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toe-first striking
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DrDeb
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 Posted: Wed Nov 26th, 2014 11:33 am
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Juliet -- The reason I asked you to post the two photos just above is that they are MUCH better than any posted before. You need to be aware of what you are doing right as much as of what you need to change.

The photo showing the forward walk-and-bend shows a bend passing through the horse's entire body, from nose to tail. It shows the horse stepping u nder the body-shadow with the inside hind foot. It shows a nice expression about the ears, nostrils, eyes, mouth, and tail. This is what good, correct walk work looks like.

The photo showing you asking her to back up shows the horse and you together on draping reins. The mare is in the act of organizing to pick up one of the hind feet. She is raising the base of her neck and flexing through the loins so her butt tucks and her back rises. This is what that should look like.

The revelation you report -- quote -- "I tried to hold my hands in a relaxed but consistent relationship to her face so that when she leaned forward, the reins were taut and she was heavy to me, but when she picked up her head and felt more centered underneath me (for lack of a better description) the reins became loose" -- is a good description of the correct technique. You fix it up and wait. You fix it up and let HER find it. You wait at the same pressure until the horse gets her body organized underneath you to be able to pick up whichever foot you're asking her to pick up. This is what it means to control the feet.

If the mare feels like she "gets stuck" trying to step back, remember that you're asking for one step, then one step, then one step. You are not at any time trying to "go" anywhere, either when moving in a forward direction or in a backward direction. You are simply fixing it up so that it would be as easy as possible for her to get her own body organized underneath you, to pick up whichever foot it would be necessary for her to pick up.

Many times, horses that are stiff through the hindquarters -- and your chiro. was of good help to you here in identifying that -- will also be stiff through the neck and/or poll and jaws. The two work together, so that if the one is stiff the other will be, too. This is why we twirl the head: not just to get the head 'loose', but to get the lower back loose so that the butt can tuck and also swing or orient obliquely to the sides for bends and lateral work.

When a horse has been stiff, they will often be reluctant to back up. This is because the action of backing to a degree stretches the hamstring muscles that lie along the backs of the thighs, and it stretches the Achilles tendons which those muscles tie into below. In order to avoid the full degree of stretch, the horse may lean back too much before it picks up the hind foot. This is where for the rider to not pull at all is very important; if you pull, especially if you pull equally with both reins, what is liable to happen is the horse will not pick up either hind foot, but will instead lean backwards so that its big heavy butt gets over or even behind its hocks. When that happens, we say the butt 'traps' the hind legs. There are two easy ways out of this for the horse: one would be to try to lean forward to get the weight off its hind legs, and the other will be to rear. You definitely do not want that, so what you do the next time that she feels stuck is you walk forward and try again.

When you try again, just TOUCH the tongue and wait. You convey through that touch that her front knees are not to be bent -- and that is ALL you tell her, that she can't move her FRONT legs forward, you're going to block that. You then add enough in the way of wiggling your feet in the stirrups or tapping with the calf of your leg that she knows she will have to move SOMEPLACE, but you absolutely disallow her to pick up the front knees. If she leans forward, I don't care if it is 500 lbs., you meet that -- but you do not pull into it.

The usual response is for the horse to squirrel around -- she will maybe throw her head up and down, crank it to the side, or else she'll swing her butt way over to left or right. All of this is just fine. You wait it out, but you still sit there and tell her, you can't move your front legs forward, you can't pick your knees up. Finally, she will make an attempt to pick up one or the other hind feet WITHOUT leaning her body backwards on her legs. When she discovers this, that is when you drop the reins, pet her bigtime, and then walk forward with the reins laid upon her neck.

You see what I am describing here is the same as the revelation that you had. There is a vast difference between pulling and blocking. The horse will get 'trapped' when backing up when the rider pulls.

Now, here is the further revelation, and it is another reason and a bigger revelation as to why we practice backing one step at a time. The revelation is, that there is zero difference in going backwards and in going forwards. For when you drive the horse forward, what is liable to happen is that the horse will lean FORWARD on its legs -- and this is when it stiffens its neck so as to lean on your hands, because it is moving out of balance. This is 'dynamic imbalance', and it traps the FRONT legs just the same as moving backward in 'dynamic imbalance' traps the hind legs.

What you want instead is that the horse should PICK UP the forefoot that is necessary. The forefoot is to be picked up, while all of the 'forward' energy comes from the push from the hindquarters. There is a vast difference between the horse continuously falling forward and depending upon continuous backward traction in the reins in order to maintain its balance, vs. moving correctly in EITHER a forward or backward direction.

Thus you should be working on getting enough feel of the feet that you can begin producing Spanish Walk-type steps. The horse should pick up the one front foot as you remember Ollie doing, whenever you ask. Then he should pick up the other front foot -- one and one and one and one and one. This is moving forward literally exactly like moving backward.

When the energy level comes up, i.e. there's a little excitement in the horse -- not panic or fear or any bad type of tension, but just a bit more than usual life -- then what that does is add to the horse's 'bounce'. This is what we want -- longer period of suspension in trot without increase in speed; and a kind of bounciness or 'greater swing' even in the walk. This is where the true student must divest herself of all the habitual phraseology that one hears from dressage instructors: you must NOT 'go more forward'! What you need to do is go more UP.

More UP cannot happen unless there is more DOWN, i.e., when the basketball player jumps up, he does that by first bending his knees -- in other words, his joints must not be stiff but rather bendable -- and then he pushes DOWN so that the equal and opposite reaction is for his body to spring UP. His feet, in short, must press DOWN against the ground for any upward flight or 'suspension' of the whole body to occur.

This is why you ask your horse not to speed up at the trot and canter but rather to slow down. You should always be working to see, like a game you play between you, how slow your horse can go and still maintain lively energy and elastic bounce. So you set her up into a trot and then you bend to the right, to the left, to the right, to the left through every figure and combination of figures you can think of. You find the diameter of bend that helps her the most and then ride that. You transition trot-walk-trot many times during any given ride and you play with her, to see how little it might take to get the hind feet to stop. You transition trot-walk-halt-back many times without pulling. You transition back-walk-trot to see how little leg you'll have to use, and how promptly, she can go from backup to trot.

And when you do this, you keep your lower back full and soft because that's how her lower back needs to be. You keep your buttcheeks totally relaxed so that your lower back can work correctly and so that your legs can hang down softly around her, which gives you the ability to touch her very softly and yet in a way that she cannot ignore.

I am pleased to see that you're making great progress. Your horse is better and your thinking is now in much better directions. I encourage you to work on the transitions and to make your rides as varied and interesting as possible. Keep arena sessions short, because (I assure you) work like this is very demanding -- far more demanding of the horse than all that the rough and crude and abrupt and unfeeling rider whom you may see shoving her horse forward all the time. I have to chuckle when I hear people say 'yeah but Dr. Deb never works Ollie very hard.' Oh really? Why then is his back double and his butt covered with muscle? I can work a horse harder in forty minutes -- and I regularly do -- than most people can manage in three hours.

So you meter what you do, because the way we ride in this school, we are asking more in the way of transitions than you generally would see, and transitions are the most physically demanding and developing of all maneuvers. After warming up at a walk, I will typically pick a figure and ride it through twice (whether at walk or trot), then transition to walk if I'm not already in the walk, drop the reins on the neck, pet the horse, and walk forward. Then I stay in a vigorous, lively walk for as long as it took me to ride through the figure once; sometimes longer. Then I pick up the reins again, ask for some kind of flexion, transition to trot, get the horse on a figure, and again ride it through once or twice only, then rest again. When doing transitions it is the same: I might walk-trot-flex/figure left - straighten - walk - halt - walk - trot - flex/figure right - straighten - walk - halt and then drop reins and pet, then walk forward.

The number of transitions that you can pack into forty to sixty minutes in the arena is an exact measure of the training/development value of your time in the arena.

The other thing I will add before signing off, is that it is now time for you to have built a drum (see threads in this Forum -- many designs and blueprints), and to be working on learning how to teach the horse to step up on the drum with you helping her from the ground. This will teach you more about body balance, not leaning forward or backwards while being able to pick up one foot at a time, than any other exercise. It will greatly clarify what you're to be doing under saddle, and it will feed directly into the horse's ability to achieve the correct 'upwards' dynamic balance. -- Dr. Deb

 

 

darlinglil from a new phone
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 Posted: Thu Nov 27th, 2014 09:59 am
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On toe first landing, check out the Rockley Farm blog. It is a rehab farm in Exmoor. They post numerous photos and videos of toe first landings. It is a delight to see, and they share how they achieve the improvements. Darlinglil from a new phone.

JulietMacie
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 Posted: Thu Nov 27th, 2014 08:51 pm
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Dr. Deb,

thank you for the very encouraging post--I've been feeling great about it ever since reading it! I'll keep working and report back soon, but in the meantime, here's a photo of Macie on the drum my husband built for me for my birthday last June. It took her about 30 seconds to get right up there!

Also, DarlinLil, thanks for the suggestion, I'll check it out.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!
Juliet

Attachment: mace_on_drum.jpg (Downloaded 281 times)

JulietMacie
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 Posted: Sun Jan 11th, 2015 07:09 pm
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Things are going quite well for us here. I feel like I'm FINALLY really getting it. Not that there isn't endless room for improvement and so much to learn, but I finally, after working and learning for two years, feel like I'm beginning to understand what needs to be happening underneath me and how I might go about making it possible. It's so interesting to me that as my confidence and knowledge increase, my horse's confidence in me and willingness increase. I guess this makes perfect sense and looking back, it also makes perfect sense that when I was so ignorant and ineffectual, my horse was expressing her distrust and disrespect of me (she's the type that doesn't suffer fools gladly!) Finding my current instructor and this forum are what made this all possible.

So, here's the ironic part. Way back when I first started this thread, the issue that got me here was toe-first striking and I think this is still happening. Should I send a new set of pictures? (if so, what would be the best to show? trot at liberty? trot under saddle? walking?) After reading some of the posts on the blog from Rockley Farm that DarlinLil suggested, I'm concerned that if my mare continues to move like this it's going to result in damage to her feet and legs. I also see that her front feet are, over the past several months, narrowing and contracting some at the heel and that her sulcus is quite deep (3/4" in some places). Farrier and Vet say they see no thrush, instructor says she thinks it IS thrush so I've been treating her for the past few weeks. Anyway, this toe-first striking is my only remaining area of worry and confusion. Any tips?

thank you as always! and happy new year!
--Juliet

DrDeb
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 Posted: Sun Jan 11th, 2015 07:47 pm
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Juliet, as a suggestion on this, use the Google Advanced Search technique (directions in thread near top of Forum home page) to search out Pauline Moore's contributions on digital cushion (DC) thickness. There were a couple of threads on that as I recall, and some photos showing how to measure your horse's DC thickness.

I want you to do that and take pictures if possible....post them in one of the old threads you find....and on that -- we'll go from there.

As to the changes in the shape of your horse's feet -- ask your vet and farrier whether she's "negative plane" or getting that way. This can easily happen when the farrier has been conscientious about keeping the heels moved back, but less conscientious (or sometimes, due to the foot) less able to keep the toes moved back. If this is part of the picture -- but in fact even if it isn't -- I suggest at least rolling the toes, or, more preferably, rockering them; or alternatively, have the shoe set back on the foot as far as possible; apply the shoe backwards; or get Gene Ovnicek's custom set-back shoes (http://www.hopeforsoundness.com) and try them.

Pauline in the old threads explains how to use boots as well as trim to increase DC thickness, and the tendency of everything I've suggested in the above paragraph is also in the same direction: the more you speed up the breakover, the more likely the horse will be to strike on the heel properly. However, in a horse that hasn't been doing that for a long time, as Pauline says and as confirmed by my experience with other students also, you have to "teach" the horse to heel-strike, or re-teach him, which is a kind of "patterning". For this the special shoeing or boots are crucially helpful.

And one last note....I am pleased to hear you're feeling more confident and so is your horse. But there's still lots to do in this arena also, not to make a bad pun. The way your horse moves and the heel strike/toe strike are still linked; and you are right to be concerned that continued toe-striking is likely to result in longterm damage. Your open and pro-active approach do nothing but help your horse. Cheers -- Dr. Deb

Pauline Moore
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 Posted: Mon Jan 12th, 2015 05:45 am
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Juliet
There is a lot more information, and better photos, on the various pages of my website (http://www.gravelproofhoof.org). Have a look at the Hoof page for comparative photos of strong and weak feet, and information about the importance of the digital cushion. There is some discussion on the Movement page about heel-first landing, and there is a long article on the subpage about Low Plantar Angle that's under the Therapy main heading.

If you are going to post photos, could you also please do one of your horse standing on level, firm ground (e.g. concrete), taken from mid-flank area so the whole side view of the horse can be seen. Don't worry about getting her to 'stand-up', just whatever is her normal chosen posture. It is sometimes possible to get some clues about likely low plantar angle from how the horse stands.

Happy to help if I can.

Pauline

JulietMacie
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 Posted: Tue Jan 13th, 2015 11:18 pm
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Thank you both for your replies! I have to go out of town for a couple of days but as soon as I return I'll get to work on this and report back as soon as I can.

--Juliet

JulietMacie
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 Posted: Fri Jan 23rd, 2015 05:14 am
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Hello, I've followed up on the suggestions in your (Dr Deb's and Pauline's) last comments and am about to post my photos and findings on the Digital Cushion thread as Dr. Deb requests.
( http://esiforum.mywowbb.com/forum1/572.html )

see you over in the Digital Cushion thread!

--Juliet

JTB
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 Posted: Wed Jan 10th, 2018 12:28 pm
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Bumping this so I can find it again. Great thread! :-)
Belated Happy New Year to all and Thank You Dr Deb for this resource.
Kind Regards Judy

DrDeb
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 Posted: Wed Jan 10th, 2018 07:33 pm
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And a Happy New Year to you, too -- and to all our NZ friends. Jenny's arranging clinics for 2018 so I hope to see you in April. Cheers -- Dr. Deb


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