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The effect of lax pasterns on longterm soundness
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Redmare
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 Posted: Thu Oct 6th, 2022 05:53 pm
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Hello Dr. Deb! I'm hoping you can help me understand the implications of a horse with laxity in the pastern: I'm not sure how to technically phrase it, but I am not referring to a horse with any known pathologies like DSLD, etc. Simply a horse whose pasterns, particularly the hinds, seem to have a lot more give to them, especially in movement.

I purchased a fairly young cob cross this spring as I finally made the decision to retire from riding my older roan gelding due to ongoing discomfort in his hocks. One of the things I noticed is his hind limb conformation. When stood up square, his hind fetlocks - the left especially - appear slightly dropped when compared to the angle of his hind hooves. The right is much less so. It is also not apparent in his front legs/feet. Because I trim him myself, I have been paying attention to how he lands, but his hoof balance has been improving greatly over time and the laxity in the fetlock doesn't seem to cause him any issues that I can perceive. I have since been told by a couple of people who are pretty familiar with cobs that this laxity is fairly common.

I'm particularly interested in how this laxity would affect the SI, as regular chiro work on this gelding has shown he tends to want to stay in a place of slight extension and slight contraction to the right. Correct upward transitions where he really coils his loins have proven tough for him, so I've taken his under saddle work very slowly. He's a broad, solid horse and typical of a draft cross in his desire to want to be very heavy on his forehand, so I'm sure that's a contributing factor.

I have attached a couple pictures of him, sadly I don't any good shots newer than March of this year.

Last edited on Thu Oct 6th, 2022 06:01 pm by Redmare

Redmare
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 Posted: Thu Oct 6th, 2022 05:56 pm
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Side view R

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Redmare
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 Posted: Thu Oct 6th, 2022 05:57 pm
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Side view L.

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DrDeb
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 Posted: Sun Oct 9th, 2022 09:29 am
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Dear Redmare: Sorry I've been slow to get back; we've been SOOO busy in the office with the new 3-volume Conformation book.
I think you'll be able to answer this to a great extent yourself, by performing a simple experiment:

Wait for a time when the horse is tied up to the tie rack and been there awhile so he's very relaxed. Then, letting him know you're there but trying not to chouse him up at all, approach the left haunch and give it a slow but rather firm push, like you would do if your intention were to pick up his left hind leg.

When you push the haunches over, observe what happens to BOTH hind pasterns. And please write back to tell me:

1. What happened to the left pasterns2. What simultaneously happened to the right pasterns.

You can try this experiment a second time, this time from the right side, and answer the same two questions again after observing.

The whole thing has to do with the horse's habitual crookedness, which in all cases goes back to the animal's preference to weight one hind limb rather than the other one. What I'm trying to get you to discover is which hind limb is his favorite. For if we have no significant structural asymmetry, but we are merely dealing with a habit of posture and stance, then what you will find is that the pasterns of the limb he prefers will be the ones that constantly carry the lower or more horizontal angle.

If on the other hand he prefers to weight, let us say, the right hind limb and yet the pasterns of this limb are steeper, then we're in more serious trouble with some kind of effective limb-length difference, or else some kind of old injury that resulted in shortening of the flexor aspect of the limb with the more horizontal pasterns, a flexor contraction that would be of the deep digital flexor muscle of that limb so that it is pulling the coffin bone back all the time.

To my eye this is a very cute and structurally correct horse with a lot of athletic potential and excellent potential for long-term soundness. It would help if you could get some proper conformation shots. Notice how you've angled the lens downward in both the shots you have posted, and also how much distortion the crappy lens in your cell phone camera introduces (look how disproportionately big the horse's head looks). What you want instead is to get a helper to hold the lead line, and then if you MUST use the cell phone, stand back quite a ways so as to at least reduce the distortion. Much better would be to use a proper camera.

From what I can see in the photos you have posted, the horse has rather open hind angles but yet they do not appear to be the same left and right, i.e. at either the hock or stifle. But I need a properly taken set of conformation shots before I can really tell. Cheers -- Dr. Deb

Redmare
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 Posted: Mon Oct 10th, 2022 05:45 pm
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I am working on getting some better conformation shots. In the last couple days as I've observed him both at rest and meandering around the pasture, I noticed he takes longer strides with the LH and (by comparison, but by no means looking unsounds or lame) shorter, tighter strides with the RH. Under saddle, he's been kind of a typical hollow left, stiff right horse. He's made great strides on the ground learning to untrack, but there tends to be a pattern of not weighting the hinds equally when he's asked to roll his hindquarters to the left (so the right hind stepping under). He tends to roll over and then be leaning on the LH and noticeably bearing less weight on the RH, usually with it also positioned more forward compared to the LH. He also tends to want to lean more on the RF than the LF.

I thought this would be a decent indicator of what I was likely to find when I did as you asked, but I'm not that sure it was. He hesitated to shift his hind end in either direction, but there was slightly more hesitation asking him to shift ON TO the left hind to move his hind end to the left than the reverse (I would have thought he wants to weight the LH more, thus this would have been easier). When I watched the pasterns, I didn't see any appreciable difference in how much the angle changed when he weighted the LH to pick up his RH, or weighted the RH to pick up his LH. I was looking through still shots I have of him and I rarely catch him standing square. I've attached a photo of how I most *often* see him, if he chooses how he stops to stand. This is a more extreme example of how he positions the RH, it's gotten better over time, but it's still the general pattern.

All of this is to say I don't think it's a limb length issue. I think it's a weight bearing preference issue.

Redmare
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 Posted: Mon Oct 10th, 2022 05:47 pm
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Bay standing

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Last edited on Mon Oct 10th, 2022 05:51 pm by Redmare

DrDeb
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 Posted: Tue Oct 11th, 2022 08:35 am
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Redmare, this is looking more like a straightforward case of a crooked-going horse, i.e. one with a fairly strong preference for weighting one hind limb rather than the other. Everything you report, and all the photos so far posted, indicate that the more horizontal pastern, with the steeper toe angle, is on the left. The last photo you posted also shows this; the animal is weighting the left hind leg, and you say this is typical of him and how he prefers to stop/stand.

You also say he feels "hollow on the left, stiff to the right" which would mean he has difficulty untracking with the right hind leg, and yet you report that after untracking and having the haunches move to his left, he tends to "stick" in that weighting, i.e. preferring to weight the left hind. But we already knew that this is what he prefers! Remember that when you ask a horse to untrack with the right hind leg, precisely what you are asking him to do is to unweight the right hind and weight the left hind, and that appears to be exactly what this horse is doing.

I imagine that in your concern with the supposed "laxity" of the left hind pasterns, you have simply failed to pay enough attention to what's going on when he untracks with the LEFT hind limb. This horse should, if he conforms in the usual way with the paradigm, find it more difficult to untrack with the right hind limb than with the left hind limb, and, if he's typical, when he's going to the right he'll appear to be untracking when what he's really doing is shifting the whole rear part of his spine outward, to make you think he's "yielding" when what he's really doing is protecting that continual, preferred left-hand arc to the body.

What he's also liable to do, when worked from the right side whether on the short rein or upon the long, is have a more or less obnoxious tendency to crowd you or come in or creep in toward you when worked from that side. Whereas when worked from the left side it will be easier to keep him at a proper distance from you. Indeed horses with the habit of bending left/not bending right that are less broke will sometimes try to take over when worked to the right, and they will bolt straight away from the person holding the line, or else flip right around and take off in the opposite (preferred) direction, i.e. to the left or counter-clockwise.


Horses with a strong side preference will also try, no matter what side they're worked from, to go back into the preferred bend as soon as they think they've complied or that you are satisfied with whatever "try" they made. Do not be too easily satisfied.

Now, there are two very effective approaches to helping these horses -- that is, beyond having called them out on what they are really doing. So now that you know this horse is going to protect and try to maintain at all costs that left-hand bend, you know to anticipate that he's going to do this every minute unless you prevent it. And you prevent it by (1) working him very slowly, one-step-at-a-time, until you feel him give it up or "turn loose" to it, or achieve durchlassigkeit; and breathe out, and lower his head on his own. At that time you stop asking him to yield over and reward him. But mind, you may have to walk along with him for five, ten, thirty, or sixty minutes at first, before he will turn loose. After your first deep success of this kind, then that's the end of the work for the day. The next day you come back and ask and you'll get it in five minutes or less I predict; but only if you plumbed the full depths the day before.

The other very effective approach is to remember that this tendency to maintain a continuous left bend is 100% tied up with his neurological makeup, i.e. he's going to have a preferred eye, and you can call him out on this by observing what he does when you allow him to stop on the longe or longer line. Predictively, if he's being worked from the left side, he will stop and not swing his head in toward you too much. If he's being worked from the right side however, he will stop and swing his head in to you strongly, or even swivel his whole body so that the midline plane of his spine is aiming straight to you; and this is his effort to always maintain you in his left eye, and not use his right eye.

Your job then becomes to continually "call" the right eye. Every little thing you do -- from approaching him in the stall or in the pasture, to haltering, to leading, to ground work on the shorter rein, to longeing on the longer rein, to riding, should become designed, in some small subtle ways, and in a great variety of ways, to demand the attention of the right eye and to set it up so that the right eye must "wake up" and be the first eye to arrive at whatever is being looked at. Of course this will also emerge in twirling the head.


Calling the right eye has the automatic and instant effect of causing him to rearrange everything behind his eyes to suit the bend imposed by the right eye leading rather than the left eye leading.

And last -- you can forget about "pastern laxity". This horse has no laxity at all. Laxity implies abnormally low tonus. Why I had you mess around with pushing the haunches left or right was to get you to notice that when he shifts his big old heavy butt to the left, the left fetlock joint descends, and the opposite when he shifts to the right. The  reason the left pasterns appear to you to be horizontal is that they ARE more horizontal, but that's because the horse prefers to weight that limb. He is also, as I said, just a little on the straighter end of the spectrum as far as the stifle and hock angles. Not post-legged by any stretch; indeed close to ideal. But the straighter the hind limb, i.e. the wider-open the angles at stifle and hock, the more angle there must be at the fetlock and coffin joints. If this were not so the horse would wind up trying to move while standing on the hind toe.


I think he may have some remnant stiffness or very slight shortening of the DDF on the left, for which ordinary riding, especially long slow road-rides where the horse is encouraged to take as long and elastic a hind step as possible, should be sufficient therapy; although if you want to go to the trouble, you can look up Pauline Moore's old posts here on how to do a proper job of manual stretching, and try some of that.


I'll still appreciate seeing more/better conformation photos of this horse. Who knows! He may show up in another new book someday! Cheers -- Dr. Deb


Redmare
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 Posted: Tue Oct 11th, 2022 10:26 pm
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YES to the "obnoxious" tendency to crowd when being worked from the right side. And yes, when worked at liberty he has a much harder time following when I draw his right eye than the left, although it's getting better.

Regarding the untracking...what is a bit perplexing to me is that he DOES have an easier time untracking the RH, so in that way he is not "typical" as you described. My guess is because he is so committed to weighting the LH that to literally shift weight off it is simply harder, whereas the RH is less burdened and more available. His untracking of the LH also tends to demonstrate more "leaking" through the right shoulder, the same way he wants to fall to the outside in a left bend under saddle.

Can you expand more on the first method of address the bend preference? I assume I am working him on his right side, but I am trying to envision my own positioning: i.e., am I leading him forward slowly simply from the rope, or am I looking to influence his bend by taking gentle hold of the halter in some way?

As an aside, I am plumb pleased at your assessment of his physical conformation - I've spent a lot of time with your conformation guides and one of the things that struck me immediately about him when his previous owner first sent him to me to get back into to shape to sell was how he was put together.

I will get you some better conformation shots this week!

DrDeb
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 Posted: Wed Oct 12th, 2022 08:28 am
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Redmare, per your request to expand more on how to work "slowly" off the right (or either) side with this horse -- please go to our main website at http://www.equinestudies.org, click on "Knowledge Base" and then find the button for the free .pdf download of the article on "How to Longe". If you had read that already, then please review in detail. Particularly -- this is exactly what I had suspected -- your are NEVER to lead the horse forward when working on either the long or the short rein. NEVER EVER. Doing so will never cure, but likely exacerbate, the problems you are having.

What you do is DRIVE. That means that effectively, you have to position yourself behind him. Behind the "drive line", i.e. about where the girth would cut, as a minimum, and depending on the situation and what you're asking of him, possibly 3/4ths the way down his body or even right behind him.


You do not LEAD the horse forward because that means you will be PULLING forward on the line. The line is to be slack 100% of the time, except brief moments when one or both of you lose your balance or come out of coordination with each other in terms of the speed with which you are walking forward. To longe means to drive the horse forward by walking parallel to him, from a point more or less behind him, on an arc. You PUSH on the line all the time, never PULL on it. If he is untracking, he will arc his own body into the curve and thus track a curve, so there is no need to PULL him in or PULL on the line to maintain the circularity of the track.

All driving is driving; all longeing is driving; all work on the short rein is driving; and all riding is driving. So you drive. And as to going slow, what I am encouraging you to do is not to "blur". See each step. Note in the article which of your feet is supposed to always be the one you push off of, and which one is the one you always step forward with. NEVER step backwards, unless you see the horse coming straight back over you (unlikely). You crowd him, so to speak; he does not crowd you. If you are working the horse on the right hand (for example) and you catch yourself stepping to the right, or to the right-and-back with your right foot, you are not understanding how your feet are to go. How your feet go will 100% predict how his feet go. Coordinate your steps with his. Work at no great speed, so that the horse has an easy time coordinating himself with himself and with you.


Write back when you've reviewed the suggested piece. And yes for sure, I do think this horse is awful cute and I would love to see what his piaffe and passage come out to look like. Cheers -- Dr. Deb

JTB
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 Posted: Sun Oct 16th, 2022 08:27 pm
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Hi Dr Deb and Redmare,
As usual I enjoy Redmare's threads and I hope it is okay to horn in on this.
I have reread the How to Longe and found I had been activating the gas pedal without starting the engine!
Reading the above--

"(1) working him very slowly, one-step-at-a-time, until you feel him give it up or "turn loose" to it, or achieve durchlassigkeit; and breathe out, and lower his head on his own. At that time you stop asking him to yield over and reward him. But mind, you may have to walk along with him for five, ten, thirty, or sixty minutes at first, before he will turn loose. After your first deep success of this kind, then that's the end of the work for the day. The next day you come back and ask and you'll get it in five minutes or less I predict; but only if you plumbed the full depths the day before."

Can I use this to help a horse turn loose of his troubled thoughts? Am I asking him to longe with all four corners reaching equal or am I asking for a loose turn on the forehand?
Many thanks
Judy :-)

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 Posted: Tue Oct 18th, 2022 07:48 am
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Completely ignore the above question please!
With a little help from a Friend and a wee video I have found the answer to my questions, and the origin of my gelding's concern. :-)


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