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.