Here are some gifs I made of my videos showing the difference of movement when the horse is stretched long and low vs low and deep. During the low and deep position, the horse’s neck processes become more tightly S-curved which widens the space between the second and third vertebrae, putting stress on the tendons and ligaments. In addition, the back is more hollow and the horse finds it difficult to step underneath its self. When stretched long and low properly, the horse moves forwards fluently and tracks up with its hind legs. In addition, the neck processes become a lot straighter and the horse looks relaxed. I believe these gifs respond well to my intention of comparing the two training methods and showing discomfort during a deep/rollkur position.
Do you ever have something enter in your mind, right a you’re about to fall asleep, and it’s so vivid and clear that you immediately have to either write it down or draw it before it sleips away forever?
Because the other day this book-horse popped into my head and, holy kittens, it was such a scramble, all I knew was that in the dreamlike scenario it was both @modmad’s and based off her character ɹnoℲ, it was (in the words of a hastily scribbed note) “electronic and bleepy inside”, and I had to scribble him down there and then.
When I mentioned it/drawing it properly to @squigglydigglydoo whilst skyping with her today, she suggested what if the extremities were paper, so….
Say hello to Bookie!
He sounds like crinkling paper when he walks, and rustling paper when he runs. He hates water, and likes to hide among bookshelves despite being horse-sized. His pet peeve is being mistaken for a deer. He eats paper, but only when it’s folded into origami shapes. He has googly eyes because googly eyes are hilarious.
My notes, since they’re nigh-impossible to read: “Inside is all electronic and bleepy like a spaceship” “Is actually in two haves” “Modmad horse (based off that nursery horse thing” “Inside looking out”
In order to see the difference in what’s going on inside & the difference in biomechanics when the horse is put into different neck positions, I painted the skeleton onto a live horse. I used non-toxic poster paints and followed diagrams of the skeleton as a reference as well as using my hands to feel where the bones are on this horse. I decided to leave the ribs out as the didn’t serve any purpose to what I wanted to see. I focused on the neck, back and legs of the horse which are the areas I wanted to see the change in. I also painted on some of the topline muscles in pink. I think overall this went well, it looks good and does help see the difference in movement. For it to be even better I could have made it even more anatomically correct such as by starting the spine a bit lower down and the lumbar processes a bit further back. I will turn my videos of movement into gifs to show comparison of different training methods.
Hey, I was wondering if you have any tips about lunging? A haflinger I ride is super stiff (especially on his right side) and right now I'm focussing on just getting him to relax instead of bucking and pulling away while lunging. But I don't know how to make him engage his core and step underneath himself once he's ready to do some real lunge work. I do use poles at a walk already though and intend to use them in trot too once he's finally calm enough to focus on things like that.
Usually my answer to horses bucking and pulling on the lunge line is to jettison the lunge line and free lunge them until they have learned how to behave all by themselves, but that is largely because I’ve never had formal line lungeing instruction, and also because if a horse pulls hard on me, they’ll pull my collarbone out of joint. This is also only an option if you have a fenced lunge ring; plus free lungeing isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.
I’m going to assume that free lungeing isn’t the solution here, particularly because you say he’s stiff, which could definitely be behind his bucking and his leaning. Leaning to the outside makes me think that he’s relying on the lunge line to an extent for balance, and that will only be corrected as he gets stronger and more flexible.
When I’m working with a horse who rushes, whether in hand, on the lunge, under saddle, wherever, I like to take them all the way down to a walk. Walking work is easier on you, because you have more time to see what’s going on and more time to correct them, and both easier and harder on the horse, because they aren’t needing to run to stay on top of their feet, but they also can’t use momentum to propel themselves through an awkward spot. From what you’ve said, I imagine that you’re already doing a lot of walking work, which is great. Also, please forgive me if you know much of what I’m about to say, but I think going through the anatomy and the physics of how a horse’s body works is useful when it comes to figuring out how to improve their movement.
So to get the horse engaging their core and stepping underneath themselves on a circle, they need to bend through their bodies. Bending through the neck is relatively easy - horses can achieve the most flexion at the point where their neck and their thorax meet - but bending through their back is harder, as there’s not much room for lateral flexion in the spine. They can increase bend through their trunk by rotating their ribcage as well - you see this on small circles, when the ribs to the inside kind of contract and the ribs on the outside open up. The motion of their limbs also contributes to the degree of bend. For any sort of bending/sideways movement, there are two types of motion of the limbs: abduction and adduction. Abduction is the term used when the horse steps out to the side with a leg, away from its body. Adduction refers to the horse bringing a leg across the centre of its body, towards its centre of mass. When we talk about horses stepping underneath themselves, we are talking about adduction.
When a horse travels on a circle, ideally they should be bent through the body. This means that the inside hind needs to step up and underneath the horse to support its weight. The adductor muscles in the hind leg are the ones that run from the pelvis to the inside of the femur and tibia - the adductor, the gracilis, sartorius and medial semimembranosus (i.e. the semimembranosus on the inside of the leg). (There’s a nice little FB post on the gracilis here.)
Picture lifted from the Science of Motion website, but no idea what book they originally took it from. The adductor muscle itself is sort of buried in the middle of all the other muscles.
Showing the location of the semimembranosus and the gracilis from behind.
Anyway, when a horse adducts its hind leg, these muscles contract to pull it across the body. Effectively, any sort of work that encourages the horse to step sideways and underneath itself will strengthen these muscles, such as leg yielding. Since I am awful at lateral work, I will add some tags at the end of this for people who actually know what they’re talking about with lateral work, and will focus instead on what I do myself.
So Abba does not like adducting her hind legs one little bit, which is presumably tied to the lump and divot of muscle in her one haunch. With her what I’ve done is an exercise which I picked up from Buck Brannaman’s 7 Clinics and was then re-taught by my trainer. Basically, while the horse is walking a calm controlled circle around you, every so often you roll the hind end over. By that I mean you walk to the hip and the horse makes a much smaller circle around you, which means they are now being compelled to step much more deeply beneath themselves with that inside hind. Abba being Abba, she takes as many small steps as she possibly can, sort of shuffling her hind end sideways, before she gives up and does the hard work of bringing the inside hind forward and across her outside hind. I filmed this today, so will tag you in the video once it uploads.
At first, as soon as you get one step of adduction, you reward the horse for that and then let them go out on the bigger circle once more, but as they get better at it, then you can ask for more steps where the horse is crossing over with that inside hind. Ideally, though, you want to get to a point where you don’t need to roll the hind end over and away from you to get the horse consistently adducting that inside hind. Also, whilst I start out with it at the walk, you can entirely progress with this to the trot.
This is the main exercise I’ve used with Abba to get her stepping up and underneath herself with that hind leg. Another one that I’ve used from time to time is really very similar, it just involves laying out a flask-shaped or even just triangular grid of poles, and then leading or riding the horse in, and asking them to turn around within the triangle/bottom part of the flask. The deeper into the corners they go, the further underneath themselves they need to step in order to make the bend they need to get out of the corner again. The challenge here is that they cannot step outside the poles. Abba likes to cheat on this one as well, by going deep into only one corner and cutting off the other one.
Ground poles and cavaletti are fantastic for getting the horse to start using themselves properly, particularly when you string several of them together in a row. You can do a series of ground poles raised on alternate ends, so that as the horse goes through them they have to alternate between really engaging the protractor muscles on each side. Protraction is the forward movement of the limb, and again, the protractor muscles in the haunches and hind limbs are involved in allowing the horse to step up and underneath itself. Strengthening these muscles (the tensor fascia lata, the quadriceps and the digital extensors) increases the horse’s ability to track up, and this is where polework is so good, because the horse has really got to use the protractor muscles to get the hind limbs up to clear the poles.
Original image from Gillian Higgins’ Horses Inside Out. The digital extensors are not labelled, but are the pink part running down the front of the gaskins.
I’d say that for improving the strength of the protractor muscles in the hind end you really can’t go wrong with poles. Start simple, with single poles spread out across your circle, build up from there. The more poles you string together, the harder it becomes.
It’s also fun, when the horse is stronger and fitter, to vary the height and the distance of the poles, so that they have to figure out how to adjust their striding on the fly. I’ll sometimes give Abba say a ground pole, followed by two raised cavaletti, and then maybe another two ground poles, which last will have a shorter striding than the rest of the line. When first encountering these sorts of questions her answer was either to stand on the poles (a very bad answer, make sure they are wearing boots, in case the pole breaks beneath their weight), or to treat the two poles as a long jump. Now that she is stronger and better balanced, she is capable of shortening and going through them like her legs are pogo sticks, which is still not quite right, but a definite improvement.
Obviously, stretches will help as well, particularly the usual carrot stretches, but I imagine you are well aware of them!
One final lungeing solution: lunge on a slope, if there is one available. Encourage the horse to slow as they go down the slope, and keep them moving forward as they go up the slope. You can put poles along the lower part of the circle, for added effort.
So those are the basic exercises I do with Abba to encourage her to use her hind end better. I’m going to tag @mievzar-equus for further and more sciencey input, plus @heartofhorselords and @clickerhorse, who know more about proper in-hand work than I do. I hope this is useful, and not too much of the same old, same old. And I shall get on with those videos as well.
white winter hymnal……..fleet foxes || wide eyes……..local natives || part one……..band of horses || inside out……..spoon || love lost……..the temper trap || camera talk……..local natives || milk & black spiders……..foals
Champion English rider Gillian Higgins created a rather unusual way to teach horse anatomy to novice riders, caretakers, and veterinary students. Higgins uses water-based hypoallergenic paints to create the muscular and skeletal systems on the horse’s hair so students gain a better understanding of how the bones and muscles work together.