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Where to sit!
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allisonw
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 Posted: Sun Oct 21st, 2012 08:07 pm
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Dr. Bennett-
Thank you for taking my question. I'm reading your book Principles of Conformation Analysis and am confused on where you actually sit on the horses back. Silly as it seems, sorry. Page 48 says that sitting in the T-L junction will prevent bascule and create torso immobility. Page 55 says sitting behind the withers or near the croup lessens the effort the horse must exert to maintain bascule. If the rider sits on or leans over the the T-L junc. this forces the horse to use his abs and support his back.
Do you or do you not want to sit on the T-L junc?
How do sit over the Center of Gravity or keep it still?
My mare has a hollow in her back and is tender occasionally- I've read these pages back and forth and am still confused on the proper riding position. I'm not jumping, mostly trails and arena.
Thank you.
Alli W.

DrDeb
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 Posted: Mon Oct 22nd, 2012 03:00 am
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H'm, Alison, I'm very sorry to have been so confusing.

You should sit as follows:

(1) As near to the root of the withers as your properly-fitted saddle will allow; in other words, as far forward as the center of the saddle puts you. In general, this will be somewhere between the 11th and 15th thoracic vertebrae, depending upon your horse's build and the type and purpose of the saddle.

(2) Smack in the center from left to right. This remains the case even if you turn your pelvis to induce a bend; and also even if you lower or raise one seatbone (i.e. one half of your pelvis): you still remain directly over the left-right center of his back.

(3) In the 'sweet spot' created by having, or developing, perfect fore-aft and side-to-side balance, so that your sitting is almost effortless -- especially, without any effort made by your legs to compensate for lack of balance by gripping the horse's body. It is as bad to grip with the legs as it is to balance yourself by hanging on the reins.

(4) Completely 'with' your horse, so that whether he accelerates or decelerates, bends for a circle, cuts a hard shy, or walks, gaits, trots, canters, or gallops, your seat stays totally glued to him. The term 'glued' is, of course, just a way of speaking; what really permits you to be 'glued' is the 'toned relaxation' of the muscles between your ribcage and your pelvis.

There is some argumentation (so our faculty saddlemaker Dave G. tells me) currently among saddlemakers that the rider should ALWAYS be positioned over the 14th thoracic vertebra. A hundred years ago, the same pontifications could be heard with respect to the center of gravity: supposedly one was ALWAYS to sit "over" that point. The truth is that neither of these things is true, and the second one (the center of gravity business) is a complete foofaw, but they get to seeming true for folks who listen to one "authority" and then mindlessly parrot whatever that "authority" has said -- or sometimes what they THINK he or she said -- without really taking the trouble to think the thing through. In other words, there is nothing magic about the 14th thoracic vertebra. There is an excellent book on training the traditional Californio horse by Mike Bridges which I wish everybody would add to their equestrian library, in which he talks about the rider sitting over the 14th thoracic and pictures this. However, I do not believe Mike meant for readers to take this "literally".

Thinking it through would involve figuring out why the statement might have been made in the first place. What the authority is trying to get at (I believe) is some way to describe or label the "zero-motion" or "minimal motion" place in the horse's back. Realize that whenever a horse moves, its back oscillates up and down and side to side and also rolls, so that each gait has its different characteristic mix of oscillations. But in all of them (for any given horse, depending on its build) the "minimum motion" place will be close to the same. If the saddlemaker builds a saddle that, when it is properly fitted and girthed on, seats the rider over the minimum-motion place, then the rider is going to find it easier to sit still at whatever gait the horse may be going.

We also need to consider the problem from the horse's point of view. His primary task, which we impose on him when we mount, is to carry our weight upon his back. He must do this no matter what else he may also do. It is much easier for the horse to carry a weight upon its back when that weight is placed near either the fore pylons (i.e. the front legs) or else over the back pylons (i.e. over the croup; I don't believe I've ever suggested anywhere that the rider should sit on the lumbar span, so if you want to go for a historical "croup ride" -- indeed this is how the first riders in the Middle East south of the Silk Road actually did ride horses, and how peoples in those same lands even today still ride donkeys -- then you must sit on top of the croup. The croup is a part of the horse's body with good bony support and very hard to damage, and that's good; the problem however being that sitting astride on the croup will require you to either not use your legs, or else if you do use them they are going to be in the horse's flanks -- which may very well mean that you will not be mounted for very long). So, historical digression aside, since about the 5th century B.C., everybody everywhere in the world rode their warhorse astride, with the center of their pelvis between about the 11th and 15th thoracic vertebrae, which is to say, as far forward as you can practically go without actually sitting on the withers.

The opposite plan -- i.e. to sit over the center of the freespan, between about the 16th thoracic back to the lumbo-sacral joint -- will make it the most difficult for the horse to bear the weight on his back. This is because "to bear weight" means "to arch the freespan of the back, to raise the center of the freespan".

And of course the first step in the action of collection is for the horse to coil its loins, which means to flex the lumbar span and to flex the lumbo-sacral joint, which is made much more difficult for him if there is any weight pressing downward against it.

Saddling systems, such as the modern "saddle seat" saddle, that are designed to place the rider's weight near or even behind the anticlinal vertebra (thoracic no. 16, 17, or 18 depending upon the horse), are designed to cause the horse to flatten or drop its back. The reason that "saddle seat" competitors want this is that the general philosophy of that style of riding says that the horse should break back at the root of the neck, flatten or hollow its back, and uncoil its loins as it moves: which is to say, the exact opposite of the philosophy that I teach (and incidentally, also the exact opposite of the philosophy of Tom Bass and other great early Saddle Seat practitioners, who never called themselves 'Saddle Seat practitioners' nor ever even heard the term 'saddle seat'; what they called themselves was 'Baucheristes' -- but that is another story).

If your horse has a hollow back, you will look long and hard for any saddle whatsoever that won't actually make the problem worse. This is why she is tender sometimes; on a hollow-backed horse, almost any saddle will bridge and thereby it will gouge. Neither will riding the mare bareback or in a 'bareback pad' help, but instead those will also tend to make it worse. The real solution is a custom-made saddle; Dave G. can help you with that, especially if you'll take a nice side shot of the horse and begin by posting it. Dave will then probably suggest other photos that you might take.

You will also definitely want to get the 'About Saddle Fit' 1-hr. video from Dave (http://www.aboutthehorse.com), that he sells at cost for $25. Once you have viewed that, you will be greatly empowered and thus far more able to go out to the used saddle rack, get an "approximate" fit, and then modify the padding to make it really fit. You will then find yourself sitting where I've suggested, despite the low back. -- Dr. Deb

 

David Genadek
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 Posted: Mon Oct 22nd, 2012 03:41 pm
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I want to add a bit to Deb's comment. Hopefully you have all run out and looked at your horse and counted some ribs. Then you have looked at your saddle and realized that if you place the saddle where Deb is talking about the front part of the tree will be over the shoulder. One of the reasons we use a rigid tree is so the saddle can be over the shoulder with out being on the shoulder.
I have been searching the internet for horse art and have found a pile of pictures demonstrating the point I have included one.

Attachment: Turkish-Horseman.jpg (Downloaded 490 times)

allisonw
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 Posted: Tue Oct 23rd, 2012 12:08 am
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Dr. Deb and David,
Thank you for the wonderfully descriptive response. My final concern is that of all the "talk" regarding not putting weight of the forehand of your horse. Thus allowing for a lighter response- especially in the canter when you need the forehand to lift in order to access the hind end. Is this accurate?
I am currently riding in a treeless saddle due to all the research I did studying the differences between treed, treeless and flexible saddles. Gads, I finally opted for treeless because the saddle could then follow any movement of her back, which treed cannot blocking so much of the ungulations. Flexible trees still have pressure points. More structured treeless varieties offer more support than the true flatter treeless styles. Does any of this make sense?? With her hollow I thought the treeless would not bridge, thus support her movements. Advice? I am looking for a new saddle. I checked out David's site and will delve into the DVD.
Again, thank you-
Allison W.

DrDeb
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 Posted: Tue Oct 23rd, 2012 01:18 am
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Allison, first comment is that you have succumbed in your choice of a treeless saddle to misinformation and propaganda. You need a tree in the saddle in order to learn to sit properly, and even more urgently, your horse needs a tree in the saddle of sufficient rigidity to keep your weight from contacting him excessively and in the wrong places.

This is the "propaganda" part -- that rigid trees "gouge the horse in the back with a piece of wood". What they don't know about how to design and fit a tree will hurt them! And you! They are little different than bareback -- and I invite you to look at the attached image (courtesy of Hillary Clayton, Ph.D., researcher, via Equus Magazine). You see that even though the saddle used in the test was not custom-fit, the shape of the pressure distribution is a reflection of the shape of the bars of the saddle and is much larger than the pointy little seatbones-inside-buttocks that bareback imposes on the horse. Bareback riding is OK for short periods, for specific learning purposes. But the DVD I recommended, and that you say you're willing to purchase, will also help in a major way to get you straightened out.

The "misinformation" part is that there ARE ZERO treeless saddles on the market. We have said this in this Forum many other times: I invite you to use the google advanced search function to find the many other times, and read them. The saddle you own is barless, not treeless. Unfortunately for your horse, the bars (which aren't there) are a major component of getting a proper fit. Therefore, you will never get a proper fit so long as you inflict one of these pieces of crud on your horse and ask him to go work in that.

So -- I'm delighted to hear you were already figuring on getting rid of it anyway -- so you can figure on either burning it, or if you've just got to have the money back, selling it along. Caveat emptor.

As to the canter: Allison, you haven't done your other homework -- i.e. I don't think you've read the three papers posted in our main website at http://www.equinestudies.org that I ask all students to read when they begin with me. Click on the hotlink here and then go to "knowledge base" and use the big buttons on the righthand side of the page. As soon as you click them, they will start downloading the following:

"Lessons from Woody"

"True Collection"

"The Ring of Muscles"

Please study these, and then if the mechanics of the canter still cause you pause, do feel free to write in again. -- Dr. Deb

Attachment: Forum Saddle vs Bareback Pressure sm.jpg (Downloaded 453 times)

allisonw
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 Posted: Wed Oct 24th, 2012 03:38 am
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Thank you again. Looking forward to the articles.
AllisonW.

allisonw
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 Posted: Wed Oct 24th, 2012 05:16 pm
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Dr. Deb,
I enjoyed the Woody article- I'll have to read it many times over. A unique question to you, do you have any spare woody's you would be willing to sell/ship? I would have to pay someone to make one for me anyway. I practice Equine Structural Integration and would love to have a model to show clients. Your entire theory relates perfectly to my work and I can't wait to become knowledgeable enough to share.

AllisonW.

DrDeb
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 Posted: Wed Oct 24th, 2012 08:19 pm
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Yes, Allison, you're one of the unfortunately few people in your line of work to realize how helpful Woody Theory and the Woody model could be.

But no, we don't have any spares and we don't sell 'em. There's a blueprint right there in the article. Suggest that if you don't have the time yourself, you hire somebody. Realize that there is no scale on the blueprint; you can make the model to any size from six inches tall to two feet or more tall. Suggest that if you travel by car or truck to your worksites, about eight inches to one foot is a good size.

Have fun with it. -- Dr. Deb

Meg Cicciarella
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 Posted: Tue May 24th, 2016 08:54 am
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Regarding the image embedded in the reply which is partially quoted below,

"[ look at the attached image (courtesy of Hillary Clayton, Ph.D., researcher, via Equus Magazine). You see that even though the saddle used in the test was not custom-fit, the shape of the pressure distribution is a reflection of the shape of the bars of the saddle and is much larger than the pointy little seatbones-inside-buttocks that bareback imposes on the horse. Bareback riding is OK for short periods, for specific learning purposes... ."

Do we have an idea of the point where the constant pressure of even a well-fitted saddle causes the horse's back muscles to go numb? Are you aware of any studies on the subject?

And a larger question, is the horse's spine biomechanically suitable when supported with a saddle tree to carry a rider -- even assuming correct riding as is taught here?

DrDeb
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 Posted: Tue May 24th, 2016 01:45 pm
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Meg, you speak as one who has never looked at a history book. Particularly, I am tempted to add, as one who has never looked at MY history book! Meaning, "Conquerors: The Roots of New World Horsemanship," which contains many images of horseback riding as it has been carried out through the past six to eight thousand years of history. This period is the period from the beginning of horse domestication to now.

My book is only one of many on this subject. Others which I highly recommend are Charles Chenevix-Trench's "Horsemanship", Anthony Dent's "Horsemanship", "The Encyclopedia of the Horse" edited by Alexander Mackay-Smith, H.H. Isenbart's "The Kingdom of the Horse", and Giovanni's "Horses and Horsemanship Through Time."

Therein, I think, is proof enough that the horse's spine is "biomechanically suited to carrying a rider's weight whether the saddle fits or not."

Meg -- it's a fact that most of the history of mankind on earth, since people figured out how to ride about 5,000 years ago, has been carried forth on horseback. This would be the case at least in the Northern Hemisphere above about latitude 30 degrees. Below this latitude, the horse species did not occur in the wild and it is still not particularly adapted to low-latitude, forested, or humid conditions. But in the more northerly latitudes, we have warfare, trade, travel, and to some degree also agriculture highly dependent upon the horse.

As to when the horse's back MUSCLES go numb -- they don't; there are no 'numbness' nerve receptors in muscles at all. What can go numb is the skin, and it is injury to the skin that mis-fitting saddles create, numbness being but the first of the ill effects. After that we get rubbing, then the killing of the cells that inject melanin into hair follicles (so that subsequently the hair in the overpressured zone grows in white), then crushing of the epidermal and subcutaneous fibro-fatty cells, and finally a bleeding lesion.

Intelligent riders of every time and nation do everything they can to prevent this cascade of ill effects from happening. In ancient times, people hadn't yet figured out how to carve or steam-bend the (wooden) bars of a saddle tree to fit the curvature of a horse's back, and early saddle trees are just made out of straight planks, more or less like a crude "A"-frame pack-saddle. So, ancient peoples had one of two strategies for preventing damage to their valuable horses' backs: either maintain remudas (small herds of horses belonging to one family) and, on long rides, switch from one horse to another about once every two hours; or else, ride in a thick saddle-pad.

In later times -- after saddle trees became better designed and manufactured -- we still see all the horse-mounted nomads still either maintaining remudas or stopping for a rest every couple of hours. "All the horse-mounted nomads" would include people like Mongols, Huns, Hungarian Magyars, Iberian vaqueros, Argentinian gauchos, and American cowboys -- i.e. people whose lives revolved either around raiding or around cattle-herding, and who thus needed to be in the saddle many hours per day.

The other thing besides history that you need to learn more about, Meg, is biomechanics. The horse's back is not "supported" by the saddle tree. What keeps a horse's back "young", elastic, and high -- in other words, what keeps a horse from acquiring a saddle-back after years of riding -- is primarily the knowledge and technique of the rider. What supports the horse's back are the muscles which empower collection -- which you can learn all about by going to our main website at http://www.equinestudies.org. When you get to the home page, click on "Knowledge Base" and then download the three articles which I ask all students to read:

(1) Lessons from Woody

(2) True Collection

(3) The Ring of Muscles

Now, note that I said the horse's back is 'primarily' assisted to remain youthful and high and strong by the fitness of the abovementioned muscles -- all of which are located beneath its spinal chain, and NOT along the dorsum or 'back'. The muscles which directly underlie the saddle are not the rider's or trainer's friends, but your enemies; and this is just where the ill-fitting saddle does come into the picture, because whereas gouging or overpressuring does not make the back muscles go numb, it DOES stimulate them to contract. And chronic contraction of the back muscles (i.e. primarily the longissimus dorsi muscle) is exactly what makes the horse's back sink or become "saddle backed" over time.

Because of this it is obviously advantageous if the saddle fits correctly. Equally, it is advantageous if the rider has a correct understanding of biomechanics, can post well, does not bounce at either the trot or canter, and knows correct training procedures.

Every day, when I drive out to the barn to go ride my gelding Oliver, I go past three different properties where people are keeping horses. And on each of those three places, there are one or two horses with seriously "saddle" backs. In other words -- saddle-backed horses are not uncommon. And every day also, when I arrive at the barn, I run into fellow boarders who haven't got a single correct idea about how to select or fit a saddle. Interestingly, these tend to also be the same people who don't know anything about biomechanics, who can't post, who can't sit any gait above a walk, and who will never manage to train any horse (indeed one must marvel every day at how lucky they are that their horses treat them with such kindness and gentleness).

I had a lovely conversation with a new boarder today, though -- this lady owns a QH X Percheron, which as you might expect is a pretty wide-bodied model. But by golly, her saddle fits perfectly, and turns out she can ride, too. And another lady owns a TB and her saddle fits beautifully, also. But these are people who have taken the time to read and learn, just like you are beginning to do, Meg, by writing in here. -- Dr. Deb

 

Meg Cicciarella
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 Posted: Tue May 24th, 2016 10:27 pm
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Thank you, Dr.Deb, for your speedy reply and walk through history! I look forward to again studying the information you prescribed.

Of course man has used the horse throughout history, just as he does now, and much of it has been to the detriment of the horse, as we all know. And you're right, I haven't looked yet at YOUR history book, and certainly will!

In choosing "support" to describe the function of the saddle tree vis-a-vis the back, yes, I know well it does not actually support the spine, but that correct and knowledgeable riding involving the ring of muscles does. And my Dave Genedak saddle has been a great investment.

I think that sometimes, well-meaning yet misguided (and possibly lunatic fringe) folks misuse technology as evidence of their point, and this was the trap into which I fell. Be that as it may, I sure as hell knew where to come to get the facts! :) Many thanks!

DrDeb
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 Posted: Wed May 25th, 2016 12:22 am
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Meg, I'm glad you got what you were looking for by writing in here.

One last point -- throughout history, MOST of the use has not been to the detriment of the horse. You can point to TV documentaries that show, quite correctly, that thousands of horses were killed in WWI, and also during the American Civil War; and, although on a lesser scale, in a few earlier wars going back into the Middle Ages.

And, it is also true that some ignorant and/or impoverished people in the past as well as right now, hurt their horses in various ways by using them.

And, again, it is true that the worldwide flat-track racing industry, as well as (especially) the American "horse show" industry, waste thousands of horses every year as the result of early use. But taking all the warfare and waste together still amounts to a small fraction of all the horses that have ever been raised and used by people.

Literally everywhere, and at all times in the past, horses have been regarded as specially valuable and not to be "wasted." Impoverished people of the present day often have their horses in hard work before age three, which shortens the animal's life and often leads to pathologies and lameness. But here you note I speak of the PRESENT. I think the evidence shows that people -- even the serf class -- who had access to horses were far more careful with them. They cleverly used all sorts of materials for padding, to prevent sores; and they did not put their horses into work at an early age. Serfs, who were essentially slaves of large landholders, had to account to their lords for everything they held on their farms or produced, because none of it was accounted as actually being theirs, but rather the lord's. Today's impoverished people have no such supervision.

In Roman times, I have good bone evidence to show that horses mustered out of the Roman army (presumably due to wounds or lameness) were commonly worked literally to death by the peasants who purchased them. But "to be worked literally to death" means that the peasant did everything he could to prolong the life, which equals the economic benefit to him, of the horse. So where I have evidence of damage to the bones of the back, it took years for that to develop; and where I have evidence of abscesses to the fetlock joints, you can be sure that in an era long before antibiotics or ice packs, the peasant was washing the wound every day and packing it with herbal astringents.

The point, again, is that every people who have had any knowledge have treated the horse as well as they knew how, because their security as well as their economic livelihood often depended upon having a working-sound horse. -- Dr. Deb

Kuhaylan Heify
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 Posted: Mon May 30th, 2016 05:30 pm
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So viewing the left hand image of slide 5 the red area indicates that there is more pressure on right hand side.. Doesn't this mean that the horse is more developed on the right side than his left side?.. In other words that he's stiff on the right and hollow to the left. This leads me to another question isn't it most common to find the hollow on the left and stiffness on the right side. And shouldn't good riding create an ambidextrous horse able to go equally well on either bend- left or right?
best wishes
Bruce Peek

DrDeb
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 Posted: Mon May 30th, 2016 08:47 pm
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Dear Bruce: If the saddling experiment represented by Slide 5 was done with a rider in the saddle, the greater pressure on the right will mean that the rider is creating that pressure, by sitting somehow crookedly. If it was done without a rider in the saddle, it will mean either that the saddle tree is mis-manufactured, or else that the horse is in the habit of leaning to the right (which raises the right side of the back). However, the "pointy" nature of the pressure-spike leads me to think that the experiment was in fact done with a rider up.

Slide 5 says nothing at all about how the horse is "developed". Even if a given horse has been for a long time in the habit of leaning to the right -- and certainly leaning to the right does make the right-hand side of the horse 'stand higher' -- the fact that the righthand side stands higher is not primarily due to development. Rather, it is due directly to the habitual 'lean'.

But yes, you've got the idea right about how stiff side/hollow side works: if the horse habitually leans right, it will be not only more difficult, but nearly impossible, to track a correct right-hand circle. Only when the horse utterly and completely gives up leaning to the right will he be able to track a right-hand circle (rather than stumble to the right or fall in to the right, which is what he must do so long as he maintains his right-hand lean). And likewise, so long as he leans to the right, he will be not-leaning to the left, in other words, hollow to the left or bent all the time to the left.

It really, of course, makes no difference what the percentage of right vs. left-leaning horses there may be in the population. Talk to different riders, who specialize in different disciplines or work with different breeds or bloodlines, and you will get different reports about this. What DOES matter is how Bruce Peek's horse is currently doing, and that's what I'd much rather get a report on, rather than 'talk theory'. Cheers -- Dr. Deb

Kuhaylan Heify
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 Posted: Tue May 31st, 2016 10:47 am
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Ok so here's a report. as you advised I found a local coach who teaches us older falling a part folks( as well as younger peeps too) Also I'm continuing the physical therapy for the illio tibial band syndrome along with acupuncture.. The horse does the lean right movement pattern with accompanying hollowness on the left to a slightly less degree than he used to. And he can now actually flex laterally to the right on a right hand circle. He is more able to take right lateral bend on a loose rein whilst I show him the way to the ground. As Mike Schaffer talks about, the horses natural circle is substantially larger to the right than to the left. Part of our ground work is a leg yield out of a circle. Initially he found it very difficult to yield right going to the left. Left to Right was a breeze.
My coach has me working on posture, not looking down, and opening my chest and sitting tall. I'm consciously not holding my reins in a square feel. Our trot work goal is to develop rythym on a light contact so he doesn't break at the third vertebrae.
Had Joe Lally look at him and adjust him last summer. Just before then I tried taking him barefooted- but he developed soreness in his right front- so I went back to shoes in front and the lameness got better. I had Jeff Moore do a bodywork session on him later on. He recommended staggered height trot poles. I've been lunging him over trot poles for 1 and 1/2 years. I do Pauline Moore stretches pree and post ride. There's probably a bunch more info that I'll remember after I post this.
best wishes
Bruce Peek


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