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Quick question on gait
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RobVSG
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 Posted: Mon Feb 16th, 2009 02:11 pm
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That's interesting. Thanks Pauline.

While I was in Virginia, I saw some very strong, sound horses of age including my mare's sire. But there are some broken down ones there too. I believe now that Poca would likely have ended up as one of the broken down ones. Those horses on the Virginia/Kentucky border live like mountain goats. And it makes me wonder---Does a mountain goat push up a hill with his hind feet or pull himself up with his fore hand??? Maybe horses learn to do one or the other depending on how they are started??? what's good for a goat may not be good for a horse??? I believe it all boils down to like you said Pauline--"controlled hill work".

It's actually a great relief to me that I can accomplish something without riding on steep hills. steep hills are not easy to find in NW Louisiana. But there is a good 1/2mile 1% grade right out my front door. Now I know how to utilize it.

Rob

Pauline Moore
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 Posted: Tue Feb 17th, 2009 06:28 am
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Rob - Those mountain goats really are amazing, aren't they?  They appear to levitate from one precipitous ledge to another with no effort from any body part, but I'll take a guess that they are pushing from the hindquarters to get that 'spring' in their feet.

I think living on hilly terrain would be good for all (injury-free) horses, it's only when we climb up on their backs and teach them to brace that potential troubles arise. Left to themselves horses will take long zigzags to traverse a steep hill or if motivated to get to the top in a hurry will bounce their way up, driving from both hind legs virtually in unison, using momentum to help them, in both cases the nose will be at about knee level which indicates a relaxed topline - I've never seen a free horse choose to walk slowly up or down a steep hill in a straight line, it's too hard.

However, when horses are denied free choice and cannot alter the speed or manner of ascent/descent to suit the limitations of their own body and strength, then they will brace their topline in order to protect the nerves of the spinal cord from potential damage.   Continued riding of a braced horse will eventually lead to them breaking down.  There are many ways to teach horses to brace their topline musculature: riding them too young when they do not have the strength to balance the weight of a rider; rides that are too long when they are not fit or are too young; saddles that do not fit (you mentioned that Poca had saddle sores previously); inappropriate hoofcare that jeopardizes the overall posture of the horse; heavy-handed rider; etc etc - the list is almost endless.  Whatever the underlying cause, it takes a great deal of time and effort to convince the horse's body that it is safe to let go of that bracing.  Acquiring strength is a very important part of that process, hillwork being just one of the many tools we need to use to achieve that objective.

Good luck with Poca, sounds like you're having a lot of fun.

Best wishes - Pauline

Seglawy Jedran
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 Posted: Wed Feb 18th, 2009 01:01 am
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Dear Pauline-- Good, Good, Good, explanation on your part when you said,' then they will brace their topline in order to protect the nerves of the spinal cord from potential damage.' I am so glad i ran into Dr. Deb years  ago and appreciated her intellectual insight  and remembered what a truly worthwhile scientist she is, and how important it is to continue reviewing her educational efforts and the people who post here too.
Clarity of explanation and teaching is so refreshing and it makes learning fun.
Bracing of the topline for self protection under saddle makes tons of sense. For me to see this in print resulted in an aha moment.
So I'll bet the horses bracing of the back if left untreated so to speak, leads to braces in the neck and limbs too. And,,if we address the braces in the back and neck and limbs with flexions and suppling we will eventually,' turn off,' as it were, the brace. Hope I have that right...
Best wishes
 Bruce Peek

RobVSG
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 Posted: Wed Feb 18th, 2009 01:40 am
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When gaited horses are bracey their pacey. It seems to me braceyness is more easily or commonly overlooked with trotting horses??? At least some of my friends that ride trotters don't notice that their horses are bracing. On the other hand I do know some gaited riders who don't have a clue why their horses are pacey and I have seen just about all the things Pauline mentions as the cause of their gaited horses being pacey.

I have enjoyed working with Poca. She has such a sweet personality. Sometimes when I compare her to other horses of her type, I look at what I think she should be doing as far as speed and such but that's not fair. She has actually come a very long way since I brought her home last May. If I was to compare progress instead of maybe individual ability, Poca has progressed far faster than any horse I've ever owned. And with never a fuss out of her.

Pauline Moore
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 Posted: Wed Feb 18th, 2009 03:37 am
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Hello Bruce

. . . . . bracing of the back, if left untreated so to speak, leads to braces in the neck and limbs too. And,,if we address the braces in the back and neck and limbs with flexions and suppling we will eventually,' turn off,' as it were, the brace.

Yes, no one body part functions independently from the rest of the body.  If the horse feels the need to protectively brace his back, he cannot do so without also bracing all the other topline muscles from poll to hindquarters - they are all interconnected.

This is exactly the same as in our own bodies.  Very many people experience back pain, more often than not in the lumbar region, even without any specific injury.  Much of this discomfort is caused by our back muscles locking into a protective splint to prevent any movement that would create pressure and damage to the nerves that lace through and out of the bony sheath of our spines.  If you imagine the human spine, the top (thoracic) part is connected to the ribs which provide some support and strength to that area, the trade-off being a restriction in movement.  At the other end there is the pelvis which also provides a bony girdle of support.  In the middle (lumbar) part there is the spine at the rear but no bony support at the front, hence the vulnerability of this area - the vertebral joints are in danger of being flexed or extended beyond their normal range of motion, thereby threatening the adjacent nerve cells.  The abdominal muscles are able to provide the missing bony support to the lumbar area, especially the transverse abdominal muscles.  Strong ab muscles act like a corset, supporting the considerable weight of the digestive organs, increasing intra-abdominal pressure which then lifts the spine and removes strain on the intervertebral discs.  The body then perceives there is no longer a threat to the spine so those vice-like back muscles let go of their contraction - voila, no more back pain.

The same principle applies to our horses - they need the supporting strength of very strong abdominal muscles to protect their spines against the challenges of inactive domestication plus the weight of a rider.  When the horse is strong enough to do what we ask, there will be no need for protective bracing - all we have to do then is address all the other myriad issues that might make a horse feel the need to brace!

Assuming the horse is strong enough for whatever we are asking, a shortcut to unlocking  bracing derived from emotional roots is the head-twirl - it has a domino effect all the way along the topline.

Best wishes - Pauline

Seglawy Jedran
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 Posted: Wed Feb 18th, 2009 07:05 am
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Dear Pauline: So this locking into a protective splint like arrangement of the back muscles in an attempt to protect the lumbar spine is seen in humans too. So the lumbar stretches I do  as an antidote to bus driving constitute a stretch and release
therapy? So is that comparable in some respects to trot poles, flexions(head twirling)
backing a step at a time up a small hill with head down, in its beneficial affects?

DrDeb
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 Posted: Wed Feb 18th, 2009 09:31 am
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Only if you've got trot poles on your exercise floor, Bruce old bean.

Cavalletti are 'crunches' for horses. They are the equivalent for a four-legged animal of crunches. You can do horse-type crunches by getting down on all fours and arching your back and tightening your abs as you do that. Or you could do them by laying belly-downwards over a Pilates ball -- that would also be similar.

A stretch is a stretch, Bruce, and a crunch is something different. If you're doing lumbar stretches, presumably those were explained and prescribed to you as such. But "....as an antidote to bus driving" your human practitioner may also have prescribed "core strengthening work", which would be some form of crunches.

And again, a release is not a stretch nor either a crunch. Releases are provoked by particular, usually small movements at a targeted joint; hence head-twirling or Baucher's 'jaw flexions'. The human equivalents are found in Feldenkreis therapy, and, especially, in the Alexander Techniques.

Classical horsemanship incorporates all three of these approaches to the physical body of the horse, so I am glad you're kind of thinking about what the meaning of all this is. The major purpose for classical horsemanship is physiotherapeutic, with the side effect of creating or perpetuating the beauty of the animal.

The more clearly you understand how your own body works, the more clearly you will understand also how your horse's body works. Somebody in this thread or some other one today, was talking about how much she enjoyed her first Sally Swift lesson. You ought to consider finding a certified Sally Swift/Centered Riding instructor too, Bruce -- their program really can be a lot of help. -- Dr. Deb

RobVSG
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 Posted: Wed Feb 18th, 2009 01:40 pm
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O.K. I am really into this dialogue with Bruce too. I've worked in new home construction since 1991. In 2001 I thought I was strong enough to load a small ATV in the back of a truck by myself with no ramps. And I did. But I rotated a disk in my lower back in the process. I went right back to work and thought I would "work through" the pain. About a week later I couldn't stand it so I went to my first chiro visit in my life. She popped it in for me and said there was a lot of swelling. From time to time (every 6 months to a year) it would go out again.

I did not ride very often before this and now I could not ride trotting horses at all anymore. Even if my back was not "out" it would aggravate that disk and I would be in pain again.

 In 2006 I started riding gaited. I am really uneducated as far as all the anatomy of a human or horses back so bear with my struggle to describe this, but I felt "things happening" in my back and core the more I rode. It did not really leave me in pain and so I got the sense that it was a good thing happening. I talked to my chiro about it and he said STAY OFF HORSES. He knew nothing about gaited horses so I explained that there is no up and down jarring. He said the mere function of balancing myself in the saddle as I was gently rocked around would then be a good thing for me as long as there was no up and down jarring.

I started riding more and more regularly and like I said I would never be left in pain but I would get the sensations of bubbles floating up inside my spine and different parts loosening up.

 My back has not been "out" in almost 2 years now and feels as strong as ever, although I don't plan on any ATV lifting anytime soon. I have been giving the credit to riding.

So I believe that proper riding can be physiotherapeutic for the rider as well. Is something like what this Sally Swift is about??? I'm going to google her right now.

Thanks,

Rob

Seglawy Jedran
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 Posted: Wed Feb 18th, 2009 04:37 pm
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Dear Dr. Deb, Yup The exercize teacher that we drivers have had me include crunches in the routine too. A few months after i started  I came across ,' sideways pushups,' and the exercize advisers ok'd adding them to the stretching routine. Interesting enough she ( the adviser) stressed only doing crunches with my knees bent and elevated. She said regular old gymn class type situps actually cause a shear kind of stress on the lumbars and so should be avoided. Don't get nearly as sore in the back from bouncing around in the drivers seat with these exercizes. But if i skip a day i really notice a difference and feel vertically squashed, but maybe thats psychosomatic.


Best Wishes
Bruce Peek

Pauline Moore
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 Posted: Sat Feb 21st, 2009 12:54 am
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Rob - As you will have gathered from earlier exchanges in this thread, I know zilch about gaiting, but from your description of what you felt when riding after your back injury I am thinking that the movement of your gaited horses may have been serving as a trigger to activate your core stabiliser muscles, similar to some of the exercises now popular using those large 'fitness' balls.

This reminds me of a lecture I attended years ago, given by a physio research scientist who had been involved in a project with NASA to determine why astronauts returning to earth invariably found they had acquired painful backs.  The usual practice had been to start these fellows on intensive exercise programs to rebuild strength with the surprising result that their backs got worse, not better.  It was eventually found that the no-gravity conditions in space had 'switched off' the core stabiliser muscles such as transverse abs, and that these muscles had to be targeted separately to switch them 'on' before involving the mobiliser muscle groups.  (Broadly speaking, muscles function as either stabilisers or mobilisers, ie, those that restrict movement of bone or those that create movement of bone).  The initial strengthening regime followed by the astronauts had only involved their mobiliser abdominal muscles, ie the muscles used for crunches or sit-ups - rectus plus internal & external obliques, leaving the deepest and most important transverse stabiliser muscles not functioning.  The lecturer and her team considered this to be such an important discovery that it was suggested stabiliser muscles should henceforth be known as 'anti-gravity' muscles.  Following the research with the astronauts, it was discovered that there were situations other than no-gravity that would 'switch off' the stabiliser muscles, injury or strain to the back being one of those situations, consequently for those people also it would be necessary to activate the core stabiliser muscles before trying to strengthen the more superficial mobilisers.

I can vouch for the effectiveness of this approach with my own back-pain experiences.  A dozen years ago my own lower back was so stiff and painful that I could not bend to pull a weed out of the garden, standing still for even 30 seconds made my back very sore, riding at anything more than a walk on a quiet horse was almost impossible.  The usual circuit of visits to doctors, chiros, physios, acupuncturists, massage therapists etc all gave me some relief for a few minutes but did not last the journey home.  One day I found an enlightened physio who taught me how to do exercises that isolated my transverse abs.  Progress was very fast, I could feel a difference within a few days, and best of all - these are exercises that I can do whilst driving, sitting at a desk, absolutely anywhere.  My mobiliser abs are not particularly strong, crunches are difficult, but my transverse abs are strong enough so that now I have no trouble with my back at all, can spend hours bent over trimming feet, can stand all day if needed and there were no complaints from my back a few weeks ago whilst moving house when my husband and I shifted all the furniture and heavy stuff in the shed ourselves.  At 53 I'm stronger than at any time in my life.

I've been digressing a tad here but I do think the more core strength we can achieve for ourselves, the less unplanned movement will happen while we are sitting on our horses, we will be more able to just sit still,  and therefore the easier it will be for our horses to carry us and to decipher what we are telling them with our bodies. 

Best wishes - Pauline



Seglawy Jedran
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 Posted: Sun Feb 22nd, 2009 04:22 pm
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Dear Pauline: So how do you exercize your transverse abs? That would be very good knowledge to have. Thanks so much.
Best wishes
bruce Peek

DrDeb
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 Posted: Mon Feb 23rd, 2009 01:01 am
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Bruce, why don't you go to the library or bookstore and check out or purchase one of the many books that cover human anatomy? Then you could probably figure a lot of these things out for yourself. The rules that govern muscle function are all that you really have to know; beyond that, you just have a look-see as to where each muscle attaches.

Here are the rules:

1. Muscles can only contract. That means that when they are activated, they get shorter from end to end. They can never, of their own efforts, get longer from end to end. This means that, if one end of a muscle is attached to your forearm, and the other end is attached to your shoulder, then what happens when that muscle is activated is that it will pull your forearm and your shoulder closer together. This may mean that the shoulder does most or all of the movement, or that the forearm does most or all of the movement. Generally, the end closest to the chest moves less, while the end farther out on a limb moves more.

2. Muscles can only contract parallel to their fiber direction. To get the fiber direction of any muscle, just look at the picture in the book. Some muscles have very simple and obvious fiber direction, in that the fibers parallel a line that would connect one end of the muscle to the other. Other muscles have pinnate or multi-pinnate arrangements, where the muscle fibers are arranged like the barbules of a feather, all feeding in to a central "quill" or to a "quill" located along one side. In that case, the direction of muscle contraction will be parallel to the "quill".

So, now -- go find out where the insertion and origin of the transverse abdominal muscles is in the human, and that will tell you pretty much what that muscle does, i.e. what it pulls on when it contracts. From that in turn, you can figure out how to arrange things to oppose that pull, making more work for the muscle; and this is how you exercise muscles.

Your P.T. told you not to do old-fashioned flat-out situps, Bruce, not because doing them the old-fashioned way was not effective, but rather because most people are so disconnected from their bodies that they do not realize when their abs are exhausted (which can occur after only a few sit-ups). The moment the abs are exhausted, the lower-back muscles will try to take over for the abs, when tightening of the muscles of the lower back is the very last thing you want.

The correct way to do sit-ups is to first hook your feet under something heavy like a couch, or something that is fixed like the T-bar that's at the bottom of a sit-up board at the gym. And second, you need to have your knees bent the whole time. Bending the knees rocks the pelvis upward, flattens the lower back, and disengages the muscles of the lower back so they can't step in and take over for the abs. Bent-knee sit-ups are much more effective in the longrun, because disallowing the low back muscles from taking over for the abs assures that the abs, which is what you were trying to target, actually receive all the exercise planned.

Now, I've added this to encouraging you to go look up the anatomy, so that we can build a specific task, a specific question for you to research and then answer. How exactly would you modify bent-knee sit-ups to target the transverse abdominals? Extra credit: how would you modify the whole situation to increase the overall difficulty?

Get this one right and you may be looking at a new career as a PT, Bruce! -- Dr. Deb

Seglawy Jedran
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 Posted: Mon Feb 23rd, 2009 04:56 am
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Dear Dr. Deb. How about doing bent knee situps diagonally with your hands behind your head for support and moving your left elbow toward your right thigh and then the right elbow toward your left thigh. I thought  this would cause some twisting to the lower spine but it didn't. it did however seem a lot more strenuous than a regular set of bent leg situps.
Also I think you could make these more work by holding your feet off the floor with your knees still bent so as to prevent pushing off your pelvis and hips to perform the crunch. Hope thats correct. You're right I need to get an illustrated anatomy book to help clarify my thinking on this.
Cheers
Bruce Peek

DrDeb
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 Posted: Mon Feb 23rd, 2009 05:21 am
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Pretty good there, Bruce. Yes, exactly: you do "oblique" sit-ups, touching your elbows to opposite thighs, and this targets both your transverse abs and your abdominal oblique muscles.

However -- although yes, it is much more difficult if you unhook your feet -- don't. As soon as you do that, you're in danger of straining your neck, even if you don't put your hands behind your head (some PT's will tell you to do sit-ups with your arms held as relaxed as possible in your lap, like your arms were noodles -- hands behind the head does not necessarily supply any support, and again may strain the neck, depending on how careful you are not to pull forward with your arms against the back of your head or neck).

Instead, the way to increase difficulty is to use a tiltboard, like the ones they have at the gym. Once you can easily do 50 bent-knee sit-ups "straightaway" plus 50 more alternating touching right and left thigh while lying on a flat floor, it's time to move on to the tiltboard. You latch the foot end of the board up onto a low rail to begin with. Then when it's easy to do 100 sit-ups on Rail no. 1, you go up to Rail no. 2. Notice that it is the FOOT end of the board that you raise. Even when at my fittest, I've generally stopped at Rail 3, which is about two ft. above the floor -- plenty good enough for all purposes relating to riding (or driving a truck, I would think).

You can, of course, also do leg-lifts, but these, when done the way we all were forced to do back in High School, with legs extended out straight, are MORE dangerous to the lower back than sit-ups. The smart way to do leg-lifts is, again, with your knees bent; and if you feel capable of it without endangering any disks, then you can do those also in an oblique manner, first curling the pelvis up toward the chest, then, in a controlled and rather slow manner, aiming your right thigh toward your left shoulder and vice-versa.

However, I think the very smartest way to work the abdominals as well as the deep core muscles is to use the Pilates ball or exercise ball. Lie flat on your back, bend your knees, and then place the ball between your knees and hold it there. Then do your leg-lift, aiming the ball at your chest or at either shoulder. Very consciously monitor your lower back all the time; stop immediately if you feel your back starting to arch upward and/or the lower back muscles tighten. In other words, do what the P.T. has told you: "keep your back pressed flat into the floor".

Likewise, you can use the "downward dog" position to drape yourself over the ball. In this position, you touch toes and the palms of your hands down onto the mat. Then you work at simply humping your back, arching it like a cat. This is a relatively safe exercise because the body is always supported, and a good one to warm up with.

More difficult, but surprisingly enjoyable once the 100 sit-ups is easy, is to lie with your back on the ball. Get the ball under your lower back and butt. Start with both feet flat on the floor, and your arms extended out to the sides for balance. Then lift one leg with the knee bent, then lower that same leg before raising the other. Do this slowly and take a count of 10 for your knee to get from its starting to its ending position, then another 10 to go back down. You will get plenty of crunch out of this, and yet the ball will largely prevent your lower back muscles from activating. Be sure that no muscle in your buttocks tightens, either, for any of these exercises, nor either at any time while riding a horse. -- Dr. Deb 

Seglawy Jedran
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 Posted: Mon Feb 23rd, 2009 05:43 am
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Dr. Deb- Two sets of FIFTY SITUPS? I have a long ways to go. Jeezlouizze. You're right about the ball business. One of the exercize advisers was pushing the exercize ball a lot when they first started me on these, but it was kind of high pressure sales so i resisted that. Am glad to hear that you think using the ball would be a good thing to do.. Will check it out.
Best wishes
Bruce Peek


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