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Redmare
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Dr. Deb, let me know if you want pictures, I'm happy to get some if they'd be helpful.

I've posted a couple times about one particular gelding I work with. A few months ago the owner signed this gelding over to me and so I now have the ability to actually give him some education instead of teaching him how to tolerate his previous rider.

He comes with some physical baggage in the form of an old injury to his left shoulder. He has a decent-sized "pock mark" of atrophied muscle just above and posterior to the point of his left shoulder where his original owner told me he got hung up on a corral panel. Based on the location, I believe the most affected muscles are/were the braciocephalicus and possibly the supraspinatus. This was probably a decade ago, the horse is now 14, so we are talking distant past. However, the compensatory issues are still very much present, mostly in the form of serious tension on his right side neck, poll and particularly TMJ. I work with a wonderful lameness vet whom I saw yesterday and we both finally feel like we're getting somewhere with "de-layering" this horse's physical imbalances.

I understand the importance of teaching a horse to twirl his head, and I always knew there was something blocking this horse from *really* committing to releasing his neck entirely in a bend, particularly in the left rein. Now I feel like I'm onto something and I'd love some guidance as to particular things I can do to help him in this capacity and maybe discussion as to the likely anatomical "cascade" of effects from the injury like this. We do "carrot stretches" regularly and my focus when I ride him is always straight and evenness in both reins.

I do wonder if this is "the piece" that I've been missing with him, as I know if a horse cannot release at the poll, it's virtually impossible for him to sustain softness anywhere else in his body and at any level of collection.

Last edited on Thu Dec 27th, 2018 05:41 pm by Redmare

DrDeb
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What a wonderful question, Redmare, and so clearly put. So glad to hear the horse is now yours and thus completely under your control as to his training and rehab. Yes, I would like to see a photo or two before being able to say which muscles are likely affected. Once you post a photo -- try to take it in "angled" light so that the pock-mark/scar and other body contours show up clearly -- then we'll go on to address the possible "cascade" of physical effects. Happy New Year -- Dr. Deb

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Thanks for sending the good clear photos, Redmare, and here they are posted.

Now to get to some particulars -- we'll mention these and then (no surprise?) I'm going to request more photos, which you will see why after reading this.

First: the pock-mark is not "atrophied muscle". This is very common, very loose, very sloppy use of medical/physiotherapeutic terminology -- which misuse of language creates (or belies) imprecise thinking and thus obscures what is really going on. What creates the pock or divot is:

1) This sort of injury is due to the animal crashing into something firm that had some kind of projection or angle to it -- like the corner of a panel or more likely one of those hinge-projections that stick out at about the height of a horse's point of shoulder. The point is that this is primarily a CRUSH injury. It may also secondarily have torn the skin; such tear looks like it was not very large but star-shaped, with several triangular flaps, like when a rock hits your windshield. The vet may have put in just a few stitches, or perhaps none, mostly depending upon how dried-out the skin flaps had become by the time they got to the horse.

2) What has the impact of horse vs. panel crushed? Mostly, the subcutaneous fat/fascia layer which has great physical similarity to ordinary packing bubble-wrap. This type of connective tissue has various thicknesses and underlies almost all parts of the skin. Its physical functions (as opposed to the strictly physiochemical, i.e. in fat and hormone metabolism, not considered here) are:

a) to lubricate so that the skin slides smoothly over the underlying muscle (bubble-wrap fascia is a type of fatty tissue and has waxes, fats, and oils associated with it);
b) to insulate (very effective at this because of its bubbly structure, which incorporates air);
c) to create a smooth contour to the body in order to make it aerodynamic. Without the "sub-Q" fascia, the skin would directly overlie muscle and bone and the body would have a much starker, more angular outline -- think of a horse rescued from people who were not caring for it, who comes in with a body-condition score of 2 or 1.

3) You notice I've said zip-nada about injury to any muscle tissue, and the reason for this is that I believe there has been none. You are not dealing here with a muscle injury. What you are seeing is SCAR tissue -- mostly involving the skin, which is very prone to developing this type of "replacement" tissue after injury. Scar tissue is a type of "cheap" or degraded skin, which results from damaged/diminished circulation, and hence deficient oxygen and nutrient supply, during healing.

Scar tissue has a higher percentage of collagen (the body's major structural protein) than normal skin. Collagen is usually found in fibrous form and its fibers are extremely strong -- indeed, stronger than steel -- but they are not at all stretchy. Normal skin has a mix of collagen and another structural protein, elastin. Collagen and elastin have similar chemical makeup (i.e. if you grind them up in a blender and then analyze the chemical content of the resulting mush), but they differ in physical structure such that while the fibers of collagen are formed of twisted molecules forming strands that look like rope, the fibers of collagen are formed as crinkly, intertwined bands that can stretch. So normal skin is stretchy but scar tissue is not -- as we actually all know from looking at the face of anybody who has healed from a serious burn to the face. So the burn victim's smile is different on the burned (and scarred) side than on the side that didn't get burned. The fact that equal exertion of the facial muscles, whose function is to pull up the corners of the mouth, has different results on the stiff vs. the normal side, could certainly make it LOOK like the problem is "muscle atrophy".

With this understanding, we can now proceed to your observations concerning how the horse moves and feels when you ride him and use the reins.

We note that the injury is on the LEFT side, and yet you report that the horse is stiff on the RIGHT side, making it difficult for the horse to achieve a fully-released LEFT bend. If muscle atrophy -- or even skin scarring with adhesions to underlying tissue which might develop as a sequel -- were your actual problem, your report would be just the opposite: You would have reported that a RIGHT bend was difficult due to the injury to the LEFT side. Think this through, if necessary, making yourself a little birds-eye-view diagram on paper, until it is 100% clear what I am saying.

So, what I am really telling you here, Redmare, bottom line, is that the injury to the shoulder is probably not the cause, or at most only a very minor contributor, to the difficulties you have encountered in helping this horse learn to carry itself straight.

Now, before I go on to outline the new pictures that I want you to take, let me tell you a story. And you in particular, my dear, because I totally believe in your skills as a rider and horse trainer: I have been certain for a long time that you do know how to put a horse properly to the aids, how to cause it to rise properly to the leg, what a thoroughgoing bend is and feels like, etc. So you will appreciate this story:

Once upon a time I was an invited rider at an important horsemanship event. Being a po' girl without a truck and trailer rig of my own, and the event being held far from my home, I flew in without knowing what horse I might ride at this event. Early in the morning of the first day, I happened to run into one of the minor wannabee horse-gurus. In those days I was more sympathetic to some of those guys, naively believing as I did then that kindness and a better example might serve to straighten them out and put them on the right path. So in conversation with this guy, I mentioned that I didn't have a horse to ride and he immediately offered that he had hauled in the one he was going to ride plus a colt, and that I was welcome to the colt if I cared to ride it.

But of course (being that I was talking with a wannabee), this came with quite a bit of explanation from the colt's owner: the story went that this animal had been jumped on by a cougar when a foal and got chewed on some, resulting in "muscle damage" to the right side of its body, and hence if I cared to ride this horse I was not to ask too much of him in terms of bending to the right because "he doesn't bend to the right."

Well, you may criticize me for accepting the offer to ride the other person's property and at the same time utterly ignoring his instructions. When I got going in the class (which was being led by Ray Hunt), of course I did feel the horse's stiffness to the one side and the fact that it didn't use its body equally left vs. right. This is the essence of what it means for a horse to "go crooked."

The bottom line is that I also ignored THAT. It doesn't matter a damn to me what other peoples' horses do -- if I commit to get on the horse, then I am the one riding it and not the owner or anybody else. If it moves crooked, I am therefore going to do all I know how to do and all that whatever talent or skill I may have allow me to do in order to encourage it to carry itself straight.

So that class, which as usual with Ray, was totally wonderful -- a whole-body rider-horse-unity stretch-and-strengthen workout. It went on for over an hour and by the end of the ride, I had that borrowed horse cutting 10M circles with equal ease to the right and to the left.

And so here's the punch line: boy, was the owner mad. He was incensed. Not that he could say that I had hurt, damaged, or even exhausted or overstressed his horse; the animal was positively smiling from the first five minutes I was on him and came out of the class totally smiling, just as stimulated and massaged and refreshed as I was myself. What WAS hurt was the owner's little tiny ego, because he could not stand seeing somebody succeed by first ignoring, and then totally breaking through, the mythology that he had built up as his own excuse for not being able to make that horse (or any horse) straight.

Now I say the same to you, Redmare: you're getting caught up in a theory of your own creation here. Your problem with this horse is not in its neck. You yourself know, and said so in your post above, that the poll and the hindquarters are connected; they reciprocate upon each other. If you can't twirl the head, and the horse does not release all tension in the upper neck to the asking of the rein, no asking of the rein nor of the leg will have its full and proper effect upon the hindquarters. Reciprocally, if you can't untrack the hind legs equally left hind leg and right hind leg, and get the haunches and hocks to accept weight equally readily left and right, then you will find at the same time that the neck seems stiff and the horse doesn't bend fluidly or turn in smooth arcs.

So guess what I'm going to ask for now! Let's have a wee look at the hindquarters, shall we? Get somebody else to hold the lead rope and plan your photo session for late afternoon (the pock photos are excellent so I know you know how to do use the light, too). Do it in the yard, driveway, or outdoor arena so your helper has enough room to step backwards to lead the horse forwards as necessary.

First, get the horse to stand up "square" and get a photo that takes in the whole distance from the top of his croup down to the dirt. You might need a second helper for this one to hold the tail off to the side, or else tie or braid it up, because we need to see the hocks and also how the horse tends to distribute its weight left vs. right when simply asked to stand up square.

Then, have your halter person slowly step backward so that the horse slowly steps forward. Get a photo (croup to dirt) of when his right hind leg is planted in a forward position, maximal weightbearing, and the left hind is stretched backward but the toe has not yet left the ground.

Then repeat this on the other side, so that the left hind leg is planted and weightbearing.

In order to bend with equal ease to left or right, the horse must be just as willing to take full weight on the right hock as on the left. Most horses are unwilling to do this and this is the major cause, 99% of the time, for the crookedness that the advanced and sensitive rider will feel.

Here's the pock photos for everybody to see:










Attachment: Redmare shoulder injury 12 2018 no2 sm.jpg (Downloaded 240 times)

DrDeb
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Here's Redmare's second pockmark photo:

Attachment: Redmare shoulder injury 12 2018 no1 sm.jpg (Downloaded 243 times)

Redmare
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I will get your requested pictures this afternoon!

Maybe this clarification will make no difference (or maybe I'm saying the same thing just phrased differently), but I can see it might be a source of confusion for me: this horse is stiff right, hollow left, so in the left rein he bends easier, but it is often false because he still holds his poll slightly looking right and the "bend" does not truly come from him taking his weight onto his outside pair of legs but by flexing through the neck and falling onto the outside shoulder. In the right rein, he is constantly preferring leaning on the inside shoulder and prefers to "airplane" turn versus lifting through the bend. He can "get straight", but boy does that take some convincing!

I am almost quite positive his trouble will prove to lie in the R hind based on your previous post and what I know about him - we shall see!

DrDeb
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Well, it is certainly a source of confusion for ME. In other words -- what you told me initially made it sound like the horse was not bending properly when going to the left. Your latest post makes it seem the opposite, which would indicate that there is probably some skin-stiffness/scar tissue, and possibly a degree of adhesion, relating to the pock injury. This raises its importance as a factor in rehabilitating and training this horse, but I would still remind you that the pock injury is quite superficial and does not involve much or any muscle damage.

What you now describe is very, very common. Many horses learn to twist their neck into an 'S' shape to protect the flexibilities they preferred as foals, and avoid going into flexibilities that they find even in the most minor way painful. In other words, a horse will avoid any flexion that involves so much as a tiny twinge of pain, such as you might experience when attempting to touch your nose to your knee, or in any other stretching movement.

The horse's propensity to learn to twist its neck into an 'S' shape -- i.e. with the forehead facing let us say to the right, while the lower part of the neck swings (like the garden gate upon a hinge) to the left, comes from the universal tendency of riders outside our school to go ahead and pull through a brace. What instead should happen, as we know, is that when the left hand withdraws the rein or snugs it up in order to ask for the left bend, and in doing this encounters a heavy or stiff feel, is to WAIT AT THE SAME PRESSURE for the horse to release to that pressure. One does not "go into" the brace, but instead waits for it to dissipate from the horse's own physiological response. This is the technique that Francois Baucher described as "annihilating" the brace: it must be UTTERLY GONE before the left hand can, or should, ask for a greater bend.

The paragraph above also contains the answer to a question, or implicit question, which you asked in your initial post: how to get this animal to twirl its head properly. For, as you correctly note, this will be the first layer of the onion that you have to unpeel; he must twirl with equal fluidity to either side. To 'twirl' means to tuck the jowl under the throat from the side, because what is being asked is that the occipital condyles on the back of the skull slide freely left or right within the cuplike slot formed by the front surface of the bone they articulate with, the first or atlas vertebra.

So what that's going to take is to realize that the pock is not what's holding this guy up as far as twirling; the pock has nothing to do with it; this habit or difficulty was there as soon as his former, and incompetent-common-minded rider took ahold of the reins. She put it there; she mis-educated the horse. Your job is to correct his misunderstanding and show him that you are not going to hurt him by pulling through the brace he offers, so that he has no reason to defend himself by continuing to brace. You will wait at the same pressure, and you will begin without reins, by hand, from the ground.

Doing what I am describing does not mean tiptoeing around his physical stuckness. Your job is to induce or provoke the horse to RELEASE to the vectors you will be placing upon his head by placing your hands upon his head. The twirl itself is irrelevant except insofar as the vectors that it involves serve to provoke that release. In short, the ONE AND ONLY reason we twirl the head is that the action we ask in twirling is a physiological trigger which provokes that release. It is RELEASE we are after, not twirling per se.

The 'vectors' of which I speak are the contrary pressures applied by the hands to the nose and jowl. If on the left side of the horse, you put the palm of your left hand over the bridge of his nose about three or four inches above the nostrils. This hand is curved softly, with the thumb on the left side and the fingers over the nose to the right. The soft hand is connected, however, to your arm which can either be soft or as firm as iron.

The right hand is placed, palm and fingers softly extended, upon the expanse of his right jowl. Likewise with the arm of the right hand: it is potentially either soft or very firm, as needed.

Once hands are placed, you pull with the left hand and simultaneously push with the right; this is what creates the 'vectors'. You indicate to the horse by means of these vectors the sort of motion you wish him to make, i.e. to tuck the left jowl under his throat from the left side.

Mistakes are to push the nose back toward the chest; we do not want 'tucking' of any sort. Greater mistake is to not hang in there firmly enough or long enough to get at least a good try at a release. Hang in there. Meet his 50 lbs. with 50 lbs. exactly. Huge mistake is to meet his 50 with 49, thinking you're being kind; or to meet it with 51, which is nothing other than pushing (or pulling) through his brace. You meet 50 with 50 and you WAIT AT THAT PRESSURE until you feel him let go, or at least try to let go. This gives a definite feel so don't settle for a half-effort. It's a judgement call to tell the difference between 'that's all I can do' or 'that's all I can risk, I'm giving you all I can' vs. 'I'm trying to duck away' or 'screw you'.

In your case, Redmare, I know you know what to do once you get the initial breakthrough. Carry on with twirls from the ground, at least several times before mounting, and then when mounted incorporate them as often as seems good. When using the reins initially to twirl, don't have any inhibitions about a real wide inside hand. Get some angle on it. Once the horse realizes that the bit is conveying the same message in terms of 'vectors' as your hands did from the ground, and you know he's given some real release, then from the saddle shift from a wide opening inside hand to a line as close to the neck as possible, almost more of an 'up' gesture than an 'in' gesture. IMPORTANT! ABSOLUTELY NEVER cross the mane-bed with the hand. You MUST NEVER pull in a direction which aims ACROSS the midline of the horse! If you do this mistake, you'll never get a real twirl and you'll be building further stiffness.

Realize that every turn, every pass through the corner of the arena, is an open invitation to ask for a twirl/release. That's what arenas are primarily for, in fact.

Now, once he's able to release to both sides, THEN AND ONLY THEN can you proceed to address the hyperflexibility of that 'garden gate hinge' which is located at the base of the neck, i.e. the joint between the lowest cervical vertebra and the first thoracic one. To get rid of this is merely a question of evening out the bend, or distributing it as equally as possible, between ALL the joints of the neck. This is done primarily by support from the inside leg, which sends forth 'vectors' that you can aim, energetically like laser beams emanating from the muscle of the calf of the leg, at each and every neck joint severally, i.e. one at a time.

What you are describing, overall, is what Tom Dorrance used to call 'a horse with a slow corner'. What he meant by this was that the horse, when asked to bend in a nice arc to the left, instead 'sagged' (as Tom put it) to the left, because he doesn't get off his left shoulder as much as he needs to in order to bend in an equal arc. So you support that shoulder, you remind the horse, and you say to him, 'hey, get off that shoulder, get more of your weight off that leg.' If you find that the calf of your left leg by itself is not sufficient, i.e. if you find yourself straining even to the least amount, or having to kick him pretty hard all the time and it isn't improving much, then you should have no least inhibition or reluctance to carry a bat. Select one with a big wide flapper, like they use for barrel racers, and just carry it in such a position that the horse knows, after you whack him with it the first time, that it's there and he'd better pay attention and quit 'leaning on your leg'. Notice how this bad habit is exactly the same as the bad habit that the former owner installed by pulling through the brace with the hand: she has made the horse dull by teaching him that if he leaned a little more, she'd squeeze a little more with her leg, and up and up it escalated. It's amazing what one pretty good thwack with a bat will do to clear up a horse's thinking on this point.

Let's see the new photos. I get that you get all about 'why' I asked for them, and you're correct about which hock is going to be the culprit! Cheers -- Dr. Deb




DrDeb
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Here's a sketch of what I am describing in the post above and which Redmare describes in her last post, as a horse with an 'S' bend in its neck and which 'sags' through the shoulder. Hopefully the sketch will make clear to all readers what is going on -- this is so common as to be of general interest. -- Dr. Deb

Attachment: Horse with S bend in neck SM.jpg (Downloaded 227 times)

Kuhaylan Heify
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I suspect the horse needs to be bent properly in front and behind.. Behind his right leg needs to step more under his belly button..In front he is kinked left at c 2 . How best to proceed? In ground work do what one of Bucks students called fronts and backs( if i remember correctly) at the walk. To address the kinked neck do dismounted head twirls like you showed us in your clinics, the persons left hand placed on the horses lower right jaw, right hand on the left side of the horses nose. Apply a feel( light pressure) and wait. At first when the horse gives, release and give massive praise. Go practice proper leading, scratch the horses withers. do a tail pull or two, hand graze etc. Come back and do some more fronts and backs still proceeding slowly, and releasing at the proper time. After this becomes smoother you'll wait a tick or two before releasing. When the horse is tacked up do more head twirls with your hands then proceed to flexions with the reins. As before you're looking for the horses jaw to tuck and his mouth to relax and his mouth to lightly chew. Again when he responds, release, praise, do something else briefly and come back to it in a few minutes. When mounted at a standstill do jaw flexions. At a walk do the jaw flexions along with the fronts and backs timing your legs to feel when his inside hind leg is in the air so you can ask for a tick bigger step. Be happy with a little bit of honest try on the horses part- release. When he makes a good effort dismount, pet him, and put him away.
best
Bruce Peek

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I think he is over weighting the right shoulder as he doesn't want to carry the weight on the right hind, he need to weight the outside pair of legs-- he is also not stepping under the body shadow with the left hind. His Birdie is flying to the right. With regards to arrows his hinds in this picture are tracking forward in a straight line. The left foreleg is placed forward rather than swinging out to the left.
Cheers Judy

Last edited on Fri Jan 4th, 2019 05:28 am by JTB

DrDeb
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Yes, correct Judy as to one of the questions asked on the sketch: the horse overweights the right shoulder because he does not want to take the proper share of weight on the right hock. However, you're in error about which hind leg/whether he's stepping under behind; unfortunately he is stepping under with the left hind -- too much, and this is the first of the 'missing vectors that might also be coming into play' that I asked about. Draw an arrow on the sketch from left haunch to right shoulder: the horse is "pushing through the outside shoulder", with the push coming from the left hind. When the horse steps under with the left hind leg, it pushes his weight forward and to the right. This still does not mean that the right hock accepts its proper share of that weight; instead, too much of it goes forward to the shoulder.

The horse's birdie may or may not be off to the right; we don't know because we can't see his eyeballs/pupils. Where their birdie is, is often where their forehead is facing just because that's the most comfortable and usual; however, a horse can face right and look/focus/think left, just as we can.

You see from this sketch what terrible effects heavy, insensitive, wooden, or unfeeling hands have: they pull or HANG all the time in the false belief that this is what constitutes 'contact.' With hands like this, there is always a backward vector in the reins. This is the other 'vector that could be in play'. When there is a continuous backward vector in the reins, that amounts to the rider compressing the neck backwards. The thing for everyone to notice is that compressing the neck does not always mean 'rolling it up' or 'tucking the nose' or 'flexing at the poll'; it may instead mean 'crushing the neck together into a left-right zigzag,' which is what an 'S' bend in the neck is. The cause of the 'S' bend in the neck is the rider's heavy, dead, constantly pulling hands AND the fact that she doesn't know how to use her legs or isn't using her legs effectively. It is the leg, of course, that tells the horse which hind leg he ought to be stepping under the body-shadow with -- see below.

As to the hands, the solution is not to release the reins in the sense of abandoning the FEEL. One absolutely must maintain a feel of the horse's tongue, or else you don't know where he is, and neither does he know where you are or what you want. So riders who give up in despair (or sometimes in anger), when I tell them to quit hanging on the reins -- they will angrily or desperately throw the reins forward or sometimes take their hands off the reins altogether. This is to show that these riders' brains aren't working very well; their emotional response has made their thinking brittle and inflexible; they can't think of very many options. Surely there is a middle place between hanging and pulling vs. abandoning the feel.

This middle place is where 'feel', the concept taught by Tom Dorrance, lies. An absolutely brilliant analogy I once heard Tom make when somebody asked him, "Tom, what is 'feel'"? is this: he said, imagine holding a broomstick in your hand. Raise your hand over your head and try to balance the broomstick on the ball of your thumb. What does this take? Constant, small adjustments which amount to little movements of your arm in three-dimensional space, right? Think of the circus actor who balances the spinning plates on the upper end of a vertical stick, or similarly, think of the tightrope walker -- constant small adjustments keep the plates and the tightrope walker from falling.

Now imagine balancing the broomstick, Tom said, with the wind blowing. This would take still more attentiveness, and would demand an ability to somewhat anticipate what the broomstick was going to do, so as to be ready to move one's arm in some small way, in order to compensate and keep the stick balanced on the thumb. "After awhile," Tom said, "if you did this often enough, it would get to be second nature, and you wouldn't have to think about it."

This is the very essence, the crucial difference, between POSING ON HORSEBACK vs. being able to RIDE.

I've had a couple of busy days -- Redmare sent me the hind end photos just as requested but I haven't had time to do a thing with them. Look for a reply with those photos in another day or so, and meanwhile, I think the above may be good as food for thought. -- Dr. Deb

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Thanks for clearing that one up for me!! As I read it I went duh! re the inside hind, so obvious when it is pointed out. Great thread. My young mare has a dent in her muscle below the point of her shoulder, I was wondering what it was and now I know. Thanks for posting Redmare.

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While we are waiting for Dr. Deb, I wanted to come back and update: I have been doing the TMJ work my vet and I agreed upon as well as doing what Dr. Deb recommended, which is to say breaking it down for this horse on the ground as to how to twirl his head. Surprisingly, he did so very fluidly and easily to the left...which got me thinking. This gelding has been a funny one to work with, in other threads we've discussed his troubles with Birdie and I think his "S bend" neck has origins in both his Birdie and his poor posture in motion (i.e., the running onto the right shoulder).

Twirling to the right, however, was extremely difficult. My husband - who is a very knowledgeable horseman in his own right - watched and he described it as like watching a locked up wheel that badly needs greasing. The horse ducked it first, then tried to lift his head up to avoid it altogether and when he realized he couldn't go anywhere to avoid the flexion he gave a bit, but it was jerky and sharp. I took that as the best he could offer in that moment and let him be, then tried again. It is getting better and better - he no longer looks to evade it now, but it still, as my husband said, "needs grease".

When I took that to under saddle the first day it was fairly ugly. To the left was no problem mechanically, though we still have this issue of Birdie in certain places in the arena that we continue to work on, but to the right the gelding tried everything he could think of (often more than once) to avoid relaxing and twirling to the right. When he finally got it for a stride or two, we ended for the day.

So while he's gotten a bit better each time I work with him, his anxiety about it is slower to subside and I can tell there's a LOT of bound up tension in that area as he gets very mouthy, twitchy with his lips, etc when I go to ask him to twirl. I am thinking that just like Dr. Deb has said that this seems to be a horse who needs concrete examples, this is also a horse who has a very strong learned pain/defense response to certain movements and it is probably going to take some care and time to get him to where he will truly believe that A) what I'm asking is not going to hurt him or overwhelm him, and B) that I am not asking of him anything he cannot do.

DrDeb
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Redmare, I have had a terribly busy week and just no time to post the photos and discuss that aspect yet. Give me another day or two!

Meanwhile, your last post is very clear and again, describes a situation and a set of responses from the horse that pertain to literally thousands of animals so I am sure will be of interest to many readers here.

I don't know about 'heightened pain response'; what I am getting is that, whatever his level of defensiveness or pain-sensitivity, the bottom line is that asking him to twirl to the right does give him some pains -- like when you 'sleep wrong' on your neck and you wake up with a stiff neck. It would take a very, very skilled and highly sensitive chiropractor to work on someone's neck when it's that way and not get a lot of defensiveness from the person. To be able to go "up to" the place where it's going to stick or freeze up or cramp or brace -- yet not go INTO it -- takes real "feel" and real empathy.

One thing I will suggest immediately is that, before asking him to twirl to the right again, you first work on some leg-yields from right to left. That is, you untrack the right hind when on the short rein with a right bend and walking with him clockwise.

Now normally we are careful to not overdrive a leg-yield, meaning we are careful not to "push" the animal so hard from the inside of the bend that we not only drive him properly onto the outside pair of legs, but actually put him too much on the left forelimb so that he becomes overbent to the right and the left shoulder bulges out.
However, for the moment this is exactly what I want you to do with this horse: exaggerate, make it abundantly clear to him that he's to weight the left shoulder. And while he's got it weighted, then ask for the right twirl and I will bet that will make it much easier for him.

It feels to me from your description that you're trying to peel two layers of onion at once, i.e., if he's weighting the right rather than the left shoulder, and while he's got his weight distributed that way you ask for the twirl to the right, it will be extremely difficult for him. It would be extremely difficult, and painful, for any horse actually, if there were enough weight on the right shoulder, but for this horse what we want to set up before twirling right is that he has almost zero weight on that right shoulder.

Let me know how this works out and what his reactions are. Great reports and a wonderful discussion which I hope others are paying attention to. Cheers -- Dr. Deb


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Ahhh, yay! What you suggested - an exaggerated leg yield from the right rein, where he falls through the left shoulder, is EXACTLY how I finally got him to understand that he could twirl his head to the right under saddle! The bat ended up not being very helpful to him, so instead I took a page from Mike Schaffer's book and used an upward right rein to give him the idea that that was not a place he could look for support. From there he automatically moved off the right shoulder and into the same sort of leg yield you described - way too much through the left shoulder and the hind end trailing, but it was effective in the way it needed to be.

From there I was able to then ask for the exaggerated leg yield to the left, but with a lot less exaggeration, and then ask for the twirl. Once he figured that out, I was able to get a few over the course of a couple rides where I didn't have to exaggerate the weight shift to the left fore and just asked for the twirl. We have been repeating this pattern most rides - like I said, he needs concrete examples and it seems he really needs to find it the same way over and over and over again, hence my belief that there's a pretty strongly ingrained pattern in this horse that he feels he must defend. But this is the perfect thing to work on right now as it's so darn cold out and so this and playing on the drum, with the ball, or practicing dragging things are about as much as I can do before I can't feel various body parts.

So no, not working with two onion layers, I don't think - just didn't give enough detail initially to make that more obvious.

I know you're busy, so no rush on the response to his hind end photos - while I very much look forward to reading, I am guessing much of what you might say will not surprise me!

Last edited on Fri Jan 11th, 2019 04:50 pm by Redmare

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Super, great -- and here is an insight for others reading this thread: Mike's upwardly-directed inside rein is for therapy or "corrective" purposes only, for the reason that it does exactly what you describe: force the horse too much through its outside shoulder. The upwardly-directed rein is made even worse when the "aim" is not strictly straight up-and-back but points across the midline of the horse or across the mane-bed. This "style" is particularly common among the Parellioids, who do nothing correctly. But indeed many people -- the majority of riders that I see -- who think they are doing leg-yields are not doing a real leg-yield, but instead are doing what you describe your very dysfunctional horse as having to do: they discover that "lifting-up" rein, and they feel the horse shift its weight through the shoulders, so they think "aha, that's it, that's how you make him do it". But because their seat and leg is ineffective and their feel is not "covering" or inquiring of the WHOLE horse, they wind up half-assed stumbling sideways with the hindquarters trailing, when instead in a proper leg-yield or any other movement done properly, the hindquarters would be driving not trailing because the movement would have been initiated by the untracking of the inside hind leg and seconded by the rein, which would be held in just the normal "home" position. Or on a greeney greeney, to make what you want obvious to him, the inside rein can be in the 2nd or "opening" position with the inside hand displaced straight out to the side but not upward.

The reason that exaggerating the leg-yield so that you deliberately drive the horse too much onto the outside shoulder, is that this destroys the "S"-bend in the neck. It forces the horse to go from an "S"-shape to a kind of cranky "C"-shape (maybe I could represent that on the typewriter keyboard as "<"). It's "cranky" because there's still a lot of stiffness but at least you have now got only one curve, and that one is going in a direction that is harmonious with the desired twirl to the inside. Once we take away the "S" we have made it much easier for the horse and probably taken away much of the little strains & pains that make him want to defend himself.

So, now that this is working, it's time to start alternating bends, which is a still more effective technique for breaking up those little cranky stuck spots at the neck joints. We are aiming to increase the horse's ability to flex not only the poll joint sideways (to "twirl"), but every neck joint; and we are also aiming, ultimately, to even those flexions out so that no one of the eight neck joints is flexing more than the others.

So what you do is set up a long, loose serpentine -- what Tom & Ray used to call a "snake trail". DO NOT use barrels, poles, tires, cones, or other markers -- they will only tempt you to make the horse turn "on time" so that he goes between the markers. But at first we do not care at all when he switches from one bend to the other. It may take him many steps, which would carry him past the marker. If the best you can do with him is to get him to change the weighting of the hind legs/change the weighting of the shoulders/change the bend through the poll (i.e. twirl)/change the bend through the ribcage -- I say if the best you can do is to get him to flex the entire vertebral chain and change his weight from the "old" outside to the "new" outside ONE TIME in the whole length of the arena, that's just dandy fine!

In fact at first I'd be real careful to set this up so you come around the short end "short", going from the track to the opposite quarter-line; and from there (let's say you came through the short end on the left rein, counterclockwise of the arena), you keep the left bend as you return toward the centerline. Before you hit the centerline, you should be asking him to change bends, so that as he crosses it hopefully he does so. Then you have a right bend, and you make a big lazy right bend with him and you now on the left side of the centerline, but eventually you get back to the centerline and again, before you get there you tell him to change his body back to a left bend, so that as you cross the centerline you approach the far track with left flexion poll to tail.

And so forth, at a good Ray Hunt-style very forward walk which is just shy of what would make him need to take bigger breaths, i.e. approaching 7 mph. Repeat until you definitely feel him loosening up, and then go one more time but instead of just one set of bend-changes across the center line, try for two in the length of the arena. Then go let him graze or go stand on the drum a while.

When all this is easy, you can then start more "standard" four-loop serpentines (meaning eight changes of bend in the length of the arena), or else make o-to-o figures of 8 (no diagonal lines, two perfect circles tangent at the single point where the bend changes). It will also be helpful, and you can do this right at the beginning, to set up o-to-o figures where one "o" is at the top left quadrant of the arena, then you come off that and "drift" (a.k.a. leg-yield) as you change bend somewhere near "X" and do the second "o" in the lower right quadrant of the arena. In other words, you circle, then change bends utilizing the leg-yield, then circle the opposite way of the first circle. Remember that the KEY to changing the bend through the length of the vertebral chain is changing from untracking the first hind leg to untracking the other one.

The overall goal is to get the horse to turn loose of himself, so that the lightest touch of the reins, with the least positive support from the leg, will cause the horse to bend, flexing every joint that can be flexed laterally, from poll to tail; and then to be able to switch very fluidly from flexing the first direction to flexing the other way.

When that's in place, you can proceed to canter departs from a halt. What fun this all is, and how very easy it is too, once the rider gains some insight as to what the horse needs in order to turn loose, and how to set it up so that he learns that performing in the turned-loose state is far more comfortable and less effort than performing work in any other way. Cheers -- Dr. Deb


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OK, discussioneers (like "mousketeers" LOL) I've finally had time to put together Redmare's rear-end photos for our educational purposes. I'll post them as I put them together on my screen, but if the text I put on comes out too small to read, I'll post that beneath. Each set of photos has a separate post, so look for two postings, one for the side view and one for the rear view:

Attachment: Redmare weightbearing left hind no1 sm.jpg (Downloaded 146 times)

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Here's the rear view:

Attachment: Redmare weightbearing left hind rear view no2 sm.jpg (Downloaded 146 times)

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Now -- is it clear to everybody what's going on here?

(1) How does the horse's desire or habit of taking shorter steps with the left hind demonstrate that he'd rather weight-bear on the left hind?

(2) Why does the horse, in halting, so position himself that the left hind is closer to the midline?

(3) Why do the blue hip and stifle lines tilt?

It is real easy to get mixed up on these things and attribute the cause to the wrong factors, so those who are interested in this, it is worth some time and concentration to understand what these photos show. It may help you to make a sketch at your desk as you view the images, and of course you'll want to go out to the barn to do the same experiment with your own horse, won't you! Have a helper lead the horse slowly forward and watch closely how he uses himself behind. Bring him gently to a halt and see how he prefers to arrange his body parts with respect to the centerline of his body and thus with respect to his weight. It will be important in many cases to REPEAT the slow walk and the halt a number of times, not only because you may not be too sure of what you're seeing for a while and thus need to practice to get sure; and also because, some horses are less committed to one-sidedness than this gelding and therefore less consistent -- they may stand or walk one way one time and less so, or evenly, or even the opposite, other times.

Redmare, I can't thank you enough for these photos: they're great help for other people who are trying to learn how to "see" crookedness, leaning, and lameness which is defined as asymmetry of motion (not "soreness"). Cheers -- Dr. Deb

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You are quite welcome for the photos - I'm so glad I created this thread, it's proving to be extremely helpful.

The longer I think about this, the more muddled/confused I get myself, which is something I tend to do.

1) Dr. Deb, do you mean desire/habit of taking shorter steps with the RIGHT hind? That is what this horse prefers to do, although neither of his steps, left or right, are very long, which tells me this horse is not really coiling through his loins. But if he is short stepping on one side versus another, is it not simply a matter of time spent on the ground? I.e a longer step means more time spent on the ground, which means more weight bearing?

2) As for #2 and #3 I actually got down on my hands and knees for this and played with it, but I can't come up with a "why", only recreate what I functionally know is happening with this gelding, but that doesn't tell me the reason for his choosing this pattern of crookedness...

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HI, Redmare: Yes, this can get very confusing, as I said, and anybody attempting it, myself included, must really concentrate on keeping the principle or rule in mind that the reason the horse short-steps with one hind limb (i.e. with whatever hindlimb is swinging, that's the one we mean when we say "he takes a step") -- so if he takes a short swing with the left hind, it is because he wants to minimize the time he weight-bears on the right hock. And this is what all the photos you have sent show. If you have been thinking that this horse steps shorter with the right hind, maybe it is because you are not using the word "step" in the same sense that I am, i.e. the "stepping" leg you mean is the one that is weightbearing.

Now you have also noticed that this horse takes rather short steps in fact with both hind limbs and I would agree. However he's coiling his loins just fine. The correct interpretation is exactly the same, or a parallel to the same, that we make with left vs. right hind limbs; here, it is hind limbs vs. forelimbs. What this gelding is doing is not only shifting his weight to the left, but in a major way also forward, to the forehand. He short-steps behind because he does not really want to carry a proper proportion of his weight with either hind leg (though the right hind is shirking its load more than the left).

Why we can easily draw a plumb-line downward from this horse's spine in rear view, and find that it falls noticeably closer to the left hind limb than to the right hind limb, is because the horse deliberately places his left hind limb closer to his midline. This is a kind of inverse way of saying that he is leaning to the left, and it is the offset or leaning which skews the hip and stifle lines -- in other words, in order to achieve and maintain the asymmetrical placement and weighting of his hind limbs, he must twist and roll his hips somewhat. When the horse places his left hind limb closer to the plumbline of his midline, which is where his weight mainly bears, he is shaping himself up to bear most of that weight with the left hind.

Crawling is a great idea for anybody to try, who wants to really understand what the horse's experience and "strategies" to accept or avoid work with one limb or another are. So you can prove to yourself what I just said in the above paragraph by doing some push-ups. That's with your "front legs" rather than your "back legs," but the human arm has joints much more similarly arranged to the horse's hindlimb than does the human leg when we crawl; the joints form a "Z" shape that can collapse or expand down and up. Let us say you desire to do mucho macho pushups with one arm. Where will you place the palm of the hand of the arm you intend to do the pushups with? Will you place it out to one side, or will you not rather place it right beneath your sternum or as close as possible to that point as the size of your boobs allow?! The horse's hindlimb muscles are particularly thick between its hind legs, and this (rather than boobs) is what limits his ability to bring the preferred weightbearing limb fully under the midline, and also causes him to need to twist the pelvis somewhat. Note how the tilted pelvis also causes the dock of the tail to subtly tilt.

Note how when you practice the exercise we suggested above -- the exaggerated leg-yield right to left, we are actually accommodating this horse's preferences by deliberately putting him onto the left hock. However, we're also telling him to unweight or "get off" that right shoulder, which is tantamount to telling him to bear a FULL complement of weight on the left hock, which we have just said he is reluctant to do. But I will play to this horse's strengths initially; I will ask him to do a little more of what he's already best at, rather than "correcting" him. When we exaggerate the leg-yield, we have annihilated the "S" bend in his neck and poll and created a single curvature in his spine from poll to tail. As we continue to ride the horse, we work on evening out that bend so that he stops flexing sideways too much at the base of the neck and too little at every other joint.

Once that's working, then we begin attempting to do a more proper leg-yield, and we do that by subtle --although at moments it may need to be quite firm -- use of the outside rein. Firm, that is, if he insists on leaning forward. So you meet his 50 with exactly 50 until he cuts that out and gets brave enough, even at a halt, to stand a full and proper proportion of his weight upon the left hock. Once he'll halt and stand properly on that hock, then you can use subtle support from both reins to cause him, or assist him, in taking the full and proper amount on the right hock also.

When he will do this, he ought also to be able to properly leg-yield left to right, which is why I suggested already that you begin alternating. Again: remember, the KEY to changes of bend is switching from the old outside (=weightbearing) hock to the new outside (=weightbearing) hock.

Let me know your thoughts. Cheerio -- Dr. Deb


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So to make sure I understand this right:

- This gelding prefers not to fully weight either hock, and in stepping forward with either hind leg is shifting his weight somewhat to the opposite hind limb but largely forward into his forehand.
- When he does shift weight between his hind limbs, he would strongly prefer to keep it mostly on the left hind, but does not want to take it ALL on the left hind. Essentially, he takes enough so as to take the minimum on the right hind but not so much that his left leg is at 100% weightbearing capacity. (I'm picturing the limb movement at the canter - this horse therefore would, and does, struggle with the phase of the canter where the outside hind limb is the only weightbearing limb, especially if that outside hind limb is the right hind.)
- The horse is able to bring his left hind closer to the midline but not directly under the midline because of the adductor/groin muscle bulk, so he's favoring it as much as he physically can, essentially.

Yes, I was thinking of the stepping leg as the weightbearing leg, hence my confusion.

So in taking this information going forward, I think one of the things I'm realizing is I am not well connected enough to his hind feet via the reins. I've been talking a lot to his front because that's where the louder of his troubles have been, and as you said earlier, I need to be careful not to get sucked into a problem of my own overfocus.
I might need to spend some time with him at the halt just practicing getting him to shift back onto his hind end.

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Yes, you've got it now. I suspected you were using the word "step" just the opposite of the way I use it, because "to take a step" often is taken to mean "to step down" (to "stomp"), and the stomping down is what is counted as the "step". But in gait analysis, "step" has a defined, technical meaning: it is the distance between the toe of the left hoof and the toe of the right hoof, either fore or hind. "Step" is a measure of how far apart the left and right limbs spread during walking or whatever other gait, or you might say how wide the "V" between the two limbs is. Step is a direct measure of suppleness and a long step, as you note in passing, is a good predictor of how turned-loose (and therefore of how ready to work and learn) the horse is.

This is strictly to differentiate the term "step" from the term "stride", which is defined as the distance from the mark made in the sand by the toe of (let us say) the right hind, and the NEXT mark made in the sand by the SAME hoof. In gaits that have a period of suspension, this measures how far the horse flies forward through the air during each period when no feet are on the ground. Stride length is a direct reflection of power and effort, and is also a very accurate predictor of racing speed. Unfortunately what we almost universally see among dressage competitors is the complete confusion of stride vs. step, so that what is almost always seen in competition winning prizes nowadays is lengthening of step at the trot, not lengthening of stride.

And yes: spending some time with him at the halt just getting him to shift back onto his hind end is exactly what I was suggesting. You can look to Mike Shaffer for some good direction on that -- Mike won't permit even a single forward step from a horse that is laying on his hands/bracing. He'll sit there, waiting at the same pressure exactly as we teach too, and the horse will wriggle, try to move sideways, toss its head, and fuss and grump until at last it tries rising to the leg, which means it arranges its bodyparts underneath the rider so that the two hind limbs carry the proper amount of weight, the freespan of the back and the base of the neck subtly rise, the loins subtly coil, the stifles subtly flex, and there is "feel" and "communication" through the reins but no bracing, pulling, or leaning on them by the horse. Only when this occurs, and I know you know well what I am describing Redmare, does Mike permit them to take even one step forward. I am of exactly like mind and find that this work at the halt is essential and highly beneficial IF IF IF we have a rider who has the correct conceptual grasp, sufficient skill, and is working for the right responses. Also, by the way, this approach was described in detail, practiced, taught, and recommended by Francois Baucher.

It's been criticized, both historically in the 19th century as well as by later riders, almost all from Germany, who contend that this type of work at the halt kills their much-worshipped "impulsion". But there can be no impulsion at all, even in a horse that is moving fast or expending considerable power, if there is the slightest brace anywhere in its body: the brace transforms power (the raw working material) into tension and strain, shoving and pulling, false collection, and ultimately injury; whereas when the turned-loose horse offers the rider his power, it is transformed into impulsion, which means fluid energy and thrust which the rider can distribute to any part of the body where it is needed for the desired work -- and this indeed is the very definition of impulsion. It does absolutely no good, fostering neither a correct understanding in the horse nor correct physical responses, to go on trying to ride "forward" on a horse that is bracing. The brace, as Baucher said, must be annihilated first.

This brings up a basic training protocol which I usually find a way to mention during horsemanship clinics:

1. Position
2. Wait at the same pressure
3. Release to the horse's release.

"Position" means you propose an idea to the horse; you suggest he rearrange his bodyparts. Everybody who reads here I think appreciates that the release is the reward, and that's how the horse learns that he did what was wanted. But the part where most people fall down is Step Two, because that requires near-infinite patience, a willingness to hang in there until the horse gives a full, sincere, no-holds-barred try. Specifically with respect to the above discussion, the rider has to have totally come out of being hypnotized by the trot rhythm and must utterly abandon the concept of "forward" as being a primary goal or even a desirable training approach. Every normal horse will go very freely and delightfully forward, generously placing his great physical power at the rider's disposal, when he finally turns loose, rounds up by rising to the touch of leg and rein, and begins to submit deeply to the rider's direction.

Keep us posted how your work with this horse goes from here on out. At some point you might send us some photos of you & he under saddle.

Also, BTW, somewhere in my files I have some photos of our friend Judy McHerron and her gelding Majic working on this stuff at the halt, which might help you to look at. Will post 'em when I find 'em. Cheers -- Dr. Deb






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Thank you Dr Deb and Redmare for this excellent thread. When the weather clears I will be out with the camera to see if the photos show what I feel when I ride.

Looking forward to seeing you in NZ next month Dr Deb. :-)

Regards Judy

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Alrighty, Dr. Deb - we've been playing with the halt work and getting this gelding to committing to shift his weight equally onto his hocks. I have to admit, this has been a tough sell.

I am not sure, however, that I am setting him up well enough, especially given we've discussed how this horse in particular needs really concrete examples. When I set up to ask him to weight his hocks from the halt, I take my hands from neutral to just a little bit elevated to indicate to him that I need him to lighten up in front and unbrace his neck and not lean on the right shoulder (an in essence, shift the weight back some). He obliges nicely but often will get too deep, so I wait until he comes back up with his head instead of down and in with his nose. However, in that timespan, he usually starts backing up. We've backed whole lengths of the arena and thensome, with me just sitting their waiting for him to figure out I'm not actually asking him to MOVE, just shift his weight. Eventually he stops, and when he does and I can feel he's still primed to back up, I ask for a forward step but he immediately gets boggy with his energy and weeble wobbles on his front end. At one point I got more vigorous with my leg to remind him "NO, you may not lean on me or get stuffed up" and he immediately pinned his ears in irritation - which told me either I didn't set him up well enough or he wasn't in a place where his energy could flow forward easily. This is where we have gotten stuck - I have been unable to get a lifted, relaxed, forward step free of brace as he's so quick to try and go back to his front end brace.

Am I getting too focused on what he is doing with his head/neck? I am unsure if I should care less about that when I prepare him to set his weight back on his hocks or if I DO need to pay good attention to that because he is so committed to his brace there and I just need to hang in there longer and let him muddle around until he commits to a real try. I have felt for a long time like I'm dealing with competing issues - the boggy-ness to the leg and the crooked pattern of movement, but I have realized the boggyness to the leg with this horse is largely BECAUSE he's not flowing forward straight.

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You mentioned the horse needing concrete examples. There is an exercise I learned years ago that is not only a concrete example for the horse, but for the rider too. Probably even more so for the rider.

You also mentioned the horse backing the entire length of the arena. So, this exercise STARTS at that place. The other end.

Stand the horse with it's butt in a corner. Now ask for the weight shift back. You will find out how little you need to ask for the horse to begin to shift its weight back and lift from the base of the neck. How subtle your ask needs to be. Probably you will cut your ask in half, then in half again and maybe again.

Be careful with this. Some horses might object to this and feel trapped.

Once you get the feel in the corner, then you can get it away from the corner. And will probably need so make your ask even smaller yet.

And as always, I would wait for Dr. Deb to chime in before trying this. Since this is something I learned from another school. But I have seen Buck do this exercise at a standstill in the middle of the arena. Shifting the weight forward and back without moving the feet. Had the audience laughing, but it is not easy to do if you don't have that feel dialed way down.

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Dear Redmare: Yes, a real Gordian knot, this. I think the way out of it is to think of this horse's reluctance to work, and work equally, off the hocks is not a BEHAVIOR issue. In my book, there is no such thing as "behavior." The word "behavior" is merely a catchall phrase, a label, a way of pigeonholing or (sneakily, subtly) blaming the horse, just like the word "resistance" is also a total fallacy. So he is not, in my book, offering you 'a behavior' or 'resistance'; he is instead attempting to communicate.

You got it good and clear when he pinned his ears. This is because we are all taught early, in whatever riding school we went to, that when a horse pins its ears we ought to regard that as his expression of irritation, i.e., a plain attempt to communicate. What makes his reluctance to weight his hocks any less of an attempt to communicate?

So that's where I think the problem actually originates, and it's not at all rare: it actually hurts this horse to weight his hocks. It doesn't necessarily hurt him very much; probably it just gives him twinges; but they are twinges he can feel and doesn't like. So you are going to have to give him time and many repetitions, the repetitions serving to gradually condition his hocks so that weighting them hurts less and less and then finally not at all. This is the same thing we say to ourselves as we age: don't sit in the chair all day. You must get up and move, or your joints will hurt worse and worse!

Remember how TINY a pain gradient a horse will notice and work against: horses are of such a nature that, when offered a choice between two actions -- BOTH of which will be physically painful but one less so -- they will opt for the less painful option and, amazingly, will often not even seek a third choice. Hence we see Walking Horses leaning hard on bits with 11-inch shanks, to the point where they numb their tongues and even may kill part of the flesh of the tongue. And you may, even in this horse's case, remember how easily the previous owner fell into the pattern or was caught in the pattern of teaching this horse to be dull. The rider does that by never coming all the way through -- the horse says, "OK, I'll lean on the bit a little bit," and instead of responding, as she should, by saying, "no buddy, you are not to learn on my hands AT ALL," she instead sighs and says, "Yeah, all right, that's GOOD ENOUGH, I'll hold up that extra 8 pounds you're putting on there, I'll ignore that 8 pounds, just so long as you'll go along pleasantly and not buck or run off with me, I'll TOLERATE your wrong carriage and wrong balance." But the next day, it will be 8.5 pounds, and where will it stop?

So GOOD ENOUGH and TOLERATE are deadly to us, deadly to excellence in horsemanship. Instead what we have is standards, and we live to those standards, and we teach our horses to live to those standards.

Here, then, is the second problem that's operative -- and you mention this one also in your description: we already know that this horse is inclined to shift his weight off the hocks, onto the forehand, while bracing his neck and thereby enabling himself to support himself -- like a guy bracing his arms so that he can push a lawnmower through thick wet grass -- by leaning on 'the handlebar' i.e. the mouthpiece of the bit and hence your hands. This horse not only does this, he also is dull to the leg. He does not 'respond with respect.'

So this having been plainly said, I know you know what to do: you need to execute Tom's way of waking the horse up to the leg. Which is to say, you'll bring him to a halt out in the middle of the arena, where there is plenty of space to all sides. And you will lift your legs, both legs at once, straight out to the sides. While your feet are raised up to the sides, you can even wiggle them or shake them a little -- you want to definitely make sure that the horse sees you're doing this, that he is aware that you're doing this. Then when he sees your feet, lower your legs both simultaneously, softly back down to his sides.

Then repeat this a couple of times, until you hear the horse saying, 'OK, that's wierd and it doesn't really have any meaning to me, but if that's what you want to be doing, it's OK with me.'

When that's occurred, the next time you raise you legs, you bring them in with all the force you can muster: you whump the crap out of him, you bend those ribs, you make snot come out of his nose. If you have a romal or mecate, you simultaneously smack him right behind your leg with that also.

You would think, of course, that any horse would bolt off in response to this. But horses who have been made dull to the leg don't do that. Nor do they buck, although you do have to sit prepared for any type of response. What will 99% sure happen, though, is that he will merely emit a grunt and walk slowly forward two or three steps, and that's all!

When you clobber him the first time, of course you are very careful to give him a slack rein to work into. But in all probability, what he will do is just grunt and stumble forward and then stop.

Now after he stops, you raise your legs again. After you have whumped them only one time, 95% of horses will liven up and start walking, if not immediately trotting, WHEN THEY SEE YOUR LEGS RISE. Pet him bigtime for this. You want him to learn: I will not block you, I will not try to "take contact", I will not hold the outside rein, I will give you a great big wide open space to go into to the front WHEN I TAKE MY LEGS OFF YOUR BODY."

And this is the secret which the previous owner, and which most people who have horses, do not get: they think that the horse 'goes' BECAUSE he has been smacked, or IN RESPONSE TO pressure. This is what got the previous owner into trouble, because when he didn't liven up and get ready to move, and when he didn't move off from VERY LIGHT leg pressure, she SQUEEZED. Never never never squeeze a horse to make him go! In other words, he didn't go so she squeezed a little bit harder each time. Hence most dressage horses -- hugely dull to the leg! And they think it's because the horse is dull because he's a Warmblood or part-Draft!! Ha ha ha ha: it's themselves who are dull. The horse is merely smart; he is laughing at them, and he is mocking them. He does not respond, and he does not respect that the leg can come in there with such force that it will hurt him. We do not want him to fear the leg, but we do want him to respect it.

So the second time when you lift your legs, as I said, normal horses will learn this lesson after only one good whumping. They certainly do not want to be whumped again. They never want to experience that again. So they liven up and get ready to move the moment they see your legs lift up and THIS IS THE PROPER CUE -- the thing you want the horse to learn -- that you expect him to liven up and get ready to move AS SOON AS THE RIDER LIVENS UP. He is not to wait to be kicked or whipped, because if he does not liven up and get ready to move just as soon as you move your leg OFF his body, you will most certainly repeat the lesson by whumping him, which is to say, by bringing your leg ON to his body. To repeat: the cue which tells a properly trained horse to liven up and get ready to move is when you take your leg OFF his body.

I'm willing to bet sitting here blind that the previous owner wore spurs, too, and by mis-using them in the same way she mis-used her legs, compounded the problem. Spurs mis-used as I have described serve merely to harden the horse up.

Riders who are like this horse's previous owner get into this black pit because at root, they are afraid of the power that the horse has; they are afraid of impulsion. And although they said they wanted to go for a ride, they're like the little kid on the swing who says, 'daddy push me higher' but as soon as daddy does that, they say 'oh, daddy, don't do that anymore' or they start crying. A rider has to be a little bit braver than that. There is a fear hump there to get over, for sure; but once you're over it, then you begin learning what riding is supposed to be like. Now, I know you already know this and that fear is not your problem, Redmare; I'm only saying this because I know a couple of thousand other people will be reading it and maybe they need to think about this.

So, let me know how this works out, and yes, don't fuddle yourself too much with unnecessary details. Teach the horse to GO FREELY FORWARD. If after you teach the 'liven up to the leg' lesson, he starts to feel like he wants to canter -- go for a canter and keep him at it until he breathes pretty good. Then hop off him and pet him and put him up for the day, ending the session on a jolly, free, and somewhat playful note. This takes the sting out of the reprimand you had to give him earlier by whumping him, and tell him, "look buddy, I do enjoy your company and that was lots of fun. I enjoy it when you move out!" Cheers -- Dr. Deb


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I thought I'd come back and share what has happened so far - the intense cold in the NE has limited my riding, but I've gotten two rides on this gelding since your last post Dr. Deb. I think hearing the progression may help others understand a prepare for this in this own horses. Apologies for the length, but the details seem very important.

Ride 1 - to put it plainly, I found out EXACTLY how defensive this horse felt he needed to be about just flowing forward, and how many negative feelings he held about it. From the halt, I put my legs out, wiggled my toes and let him see what I was doing. He had no response. When I finally got to giving him a whomp to go forward, he pinned his ears and fumbled up into a hectic trot. I gave him as much rein as a could initially but decided against just setting my hand down and letting him just go without any guidance from me because he was all over the place and a crooked mess (which I think, again, speaks to just how hard it is for him to just GO FORWARD...not to mention it's very difficult and unpleasant to ride). So I just kept my hands forward and gave him lots of slack to work into but gave him some support on WHERE to go forward. His trot was quite frantic, so I waited until he started dropping his head and clearing his nose before I asked him to come down to a walk. I let him walk out for a minute or two and then prepared to ask for him to take up into the trot again. When I rolled my knees open and brought my energy forward...nothing. So I whomped him again. I had to repeat this whole "whomp, hectic forward, relax into forward, back to walk" cycle twice more . By the fourth "whomp" I felt him thinking about cantering and allowed him to proceed. He got in about two canter strides before he pinned his ears and threw the biggest buck I think I've ever sat - not the "I need some air time to keep this canter" buck, as he has done before, but the kind of buck where you swear you hear his heels whistle past the sides of your head. I sat it, but he threw another in quick succession and then ducked low and sideways which pretty thoroughly unseated me.

So I dusted myself off, caught him, got back on and went back to it. We had one more round of him not taking the good deal of feeling for me to roll my knees open to invite him forward and I had to whomp him again, at which point he tried bucking a second time. I remember laughing as a sat and literally said aloud "Kid, this isn't going to work out well for you". He ended up running towards the fence and I let him almost hit it before he stopped short and continued on into a brisk trot. I let him carry that trot for a good five minutes before I asked him to come to a walk. Once he'd been on a loose rein for a few minutes, I halted him and asked for a few halt to walk transitions. He did those splendidly. We did one more transition, this time from halt to trot - this was also quite nice. I let him go forward a round or two and then stopped him, got off and patted him. We ended the day by playing some fetch, a game he quite enjoys.

Ride 2 - I spent a solid 10 minutes just bending him, moving this body part and that body part, asking him to step under with this hind leg and then that hind leg - just figuring out where he was stuck up and loosening those up as best I could before I asked him to flow forward. I believe it was a mistake on my part not to do this the first ride. We halted in the middle of the area and practiced several halt to walk transitions, all of which were lovely and relaxed. I then asked for a walk to trot. He didn't respond to my knees rolling open but he certainly noticed when my calves came off his side and he got forward off before any whomp was needed. His trot was still a bit hectic but better. He still needed some guidance from me as to WHERE to go - for some time I have been uncertain as to how much to support him because he will need to learn to just go forward on a totally slack rein, but knowing him and his unique set of "stuff" I have come to feel it's better to provide him a shorter rein with some slack but offer him more of a feel than to leave him with no guidance from the hand - he isn't educated enough on following the seat and leg yet for me to feel like it is fair to him. When he feels wholly better about just the forward piece, I can start working in the longer rein.

The thing that left me walking away from this ride smiling ear to ear was this: with the second upward transition from walk to trot, I felt him offer up a canter on the right rein, which again I allowed. His transition was fairly straight (especially for him, and especially considering the right lead is his hardest to maintain straight!) and relaxed, but once he was in it I felt him start to hump his back, saw his ears come back to me in a half-flattened, half listening way and say "I'm not sure about this, I might need to buck". I breathed out, sat deeper and set my right hand down, tipped his nose a bit to the inside and said aloud (to him, but probably more to myself!) "I don't think you need to do that". To my absolute delight, he not only "heard" me but believed me - the hump from his back came down, his ears perked up and he carried a lovely, consistent canter for two good-sized circles before his energy came down and he broke to a trot on his own. When I felt him coming down I decided against urging him on in the canter - it was SUCH a huge thing for this horse to accept my suggestion in the way he did that I decided it best to let him end with those really good feelings. We ended our session there. Even when I was taking off his tack, he was much more relaxed than I've seen him previously after a ride.

As a footnote to all of this, Dr. Deb gives me a bit more credit for being over that fear hump than I perhaps deserve. I was certainly not excited about the bucking! However I knew, as I walked over to get him after coming off, that if I did not get back on and commit to sitting through whatever he offered up (and knowing full well he'd probably try bucking again), I would never be able to authentically have the forward conversation with him again and worse, I'd have lied to him. I also knew that if he offered to buck again, I could not interfere - I had to commit to letting him try it, fail at it and take away that bucking wasn't going to solve anything for him. Hence why once I got back on and he proceeded to bucking again, I sat and let him almost run himself into a fence...and I fully admit it took a LOT for me to just sit there are go "OK, buddy, I'm here, but you've got to figure this out on your own".

Never has Tom's phrase "know what happens, before it happens so when it happens, you'll know what happened" carried so much weight for me!

Last edited on Thu Jan 31st, 2019 01:22 pm by Redmare

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This is so great! Thank you Redmare, for such a detailed discussion. I just pictured myself riding right along with you on this horse. It sounds like your doing the right things with him. Appreciate every one writing in here. It keeps my riding skills sharp in my mind, for when I do get another horse. Love it!
Thanks again,
Linda

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I agree with Linda! Thanks heaps Redmare for sharing this journey. Excellent stuff very meaningful to me.
Hope the cold weather goes away and you can get more horse time in.
Best Wishes
Judy

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Dear Redmare: Sorry it's taken me a day or two again to get back to you. And mainly what I want to say is:

THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU

-- For being willing to risk your neck to help the horse;

-- For getting back on in recognition that, IN THIS CASE, not to have done so would indeed have proven to the horse that you had been "lying to him", i.e., that you had reserved a secret zone of comfort, a point past which you would not go, for yourself when at the same time you were demanding that HE not make such a reservation, but instead give his all. You gave your all and meant to give your all: you went into the situation knowing that getting bucked off MIGHT happen, and if it did, you would be willing to totally go to the mat with the horse in order to bring him to a place of clarity so that he did not feel he had to do that anymore.

People who are reading this, and who may sort of not be where we're at in this area, could easily misunderstand that I'm cheering the fact that you got back on because it proved that you were willing to "discipline" him. What you did had nothing whatsoever to do with discipline in the sense of punishing the horse or "showing him who is boss." Instead, it has to do with the true meaning of charity: caritas, which means caring for the other more than one cares for herself.

Those who have not done something purely for love -- maybe they haven't had the chance, maybe they have so far been unable to bring themselves to take all the hits even when the situation isn't their fault -- will not understand this, but Redmare, I know you understand this: caritas gives almost infinite strength. One does not know this until the crucial moment, the moment when the voice inside you says, "by God, I am going to get back on, because that's what is necessary to help the horse." And people who are reading this and, again, just imagining what this is like because they haven't come to their opportunity to do it -- please, if that's you -- don't imagine that your own will has anything to do with it. A strength comes that is entirely from a higher power, and no one has any control over that, or any power to demand it; you can only obey it -- or not.

If this horse had not achieved clarity about the need to GO FREELY FORWARD when asked by the rider, and if you had not come along with the skills and the determination to help him get to that point, his life would not have ended well, and this is the ultimate justification for getting back on. Because horses who have this problem, which we might call "deep balkiness", every one of them, eventually, become rogue buckers that nobody can sit (and nobody should try, because it's gone too far, the horse is no longer innocently confused but has finally become expert, like a bull that has previously been fought and comes into the arena the second time with no intention of allowing himself to be torried, but instead merely waits his chance to kill the matador; they call these "bulls of sentido" which expresses it perfectly -- "sentido" means "he knows too much").

And these horses, like bulls of sentido, wind up hurting people; or else they fall into the hands of some woman who finds out he's dangerous to ride, and she is scared of him. And when it gets to that point, she then turns to nursing rather than horsemanship because she's too guilty to kill him, it's unethical to sell him, and she can't fix him -- which is, as I understood you previously, pretty much a description of the woman you got him from. Because you see -- you've saved her life, too in a sense -- there's nothing worse than starting out with the dream of glorious fun with horseback riding, and winding up spending the rest of your life making excuses for yourself and your horse, which is what "nursing" in the sense I'm speaking of it here amounts to: a kind of hell for the well-meaning.

Now, in advising you to give him the "go forward" lesson, I was of course hoping that he would not buck, because indeed most of the horses that have this problem don't, as I mentioned. And I think we can draw the conclusion from the fact that he did buck, in other words, he more or less strenuously objected, that there is indeed a degree of physical discomfort for this horse when he pushes off his hocks. We had said that previously and this is further indication.

However, I also agree with you that there's another, and probably even more important factor driving his objections, and that factor is mental and emotional confusion: the horse simply was never broke out properly, he was not taught to "go freely forward" from Day One, and then he got into the hands of somebody, or maybe a whole series of people, who clutched up every time the poor beast did try to go freely forward. And there may also have been the very common upside-down approach to training, which comes from the rider's ambition to compete and the instructor's ignorance of what horses are all about -- so that there is too much instruction to hold a firm outside rein, get the nose to tuck, get the horse to bridle, have him in collection -- all, from the horse's point of view, merely thwarting every effort he makes to GO FREELY FORWARD. The old cavalrymen used to say that no horse should be ridden in an arena until he had been thoroughly hunted across country for several seasons, because until going freely forward becomes what they expect to do, collection is not by any means possible. The very first things have to be installed FIRST:"go freely forward when asked", "go straight by pushing equally off the hind legs", and "obedience is always followed by rest and release."

For many horses, any great or deep change in what they're used to -- no matter how bad what they've been used to was -- causes them confusion and some of them, it actually makes them mad. And of course, if what had been going on before more or less allowed the horse to run the situation, to cheat his rider because the rider could be counted on to say "Oh, well, that was good enough, we'll tolerate that" -- and you come along and tell him, "no buddy, that's not the way it's going to be anymore" -- then the poor horse starts bawling like a hungry steer because he thinks he's gone from the frying pan into the fire and can't imagine how what you're telling him could work out for him to be the best deal in the world, in the end.

So -- maybe it's not been possible for you to ride this week, as we look at the weather map and see there's a horrible deep freeze out where you are. But when the ground thaws out some and it dries up enough that the mud isn't slick, and the temperature gets above freezing and you want to work with him some more, I suggest that a very good way to reinforce what you have now taught him, and tell him again in another way that you're no liar, is to start him on longeing over cavalletti with little one to two-foot jumps at odd intervals.

The idea here is to teach him to make a good upward transition, followed by the even more important down transition. Start him up halt to walk, then walk to trot, then trot to walk, reverse at the walk without halting, and then trot again. Many repetitions. You can do it on longe line, on 12-ft. lead, or at liberty in roundpen. Each session, keep him moving long enough to breathe him some, so that he's glad but also somewhat exhilarated when you call him to you for rest and petting. The many reps will serve to condition those achy hocks, while also installing "go freely forward". As he improves (and as the weather and the footing improve!) add trot-canter and canter-trot transitions.

Start him off the cavalletti grid, at the beginning or warmup part of the session. Then move him onto the grid. I'm primarily thinking here of having him on the longe line, since the roundpen is a bit crowded to try to work both on and off the grid, and the 12-ft. lead will cause you to have to run yourself in order to get over the whole grid. Set the grid up with sets of four poles. If you only have four, fine; set them up in an arc up near one end of the arena. If you have eight, put the second four at the other end. Arc them, so that their outer ends are farther apart than their inner ends; that way, when moving himself in an arc because he's on the longe line, the horse will not have to compensate for the poles not being in an arc.

If you have eight poles, put a low jump, beginning at one foot high, in the position of a fifth ground pole at the end of one set of four. Start him on the set that doesn't have the jump.

Remember that ground pole/cavalletti work is harder for the horse than it looks, so build your repetitions gradually. A normal horse can start at four passes over the grid going to the right, followed by four passes to the left. Then add one or two passes each day you practice this. I would do cavalletti with most horses two or three days per week, and on those days I would normally still ride him afterwards but would not make the ride as demanding. Cavalletti work followed by trailride is nice, or you can follow it with some lateral work at the walk in the arena, i.e. stuff that doesn't put too heavy a demand on his "push off" but that does work on straightness. And no matter what I did for groundwork and/or riding, when I get off then it's time to work on bowing, "fetch", or some peace and quiet by stepping up onto the circus drum.

We highly value your correspondence here, Redmare, and I look forward to getting your next report. At this point, a whole lot of things are liable to begin falling into place -- so fundamental and far-reaching is success at teaching "go freely forward." -- Dr. Deb




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Dr. Deb, as usual, thank you so much for you detailed response(s) and encouragement. I am so grateful that this online classroom exists and that you are so willing to give information and help so freely.

I've been on the gelding a couple more times since I last posted as temperatures have yo-yo'd, he continues to slowly get better about the forward. He has only offered the canter on the right rein, which I find interesting (edited to say: perhaps not so interesting after all! If he prefers to weight the left hind, it makes sense he'd find the right lead canter a tad easier, because it is the outside hind that I'd be asking him to initiate the transition off of, even if my "ask" in this case is not much more than "hey, here, yes, go forward, please"). I also find it interesting that now he has taken to offering the canter, being allowed into it, getting nervous, we have the "you don't need to do that" conversation (although it is much more subtle now, he has not offered or shown he's thinking about bucking, just that he's concerned or still muddled as to his feelings about being so forward) and when he breaks from the canter into the trot, he goes a few strides of trot before he goes to canter again. I think he may actually be coming down, realizing his balance is too much on the forehand and speeding up to regain his balance...it's a bit of a knife's edge, because I do not want him to continue so on the forehand, but at the end of the day I feel it's better to ALWAYS allow him to think that the way out of the situation - at least for right now - is freely forward, even if I'm going to eventually be educating him further on the MANNER of how he goes forward later on.

I have also extrapolated some of what we talked about earlier in this thread about the 'S' curve he carries in his neck tracking left and have started to use the corrective upward left rein to get him to remove the kink from his poll and just create the 'cranky C' as you called it. He has not appreciated this one bit - even though it meant I was literally telling him "here, you can do what you wanted to do before and throw all your weight on your right shoulder if you'd just remove that kink right there". I have been using this same correction to get him to stop weighting the right shoulder so heavily when he is in the right rein, and it's worked beautifully in that respect, so I do think that his irritation with my trying to remove that kink whilst in the left rein is because he genuinely has some pain when he releases the right side of his jaw and relaxes evenly into the bend. I've been doing some massage work on his right poll for about a month now - what started as a desire to fly backwards if I even so much as placed my hand behind his right eye has turned into him begging for me to help him release the tension he holds there, which is so, SO wonderful to see coming from such a defensive horse.

I am very excited to try the cavalletti work - I was actually reading just the other day about ways to help horses with a jarring, jack-hammer-y trot (which, oh boy, does this horse have) and the author of the article discussed using pole work to encourage the horse to engage, lift and release the thoracic sling, so I'm thrilled that this is something you suggested we start playing with and that it appears I'll be killing more than one metaphorical bird by doing it.

Thank you so much, again - I'll be sure to try and get some pictures of our work to share.

Last edited on Wed Feb 6th, 2019 12:38 pm by Redmare

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OK Dr. Deb, back again, and hoping you may have some wisdom to offer. I enjoy this gelding immensely, but he has me downright befuddled at times. I had to look up the term "Gordian knot", and I have to say, that is a fantastic description of this horse!

I have done lunge work 4-5 times in the last 10 days or so. I borrowed a friend's lunging cavesson with the three-ringed noseband so that I could have a bit more control over the lateral flexion in his poll. This has worked very well. I have introduced him to the cavalletti work as you suggested and he has done fairly well with this.

I have only gotten on after cavalletti work twice, the second time being today.

The last two groundwork sessions, I have had to spend quite a bit of time educating this horse surrounding a particular thing he likes to do. Tracking to the left ONLY, he tends to get irritated and bolt forward into a canter with no cue or indication from me that I'd like him to make that transition. For a while I've ignored this, not encouraged this frantic change, and just waiting until he settles back into a trot on his own. This wasn't working, so a couple days ago we spent a solid 20 minutes having a discussion around this agitated desire to bolt off. I pulled another trick from Mike Schaffer and when the gelding did this, I ran parallel with him and let him hit the arena wall. It took him quite few tries at this before he realized he could keep trying it, or he could knock it off and just carry himself in the gait I had asked him to adopt. We ended that particular session with a few circles of calm, stretchy trot, at which point I called him into me and called it a night.

This lesson appears to have stuck as he did not offer to try it today. He's starting to make some really lovely, fluid transitions, especially from trot to canter, and he's starting to do so without a grumpy, irritated expression on his face (even just being out on the line, in addition to transitions, this gelding carries a grumpy, irritated expression and when asked to carry his energy up, his expression gets even grumpier - I have made a note of this but not "done" anything about it because I believe it is largely due to his ill feelings about A) going forward freely, and B) the likelihood that he has twinge-y hocks when he does. I imagined it would take care of itself in time).

So I decided to get on and figured we'd play with some easy, large figure eights and drifting lines at the walk. Much to my surprise, it was as if we were back to square one (not even, more like square negative five!) He was crabby, touchy and two or three times, from the walk, decided to take off into a crabby canter and immediately attempted to buck. I did not ask for anything any of those times - I was just sitting, going along with him at the walk. I finally got him soft enough that I could get one soft(ish) upward transition to trot, let out my outside rein and just kept the inside rein short enough that I could bend him if I needed to and let him go forward in a decent trot for a few minutes. During that time I could feel him wanting to go into his buck-y canter - it did not feel to me like a desire to go more forward, but more like a desire to be rid of me. This is the first time I have ever felt this from this gelding. We ended the day with some fetch, but I felt a bit disheartened and quite perplexed when I put him away.

There are a few things I can think of that might explain all this:

1) what I have been asking of him these past couple weeks has been - in his mind - too much, either physically, mentally or perhaps both, and he is saying "Redmare, I can't do this much"

2) this is a, in a somewhat to-be-expected way, non-linear progression of a horse who has deep, deep insecurities and confusion about what forward means, what balance means, and he is (exactly as you said in an earlier post, and this metaphor has stuck with me when I work with him) "bawling like a hungry steer" and genuinely mad because he cannot fathom how this is a better deal for him...OR...

3) there is a potentially a tack fit issue at play (and this may be in conjunction with either #1, #2 or even both). I only mention this because I have noticed that his fits of bucking happen only in the right rein, and I have noticed that his saddle has started to slide back a bit during the course of our rides. I put it on him today with no pad and took a look, and I do think that he may have bulked up enough in the past year or so that the saddle may be possibly pinching him behind the shoulder, and now that I am demanding from him that he not go crooked, he's finding he's getting bitten by the tack when he does get straight.

I know you like students to have specific questions when they write in, and I am trying to formulate exactly what I am asking, but as we have talked about, this horse has so many layers of junk it feels sometimes as though I'm playing a perpetual game of whack-a-mole! So I suppose I am asking - does any of what I am writing in about strike you and if so, do you have advice as to whether I should just continue to proceed as I have been and gauge him daily, or if I need to change course. I am going to see if I can borrow some saddles and try him in ones other than what he came with and see if that makes a difference, but deep down while that may be a piece of this, I don't think it is "the big picture", so to speak.

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Redmare, of all the possibilities you present, the first one I'd go for is: you're trying to do too much, or accomplish too much, in a short time. My main advice is for you to listen more to what the horse is telling you and stay BEHIND that line where the grumpy expression seems to need to manifest.

The sudden, unexpected and un-cued running off/bucking smacks exactly of one of two things: either this guy has a 19th rib on the right side, which is catching him a good muscle-spasm at odd times -- this feels to the horse exactly like someone is stabbing him in the back with a stiletto. Or else, there is indeed a tack-fit issue and we can sure hope that it is that rather than the other, because tack fit is more fixable.

Not that the other isn't; I witnessed Tom Dorrance teach a very competent and experienced rider, who had a horse who would do this and who did indeed have a 19th rib, to "feel it coming" and how to ride out of it, how to deflect it, so that she never got the horse into a position again, where he felt the "stab". And I learned so much from watching Tom teach this that -- I also had a neighbor who had a horse of the same bloodline as the first gal, who also probably had inherited the 19th rib, and who used to regularly buck its owner off. And she asked me to ride him and, as I said, I learned this so well by watching Tom that I also learned to feel it coming and how to just make sure we never went into any bend deeper than the gelding could handle without getting his ribs crossed and thus inducing the spasm. This does NOT mean we were "tippy toeing" around what the gelding liked or did not like; it means that I learned to PAY ATTENTION TO MY HORSE while riding him, so that I was constantly tuned in to his feedback. This is helpful not only on those that would run and buck, but on any horse, as it is the REAL basis for safety on horseback, helmets be damned!

LIkewise, at the Tom Dorrance benefit I borrowed a horse to ride because I did not have a truck or trailer or any way to haul my own horse to Fort Worth to ride under Ray's eye that week, so I borrowed the first one I could get ahold of, off another person who had brought in two. And this horse's owner was all about telling me this big sob story about him, that he'd been jumped on by a cougar as a foal and had a lot of scarring on one side so he couldn't turn right. Load of bullshit. By the time we got out of Ray's class, and that was about an hour and a half, I had him doing ten-meter turns to both hands very fluidly. One cannot accomplish this without constantly monitoring the horse's reactions.

Every ride we take is a conversation. It begins oftentimes with the rider laying out proposition "A" or asking question "A" of the horse. The horse then responds with "B". Or maybe "X", "Q", or "P" -- one never knows! But what is essential is that the rider know whether it WAS B, X, Q, or P -- and damned helpful too, if the rider has a good response in her toolbox which would be the appropriate reply to B, X, Q, or P and obviously it ain't gonna be the same response. We respond to his response, in other words, and so the conversation proceeds.

So my main counsel to you, again, is -- slow down some and just get into the mindframe of "let's see how he'll respond to this one single 'ask'". Do ONE THING at a time, and have a very clear, single focus for each ride. In other words don't say to yourself, "oh, let's do some lateral work" because that isn't nearly specific enough.

The devil is in the details here I think. Yes he is having twinges of pain -- not enough to quit riding him over and remember, it is actually good for what ails him to be ridden because it forces him to move those achy joints, and the more he moves them the less they will ache. The worst thing in the world for this horse would be to just stand around in a pen or stall.

And yes he is confused and all that, but if you'll slow down as I mentioned, and just pick one single thing each session to work on, the confusion will change into enjoyment.

The other suggestion is for you to make your sessions shorter. Don't get tempted to repeat anything "to reinforce it" -- the horse is going to see this as punishment, because if he gets it right the first time, why then, he got it right and that's where you quit. Horses do not need to repeat things over and over in order to learn them, as anyone who has ever owned a Houdini that has taught himself to open gate-latches knows.

And by all means, if you haven't got a copy of Dave Genadek's "About Saddle Fit" video, then go to http://www.aboutthehorse.com and purchase it for cheap money. He sells it at cost and it's the beginning of everybody's empowerment on how to "tell" when a saddle fits or doesn't. I can't give you any more help on that than your own eye and hands can say -- you'll have to feel, look, shift things around, try other saddles, and maybe talk to Dave on the phone.

Keep writing in, please....and be cautious for your own sake, because even though you are a much more competent and qualified trainer than many others, I don't want you getting hurt either. If you  have doubts as to your ability to tell ahead of time what this horse is going to do before he does it, then stick with ground work as a sure way to iron out the difficulties, even if doing it that way may take somewhat longer. -- Dr. Deb




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I am generally a fan of Occam's Razor when it comes to problem solving so I'm going to venture (at my own peril!) that this horse does not have a 19th rib, given all I know about him and the timing of this presentation of random bucking/attempted bucking fits. BUT - I will keep that in the back of my mind, given this is probably the first time in his life he's been posed the sorts of questions I'm asking him regarding bend and straightness.

I am ashamed to admit I do not own a copy of David's DVD - I'll order that this week.

Yes, I am probably doing too much, in more than one sense. As I read your response, I couldn't help but smile because I remembered a clinic I audited a year or so back where someone had a beautiful custom-made Wade saddle, and when she rode by us I noticed that tooled on the back of the cantle were the words "Do Less". I remember smiling then, too, because I knew exactly what that meant, and her horse demonstrated she lived those words. I will continue to endeavor to do the same.

Thank you again for all your help. Hopefully next time I write in I'll have some pictures to share.

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Back with an update, although it's less of an update as not much has changed, but that in and of itself is useful, I think.

So this gelding continues to be buck-y - as much as I have tried to stay behind that point at which he thinks he needs to buck, I haven't always been successful. He also has taken to shaking his head when I put the saddle on - the saddle fit has been addressed although after investigating it further I don't think it was as much a factor as I thought it might have or could have been - if anything, it was more a factor for ME because this horse gets very upset if your balance is off and you don't realize until you sit in a well-balance saddle how much you are fighting your own tack (and how much of a problem this might pose for your horse!) So I see the head shaking (and this happens whether I tie him or tack up at liberty) as more of an indication that this horse is generally not looking forward to being ridden, which I'm hoping to slowly change.

What HAS become really, really obvious is that this horse's jaw/poll are a serious bother for him - I now wonder if part of his drastic response to the "womp lesson" is because in his eyes, he literally does not know/feel comfortable arranging his body parts in a way that makes going forward easy and so my pretty firm demand that he get forward off my leg was quite unfair. There is very obviously a serious block, both physically and energetically, at his right jaw and even with continued work on the ground to teach him how to release and twirl his head left he holds pretty strongly onto that desire to travel (and even stand, when at his leisure) with an "S" curve in his neck. Basically every time I go out to see him I do some kind of manual work on that area and lately it's been met with a LOT more lip/mouth flapping/play, jaw "switching", head tossing/nodding or shaking, yawning, etc. At this point, I see any indication from him to try and release as a good thing, even if it's just him bobbing his head after I take my hands off him - it's movement, and at this point it's beneficial.

Dr. Deb, I've done the Google search through the forum for horses bucking in response to TMJ/poll pain and found a thread or two on it but it didn't sound like this is likely to be a direct reason for the bucking. I had his teeth checked and floated about 10 days or so ago and there was nothing other than routine work to be done, so it's not tooth related. I've gone back to basics and really put more focus on setting him up for straightness - we've talked about this horse needing really concrete examples and my gut tells me I haven't been setting him up well enough to, say, go from walk to trot STRAIGHT, which has contributed to his bogginess to the leg and then his frustration when I womped him.

I am curious if you have any suggestions/thoughts on the TMJ/poll updates - I've been riding this horse for the better part of three years and throughout those three years that anatomical area keeps resurfacing. I think I should probably pay it some good attention now.

Last edited on Wed Mar 13th, 2019 04:51 pm by Redmare

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Redmare, I'm running out of options I am afraid. My very first reaction to this report of yours would have been to say "check the teeth" -- not for something simple and small like "points" but for a protuberant rear cheek tooth. Horses sometimes develop these so-called "hooks", which can become so high above the normal level of the chewing surface that whenever the horse closes its mouth, the "hook" gouges the opposing gum. Be aware that not all practitioners, especially not all veterinarians, have the training to recognize this; and some veterinarians, I am sorry to say, refuse to acknowledge that such a condition would be something abnormal and requiring treatment --  the treatment being the reduction of the offending tooth to the proper level and/or its extraction. If your practitioner does not use a speculum and IV drugs to facilitate thorough manual examination of the mouth, all the way to the back, then I would encourage you to obtain a second opinion from another and more qualified practitioner.

Note that it is rare for a horse to develop rear "hooks" without also developing corresponding, although sometimes smaller, "hooks" at the front end of the cheek dentition. So for example if the grossly protuberant tooth is the last cheek tooth from the lower jaw, there will almost certainly be at least a small "hook" also on the first cheek tooth of the upper jaw. Almost always also, this is bilateral; indeed I've never seen a case where it was unilateral apart from some other injury, i.e. a fractured jaw and that's not what you have.

I bring this up because you yourself can examine the front end of the horse's mouth -- just don't put your hand in there where he can bite off your thumb. Either wear a miner's head lamp, or else have a friend standing behind you and to one side with a flashlight. Part the horse's lips with one hand and, using your other hand, draw the commissure on one side back into a "grin" which will make the anterior aspect of the first cheek tooth visible. If you see a hook, i.e. the front end of the upper cheek tooth overhanging the front end of the lower cheek tooth -- you have excellent reason to be calling for that second practitioner. Indeed more than excellent, because this particular configuration, if indeed it goes with a big hook at the rear of the mouth, not only makes it difficult and painful for the horse to turn its head, but is also extremely dangerous to the rider insofar as the mouthpiece of the bit can ride up the tongue/bars and get caught under the overhanging front "hook". Horses with this configuration, if the bit gets caught under the tooth this way, not infrequently suddenly rear and may even flip over backwards.

The other thing I want to say to you is, don't feel guilty about whomping him. You are not being unfair; you are in the process of diagnosis and that means, you are going to have to be provocative, sometimes, in order to get feedback from him that helps you figure out what's going on. You whomped him in order to help him. It is never wrong to ask horses to properly rise to the leg, and I don't care what their medical status is -- they still must be brought to a viewpoint where they care about what you care about MORE than they care about what they care about. If you get into feeling guilty, even if the horse is in fact experiencing significant pain and not just twinges, you're going to start conveying to him -- whether you intend to or not -- the sort of tentativeness that will cause him to up the ante on his end. You do not want to get to this place, because if you do, you'll have to kill him as a rogue -- and you know this.

We have had a very few really intractable cases over the years. Harry Whitney had a horse called 'Turbo' that he could just never get right -- the horse came in as explosive, and we tried everything we could think of, but Harry at last felt it necessary to lead him out into the desert and shoot him -- because he was a misery to himself and dangerous to everybody, including Harry. One cannot ethically sell a horse that one knows is dangerous.

One other suggestion we might try -- shy of shooting yours -- is to have a wee consult with my New Zealand sponsor, Jenny Paterson. Jenny has been involved with trace-nutrient research for a number of years. Her experiments are not "official", in that we are not talking here about formal double-blind testing. However, there is a good amount of anecdotal testimony from Jenny's customers who use her proprietary mineral mixes and follow her recommendations concerning pasture management, to say that their horses become "normally" calm and flexible after the management changes she recommends. The change is sometimes quite dramatic.

So, the next thing for me to ask you is -- you have been massaging and/or manipulating this horse. Does his muscle tone feel "normal" to you? Are his reactions to light touch, or sudden touch, or IM injections given without the horse being tranquilized -- are these reactions what you would call normal? Is he "explosive" or hyper-reactive just when you are interacting with him on the ground? Is the stiffness you notice at the poll related to muscle-tone which seems abnormal to you? Does he ever exhibit tetanic or clonic-like muscle-tone, like as if he was "tying up" only not in the hindquarters but in the neck? Has the vet who did the dentistry mentioned to you that it was hard to open the horse's jaw, or that he didn't seem able to open the jaw all the way or as far as other horses? When you longe this horse, I know you've said he sometimes goes with a long fluid stride, but are there other times when he seems proppy and stiffly short-strided?

Also: can you correlate his bucky-ness with the condition of your pasture? This would be, can you correlate it with the season of the year -- is it worse in spring, fall, etc? Second, can you correlate it with rainfall -- is it worse in summer when the pasture grass is dormant, but then you get a rainstorm and the grass "wakes up" -- is it worse after the rainfall? Jenny is going to ask these same questions if/when you speak to her. Do EMail her by writing info@calmhealthyhorses.com and tell her that I sent you. You can also review her website by going to http://www.calmhealthyhorses.com. And yes she is in business to sell her minerals, but a more  un-greedy person you will never meet, similar to our friend Dave Genadek in the saddle department.

Meanwhile -- be careful. I'm not thrilled with the fact that the horse continues to buck, because the last thing we need is for his only helper in this life to get hurt. As I advised before, I would sure put the emphasis on ground work and make sure to have him very well softened up before you consider getting on him per any given day. Sometimes this is all you can do until the horse gives more evidence so that we have a clear direction for what to try next. Let me know what emerges when you talk with Jenny, and anything you find by a second oral exam. -- Dr. Deb


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Thank you for the reminder to not feel guilty - I wouldn't say I feel guilty over whomping him, but I do have a growing sense of frustration/disappointment that I haven't been able to get through to him to help him. But that's really more about me than him, and I need to remind myself that all of this is indeed diagnostic.

I will have another dental practitioner out - this gelding was sedated used Dorm gel for the most recent float but the layfloater did not end up putting the speculum in because the horse did not appear even close to fully sedate even after 50+ minutes post-administration, and she didn't want him fighting the speculum as he's already so defensive about you messing with his head/mouth. She did the kind of exam you are suggesting I do and manually floated down a couple sharp points but said she did not see or feel anything further. However, it was not anywhere close to the type of exam you are describing, so best I have a vet out to do the IV. I will take a look in his mouth myself tomorrow as well.

As for your questions:

Does his muscle tone feel "normal" to you?
- Throughout most of his body, yes. In his neck and his right masseter/jaw, no. It's ropey, "piano keys", we call it, similar to what you feel on a horse who braces on the top of his neck and develops that hard, striated trapezius. His neck, despite having taken a nice shape over the last couple of years, is also hard and kind of "lumpy". Even gentle grooming there causes him to stiffen and move his head and neck away from you.

Are his reactions to light touch, or sudden touch, or IM injections given without the horse being tranquilized -- are these reactions what you would call normal?
- Again, area specific. We have no problem with IM injections given anywhere or touching any area of this horse's body until you get to his R side neck and face. He tends to immediately brace/lift his head and neck or move them away from you when you go to touch his face. He will often try and avoid contact with his face by ducking around with his head, bringing his chin to his chest to avoid you making contact, etc. When you go to firmly take his head in your hands, he often twitches his lips up.

Is he "explosive" or hyper-reactive just when you are interacting with him on the ground?
...this is hard to answer. Sometimes, often, even, yes he is. He does not often relax when tied - he stays rigid and alert instead of dropping a hip and cocking a leg and letting his ears go into a 'V'. When you untie him to go to doing something, he starts off quite "yellow" as we say out here - not sensitive, slow to get going, etc. When you raise your energy up to say "Hey, you paying attention? I asked you a question" he gets resentful and that's when the ears go back, he gets cranky and often gets over-reactive. This is what I mean when I say it's been hard to stay behind that line of where he gets resentful. It is the same way when you correct him strongly, both on the ground and under saddle. It's almost like it sends him into a frantic tizzy that he can't find his way back down from because he's almost not processing the release, just focused on the correction that occurred prior.

Is the stiffness you notice at the poll related to muscle-tone which seems abnormal to you?
- It certainly doesn't feel "normal" in the sense that it doesn't feel like normal, healthy musculature. It feels almost swollen - not like a hot soft tissue injury in a lower limb, but like a persistent fullness to the area directly behind his ears through the rectus capitis group that he really does not like palpated.

Does he ever exhibit tetanic or clonic-like muscle-tone, like as if he was "tying up" only not in the hindquarters but in the neck?
- I have never seen this on him, no.

Has the vet who did the dentistry mentioned to you that it was hard to open the horse's jaw, or that he didn't seem able to open the jaw all the way or as far as other horses?
- In not so many words, but yes, she did say he felt quite resistant to having her put her hand in his mouth, which is why she didn't end up using the speculum to float him because he was not fully sedate and was on the border of fighting her when she went to do an oral exam. As much was obvious just watching - he wanted to keep his head high and tried flipping it up and away or backing up when she went to open his jaw to view his mouth.

When you longe this horse, I know you've said he sometimes goes with a long fluid stride, but are there other times when he seems proppy and stiffly short-strided?
- At times, yes. But it almost always correlates with when he gets budged up in his neck. For example, I might have him on a 20 meter circle around me asking him to step out onto the outside pair of legs and soften his nose down and rotate his inside eye towards me so he's slightly laterally flexed at the poll. He finds this difficult and gets stuffed up and cranky in his neck before he releases and relaxes. This in turn changes his gait from forward and relatively fluid to stiff and short for the few strides it takes him to figure it out.

Also: can you correlate his bucky-ness with the condition of your pasture? This would be, can you correlate it with the season of the year -- is it worse in spring, fall, etc? Second, can you correlate it with rainfall -- is it worse in summer when the pasture grass is dormant, but then you get a rainstorm and the grass "wakes up" -- is it worse after the rainfall?
- I can't correlate it at all, because this only started happening with the "whomp" lesson a few weeks back. This horse has otherwise never shown a propensity for bucking (which the exception, early on, of needing those little crow hop bucks to get enough airtime to organize his feet in canter...it's been some time since he's needed that). Right now, of course, the ground is frozen and there is no pasture. His hay is grown on the same farm he lives at - I can even actually say that his hay has been coming from one particular field all winter, although I know that even in one field vegetation can vary quite a bit.

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Can't find the new topic button.. Rats.
best
Bruce Peek

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Bruce, look at the upper right-hand corner of the Forum Home Page. Cheers - Dr. Deb

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I thought I'd come back and update about this gelding, as we are making good progress although I've taken a different way of getting there.

We have talked before about how this horse really - more than any other horse I have ever worked with - needs concrete examples. In that same vein, he also needs, I'd even say requires, perfect preparation. He does not have any tolerance for poor balance from his rider and if he feels ill-prepared for something you ask of him his response is to immediately get defensive. He is not particularly generous with his rider, although this is ever-so-slowly starting to shift.

A few weeks into this lesson of forward-when-I-ask and I was still getting frustration from the gelding and bucking in the canter. So I called a friend of mine who is quite talented at being that "second set of eyes" on the ground - she watched us go and helped me make some small but very meaningful shifts in my position so I was more with him. This has helped tremendously in all our ridden work since.

This friend is also very familiar with and practices horsemanship in the way of Ray Hunt, et al, and as we were chatting in the parking lot after my ride mentioned something that put into perfect clarify what I had been FEELING but unable to actual put my finger on. She said his upward transition to canter reminded her of those old cartoons where the horse gallops off but all you see is a blurred cloud of frantically moving limbs. I ruminated on this comment for some time because that is literally what the transitions feel like - you haven't even asked and he anticipates it so much it's suddenly already happened and he's crooked and messy and getting ready to buck.

So we've spent the last couple of months working on transitions of all kinds. I had recalled a thread from this BB where Dr. Deb mentioned using your "plasma leg" to channel energy down to the horse's outside hind in the upwards transition to canter and have been using this imagery in my riding to help him understand what leg I'm talking to and how I'm expecting him to use himself. It took several sessions of him fussing and backing and flailing about and doing everything he could think of to not specifically weight the leg I was talking to before he started to give up and at least try and offer what I wanted. I think this it part and parcel to his sore hocks, but it is also I strongly believe a function of how unsure he is.

I've been playing with this imagery/feel and asking for transitions initiated from specific legs in everything from a turn on the forehand to leg yields to transitions to trot from both the walk and the halt. It has DRAMATICALLY improved his transitions in the halt, walk and trot. I decided from the get-go that I would commit to not actually asking for the canter until this gelding could give me an "almost-canter" from the halt - i.e., that I could, from the halt, ask for him to not only weight but push off from the outside hind with enough power that his forehand rose up like it would in a canter depart, and he would continue forward in a trot. I got my first inkling of this - without frustration coming through on the horse's end - in a ride earlier this week.

I have also, as much as I've been able to with all the rain we've been getting here in the Northeast, take this horse out on decent hacks. We do anywhere between 5-8 miles in a hack, all at a marching 6-7 mph walk. This has also done wonders for this horse physically.

I've attached a still from a video my husband took about a month ago of some of our trot work. This has been quite the journey but it's been immensely eye opening and very rewarding to see this gelding go through so much physical and mental change.

Attachment: Soni2.jpg (Downloaded 80 times)

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Thank you for sharing the update, Redmare. I was wondering how the gelding was going and it is nice to see the journey continues. Please keep us posted as we are learning lots from this thread.
Kind Regards
Judy

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Redmare, before I could reply to you I needed to go back through this whole thread to see whether we had talked about hustling. Turns out we had not. It is always extremely helpful to get a photo posted. Your descriptions are always excellent but even they can't tell me what one glance at the image you posted told me.

One of the primary, simplest, and commonest causes of anxiety in ridden horses is that the horse feels that it is being hustled. What I mean by this is that the animal feels that it does not have enough time to get its feet where they need to be before momentum, or the swinging action of the other feet, cause it to either lose its balance or else interfere.

When I say 'lose its balance' in this case I specifically mean that when we hustle the horse, we are actually pushing him off balance from back to front.

When I suggested to you early in this conversation that the gelding needed to go FREELY forward, I did not mean that he was to hurry. What I meant was that we need to get the 'brakes' to come off, so that the wheels turn fluidly. But it is SOOOOOO easy to fall into hustling the horse in the effort to get the brakes to loosen up.

However, nonetheless -- there is NO relationship between speed of movement and getting the horse to loosen up, turn loose of itself, and let off the brakes. The 'brakes' are under the control of the animal's Birdie -- in other words, by metaphor, its will and its desires. So that, if we go to pushing pushing pushing to GO FORWARD in the ucky dressage sense of that phrase, we are actually making the situation worse, because when we hustle him, we make it harder for him to maintain his balance, we reduce his confidence, we may frighten or at least worry him quite a bit, and none of those is going to cause him to want to be with us more than he wants to be anywhere else -- which is when, and only when, the brakes will fully come unstuck.

I have made a tracing of your video still which should help to bring this home to you: you're pushing him just like a dressage rider and that needs to stop immediately. I post in the following a photo of me and Painty horse trotting in collection, on draping reins, with total power but also with complete relaxation and inner OKness. No hustle at all.

I don't know what your friend told you exactly because you didn't say -- i.e. did she tell you to half-stand in your stirrups in order to get weight off his loins? Is this what you see me doing on Painty? No. I sit flat down on my fat butt. My spine is vertical, which to the rider feels like they are leaning back just a hair; sit so 'straight up' that the abdominal muscles are a little bit engaged. At the same time, the small of my back is flat. I sit all the time as if I were seated behind and below my horse; that way, he is always ahead of my leg and this gives me the greatest potential to get him to respond full-heartedly to very light aids.

Also note differences in the position of the hands. You do have a bend in the elbows and the thumbs up -- that's the right way -- but I would advise still more bend in the elbows. Your hands need to be carried at the level of the natural waist, i.e. above your horn, at all times unless you're specifically doing something with a tool or a lariat that requires you to reach down.

It is absolutely, categorically not possible to raise the base of a horse's neck when either: (1) You are in any manner, even subtly, pulling his head down; or (2) When you disallow him to have his forehead on such an angle that the projection of a line drawn down his forehead falls in front of the fore hoof, at all moments. In other words, you are pulling him together, and this must also stop immediately.

If you ask him to go, and he goes but starts to speed up, TURN. And using only the inside rein, hold him to this turn until he regains his balance. Then, go back to the lightest possible feel on both reins. This is the only way the horse will ever learn to maintain its own balance, that is, the only way it will ever achieve self-carriage.

I am pleased that you're working more with transitions. I suggested this in the 2nd reply in this thread, way back on the first page. The trot is a lousy gait for teaching either self-carriage or collection, but it is especially lousy when the rider is hustling the horse. SLOW DOWN. SLOW WAY DOWN. Find a speed (miles per hour) and tempo (number of footfalls per minute) at the trot that the horse can do and (1) not lose its balance or only very rarely, and (2) where he feels relaxed the whole time.

The idea is to get him to trot UP not speed up. You want more bounce and no hustle. Softness must be there before anyone can have a license for speed.

When he's in a soft, relaxed trot then ask for canter. Canter twenty beats and then transition down, dropping right through trot into walk and make it a very "forward" or vigorous walk. Rest there, then get the soft powerful trot again and repeat.

I think now we are getting close to knowing what's been bugging this guy -- the simplest and most obvious of all errors, and I am very sorry that I did not perceive it just from your initial descriptions. But the photo tells me more than anything else could possibly other than coaching you directly in person. Cheers, and see photo below -- Dr. Deb



Attachment: FORUM Redmare difficult gelding trot sm.jpg (Downloaded 55 times)

DrDeb
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Painty and me in 2003. He was in his 27th year when this photo was taken. It took a long time to get Painty OK enough to manifest this much softness combined with power. Note the great coiling of Painty's loins and the deep bending of all the joints of the hind limb. Had I asked him to canter on specified lead, he could and did take the canter with equal power and softness in the next instant.

Please note the subtle difference in shape of Painty's neck vs. your difficult gelding....I am causing Painty to raise the base of his neck by touches of my calves against his sides, which causes him first to raise his back, second to coil his loins, and third to raise the base of his neck. Note the very long 'topline' through the neck that this produces, and that Painty's head HANGS plumb vertical. I say 'hangs' because that is what it is literally doing -- just loosely hinging off the front end of his neck.

Attachment: FORUM Deb Painty Powerful Relaxation sm.jpg (Downloaded 54 times)

Redmare
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As usual, I thank you for your honest feedback (and certainly no need for apologies - such are the limitations of not seeing someone in person). I certainly have NEVER set out to intentionally hustle him, and I understood you earlier in the beginning of this thread when you did mention that we are not interested in speed at all (as I think I also did mention at some point that I feared that the horse felt like I was rushing him given how he acting every time I had to womp him, even though that was not the lesson I was aiming to teach him). So yes, I think I understand better now - as you say - how easy it is to unknowingly cross that line of hustling the horse when you are trying to teach him to come off his internal brakes.

Your explanation as to the rider positioning is very helpful - my friend did not describe anything like what you suggested (though looking closer at the photo I posted I know why you picked those things out) Her recommendations were more about helping me relax my hip flexors and lower leg so it becomes more secure while properly engaging my abs. I have had to retrain myself as to how to properly engage my abdominals after a recent round of physical therapy for chronic pelvic floor pain that had started to creep into my psoas muscles and I sometimes found riding aggravating so I unwittingly developed some poor posture habits. You bet those habits were becoming annoying to this gelding.

That said, his transitions upward have improved tremendously. What I now need to focus on, as you said, is maintaining the slow, soft trot (or slow, soft whatever-gait-I-am-working-on). That's the part I've missed. I have not purposefully been hustling him, but I haven't been insisting that he maintain the cadence of trot I get for the first few strides after the upward transition, at which point he's more liable to lose his balance and quicken forward.

I will certainly be back (with photos, as they are obviously incredibly helpful!) with updates as things continue to progress.

Redmare
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I should clarify - I HAVE been able to get soft, self-maintained upward transitions from halt --> walk and walk --> trot...what I have NOT been good about is ensuring the horse continues to carry himself this way after a few strides, when he tends to lose his balance and start to rush, at which point I end up holding him to some degree or, as you put it Dr. Deb, "pulling him together". I have not insisted that he maintain his own balance by turning him on a circle and allowing him to find it again. I did this for a long time earlier in his riding and I didn't seem to get anywhere with it, but I have tools and understanding now that I didn't then.

I meant to ask in my first reply, Dr. Deb - I did ride this horse last night after having read over many times and thought about your latest response. I got a very different horse in terms of steadiness and softness once I did as you suggested, but this gelding does (always has, I don't think I "installed this") have a tendency to want to get too deep, even on a soft feel where there is no backward traction on the rein. I do not want to get nit-picky about his head - is this something I should ignore for the time being and just focus on letting him "find it" himself, or is there something I should do to discourage him from ducking behind my hand?

DrDeb
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Redmare, seems I'm always apologizing for needing time to get back. Been busy this week with portraits of Quarter Horses that were at the root of the original King Ranch breeding system -- further to the QH/American horse breeding history series in EQUUS.

As to your query, as to whether there is anything one should do to discourage a horse from ducking behind the hand: yes, everything about your legs. But you see, this is where the confusion we've been discussing comes from: it is very easy to get tempted to try to DRIVE the horse into correct carriage, in the vain hope that by "pushing him through" braceyness or loss of balance or having the brakes halfway on, you can bust up the brace, hustle him into balance, and scrape the rust off the brake drums. Note that I said "vain hope" -- really it's worse than that, because any rider that goes down this path will never have a horse without brace, in balance, and fully and willingly "forward".

So you use your legs, each and every time you feel him suck back. Sucking back is not usually just of the neck and head; you'll feel it through his whole body. This is part and parcel of being really clear to him that when the muscles in the calves of your legs so much as twitch, or he feels your heels sink just that little bit further where it snugs the calves of the legs up against his sides -- he had better be ready to move.

But the picture you are to have in your mind when you use your legs is NOT that you are trying to go in any manner forward. How you are trying to go,and to get him to go, is UP. It is all about turning on the fountain (see attached drawing). When you carry this picture, it erases the very faulty and damaging internal image of the "frame". Death to the frame!

When you are riding by the image and ideal of the fountain, you know that the first effect of the application of the calves of the leg is to get the horse to raise its back; and then to coil its loins and raise the base of its neck. I repeat here again what I said in my last post: no horse can, at any time or by any means, raise the base of its neck when it is being held back by the reins or shoved-and-pulled.

Hence, you must not only use your legs but you must abandon your hands altogether whenever you do an "up" transition. COMPLETELY LOOSE REINS. This is also how you cure a posturally "broken" neck -- that, and the horse that ducks behind or sucks back, are the two hardest mistakes or wrong habits of carriage that there are to cure.

So you are in for the long haul: many repeats. Note I said it took Painty a long time to get OK and have that long of a topline with complete softness. Some dressage wonk who visited me at about the time that photo was taken said to me that he was going go go home disappointed; from what it had sounded like to him in talking to me before he met me and my horse, he said,  he had thought I rode and trained better, but now that he saw us "live" he was disappointed to find that Painty was not "more through". This proved to me that the SECOND most difficult thing in horsemanship to cure is the indoctrinated wrong ideas of dressage "experts". The photo I gave you in the last post almost could not BE more "through"; to be more "through" Painty would have to sit down for levade.

What that photo COULD show more of is total energy output by the horse. But this is the very tradeoff: if by asking for greater energy output you cause the horse to stiffen or hurry, then you absolutely must not ask for greater energy output. Horses should be schooled in the manner you see in that photo 99% of the time, in other words -- at a relatively low level of energy output, to where it is easy for them to maintain their balance and thus remain soft. Only when you FIRST have this do you have a license to try short bursts of greater energy output (as increasing tempo at the trot) or else "up" transitions (as trot to canter).

It will likely take a good deal of self-control to have ZERO NONE ZIPPO contact when you make your "up" transition. And the game is: no contact AND see how tactfully you can get it to happen off your legs, so that when the horse changes gait, he does not speed up.

That's what you're trying for. However, he will probably stiffen some and speed up some; and whenever he does that, you use INSIDE REIN ONLY and turn him until he slows down and softens. Then go back to trot or walk, regroup, get the soft trot (during which it is fine to use both reins as needed), set him up for the next "up" transition, abandon the contact while you signal and stimulate him with your legs, so that he jumps up into it and HE FINDS YOUR HANDS not the other way around. The "abandonment" need only be one to six inches, depending on his style of using his neck.

Very helpful I find it to put both reins into my outside hand when abandoning the contact, then pick them apart when/if you need a wide inside rein to turn him to regain balance.

SIT DOWN with great awareness (but no extra pressure) on your outside seatbone during the transition to canter and while cantering. And sit like an old sack of potatoes, kind of heavy, as if you were "expecting" him to have a slow tempo.

Let us know how it goes. Cheers -- Dr. Deb

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