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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 06:41 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 120 times)

DrDeb
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Here's Redmare's second pockmark photo:

Attachment: Redmare shoulder injury 12 2018 no1 sm.jpg (Downloaded 122 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 106 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 06:28 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 05:50 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 34 times)

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Here's the rear view:

Attachment: Redmare weightbearing left hind rear view no2 sm.jpg (Downloaded 34 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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