- Category: Horses
Muscle Development Tells the Truth.
June 1, 2019
You do the work. You keep doing the work. Knowing that you need to educate the horse's back and there is no shortcut - no gadget, no trick, no aids that will get you there. You have to do the work. You have to practice even if the horse is not progressing because you have to learn - nobody else is going to do it. You have to have poll flexion and you can't have weight on the bit - none. It's a paradox, until you figure out that you are half of the pulling match and you can stop any time you want, even when she wants you to pull. You think you aren't pulling, but yup, you are. Keep reminding yourself, every 5 seconds. Video of your rides helps you a lot to separate imagination from reality - they are different.
You have to create the conditions where she will figure out the right coordination of her back and not fake it, and she can't do it when she is pushing on your hands because that creates forces that follow the cervical spine right down to the cervical thoracic junction which is exactly what needs to lift. Lateral bending coupled with correct rotation in the thoracic spine, lift of the trunk, is the goal.
You can try to induce bending with properly executed gymnastics or you can try to induce lift with other properly executed gymnastics or both. The key is "properly executed" = locomotion that does not create pathology, either it does or it doesn't. And horses can't do it until they can, so there's another paradox. You learn to love the paradox. Don't worry, they start to dissolve the moment you flush dichotomous thinking down the toilet. But, those are the choices, of course combined with different gaits and transitions from gymnastic to gymnastic and gait to gait, so there are lots of choices, but don't confuse her.
She is going to protect herself and her survival skills are rock solid. You have to be tuned in to the right image of how the horse's body works (and it has nothing to do with inanimate objects) so you can know if it's discomfort from pathological coordination or discomfort from new unfamiliar but healthy coordination. She will fiercly protect that bad coordination that she developed to protect that thing that hurt. There is a difference though. With the wrong image in your mind, you will accept bad coordination and dismiss good coordination. Both of which are sort of punishments to the horse. When the horse's body state is very much the wrong coordination, improvement can mean she goes from absolutely fundamentally disgusting coordination to really really bad coordination, but that is moving in the right direction and you have to learn to recognize the smallest details. She will, faster than you do. Don't miss the clue. Well, if you do there will be another one or twenty. Horses are cool like that. But don't use the clues that go with inaccurate models. Drive cars on or shoot arrows with those models.
Sometimes day to day, there is no progress. Sometimes the horse regresses. You re-check your thinking, refine the communication with her. It's been too noisy, too bossy, too strong, or not encouraging enough. Too much tone somewhere in your body. You've interpreted her inability as stubbornness. Stop That. You know she'd jump the moon for you. She believes she can't do it. It's not "screw you" it's "I really believe my body can't do that". You have to be compassionate at the same time be determined to show her how. She needs to take the forces from the thrust of the hind limb and convert some of that to upward forces to unload the fore and stop the train wreck that overloading the fore causes in the hind. Erherm, hock arthritis. With muscle insertions at angles spanning multiple vertebrae, there is an opportunity for upward force component at each insertion, if you remember your vector math - if not, don't worry, there is. You can't micromanage 186 synovial articulations of the horse's spine - she has to. You need her brain turned on, and yours.
Then one day, for 3 seconds, there is quiet conversation. She is trusting you, trying hard, but not being obedient and trying to please you, she is thinking. Hallelujah! Obedience is your enemy because it shuts off her brain. Remember she'll jump the moon for you. Hell, she ripped half her medial sesamoid bone off for her jockey. When she complains you better listen. Listen but don't quit. Try harder, but not stronger, to get her to learn the efficient body coordination with all the knowledge and experience you've gained so far, and get help when you need to, because she is still willing to work. The clock is ticking though.
Then you feel some good back coordination, for many days in a row. She is in much better control of her balance. Despite the pathology that limits her, she has figured a way to lift the trunk, even though she's not really supposed to be able to. Biological systems are amazing! And even though it's not spectacular, you feel the small difference. Then one day, right after your ride, you look up at her and see the old girl has been synthesizing muscle tissue in the right places. Be still my heart, The work is paying off. Muscle development tells the truth about the training.
The "you" is me and the "she" is Dazzling Jane, a 1999 ottb with a heart of gold. The photo was taken today. The timeline is 2013 (start of Science of Motion In Hand Therapy Course) to 2019. The pathology is enough that a vet suggested euthanization in 2017, neurological symptoms were there and I opted out of the full neuro exam. But, Jane politely disagreed with the idea of euthanization by playing exuberantly in the pasture, that same week, making a bounce jump out of two little weed bushes that she easily could have galloped through. And that, I could not ignore. I owed it to her to step up my game and apply what I was learning.
She has waited a long time for me to get my brain wired right for an authentic conversation with her. It's a unique conversation with each horse. Not the euphemism "conversation" wink, wink, meaning you smacked some sense into the horse to make her behave. This one has been my most challenging so far. It's not done, really it's just beginning. But in general, rehabilitation is never done. It's ongoing. It's the same work that will develop a young horse for sport. Except the young horse (hopefully!) does not have the layers and layers of protections from past injuries and accrual of pathologies of an old broken down off-track Thoroughbred. Jean Luc Cornille says rehabilitation is harder than winning a grand prix. He's done many of both. But by rehabilitation, he means long term, not get-me-through-the-season rehabilitation, or periodic maintenance type of rehabilitation. That's not rehabilitation, it's duct tape and bailing twine and horses deserve better. This is what Science of Motion has taught me - to raise the bar of rehabilitation and equitation.
This work is not at all physically challenging, it is easy on a body - very easy. No need for spurs or strong arms and back, just sophisticated muscle control and fine tuned perception - and all riders have this capability, but it takes time to learn. The horse is the one with the physical strength and power, and she needs to learn mastery of her balance with a rider on board. The rider is the one with the capacity to analyze the inputs from the horse and guide her to more efficient body coordination. The challenge is overriding the body habits, thought patterns, outdated knowledge, and learn to use the most important tool for riding, your brain, equipped with the right information and free from extraneous noises of conventional thinking. To have any success at this, you stay a learner of the practical application of the knowledge, not an expert. Each horse is unique and has to be learned in order to be rehabilitated. You stay humble because the moment you think you have the answers, a horse will humble you. You keep your mind free and open to perceiving the horse because they don't follow typical human thought patterns and they are often 2 or a hundred steps ahead of you. They change body coordinations faster than we think, so intuition has to be consciously and intentionally developed, lest you miss an opportunity to advance progress. You will. Don't worry, try to catch the next wave. You flush perfectionism down the toilet because mistakes are where the learning is, for both you and the horse. May as well flush the expert hat down the toilet too - people impressed by that won't appreciate this work. The horse needs a partner with knowledge, compassion, determination and the flexibility to create hypotheses and flush them down the toilet and make a better one. Keep the toilet handy, a lot goes in there on this journey, probably it's good to have a plunger too.
- Category: Horses
That horse you don't want to give up on. That horse who doesn't want to give up.
I thought he was a pretty good mover with some natural suspension in his trot. He was very touchy to ride, a horse with an opinion, a sense of humor, and intensity. He had been pastured a couple times in his life mostly because of his behavior. His past riders were all competent and talented and I am very fortunate that they honestly shared their stories with me.
He came out of retirement at about 13 years old and he was doing ok. He was leased to a student of mine by another trainer, and that is how I met him. I must add, this was a brave student and very good rider, and an even braver mother who let him lease this intense athletic horse. I know it was scary for her at times - what a mother will do out of love for her son. Leasing this horse meant maybe not making Pony Club ratings, for the sake of the experience of riding such a horse. I think this student qualifies as a "damn poet" (in a very complimentary way.) I have tremendous respect for him.
I purchased William just a few months into his 6 month lease and took possession when the lease was finished. This was enough time to reveal his inability to stay sound and maintain muscle mass in the context of conventional training. Locking stifles started a few months after he went back to work. His tirades were frequent. At the end of the lease, I owned a lame, skinny (despite proper feeding) and intense horse. I had a false sense of confidence about rehabbing stifle issues. I had read information published by industry respected sources, and my vet's recommendations matched: hill work, cavaletti, rein back, leg yield. Easy. It Didn't Work. It Made Him Worse. Now I know why. These exercises cause more damage when the horse isn't lucky enough to choose the right coordination of his back. Furthermore, some of these exercises demand movement that can't be done in a healthy way. Well I have no interest any more in playing with luck this way. It was a hard time, but good experience because it motivated me to find answers. I found them at Science of Motion. I still have burned into my brain the visual impression of the coordination that William chose for the prescribed exercises: stance of the fore limbs too far back, flat pelvis, extended thoracic, etc. He, like many horses, found a way to coordinate the movements using completely dysfunctional kinematics. Aside from the initial stifle injection while William was very lame, I have not had any treatments of any sort done to this horse since 2013. I use only therapy in motion that I learned from Jean Luc Cornille and his Science of Motion IHTC course. Fast forward to now, October 2018, and William is consistently SOUND. He is in daily work. He will be 20 in February, and he OFFERED me PIAFFE, one of the most athletically demanding gymnastics that a horse can do. He offered it. He just did it. But I did the work over the last few years to prepare him so that he can do it with ease. Horses will happily do what's easy, and the correct rehabilitation work prepared William to coordinate piaffe with ease. Science of Motion therapy works. William is learning piaffe, at 19, with no prior dressage experience beyond training level, at the very age that many OTTB's in conventional training programs are starting to be retired or euthanized for lameness, djd, cervical remodeling, neurological problems etc. This used up, navicular, stifle djd, OTTB is still developing muscularly.
My teacher's teacher, Colonel Margot, told my teacher Jean Luc Cornille, the way to ask for piaffe is "hup" which he said while assuming "the posture." I laugh every time Jean Luc tells that story. Poor guy, he was asking a sincere question and his teacher says "hup". He later learned that "hup" is exactly all it is. Fortunately Jean Luc has many more words than "hup" to explain the training to his students. But it's still not what one would expect to hear. There is absolutely no touching of the horses legs, no gadgets, no side reins, no long and low, no aids. He said you educate the back and in 5 years the horse will just do it. Yup. That's what happened. I asked William with my back/core/muscle tone to collect his trot a lot and his response was piaffe. To be very clear, there is no recipe of aids, there is no ground person with a stick, I did not teach him to pick up his feet in diagonal pairs, I don't push with the seat or pull on the reins, I don't wear spurs and, I don't even carry a whip. He used the elasticity of his body and the right coordination of muscle tone to turn the thrust of the hind limbs and spring of forelimbs into piaffe without rocking fore/aft or side/side; without bouncing his butt with front legs marching in place, without taking on the appearance of a mountain goat on a mountain peak. It was just a nice square piaffe. Heavenly. I'm so glad I didn't give up on him because clearly he's in no mood to give up. We will continue this as long as he wants to. I can only imagine how William would perform if this work were started before he had scar tissue to dampen is full potential. This is what Horse PT, LLC does. This is what we teach. It does not matter the discipline, all horses deserve this level of athletic preparation whether or not it results in piaffe. Soundness is the primary objective and they all deserve it. With soundness comes higher than imagined athletic abilities.