Wednesdays with Jen (Episode 3) DEVELOPING CORRECT MOVEMENT IN THE HORSE
Jenny is an Equine Physiotherapist, Rehabilitation Specialist and Spinal Manipulation Therapist, and has been working with horses professionally for over 10 years.
We asked Jenny to describe a bit about her work.....
''Firstly I absolutely LOVE my work with horses! I have become specialised over time, in a few key areas: back pain in horses, postural and movement improvement, and rehabilitation after injury. These are areas that really motivate me as I see such big positive transformations in horses going through rehabilitation or posture/movement improvement!
I live in Staffordshire in the Midlands (UK), and over the last couple of years have developed a variety of training courses, ebooks, my blog, a membership and zoom calls, all to enable ways to work together without location being an issue!
I love working with horses owners who want to learn more about their horses, and want to improve their horses so that they can be the very best version of themselves!''
Jenny has written a series of blogs for Horzehoods readers, on some of her specialised areas, so we hope you will find them interesting and informative...we are looking forward to reading them too. Each episode will release every Wednesday.
Whether going through rehabilitation, bringing your horse back into work, correcting your horses posture and movement, following kissing spine diagnosis or any other type of injury, starting young horses, working with senior horses to improve and maintain their flexibility, horses with arthritis…. ALL of these horses will benefit from working on the important foundations of correct movement!
BLOG: Developing Correct Movement in the horse
Developing correct movement in the horse is a lot about stepping back and really noticed 'how' your horse moves, what is easy for him, and what seems difficult. Assessing your horse and really working out what are the problem areas is a useful task to do regularly with your horse so that you can keep progressing.
Important parts of movement that I look at with horses, regularly assess, and work to improve are as follows:
*Heavy on the forehand
Does your horse look 'downhill', does he ride heavy into the ground with no elevation in the forehand, is he heavy in the contact, does he struggle in downward transitions, maybe stumbles, falls onto the forehand? These are all signs that your horse is 'on the forehand', he likely has a weak thoracic sling (the structures between the scapula and the rest of the body), and needs a core rehab program to strengthen him properly so that he can actually lift his forehand off the ground! YES you can literally change a horse from looking downhill, to lifting at the wither in both standstill AND movement, with core strengthening work!
*Long and low posture
By developing the long and low posture where the horse lengthens and elongates his neck, lifts his wither and forehand, and lifts his core and back, we can strengthen the whole body, so it's a positive spiral to work on!
This posture allows us to strengthen the horses back by him being able to engage his core properly, which he can’t do when in a hollowed back posture. We also need to consider whether the horse is on the forehand in movement, this is part of the overall 'good posture' that we seek and need to work on with our horses to strengthen them correctly.
Adding core exercises to your routine is one of the most important and effective recommendations I can make in relation to developing long and low and correct movement!
*The fine line between 'long and low' and 'being on the forehand'!
Once we have developed long and low posture through developing improved core strength (well done if you have!), we need to then ensure that our horse isn’t just getting heavy on the forehand due to the lowered head and neck - and this is actually really easy for the horse to do due to them having an uneven forehand/hindquarter weight distribution!
We have the 60/40 NATURAL weight distribution in the horses body with around 60% of their weight over the forehand, so unless we are specifically working on that, the horse will likely default to ‘on the forehand’! These are the nuances of training horses - working on their natural posture and crookedness, to improve and develop a stronger and more symmetrical body and movement through our corrective training!
*Training the hindlimbs
Focussing on the hindlimbs is, I find, the easiest way to initially see our horses crookedness pattern, and once we know what their pattern of movement is, we can work on improving their symmetry, both in the body/limbs and their movement!
Working on developing symmetry left-right in the hindlimbs ultimately affects the whole body, so once we start to develop more symmetrical use of the hindlimbs, the rest of the body and forelimbs will follow in terms of improvement, so to speak! And once the hindlimbs are functioning in a more even way, your horses work and movements will be more symmetrical left-right!
Your horse will have one hindlimb stiffer/less flexible than the other...so the overall goal is to train the stiffer/slower hindlimb to become more flexible, and train the more flexible hindlimb to become stronger, so then we have a more even pair of hindlimbs, affecting movement and the entire body! And less risk of injury once we get to that point.
*Developing symmetry in the horse
My methods of developing symmetry in the horse are first to work out the pattern (stepping back and assessing your horses movement, spending a bit of time on really looking at them in walk and trot can be super helpful!), then add daily core exercises to start to equalise the body, mobilising and stretching tight areas/structures, and activating areas/structures that have been switched off, in combination with in-hand work which I find invaluable to really digging down to the foundation level of the how the horse moves and uses his body and limbs. Small corrections made within in-hand work can make a huge difference in terms of your horses education and how he learns that he can use his body more effectively!
Just a few corrective in-hand sessions can change how the horse organises his body, then short sessions on an ongoing basis, even if just for 10-15 minutes, can make all the difference! You can literally SEE what your horse is doing/not doing by being on the ground next to him!!
*Linking to ridden work
If we can get down to the foundation level in the horses body, and start correcting posture and crookedness with flexibility and core strengthening work, we are actually RETRAINING our horses body and movement.
If we can retrain our horse to carry themselves because we have worked hard on improving their posture and core strength, the horse then has the strength and the knowledge around HOW to lift and carry a rider without dropping their back and creating back pain.
If we can retrain them to use their limbs symmetrically, which does take time, because we have been doing in hand work regularly to develop flexibility in body and limbs, our horse then has the ability and knowledge around how to use his body more effectively in a more organised manner.
Working at this level can literally solve a LOT of your ridden work issues! If you are working on posture and crookedness in a non-ridden way for a while, by the time you get back on board your horse, he will be strengthened and retrained in such a way that he is able to offer you his best, because his body has been developed and strengthened in a new way!
It's important that we build a strong, stable, yet flexible platform to sit on (our horses back) - to prevent back pain and injury in the horse, and spending time on these important foundations on an ongoing basis will enable you and your horse to enjoy all of your activities and he will be able to give his best if pain-free, flexible, strengthened correctly and trained to move correctly!
Remember that our horses are not evolved to do the tasks and sports that we do with them, and they are not actually a very good design...we sit on the lowest part of their back, exercise them on artificial surfaces a lot of the time, and they are not always strong enough or trained enough to do the tasks/exercise that we want them to do. So we owe it to them to really step back and look at what needs to be improved in their body and movement, so that we can enjoy our rides and time together!
And this is why I set up my online courses and members group, to help horse owners to dig into this foundational work that can transform your horse!!
If you would like to learn more...as a special offer for Horzehoods customers, here is a discount code for my Core Exercises online course!! It's an instant access course, which includes a detailed lesson on posture, plus the 2 sets of exercises that I use and recommend on a daily basis for core strengthening! Use the code at checkout on my website, details below: CODE HH20
Online Courses: https://www.equinephysicaltherapist.co.uk/training
Leave a comment