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Helen
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Hi all,

For those of you with the Birdie Book - I am rereading it and was a little confused by the photo of Sadie on page 105, in the photo gallery of chapter 7. The photos are of fear/excitement, Sadie is the third horse shown.

What confused me was which gait she is exhibiting - her right hind has just left the ground, left hind and left fore are both grounded, and right fore is extended, ready to hit the ground.

What gait is this? The photo makes the speed look around a gallop or fast canter; but this footfall pattern is not the one usually displayed in either canter or gallop. It could be some kind of gait, but that seems rather unlikely and doesn't look right either.

Am I missing something? Or do horses sometimes 'run' in a different way to the specified gaits? Or (I wouldn't think this would happen in the paddock) is she disunited at canter?

I have a feeling this is a stupid question, but I just can't get the answer...

DrDeb
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Yeah, Helen, isn't that a fun photo? For those who don't have a Birdie Book -- I used the same photo of Sadie for the cover of the 2001 "Inner Horseman" disk, so if you have that you can look at it.

I took that photo one day at the old Potomac Horse Center in Maryland where we used to board, back in the 1980's, when Sadie was young -- she was only 22 years old.

As you probably know, Maryland is south of the Mason-Dixon Line -- officially, part of the American "South". So, it doesn't snow there very often. But the day I took that photo, it had snowed that morning, and it had snowed about one inch the night before -- nice, crispy-crunchy, cool, soft snow. I took Sadie out to a paddock and turned her loose in it. And she played, and played, and played....bucked, ran, slid to a stop, turned, bucked again, kicked up behind, farted, spooked at her own tail, and galloped away. I was laughing so hard I could hardly hold the camera steady.

So what gait is it? I've asked the very same question looking at that same photo. And the answer is -- heck if I know. There is no official name for it. She's in the middle of taking a leap. Maybe halfway up she was changing her mind about what lead to be on when she landed. You can find rodeo photos of broncs that are doing something similar in mid-leap.

If you consider the legs as 'discrete entities', a four-legged animal has 4 to the 4th power potential positional combinations, i.e. 64 combinations -- like a four-button padlock. There are certainly not 64 clearly different gaits, even if you were to acknowledge every variant of the ambling gaits from every country, i.e. tolt, paso llano, rack, etc.

It gets even more interesting from there, because of course, we are not just talking about  one single position for any of the legs (as we would be for a four-button lock). If you hold the right foreleg in the upright position and call that the 'reference position', then it is of course possible for all three of the other legs to be in any position whatsoever with reference to the right foreleg. For any one leg, how many positions can it be in from full protraction to full retraction? An infinite number, in fact.

This all serves to highlight several points:

1. A gait is defined as a particular coordination between the reference leg and the other legs; in other words, the defining thing about a gait is the timing of the footfalls.

2. The timing of the footfalls underpins, and determines, the order of the footfalls.

3. Many of the gaits that a horse might use do not have names. Particularly, they do not have names in cultures/countries where the horse that walk-trot-canters reigns supreme. Most horse owners in fact do not know more names for gaits than walk, trot, canter, and gallop.

4. Many of the gaits that a horse might use are not often used by horses. In other words, out of an infinite spectrum of possible timing coordinations, horses regularly prefer only a relative few -- though the 'few' is far more than most people know, as per point 3. above.

Here is a minimum list that all horse students should know -- by 'know' I mean 'know how to recognize when seen' and also 'know the footfall order':

Walk -- the mother of all other gaits, contains fragments or sequences of all other gaits, contains both lateral and diagonal ties, and is by far the most important training gait

Amble, which includes a spectrum from diagonally-dominated trocha/foxtrot -- through properly isochronal running-walk, rack/paso llano/fast tolt, amble proper/slow tolt/slow gait, paso corto/paso fino/paso largo -- to laterally-dominated sobreandando/stepping pace. NONE OF THESE GAITS ARE 'PACING'.

Trot -- united diagonals -- can be understood as one extreme of the amble spectrum.

Pace -- united laterals -- can be understood as the opposite extreme of the amble spectrum.

Canter left/Canter right -- single united diagonal

Gallop/Galope -- hind-hind, fore-fore sequence

Pronk/Buckjump/jump/ballotade -- united or nearly united fore-fore/hind-hind

Rein back -- walk sequence vs. united diagonals

Sequence flying changes/tempe changes.

Suggested exercise: start with left hind as your standard 'first sounded beat'. Then chart the footfall order for all these gaits.

When you get done with that, then we can do some more interesting homework around gaits.

Cheers, and have fun -- Dr. Deb

 

Helen
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I thought that might be it. It is simply lovely to see Sadie enjoying herself so much - I love the snow sequence.

OK, to my homework:

Walk is, of course, LH, LF, RH, RF. When I was younger I used to confuse myself wondering if the forefoot struck before the opposite hind foot, or if the hind foot struck before the same forefoot - as you say, it is possible to see both lateral and diagonal movement there.

On one side of the amble is the pace: LH & LF, RH & RF.

Amble is where I run into trouble - I can identify all of the other 'basic gaits' you have listed just fine, but the finer points of different types of amble are lost on me. The general sequence, however is LH, LF, RH, RF, with varying gaps between diagonal and lateral pairs making the differences.

When the diagonal pairs fall exactly together, it is standard trot. LH & RF, RH & LF.

Canter, when it begins with LH, is on the right lead - LH, RH  & LF, RF.

Gallop is usually the same as canter but with the RH and LF striking separately to allow the horse to stretch out more and get greater stride length. Sadie gives us an example of what would probably be called a gallop but doesn't have the exact same pattern.

Jump or ballotade is usually the same as gallop (or with hind and fore pairs united), but with a moment of suspension between the hind and fore pairs - more vertical, less horizontal movement).

I have actually never observed the footfalls in reinback; I would assume they are the same as in walk, but reversed? So, if the horse were to start with the LH, it would be LH, RF, RH, LF and so on.

Tempe changes are changes of lead after each canter stride - so LH, RH & LF, RF, RH, LH & RF, LF, back to LH, RH & LF, RF etc. Aren't these lovely to watch when done well?

Helen
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Hi DD,

This thread seems to have got lost over time. If you have the time I would love to continue learning about different gaits since it can be quite tricky to here down under. If you're busy that's fine too.

-Helen

Fryslyn McGee
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This is an interesting thread. 

Would the reinback have united diagonals?  I've noticed that sequence when my gelding rounds up and backs properly under saddle, or when a horse in hand rounds up and backs- as opposed to just schlepping along in an anti-forward direction- the feet move in a "trot-like" sequence, though of course without the speed impulsion and suspension of the trot. 

We have a silly mare who was very barn bound when we bought her, and part of getting her over that was making her back to the barn from her turnout during quarantine.  You couldn't hold her brain going forward- at all- but making her back got her attention.  As she got the hang of the game, the four cornered scramble gradually evolved into deliberate diagonal strides with her head dropped and her topline soft and swinging.  (this is still the best way to get throught to her- her birdie is an ADHD hummingbird)

miriam
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I was thinking hard about gaits on my commute to work today so what a nice surprise to find this thread. The '08 ESI Mannering CD is in the player and it prompts questions (along with light bulb answers).

Perhaps this question is too elemental for this thread but it's been on my mind all winter; is the 'one step' referred to in the Mannering CD really just one leg - or is one step acutally the diagonal?

cdodgen
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Yes, it is just one step (one foot) at a time.  While riding in Dr. Deb clinic here in Texas last month she had us do two things that made this very clear, at least to me.  Sounding out hind foot landing at the walk and reaching via our minds down to the front feet and extending them as far forward at the walk as possible.  I have to admit until that time - gait was not a big deal to me so long as it didn't hurt my butt.  I'm thinking that this is one of the differences between being a rider and being just a passenger - knowing where the feet are going and how soon they will get there.  Cheryl

leca
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reinbacks have same footfall as trot

Pauline Moore
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Hello Helen - Thanks for starting such an interesting thread.  Thought you might like to see this Happy Snap of my colt some 15 months ago.  I had seen this odd little jog-pace for some time as part of the daily ritual of squabbling over the right for first lick around each other's feed buckets, but did not notice the two feet being unweighted on the same side until I viewed the photo - no idea what he's doing.



Best wishes - Pauline

Attachment: Sol Oct 07 (4).JPG (Downloaded 345 times)

Last edited on Sat Feb 7th, 2009 01:12 am by Pauline Moore

Helen
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Great shot Pauline! Technically the footfall order looks the same as a walk, but I gather from your post it is rather faster, more like an (???) amble?

DrDeb
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Yes, Pauline's shot shows the horse in a walk. Not enough energy for an amble, but a useful photo in that it highlights once again the maxim: the walk contains elements of ALL other gaits. This is one major reason why the walk is the most important training gait.

Helen, as you your query: yes, this thread did kind of get lost. If a lot of new threads come in at once, sometimes I only have time to answer a few of them, and then the others tend to go down, and down, and down, and pretty soon they're out of sight and out of mind.

But this is a good discussion topic, so I am glad that you-all have revived it. Your dissertation on footfall sequence contains no errors, Helen. And the confusion you feel over 'ambling' has but a single source, and that is, that you are unfamiliar with horses that amble. In fact, the likelihood is that in your own country you have never seen one; they are not common outside the Americas and Iceland.

The one and only factor that distinguishes an amble from a walk is the total energy output in the amble. When a horse ambles, he maintains the same footfall sequence as in the walk, but he puts out more energy in doing it. This causes several effects that make it instantly obvious that the animal is not walking: (a) The carriage of the horse will tend to pick up; he'll be more alert-looking overall, and the way he picks up and sets down his feet will be 'snappier'. (b) The speed at which he covers ground, i.e. the kph or mph will rise. A walk stops at about 6 mph (8 kph); at 7 mph all except the largest horses will be ambling.

There are some dangers inherent to ambling. The rider can manipulate the horse's carriage in a destructive way, in order to force ambling. This is done by various techniques that cause the animal to raise its poll too high, break back at the root of the neck, hollow the back, and extend the loins. If you hollow out a horse like this and then hustle it, you can force just about any type of horse to amble. But the amble so produced is neither beautiful nor correct. The only correct ambling is exactly like the only correct walking, trotting, or cantering: it is performed 'round'.

Nowhere in this description, you will note, do we mention that the ambler is pacing. The pace is another gait. Many horses that can amble will also pace; but then again, many horses that can amble will also trot. The point is not to make the common confusion and call an ambling horse 'a pacer', as if pace and amble were synonymous.

Another danger inherent to ambling is that, if the amble is not 'square' (i.e. nearly isochronal), the footfall coordination can slide over to where it does become close to a pace. I think that this is why so many people equate 'ambler' with 'pacer' -- because so much of the 'gaited riding' or ambling that is seen in public is actually 'pacey' -- in other words -- crummy. The more the horse is forced by hollowing out techniques, or by artificial appliances, the crummier the result. Correct ambling is defined by near-isochronality of the footfalls. "Isochronal" footfalls are those which are separated by equal, or nearly equal, intervals of time -- just as they would be in a quality walk, trot, or canter. No judging criterion changes, you see, merely because the horse is gaiting or ambling: all horses are judged on exactly the same biomechanical bases.

The more the horse is hustled, hollowed out, or allowed to move in a near-pace, the stiffer in his body he will become. It was because all horses in the Classical manege were expected to be 'finished in gait' that the old European masters put such emphasis on curving figures, stepping under the body shadow with the inside hind leg, the practice of the shoulder-in, and suppling. Their horses needed suppling MORE than many non-amblers do.

For this reason -- because one of the occupational hazards of ambling is that the animal tends to become stiff through the haunches, neck, ribs, and back -- it is extremely important for the ambling horse to receive a dose, every ride, of backing one step at a time, shoulder-in, and suppling. It is also necessary for the rider to learn where the 'breakover point' is for her particular animal, which is the energy level at which he transitions from walk into gait. Most people, whether they are competitive dressage types with their trotter or saddle-seat types with their ambler, are constantly asking their horse to go over-tempo. They are asking him to go faster, or put out more energy, than he actually can and still maintain ease and fluidity in movement. The dressage types, especially, get so used to this that a horse that is moving at the correct pace for him to actually develop, rather than degrade in an athletic sense, looks like he is 'sluggish' to them. Most gaited people constantly have their horse at an energy level that is near the top of what the animal can put forth, when instead, if they wish to develop the animal's ability to gait with more power and beauty, they should school him at a level that is about 10 to 20% below the breakover point where he goes from long-walk into gait. In other words: the gaited horse, like the trotter, is schooled best by working within the walk and, while in the walk, "flexing" up and down from shortest steps to longest steps and back again. Do this for a month with your gaited horse and then ask him to go wide open, and you will learn the great power inherent in what I am saying.

As to WHICH ambling gait a horse may be doing: abandon all hope, ye who enter this terminological arena. There is no agreement in North America, and there never will be, as to exactly what constitutes a rack vs. a slow gait vs. a running walk vs. plantation gait. The foxtrot/trocha do somewhat stand out at one end of a spectrum, but within that subspectrum again there is no universal agreement. In Iceland, which is a country filled with rational people, there has been an attempt to define slow vs. fast tolt -- but that does not in itself mean that the judge at a show will see it as the academicians or biomechanics investigators see it. The same goes for Cuba, Puerto Rico, Colombia, and Peru: there are expert traditions there, and a developed taste that allows knowledgeable breeders to discern which horses are of better quality. The Paso Fino and Peruvian traditions know 500 times as much about 'purity of gait' as the Germans. But even at that, you will not find 100% agreement, or a formal definition, of paso llano or of paso corto, paso largo, or paso fino: only a 'general' idea or description, which does not involve specifying footfall timing in terms of microseconds.

If you had been at our lecture series last year, Helen, gaited horses was one of the subjects we covered, and I even brought films of my own ambler, Ollie. But you might in the future have the opportunity to go to Iceland to study with Eyjolfur Isolfsson at Holar College. This would be one of the best places in the world for anyone to learn all-around horsemanship. If you go to YouTube to look at films, be careful what you pay any attention to: please don't look at American Saddlebreds or Tennessee Walkers who are competing at shows. They are ugly and disfunctional, and it's sad because these are wonderful horses. -- Dr. Deb

 

 

 

Helen
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Wow, thank you DD. I'm much more confident with the way "gaiting" works now. Several people have tried to explain to me the difference between amble, foxtrot, rack, paso largo, paso corto etc but it's really never made much sense. Pacing is the only gait I've seen in real life since harness racing is quite popular here.

It's been interesting looking through videos of horses gaiting on youtube, including the different ways they are described. It was sad (but not exactly unexpected) to see one commenter saying that the horse's gait was lovely but the head should be lower... and that this could be achieved by tying twine from the girth to the curb bit. Terrible.

Leca I don't think that's the case - if you watch various horses performing the reinback, the ones who are allowed their own time have the reverse footfall order of the walk. When rushed horses seem to go more towards a trot-like footfall in order to keep their balance as they go back.

Pauline Moore
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Thanks from me also, Dr Deb - that photo has intrigued me for a while as in practice the four or five steps certainly looked more than a walk, more like a jog but not a trot.  The horse went through a phase lasting a few weeks where he repeated that exact sequence every day as he prepared to barge his way into the feedpen, adopting a rounded posture as he passed the other horse.

Best wishes - Pauline

cdodgen
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Dr. Deb,  Just to clarify in my mind - "In other words: the gaited horse, like the trotter, is schooled best by working within the walk and, while in the walk, "flexing" up and down from shortest steps to longest steps and back again. Do this for a month with your gaited horse and then ask him to go wide open, and you will learn the great power inherent in what I am saying."

Your asking that I ride just as we did in the clinic when you asked us to see how long of a stride we could get by just visualizing our hands carrying the front legs forward longer and longer without breaking over into a trot/gait.
 

Cheryl

DrDeb
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Yes, Cheryl. That's why we learned and practiced long walk-short walk at the clinic. I don't do things in clinic just to show you that they can be done; I do them because I hope you and other students will see WHY we do those things and then continue in the same vein once I leave.

And Pauline: Yes, a horse can get into that 'twixt and tween' area that is neither exactly a walk nor exactly a trot. And so you can correct me and say that the energy level was actually higher than that horse would ordinarily have produced when walking. In that case, we will say he was in fact ambling in some manner. As this is not, I think, a horse of a breed normally thought of as 'gaited', it illustrates that many horses can and will amble, under certain circumstances. The fossil record, by the way, demonstrates that ambling is the original preferred gait of the grazing clade of the horse family: there are fossil trackways of both Hipparion and Pliohippus that certify that they were ambling -- more than 20 million years ago.

Leca and Helen: The correct footfall order in the rein-back is diagonal pairs, like the trot but (usually) without a period of suspension. Hustling the horse back makes it impossible for him to do this; it breaks up the footfalls, so that they then come as in a walk (in reverse). However, a horse that is at a low energy level may also step back as in a walk, and there is no great harm in this; but the rider should still be looking whether she is overpressing the head, because she probably is. Most people, even after repeated admonitions from this teacher, still are trying to pull their horse backwards with the reins. The idea, rather, is to do exactly in this case as you would do with your car that has an automatic transition: you first put it into reverse gear, and then you step on the gas. You do not pull backwards on the steering wheel! What makes the horse go backwards is the stepping on the gas. The reins are there only to totally block any effort the horse might make to go forward.

Of course if the horse does not know how to back under saddle, he will try to go forward at first, because that's all he knows about responding to the calf of the leg. So one thing you are teaching the horse when you teach him to back is that "bumps from the calf of the leg do not mean 'go forward'. They mean 'raise your energy'. The reins are to direct that energy. You need to pay attention to both things as separate elements." When you approach it this way, it will get to where there is no pressure coming from the horse AGAINST the reins at all -- the sensation the rider receives is of the horse 'floating' backwards. It is as light as a feather, yet there is still the consciousness on your part and on the horse's part that he continues to grasp, or mouth, the bit; he has not 'dropped' the bit. This is many peoples' first inkling of what correct 'contact with the bit' actually is, and why shoving the horse 'forward' all the time or shoving him forward 'to make positive contact' or 'to have the horse stretch the reins' is such a horrible and destructive mistake. -- Dr. Deb

RobVSG
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This topic interests me oh so much.

Yes Cheryl, I can agree with Dr Deb from my own experience that one of the worst things you can do with a gaited horse is jump on and gait them constantly. I personally learned soon enough from my horses that that don't fly, but I can tell you I have seen some lame, broken down, broken spirited gaiting robots that are only "expected" to be usable under saddle until 7 or 8 years old if they are "bred strong". How sad.

Dr Deb  told the class that a certain percentage of time and no more should be spent trotting in our regular routine. When she said that, in my mind I applied that statement to gaited riders by substituting "trot" with "gait" as in: "xx percent of the time and no more should be spent "gaiting" within your regular routine."

The Teacher may actually give a different number percentage for gait time and trotting time as I'm sure that gaited horses really need both incorporated in their routine. That question really didn't dawn on me until after the clinic was over but Dr Deb what would you recommend for trotting time and gaiting time in a typical 1hr to 1-1/2hr routine????

Dr Deb I have something else going on with my mare you saw at the clinic in Tx I just haven't completely worked out yet.

She is mostly Standardbred and comes from the "Falcon Rowdy" line of speedrackers. She is very "trotty" bred as folks with speedrackers call it. When I first got her in May of 2008, she had bad saddle sores and would pace straight out of a walk. If you tried to gait her fast she would rack but only to about 14mph and would not go any faster than that in any gait (including a gallop) period. Of course this is all typical of a horse in pain or maybe "swallowed his birdie" as "paceyness" is linked with "tenseness" as I understand it.

I have worked her walk and bending and such since I first got her and will occasionally "open er up". She has gotten so much better. She will transition from a walk to a rack up to 15mph and back down to a walk so smooth that from the saddle you wouldn't even know she transitioned from walk to ambling gait other than the speed and her head nod gradually becomes less and less with the increased speed until her head is not moving much at all. She will give me 19mph now which shows she's coming "unlocked". But from 15mph to 19mph she gradually gets more and more lateral until almost but not quite into a full pace at 19. I've verified this with personal slo-mo video.

Again all of this is typical and developing a speedracker takes time I know. But not all "Rowdy" bred horses are like this, I've seen and rode many that are in a squarely timed and smooth rack at 26+mph. You can hear it in the footfalls. And I've seen slo-mo video that shows how square they can be at that speed. (some are on youtube but I've seen many personal friends videos that are not on youtube).

Your clinic was soooo much of a help as proven by the fact that the first time she trotted under saddle with me was at your clinic. I'm so glad she has become O.K. enough to trot under saddle. Although I had been trotting her on the lead line and "working the walk" before, I have a much clearer routine for doing so after learning at your clinic. And we have even made trotting under saddle a small part of our regular rides.

After that long winded explanation of the "typical" things I have worked through, here is my "issue" ( if it's really an issue or if I am just being a little obsessive???):

I've noticed that this mare has not much action in the front end. Most of these types of horses' front end gets bigger and bigger as they get faster (similar to an Icelandic)and I believe from a mechanical standpoint is part of why they can rack so fast and stay square in footfall timing. Her full sister breaks above level in the front barefoot and has never worn anything heavier than a keg shoe. Her sister is more typical of this type of horse. "Rowdy" horses are actually known for having a lot of front end action without weights, chains, or other "artificial" action devices.

I have taken more video of Poca and even at the trot she barely picks up her front feet. I have gotten her to mount the drum since the clinic and she acts like she can hardly pick her foot up high enough to step up on it.

Watching her 19mph-almost-pacing video it seems that if she would just pick those front feet up more like she should, her timing would be a lot more square and "correct" as compared to others of her type.

I have a yellow lab named "Bones" that i'd say is a slender, healthy 60-65lbs. I've seen that dog jump fallen tree logs, low fences, small creeks etc. but when I let the tailgate of my truck down (and he loves to ride) he acts like a 20 year old overweight mini poodle that just can't jump that high.

It's all isolated to her front end. The rest of her body does everything a speedracker should. Poca is sound, but can there be something with her birdie related only to her front feet? or muscles? that can be "fixed"????

On a fairly steep down hill slope she will rack at speed more square and pick her front feet up higher. I don't have enough of a hill close to me to ride on regular and I wouldn't want to over do it when I only occasionally do get opportunities to ride a hill.

Gosh I hate to sound so obsessive about it. As long as she's sound and will live a long healthy life that's all I really care. I've never been to a show or speedracking competition and probably never will. I just want to help her stretch her front legs out like I think she should esp. if it will not hurt her but actually benefit her.

Helen
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OK DD thanks, I didn't realise that about reinback. Then back to miriam's question - when we are asking the horse for only one step, does that mean one foot or a diagonal?

DrDeb
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Helen, it means you take what he offers unless the offer is obviously coming from a desire within the horse to do the minimum or avoid what you're asking.

To ask a horse to take a step back "one step at a time", whether from the ground or from the saddle, involves the following events: he will tilt from one side to the other, so as to unweight the foot (the front foot) that he intends to move; he will then pick that foot up; he will swing it backwards once it is clear in the air; then he will set it down. He may or may not move a hind limb at the same time as the forelimb; you don't worry about that part.

You are never, Helen, to keep repeating an aid or a request until the horse does it "perfectly". You ALWAYS take what he offers, then rest upon that. If what he offers is avoidance, then you ask again, but you ask with no more hurry and no more force or pressure. The same applies if he is clumsy or unsure: you PERSIST. It is up to his neuromuscular system -- not to anything having to do with you -- to supply all the coordination that is ever going to be supplied. When you are light enough, when you never press more than he really needed just to understand what you want, then you will be interfering with him little enough that his own coordination can kick in.

One of the great revelations as the horsemanship in a person becomes more mature, is to realize that physical pressure, even in the most minimal degree, always interferes with the horse. We also interfere with his judgement and his desires, and when we do that "just to show who is boss" and not because the horse is choosing something dangerous to him or us, then in that case also we do nothing but interfere, preventing an outcome that might have been better on all levels. -- Dr. Deb

Pauline Moore
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Thanks again for the reply, Dr Deb - The horse in the photo is 3/4 spanish, 1/4 TB, but in every respect could be a clone of his PRE grandsire.  I'll keep an eye out for any more regular instances of this type of movement.

Fascinating about the fossil trackways - if Hipparion and Pliohippus were preferential amblers, what would have been the survival advantages for subsequent generations to develop a preference for diagonal trotting?

Best wishes - Pauline

DrDeb
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Pauline, all horses can do all gaits. All foals "mess around" or experiment with every conceivable footfall coordination. This assures us that whatever the genes that mediate ambling may be, they have not been lost from the domestic horse gene pool.

What we see among domestic horses, in the developed countries, is a rather recent dichotomy between riding horses that trot vs. riding horses that amble. Prior to about 1760 in Europe this dichotomy never existed. It did not exist either in China, Turkey, or Persia until recent times. In Europe and in Asia until recently, ALL quality riding horses were bred to amble, trained to amble, and expected to amble. Note I am saying RIDING horses -- plow-horses and cart-horses "hacked" or trotted because, since these horses were not particularly intended to ride, it did not matter whether they ambled.

Ambling has repeatedly been shown to be more energy-efficient than trotting; this is the presumptive reason why it would have been adaptive for Hipparion and Pliohippus to travel at this gait. Equus caballus (i.e. Przewalski horses) are generally "trotty", and this may have to do either with body proportions (i.e. conformation) or with their massiveness. The same can be said of the almost equally chunky Equus burchelli, the Plains Bontequagga or Common Zebra. The more gracile Equus (i.e. Equus asinus, Equus zebra, and the half-asses Equus hemionus, Equus onager, and Equus kiang) are much more likely to amble. If you will go over to Knowledge Base and look at the horse evolution papers, you'll see that the body restorations of Hipparion and Pliohippus show that they were very flat-bodied and gracile -- more than asses or even half-asses -- almost like small antelope or deer.

So, what I am indicating is that there has been NO strong survival value in trotting for most horse genera and even for most species in the genus Equus. We today have a "trotter bias" because of the worldwide preference for the Thoroughbred; because the invention of posting as a technique made riding the trot for long distances feasable; and because Napoleon at the end of the 18th century converted the world's cavalries to a preference for trotters. The Olympic games won't look at an ambler, and neither do we see them very frequently among the endurance crowd. Where the ambler shines is in back-country areas, and in mountainous countries, that lack paved roads. There, not even a jeep can outperform the ambling horse, and in these world areas, there is no "trotter bias" even today. -- Dr. Deb

 

RobVSG
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 Dr Deb may have overlooked my questions pertaining to gait with the changing of the page or she's not had the time to sit down and figure out what this boy is rambling about. Either way it's understandable.

But let me tell you-let me telllll you what happened on my ride just today!!!! I just have to share.

I mentioned before that the first time my mare trotted under saddle for me was at the Texas clinic. I haven't mentioned that about a week or so prior to the clinic I was out gaiting her on down the road and twice she offered-she didn't really trot mind you- she OFFERED to trot but before I could tell her yeah or neah it was over. The GLIMPSE of a trot was there and then gone just that quick. At the clinic she became O.K. enough to really TROT and I let her. And I was happy.

Well since the clinic I've been doing a routine 3 times a week of pretty much everything we did at the clinic and no gaiting. I just improvise and mix the clinic routine up a little not to be too much like by rote. In the middle of the routine we've been trotting more and more. (1 or 2 days a week we warm up then rack on down the road and the other days she rests in the pasture) This Friday I trotted her through some tall grass. Her range of motion in her front end was really picking up high then. But I was bummed out a little Saturday when I racked her down the road a little and she still would get very lateral with more speed.

Well today I was given a new GLIMPSE twice!!! We were racking on down the road and she kept wanting to trot ALOT. That's cool. More and more I'm bringing her into gait FROM A TROT instead of her going stiff and lateral and trying to bring her into gait from there. Well although we were not in tall grass and not on a downhill slope, as I would bring her into gait she'd get in a certain "spot" in her gait and start really picking up those front feet. Well after several cycles of going from trot to gait and back to trot again, she gave me  just a GLIMPSE of some smoooth serious speedracking acceleration!!! Just like earlier, before I could tell her yeah or neah it was gone. But for that split second, she was everything her super fast sister is although we didn't even top 13mph. (I always wear a gps on my wrist). It was just a glimpse.

Dr Deb could it be that in the process of her coming unlocked her front end is just the last part of her to come undone??? Or am I misinterpreting some things or missing something???

I'm trying to be patient and have no schedule or deadline to get her to her full potential, but I do hope I'm seeing the light at the end of the tunnel with this mare.

Thanks,

Rob

DrDeb
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Rob, old bean, you are seeing the light at the BEGINNING of the tunnel. You will never get to the end of the tunnel, because (as we both know), your horse is better than either of us is.

You are discovering what "transitions" are all about. This knowledge has been lost in the Anglo gaited world, i.e. in the American South, so you are now reclaiming that original heritage. Southern horsemanship was once admirable, and widely admired, by knowledgeable people. Long ago.

If you want to get a GLIMPSE of what more your mare might be able to do....go look in a previous thread in this forum for the photos (from Hurleycane, I think) showing Tom Bass on Belle Beach.

The source of speed is power. "Power" means physical strength. What your mare is gaining from the transitions and the trot work is, simply, a new degree or a greater degree of physical strength. How can she go fast if she's weak? The exercises that promote power (of the "core" muscles, i.e. the loin coilers and back-raisers, as well as of the gluteals, biceps, and inner britches in the hindquarters) are the transition from long walk to short walk and back to long walk; "the rocker", where you back on featherlight reins one step at a time for a predetermined number of steps, then without letting the energy die out, "boing" forward into either walk or trot; and cavalletti.

As an aside -- you can measure a horse's gains in physical strength by lifting its tail. Do the britches muscles that are on the INSIDES of the hind legs touch? In other words, are they that bulky? Or is there a space between the two hind thighs when the horse stands normally? The stronger the horse is, the bigger those inner britches muscles will get -- like on a good stallion.

Power will come to be there, but it can only be expressed when the horse is supple. Trotting assists gaited horses in gaining, and maintaining, lateral flexibility of the ribcage and loins. But so also do all curving figures, especially where they switch from one bend to the other, i.e. as in a figure-eight; little short leg-yields that go only four or five steps laterally and then straighten the horse for one, then come back the opposite way, continuing down the long dimension of the arena as a zigzag; serpentines, which are figure-eights that have been "split and unfolded" longwise; and, most powerfully, shoulder-in. These are the exercises we practiced at the clinic; there are still more, but not for another year yet.

So Robert, remember: the idea was not to turn your gaited horse into a trotter. The idea is to USE the trot, and the suppling, and the cavalletti, and transitions, to supple and strengthen the horse enough that, when she is THEN asked to gait, she does so with power, loftiness, speed, rhythmicity, and beautiful carriage of the neck, back, and loins.

The best reminder I can offer you at this point is to keep your bouts of gaiting rather brief. If you've got a dirt road to go ride on, look for a spot along that road where it slopes up -- not real steep, but a long grade with about a 1% slope to it. Ride her up to the base of this and then, very gradually push her over the brink into gait, allowing her to speed up only as much as she can do without stiffening. She should feel "rubbery" -- like firm rubber -- and the footfalls should sound as regular as clockwork. Never push her into a spot where she has to stiffen in order to do it -- this has negative consequences throughout her body and mind, because in fact it hurts her. So you keep her "within the envelope of okayness" both physically and mentally.

When you get to the top of the grade, maybe that's where you turn around for home, or maybe you ride a square route and come back another way; but after this sort of effort, when you get to the top and the road flattens out, you transition down and you allow her to flat-walk without too much demand on her most-all the whole way home. She should arrive back at the barn dry from the walking itself, and feeling kind of sweet and mellow, and mentally in no great hurry to get back to the barn.

Work on this hill no more than one or two days a week for six weeks. After about the second time you do it, go out there ahead of time in a car, and tie a haynet with nice hay up in a tree someplace nobody will bother it. Put it a ways past the top of the grade someplace you can take her off to the side and spend half an hour with her safely -- maybe at a neighbor's place if they would let you. So you have a very good reward for her built into the ride. You let her work on that hay for half an hour while you dismount and loosen the girths. Then you roll you hay net up and put it in your pocket, get back on, and ride her home nice and dry. I promise you that this will cure any desire she might have to hurry back to her own barn, and will also go a long way to erase any resentment she might feel at being asked to work up that long hill. In fact, she'll get so she can't wait to go up there, and your main job then will be to keep her from going just as fast as she can -- you never are going to find out how fast this is, you see.

But your hair will be blowing back pretty good anyway. Cheers -- Dr. Deb

RobVSG
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Thanks Dr Deb.

Yes "Power" describes well what I felt. She is a fairly strong horse but for those two short bursts she was like Lou Ferigno with green paint on. And very smooth. How her sister is all of the time.

I guess the though of strength and muscle development helps me understand why it's taking so much time with her. Most of the other horses I have dealt with already had the physical strength, but had rushing issues and were "hard mouthed"/ stiff necked or just plain old don't know how to rein or do anything else except single-foot straight down the road. Comparatively speaking, dealing with those issues it seems progress was more easily noticeable. Poca is a younger horse and has been more of a "clean slate" and she has taken a lot more of my time.

But it is all so enjoyable and I'm learning so much.

Thank you again,

Rob


And I meant to say I will be searching for the "right" hill near me and putting your suggestions into practice.

Last edited on Mon Feb 9th, 2009 10:08 am by RobVSG

RobVSG
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DrDeb wrote:
The best reminder I can offer you at this point is to keep your bouts of gaiting rather brief. If you've got a dirt road to go ride on, look for a spot along that road where it slopes up -- not real steep, but a long grade with about a 1% slope to it.
Work on this hill no more than one or two days a week for six weeks.




Dr Deb, ballpark, distance how long of a ride should this be? The low grade hill and then ride home?

I can see the wisdom in the details of you recommendation. I've seen folks do something similar but they have it backwards and use that barns "pull" and let them go headed home but hold them in gait. Not good.

I'm ready to ENTER the tunnel Dr Deb. A lot of things that I've learned from horses but that you have helped me to understand suddenly came together in my mind yesterday and it frightened me. This may sound crazy to some folks but I know you'll know where I'm coming from: you see although not meaning that I literally have laid a horse down, quite some time back I have been at the place with a horse (not Poca) similar of where Tom put the little girl on the horse at the end of the horse whisperer movie.... but I did not know I was there at the time or even anywhere near appreciate the responsibility on my part from that moment forward. Yesterday I had a revelation of sorts. Not really a revelation but everything added up and came together in my mind and now I know how much I do not know as far as experience and if I ever get to that place again I pray I'm not as ignorant. I understand now where I am headed with Poca and suddenly time and speed do not matter any more. Not to say they don't really matter to me but although I do not know how long the tunnel might be, patience is the only way I'll make it to the end of the tunnel.

I'm sure I still don't have a lot of stuff straight in my mind but certainly paying closer attention now.

Or maybe I am just crazy, but that's besides the point!!!

Thanks,

Rob

DrDeb
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Yeah, Buck Brannaman, and before him, Ray Hunt, have both said this: if you don't watch out, this style of horsemanship will make you feel crazy. Because within a culture that has a lot of things the wrong way around, what this asks you to do is go right the opposite way of what you see many other people doing. And, sometimes, also to go right opposite what your previous experience or your habits or even your sense of self-preservation tells you to do.

One time I had a guy who had been in a couple of clinics with me walk up to me and say, "OK, Dr. Deb, I've finally got you figured out. The deal is, what you're telling me is, whatever I would have done on my own, to just do the opposite and then that will be right!" Well -- maybe not literally but yeah a lot of times it is so!

As to "patience" -- Rob, it doesn't really take patience. It just takes you seeing out of your mare's eyes. You have to see and experience time as she does. Then it's not patience at all -- it's just reality.

As to length of the hill: a quarter to a half-mile, about what you'll find. If the only thing you have is a lot longer than that, then don't start gaiting until you're halfway up. And you can gradually take her into this routine that way, too; you don't have to start gaiting at the bottom of the hill, but somewhere partway up. The the next time, you can start a little closer to the bottom. But it should be a long time, maybe a year, before you let her gait on flat ground. And NEVER gait her downhill, or permit her to speed up when going downhill.

You will find that the hill does more for you than just "conditioning", which is typically the only facet of this that a trainer or even a veterinarian will be thinking about. The physical tilt of the ground helps the horse to round up and to take firmer, longer steps with the rear pair of legs. This is what you felt the other day when the "door opened" and she was briefly able to perform like your other mare.

So go at this with her in mind, and let her show you how she feels about things and how much she can offer at any one time, and have fun with it. -- Dr. Deb

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Hills....

I wanted to comment about this.  I moved from FLAT Florida to hilly Northeast TN with some Fl bred horses.  It took a while for all of us to acclimate to the terrain.  Then last year this time, I adopted a retiring therapy horse, a TWH who has always lived in this area.  When I first rode him at home, I was amazed at the power of his hindquarters and how he could engage and just lift going up a hill.  I had never felt that before!  Now this horse has been a work in progress, lots of worry in him so most of his gait was trot (better than a pace I know).  His canter was non-existent when being ridden, it was some type of pace/lope thing.  I had no clue why he moved that way other than his un-ok-edness.  I backed way up in how I worked with him, gave him a year to settle into life here.  He gaits up a gradually rising driveway and I can't stopped grinning when he does.  Amazing feeling.  I call him turbo-butt. 

As he becomes more supple and relaxed through his topline I suspect things will just continue to improve.  I am in no hurry with him.  He canters when out and about so I know he can.  His mental and physical braces are slowly becoming a thing of the past.  He is 18 yrs old, so he has a lifetime of habitual ways.

Anyway the discussion about working on a slight grade got me to thinking about that incredible feeling I have experience riding him!

Best,

Kathy

 

      

 

 

 

RobVSG
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Kindred, I know what your talking about. I went to visit Clintwood, Virginia last May. I rode a couple of horses and brought home the one I could afford, Poca. The other horse I rode was a 4year old stud colt. He was about 14.3hh, black, and had a good looking build but nothing that spectacular. They threw a saddle on him and his owner got on and shot down a VERY steep gravel road about 1/4 mile then turned around and shot back up. He did this about 4 times and he was at a VERY fast rack never missing a beat going up or down. The hill was actually the side of an Appalachian mountain that my 2-wheel drive 3/4 ton diesel had a little trouble climbing because of the rear wheels loosing traction on the gravel going up. 

When he got him "warmed up" the guy said "here ya go, do whatever you want with him, you ain't gonna hurt 'im" I climbed in the saddle and expected him to be stiff necked and ready to bolt or rush. He was exactly the opposite. He was soft, supple and no trouble getting him to walk up and down the mountain on a loose reign. I knew HE could rack very fast down that hill I had just seen him do it, but I was not comfortable and felt like we would trip and topple over face first. on a dirt bike they call it an endo. After we walked a while and I gained more confidence, I opened him up, but pointed uphill  for fear I would go endo. YOU TALK ABOUT SOME POWER FROM THE HIND QUARTERS!!!! His acceleration uphill was phenomenal, we were smooth racking never missing a beat about 15mph, (not as fast as his owner did on him) and it felt so good we turned around and went the same speed going down. Now he never missed a beat going down either but he felt more trotty going down.

That little stud was out of my price range, so I bought Poca from another one of their relatives  a couple of mountains over. She had bad saddle sores, was very step-pacey, she was bracey, but if you didn't try to speed her she would relax and walk very supple and rein very nicely. And she just had a 'sweetness' about her. She comes from bloodlines just as good, if not better than the little black stud.

Anyways, I saw firsthand the benefit working a horse on hills while in Clintwood and so have been really wishing I could find a steep hill close to me. But I have made a lot of progress with her without steep hill work, and it dawned on me that like people, horses are individuals too. She lived her first 6 years of her life in the setting of a mountain goat, and she came pacey and bracey, in fact like Dr Deb said, it hurts her to be pushed to a speed where she braces. So while I think hill work can definitely make a 'hoss' I think it can be harmful to still other horses, or maybe it's how the rider aproached the hill work..

I'm still learning.

Rob

DrDeb
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Rob, please remember -- you don't need a very steep hill. Stay away from steep hills. Let the grade be long and gradual, like a dirt road would be out in the country (well, I remember dirt roads around Lawrence, Kansas being like that: but you can find 'em anywhere). You do not want a jeep trail, as being both unnecessary and dangerous. -- Dr. Deb

RobVSG
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Yes ma'am, I understand, 1% grade is not very much. Poca came from the steep hills of Virginia and if she didn't learn to carry herself and a rider properly up there, then it will take the gradual approach. I think I understand. It's like getting her to be a rear-wheel-drive and pushing from the rear instead of being a front-wheel-drive and pulling herself from the front. And going downhill she's using her back legs to slow herself down like trailer brakes and counter-productive.

I have a good 1/2 mile gradual slope going uphill headed out within a mile of my house.

I'm following your prescription and I do believe it will work.

Thanks,

Rob

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Hello Rob - Since we are talking about the benefits of hill work as part of a strengthening program, I thought you may be interested in this story about two connemara ponies.  I think I've told this story before but can't find any reference so maybe it was on the old forum.

Some twenty years ago I got to know a couple in their late seventies who bred connemaras and ran a combined trailriding and riding school business.  Some of the youngstock were sold but many remained on the property where they were born to work as trail/school mounts. 

Lessons were held on a flat grass paddock and always incorporated a few passes in each direction over a grid of cavaletti, about 8" high.  Trail rides were through the hilly forested part of the property.  The horses lived out 24/7 in a large paddock of around 60 acres, and at least once per day would meander up the steep hill to await their portion of hay.  The horses were never overworked, most only doing a single 1-hr ride, no more than 3 or 4 times per week.  Most of the customers were beginner riders, children and adults, or tourists wanting a scenic ride.

The old lady led all the rides and had two rules that were strictly enforced.  No rider, no matter how experienced, was allowed to hang onto the horse's mouth, not even a 'contact'.   Children were given a neck strap to hold onto and adults told to hang on to a hunk of mane if they felt unsafe.  The other rule was that no horse was allowed to rush up or down any of the hills - walking only was permitted.

The elderly couple both passed away not long short of 90, the family did not wish to continue the business, so eventually all the horses were up for sale.  At that time I went back to have a look at a couple of the ponies as possible recruits for a therapeutic riding centre.  The two for sale were 26 and 23 years old, both having been born on the property and both having spent their entire lives carting beginner riders up and down those hills.  They were in fantastic condition, their backs and bellies as straight and strong as any young horse.   The controlled hill work and weekly cavaletti sessions kept these ponies sound and strong for 20+ years of beginner riders bouncing around on their backs.

Best wishes - Pauline

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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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?

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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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

neal
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got a question, how do you , come up with that name jedran , because like 50 years ago i worked on a ranch that had an arabian stud by that name of jedran, just curious how you come to use that name ?

Pauline Moore
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Goodness, Dr Deb, I'm quite exhausted just reading about your admirable abs program!

This is very similar to the approach advocated by physiotherapist Sarah Key, whose books I have mentioned previously on other threads, and to whom I owe a debt of understanding for her detailed descriptions of how a back works. 

The exercises I was taught are completely different, involving very little movement, on the basis that the function of the transverse abs is to restrict movement, not facilitate it.  In my own case, it was explained to me that doing sit-ups or crunches would be counter-productive until I had got some activity going in my transverse abs, very similar to the need for the astronauts to avoid sit-ups initially, although for me it was not no-gravity conditions that caused the problem but 40 years of bad posture - this should be taught in schools.

To help me become familiar with the feeling of my trans abs working, I was told to lie on the floor with my knees bent and feet flat.  Then I had to put an index finger on each hip bone, move those fingers one inch towards each other, then one inch down towards my thighs.  Leaving my fingers pressing down gently at this final point, I was told to visualise my trans abs as a sheet of corset that I was to try to bring closer to my spine any way I could.  The test for whether I had the right muscles working was to feel the firmness under my index fingers moving down away from my fingers, and I should only expect to feel a very slight movement, less than a quarter inch at best.  Any feeling of increasing pressure or upwards movement under my fingers would indicate that my other abs, obliques or rectus, had been activated instead.  Needless to say, the first few attempts brought only that feeling of upwards pressure but with practice I was able to isolate my trans abs and feel the pressure moving down away from beneath my fingers.   Once I'd got this feeling consistently, I could then start doing this exercise when standing, and then when sitting.  Eventually I found I could do it anytime, almost without thinking, so now I make it a habit to contract my trans abs every time I get in the car, and have included pelvic floor strengthening exercises at the same time.

This might not work for everyone, but it has been the sole reason for my improved strength and loss of back pain.  Any physiotherapist who specializes in back pain should be able to teach exercises similar to this which would be better than my second-hand version.

Best wishes - Pauline



Tutora
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Thank you Dr. Deb, Pauline, and Mr. Peek for this diversion! After going without back pain for decades, just this weekend I hurt my back while trying to lift something ridiculously heavy. I googled "transverse abs exercises" yesterday, and thought I'd start with the one Pauline mentioned. (Photos are at courierpress.com under what Google brings up.)  My back pain went away--I guess I nipped it in the bud.

Bats, backs human and equine, and horses inside and out--what a variety of things to learn about on this forum. Thank you to everyone.

As a small, quirky expression of my appreciation, here is a very compact joke I heard recently: Two cannibals were eating a clown. One cannibal said to the other, "Does this taste funny to you?"   :-)   --Elynne

Seglawy Jedran
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Dear Neal: Well Seglawy Jedran is a strain of arab horse. When i tried to register for the forum with my regular name my old dsl box changed it to some browser jacking criminals address and the computer wouldn't let me register. Very disconcerting!! So i tried a bunch of euphemisms, Seglawy Jedran, Kuhailan Haifi, Hamdany Simri etc. As it happened when a certain phone company which shall remain nameless, but which will forever be linked to abominable customer service in my mind, finally figured out that their wretched equipment was the cause of the problem, they graciously consented to  let me pay for a new  dsl box, and i was finally able to get registered. The system just used Seglawy Jedran cuz that was the first one to come up out of my computers memory.
best wishes
 Bruce Peek

JTB
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Bumping this as it is a great thread!




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