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Joined: Tue Mar 12th, 2013
Posts: 24
Status:  Offline
Posted: Tue Mar 29th, 2016 09:18 pm
I am curious about this, and am not sure even what to ask. My wife and I joined some friends for a trail ride this weekend. Our horses have not been worked much over the winter, and the ride was over three hours, with hills. Both horses got tired and we rested often. As we were going down the last few hills, I noticed pronounced high knee action and definite paddle (hoof going out to the side, away from the center as it came up off the ground and back.) I hadn't noticed this early in the ride (could have been happening, I was paying more attention to my horse) and it only showed pronounced on the down hills. Horse is a palamino mustang, so we have no idea of the breeding, my wife wonders if there's some gaited breeding in her. Dr. Deb, I think you have a photo somewhere in your camera from a past visit. Do all horses do this, or is indicative of some breed? I do not believe it was sore feet, the trail was dirt, little if any rocks, and we lifted her hooves and pressed on the soles after, and had no reaction and she showed no signs of soreness that afternoon wandering around at home, but possibly?
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Joined: Fri Mar 30th, 2007
Posts: 3308
Status:  Offline
Posted: Tue Mar 29th, 2016 11:09 pm
Geedubya: Well, several confusions here. First: high knee action does not equate to gaitedness. For example: go online, using Google search, and ask "Hackney horse photo". Hackneys, whether the pony-sized or full-sized horse, have the highest knee and hock action in the world, but only trot.

Second: But -- as a matter of fact -- all of your horses that I have ever seen are gaited. In other words, they have the knack for ambling and this shows up -- to the person who knows how to see it -- in everything they do, but particularly in the walk and canter. Almost all Iberian-related horses, and that would include your Mustangs, are gaited. Between the bay horse that you usually ride and the palomino mare that your wife rides, the bay is the more gaited. I mentioned this to you at the last clinic of mine, last December, that you and your wife attended.

Third: No finer place to set up knee action than on a tired horse going downhill. The tireder they are, the more they're going to tend to hollow their backs; and the more they hollow their backs, the higher the knees will come. Again: go online and search "American Saddlebred Pleasure Driving photo" or "American Saddlebred Fine Harness photo".

Lastly: All of this tells me that you guys need to learn to teach your horses HOW to go downhill. Almost zero horses know this, even those that live on hilly property such as yours is. And, as I said, fatigue makes it worse. The essence of going downhill correctly is to think that your horse is actually backing up one-step-at-a-time as he proceeds downhill. You teach this by "brinking".

Find a smallish hill, one without too steep a slope. Ride the horse up to the crest of the hill and halt and just wait a while. Then ask the horse to take one or two steps over the brink and down. Don't let him take more steps down than this; so you halt him. Then you just wait a while. Then you ask him to back up, one step at a time, until he's at the top of the hill again. Then just wait a while.

Then go down again, repeating two steps and this whole procedure four or five times. Then turn about and go all the way down the hill by cutting switchbacks so that there is almost zero downhill slope. The brinking is very strenuous, you see, so you've already had enough of going downhill for one day.

Let him recover for two or three days, and then go back and do this again, only this time you can permit three steps straight downhill. Then you wait and back back up to the brink again, repeating three or four times, and then again returning by switchbacks.

Now go find a ditch that has shallow banks. The ditch is not more than two or three steps deep, and you ride the ditch just like you did the brink: ride him straight down into the ditch, so that when you stop his butt is higher than his withers. Pause a while, then back him back up to the brink. Repeat this a time or two and then leave the area and let him do something much less strenuous.

If you try this the first time and you find you can hardly get him to back up at all, then this should tell you that your backing on the flat, in the arena, is lacking; and you need to go practice backing up, one step at a time, in the arena, in simplified conditions on the flat -- the easiest possible conditions -- until the horse does it fluidly and even with some evidence of power. Only then do you have any business asking the horse to carry you on hills, going either up or down. This is what "Three Day Event" was SUPPOSED to teach: the INTELLIGENT use of terrain as a tool for training and conditioning the horse. Cheers -- Dr. Deb



Joined: Tue Mar 12th, 2013
Posts: 24
Status:  Offline
Posted: Tue Mar 29th, 2016 11:31 pm
Thank you! Neither of us has been taught how to go down hill, so now we start.

Joined: Fri Feb 3rd, 2012
Posts: 51
Status:  Offline
Posted: Wed Mar 30th, 2016 10:56 pm
I do a fair amount of trail riding myself and another benefit to backing up one step at a time is that it comes in really handy if you find yourself in a pickle on the trail. Can mean the difference between a wreck or a calm horse (and rider) backing away slowly . . .

A couple of years ago I found myself on a narrow trail that was getting narrower going around a corner towards (all I could see) some logs going over a wet area. A human might have been able to negotiate it, but not a horse. So we quietly and carefully backed up one slow step at a time until we came to a place where we could do a turn on the haunches and go back. I think it was a trail that hunters had created to join one established trail (i.e. logging road) to another.

I sometimes will back my horses OVER things, like a small log or branch or puddle here at home from the ground as well. I have found that teaching them to back uphill and over things, than forwards again, back and forth, makes teaching them to load in and out of a trailer easier as well.

Happy riding!

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