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Ground work for young horses
 Moderated by: DrDeb  
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Kathy K

Joined: Sun Dec 20th, 2020
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 Posted: Mon Dec 21st, 2020 03:19 pm
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I have been told that doing a lot of circling and hindquarter disengagements is hard on the joints of young horses. Is this true? If yes, at what age would it be okay? What is considered too much? Are there breeds that are more susceptible to damaged joints?

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 Posted: Mon Dec 21st, 2020 06:46 pm
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Kathy, to begin with, by using the term "disengagement" you identify yourself as someone who has not read much of the background material concerning horse training that is resident in this Forum. We do not use the term "disengagement"; the proper term is that proposed by the 18th-century riding master from Versailles, (Francois Robichon de la Gueriniere). the proper term is "untracking", which is also the term used by our teacher, Ray Hunt. You can also try to obtain a copy of Henry L. de Bussigny's "Equitation" in which this exercise is thoroughly and clearly explained ("Equitation" was written in 1884 about ten years after Bussigny emigrated from France to this Country, but not published until 1922).

Gueriniere also uses the terms "rotation" or "enlargement" of the hindquarter to mean the same thing, i.e., having the horse step under the body shadow with the inside hind leg. For the master horsemen of the European so-called "classical era," this constituted ENgagement of the hindquarter -- which is why we do not use "DISengagement" for this maneuver. The man who popularized "disengagement" is quite ignorant of his exact position in history, although (we think) demonstrates an absolute over-concern with it.

As to circles damaging joints: This is heard from the mouths of some veterinarians who have, themselves, never successfully trained any horse. However, their concerns are quite valid: any idiot who follows the abovementioned ego-inflated clinician deserves what they get after applying his rigid and generally needlessly rough methodology. It is quite true that the endless, mindless demand for the horse to circle -- whether on the end of a long lead rope, a longe line, or under saddle, will contribute to joint damage. In other words, if you set up conditions for a repetitive-use injury, you should not be surprised if what you get is repetitive-use injury.

This is yet another example of the depth of ignorance promulgated by the "disengagement" school. Proper, humane horse training depends, rather, upon Tom Dorrance's maxim: observe, remember, and compare. So we apply no technique to every horse, and when we apply well known techniques, we apply them to the minimum degree that appears to be necessary, all the while evaluating the horse's response and the physical results. Again, if you don't believe Tom or Ray, then you can read the very same in Bussigny and his teacher, Francois Baucher.

When untracking, it is almost never necessary to have the horse take more than one or two steps. No amount of force is used. Pressure is released the moment the horse commits to a response. Nothing is repeated to "reinforce" it; the horse learns on one or two tries, especially if the handler/rider is good at releasing at the right moment.

I say "the horse learns" but also, his body responds; for there is no such thing as "training" in the sense of "ironing something out by repetition" or "flexing something until it will readily bend." A normal horse's body is already readily bendable, and the primary effect of untracking is not to "train" the horse to untrack, but to use this movement, which the horse himself has been performing since his mother taught it to him while suckling, is to trigger the release of tension in both the body and the emotions. The same may be said for twirling the head (Baucher's "jaw flexions" which we see in Bussigny and also in Fillis); they are primarily designed to obtain or provoke release in targeted muscles and in the emotions. Head twirling and untracking are monstrously mis-used when repeated without concern for, or the handler even being taught to notice, the horse's moment-to-moment response.

Dressage competitors have been known to be just as stupid as the "disengagement" crowd. Many times I have witnessed them endlessly circling their horses under saddle or on longe line. Wherein we see no changeups: no change in direction, tempo, level of energy output, step length, or flexion. "Changeups" is a colloquial way to say "transitions"; but training a horse is impossible without transitions. Even old-fashioned rail-show competitors make the same mistake: anyone who mindlessly rides along the rail, never making use of the zillion opportunities which our most valuable tool the arena presents for transitions and changes of direction and figure, is wasting their horse's life and soundness.

So again here Kathy as with your other inquiry, you will find there is quite a lot to consider. I would ask you to do us the courtesy of reading further in this Forum. For topic search, do not use the onboard search function which has long ago been overwhelmed; instead go back to the front page of this Forum and follow directions in the announcement thread near the top concerning how to use the Google search function to search only this Forum for topics.

Meanwhile you are also, of course, free to reply to these responses. -- Dr. Deb

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