knack of it" -- . . . . . Not to be too gross, but you know I liken riding somebody else's horse to wearing their underwear. After ten seconds on that Arab mare I knew just where the rider's deficiencies and misunderstandings lay -- much better than I had known them by merely watching her ride the horse.
 

So Dr Deb, if I understand this correctly, you feel you can best tell a person’s deficiencies and misunderstandings by wearing their underwear?  Thank goodness you didn’t go into psychology.  To tell you the truth, I don’t think you should offer this advice to your friends that are in the field either, although it might replace the couch.

Sorry for the crass humor but I simply couldn’t resist.  Now to write something that can add to this thread, I was directed to an article in the Knowledge Base about April of this year.  With a little study and application of ideas, my horses are starting to get the hang of lateral flexion and I am struggling my way through directing their mind and being more mindful of their self preservation instinct.  The last few weeks I tried showing the horse to the ground and transitioning up to the canter.  Recently, my young Saddlebred rounded up and stayed that way through the rest of a fairly short ride.

I am sure that much of this was pretty rough and dirty and you would probably have rolled your eyes at how inept I am.  Not one bit of it has been done in an arena.  Like a horse, I try about every wrong way, then I finally go back and read the directions again.  The Saddlebred still feels stiff in the pole. . . . but he got it.  I have felt that other times over the years but had no real idea how to keep it consistently.

I guess what I am saying is don’t get too frustrated, because some of us are getting it.

Now what did you mean when you said the Mare started to breathe right?

 


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