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Hind end tripping / knuckling over on fetlock
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sodapoppers
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 Posted: Wed Jan 17th, 2018 11:07 pm
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First off, thank you in advance for any insight. I have done a thorough search of the forums and apologize if I have missed a similar thread somewhere....I did find many about locking stifles, however none seemed to describe what I am seeing with my mare. These seem to be 2 separate issues, but I am unsure if they are at all related.
This seems to occur off and on, and is very inconsistent. She will occasionally "drop" or seem to "fall" on her back end, but it doesn't seem to cause any pain and she continues on.
Last night when I was doing in hand work with her, she was walking in a circle, and her hind leg seemed to "stick," which resulted in her fetlock rolling over forward, and she seemed to put her weight onto it, pushing the front of the hoof into the ground (I feel sick to my stomach just describing it, it was so upsetting to me!) Then she seemed to pop up, and carried on as if nothing had happened. She did not seem lame or sore afterward, and was perfectly happy to do anything else I asked.
Some background: She is a Belgian x QH cross, she is 15, and we have been schooling / showing dressage since she was 6. We are currently working on solidifying level 3 work.
Again, thank you for any insights you may have.

DrDeb
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 Posted: Thu Jan 18th, 2018 09:17 am
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Soda, Aloha is on the right track; your horse is catching one of its stifles. The description you give is classic.

Please go to the main or first page of this Forum and read the thread, posted near the top as an announcement, concerning how to use the Google Advanced Search Function to search just our Forum. Enter keywords "sticking stifle", "catching stifle", "stifle joint anatomy" or "locking stifle" to pull up previous threads where I have discussed this in detail.

If you still have questions after reading that material, please feel free to write back.

Understand that the reason this is happening is that you've begun practicing the so-called "extended trot" -- universally practiced and taught badly in the competitive dressage schools. You must stop doing this and begin again correctly, or else the problem will get worse and worse. Your veterinarian may jump in there also and suggest "joint injections" -- DO NOT allow this; it's the currently fashionable treatment of the moment and it DOES NOT solve the problem. Neither will stifle surgery, which is currently not a fashionable treatment because there has been enough negative reviews of the procedure in the literature to cause many surgeons to back away from doing it -- ten years ago, twenty years ago, that surgery was all the rage.

Neither does your horse have congenitally small or malformed patellar grooves or patella, the proof of this being that the animal is no longer young, has been ridden in some manner for years, yet has only recently begun manifesting the problem.

Your horse, thus, has normal anatomy. In that case, there is in my view only ONE approach to "sticking" stifles, and that is for the rider to apply the greatest and most effective form of physiotherapy ever invented, which is, correct riding. Competitive dressage does not teach correct riding or training.

Once you read the suggested material, one of the questions you may like to ask is "what then IS correct riding and training", which will then evolve into a dialogue, my favorite way to teach. Cheers -- Dr. Deb

sodapoppers
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 Posted: Thu Jan 18th, 2018 06:18 pm
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Thank you Dr. Deb. I will review the posts you suggested - I had a suspicion that it was a stifle issue, however it just didn't sound like the way others described their horses as her leg got stuck "down" vs. a very high hike up.
She has done this since I first got her, but, like I said quite inconsistently and never as bad as I saw a couple days ago.
Coincidentally, when she was younger, the "falling hind quarters" bit improved after switching her diet to limit carbohydrates, so for quite awhile I had thought that was a contributing issue, but it would always appear again off and on. Last year I did have her examined by a vet and she did not flex sore for anything. The vet wanted to do stifle and hock suggestions, but I am 100% with you on that - NO, especially with not knowing what's going on in there...and the vet recommended that since she was not lame, and just a bit "off," it was not bad enough to justify the cost of x-rays, so I was left without many answers.
Just fyi, we ride classical dressage (which, unfortunately, didn't seem to do well in show rings in Canada. This is yet to be determined in the US, now that we live here :) ) Progress has always been slow and gradually building to the next step, and our routine hasn't changed and I haven't introduced any new movements for over a year now...but I have noticed that some lateral work has been more of a struggle than usual. Would the "sticky" stifles contribute to this? Is she experiencing pain? Should I be riding her with support boots on her hind legs?
I have had this mare almost her entire life, and love her to death. I would do anything I can to make her comfortable.

DrDeb
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 Posted: Fri Jan 19th, 2018 03:17 am
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Soda --

Your horse experiences no pain from sticking stifles or even from a hard locking-up of the stifle EXCEPT during the moments just after the sticking or locking occurs, when, depending upon the footing and the speed/momentum of the animal, the stifle joint is trying to fold while the patella and patellar ligaments are frozen in position. This clashing of function strains the patellar ligaments and at an extreme, can rupture them.

A horse that is exhibiting sudden, abnormal, high, sharp flexion of the hock and/or stifle joints is not sticking or locking its stifles; quite the opposite. That picture is not of sticking stifles but of stringhalt and related neuromuscular dysfunction. A horse that has 'sticky' stifles instead does exactly what you describe: suddenly it is as if the affected leg is too long, longer than the other leg; the animal must sharply flex at the ankle and/or kind of hop upward on one side in back, in order to get enough room to drag the affected leg forward. The forward aspect of the ankle joint will drag through the dirt. If the 'sticking' is a little less severe, the toe will drag through the dirt, and affected horses may be identified by the fact that they chronically dub one or both of their own hind toes and/or wear the toe out of the hind shoes.

There is no boot, wrap, standing wrap, polo wrap, or the like -- no thing which can be applied around, strapped to, velcroed to, or taped to or around a horse's limb which has the slightest effect in supporting any tendon or ligament in that limb. In other words: 'support' boots do absolutely zero to support anything, except the bank account of the vendor. They come in pretty colors. Maybe you can buy a 'support' boot or a set of wraps that will match your saddle pad, or look sharp if you're a member of a mounted Girl Scout troop. That's about their maximum good. Of the lot of them, my favorite is polo wraps because they are easy to apply/set up, warm, and can indeed do something to protect a horse that speedycuts or interferes from bruising and/or cuts. Of course you would never, under any circumstances, leave any leg wrap on a horse's leg when you or paid personnel were not immediately available on an hourly basis to inspect that the bloody thing hasn't come down, come unbuckled, or got tangled in something.

I'm not sure what you mean by 'classical' dressage. In terms of horse shows, in the 18th century and earlier, there WERE no horse shows -- in my mind, the two things are completely incompatible. So I'm not too clear what you've actually been doing. The so-called 'extended' trot we see at dressage shows is not an extension of stride, is a strain to the horse's back, and an impediment to correct training. It isn't that extension of stride at the trot is impossible; but it is a fruit that can be collected rarely and from some horses, not at all. For a horse that is sticking its stifles, it's an exercise strictly to be avoided. You should be aiming for soft passage instead.

I mentioned the incorrectness of dressage training because the cause of sticking stifles is that the horse is not using its back correctly; it is hyperextending its back. The commonest cause for this is the chain-reaction, first cogently discussed by Francois Baucher in the 1830's, which begins with the horse being taught by the rider to brace its poll joint (and commonly also the two nearby joints, the jaw joint and the hyoid complex of joints via the tongue and pharynx). When the horse's poll area is braced, it will also be bracing its loins. And when it braces its loins, it will not be able to sit down behind, which means 'not be able to flex all the hind joints from the lumbo-sacral joint down'. And this in turn means that the animal cannot round its back/coil its loins, cannot rate, and cannot retain its aft-to-fore balance when asked to thrust downward-and-rearward (downward-and-rearward thrust, of course, is what produces upward-and-forward motion).

Most dressage riders, and indeed most riders who ride in any manner 'English', mistake a braced poll/neck/back/loins/stifles and the concomitant out-of-balance from back to front balance which produces a heavy feeling in the hands as 'positive bit contact.' But contact has nothing whatsoever to do with weight -- or the absence of weight -- in the rider's hands. Contact cannot be measured in terms of weight or pressure.

Francois Baucher said -- the very first line in his book -- 'The rider's primary job on horseback is to govern the flow of weight and energy.' This is what the hands are for, but they cannot do their job so long as there is a brace anywhere in the horse.

Sticking stifles happen because the horse has a brace in its poll/neck/back/loins, and therefore the muscle which lifts the patella off the patellar hook on the femur and holds it up during the flash of a part of a second which occurs at the beginning and end of every trot step -- that muscle, the tensor fasciae latae -- cannot coordinate with the protractor muscles which swing the hindlimb forward, nor with the flexor and extensor muscles which open and close the stifle joint. The stifle 'sticks' because the T.F.L. muscle is forced, by the fact that the back does not round nor the loins coil properly, to fire late all the time. The farther off its proper time the firing occurs, the more severely the stifle will stick. Your description is of a horse with a 'moderate' degree of sticking (mere dragging toes would be 'mild'; a patellar hangup so severe as to immobilize the horse and create a gonitis as sequel would be 'severe').

Your task, therefore, in rehabilitation begins with removing the brace.

This is done by learning and then DAILY practice of the following two key exercises:

1) Twirling the head
2) Untracking the haunch

These exercises are normally begun in hand so as to perfect the handler's timing and feel; but the key to success lies in their regular, indeed their near-constant, practice under saddle. When your practice of these two exercises bears fruit, that fruit will be the dawning of the horse's ability to actually produce a shoulder-in. And from that moment, so long as you continue in correct practice, there will be no more sticking stifles.

Nuno Oliviera said: 'Please remember that even passing through a single corner of the arena correctly constitutes a small moment of shoulder-in.' This should be as much food for your thought as the Baucher quote above, regarding the true role of the hands.

If you don't know what 'to twirl the head' is, or what 'untracking' means, you can use the Google search function to scan those threads. If you read French, I'd also recommend a little trip through Francois Robichon de la Gueriniere, who was the first to really understand what untracking does (as it is indeed the basis or heart of the shoulder-in). And, if you can find a copy, also read Sauvat's "Equestrian Sketches" with commentary by Nuno Oliviera.

And of course, please write back here for further discussion. -- Dr. Deb

sodapoppers
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 Posted: Fri Jan 19th, 2018 08:54 pm
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Thank you kindly for your very thorough and thoughtful response. You have given me much to reflect on!
I mentioned having been schooled (and schooling my horse) in classical dressage because that framework in and of itself works to prevent the tension and bracing you are mentioning with the extended trot. I have not shown a recognized dressage test in many years, and my mare was quite young. The last one I did, the judge commented something along the lines of my horse not being a suitable dressage breed in the comments section...in hindsight it is pretty funny but at the time it was quite discouraging, especially because it was training level LOL
All that said, there's never been a rush or pressure to progress to the next level or achieve anything other than for my own desires and the joy of riding. I'm much more interested in her well being than ribbons and accolades.

I'm not so disillusioned, however, to believe that because I follow classical principles this means that there ISN'T tension somewhere, and I have been reflecting on recent rides, videos, and plan to record my next ride start to finish to get a better idea of what is going on.
I know I for SURE have tension in my body due to an old and severe back injury which sometimes acts up and certainly doesn't help.
I have also been doing some researching on stretches and some conditioning, as suggested. Funny enough, almost all that I have come across were given to me by a physio therapist when I was in Ontario and until recently, I followed them pretty religiously. I will certainly be re-introducing these to our routine.
I am happy to report that after researching the "untracking the haunch," this is something that has been built into our daily riding routine for many years (that is, providing the video I found on it is indeed as it was intended to be done). I was not able to find any video or documentation on the twirling of the head though. I looked on the main ESI page with no success...and any videos I found of twirling the head on google is not the type of behavior I imagine is being promoted :) Do the articles still exist on the main site?

Thank you again for the thought-provoking discussion. I have much to reflect on and new things to try.
Just for fun, I am linking a picture of my girl :)
https://scontent-ort2-1.xx.fbcdn.net/v/t1.0-9/14184481_10154407735585586_3618233368047723307_n.jpg?oh=253d0221b5e6dcb7caee883918302f37&oe=5AE634DC

DrDeb
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 Posted: Sat Jan 20th, 2018 09:27 pm
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Soda --

There is no form of schooling or training whatsoever that, in and of itself, "works to prevent tension and bracing." Hence, the only way I could possibly know whether your horse is actually in the habit of bracing is to (a) listen to your description of the problem, which DOES indicate that there is bracing; and (b) to go look at a posted photo. The photo you post does not show the horse being ridden, so is useless for this purpose.

There is no such thing as a "level" -- all of that is mirage, illusion, hubris, and temptation to many forms of error. I have never met any horse who either knew or cared about "levels". Since there is no such thing as a level, then it is not possible to either rush or not-rush IN TERMS OF levels. What you rush or not-rush is the horse, by either mis-reading or else by ignoring or not caring that he has not completely mastered Skill no. 1 before proceeding to attempt Skill no. 2.

Any tension in your body will be mostly irrelevant in all probability. Don't use an "oblate pelvis" (common Sally Swift-practitioner "diagnosis") or a crooked back, or whatever you name it, as an excuse. I say this because I saw Bill Dorrance ride when he was 94 and all crooked and crippled up in a number of ways. But his HORSE was the most deeply internally OK and physically straight, calm, and obedient that I ever saw in my life.

Prove to me that you know how to untrack the horse's hindquarter by posting a photo of you doing it with your horse.

Twirling the head or 'head-twirling' has been discussed here often. I also have a very good article on the subject, covering both technique and the underlying anatomy, published in The Eclectic Horseman magazine about four years ago....you'll have to go to their website to get the back issue. Or, you can purchase either of our DVD mini-courses ("The Anatomy of Bitting" or "Conformation Biomechanics") to see me doing it on film with live horses and also with skulls, again to demonstrate the underlying anatomical function. Or again, there's a whole section on it in "The Birdie Book". Or again, there's a chapter covering the history and purpose of the bosal/riding cavesson in my book "Conquerors." Go to our main website at http://www.equinestudies.org and click on "Bookstore". So there are many places where you could learn about this.

You could also post a photo of yourself riding your horse -- show me your concept of 'contact' and 'collection'. What breed is the horse? I despise the whole dressage attitude of 'suitability'. There is no breed or group of breeds in the entire world LESS easy to train and LESS easily capable of collection than Warmbloods. After second level, the well-schooled Arabian, Morgan, Welsh, American Saddlebred, or any of a variety of 'gaited' breeds that will trot, can and regularly does beat them hollow at shows. Cheers -- Dr. Deb


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