Archive for August, 2012

Natural Crookedness Versus Performance and Soundness

August 12, 2012

In June of 2012, I had the honor and wonderful privilege of presenting a symposium with Colonel Christian Carde, a former dressage olympian and head trainer and director of the French National School of Equitation in Saumur. I was able to share with him and our audience the muscle hypertension patterns, skeletal pain patterns and the asymmetric foot growth patterns that are so consistently expressed by the “crooked horse”.

Colonel Carde then demonstrated the critically important principles of correct riding and training required to produce a straight horse, and why only a “straight” horse can consistently perform at high levels whilst maintaining soundness. To achieve that straightness, Christian Carde first insisted on balance through a soft, elastic but permanent contact. In his mind, a harmonious riding picture is a horse moving with lifted shoulders and withers, engaged hind legs, and showing an up-swinging back. The ultimate goal: a collected horse, moving with self carriage to the finest aids whatever the discipline is. His understanding of the equine biomechanics reflected in his constant demands to the rider for the utmost relaxation and calmness of the horse. Along these principles, he emphasized the need for the riders to keep straightness and softness at all times. He kept reminding them to pat and reward their horses often, and that any movement executed in tension at any time in the training was extremely detrimental to the horses’ ultimate soundness and happiness. He wants the horses to become happy athletes.

The following paragraphs define the symbiosis of our work together and the value of a training based on sound biomechanics.

Crooked horses simply cannot meet their genetic potential. In my opinion, there are two factors that prevent it from doing so. One: a lack of true and effective straightness training that results in failure to change the biomechanics of the “natural” horse to the biomechanics required of the ridden horse; two: the presence of muscles with hypertension and pain and the accompanying skeletal pain.

The changes and approach to meeting genetic potential demands a team approach. We have known since Antoine de Pluvinel (1552 -1620, riding master to King Louis the XIII), that all horses are by nature born to move forward on the forehand and to move with a free moving side and a side where motion is stiffer and more restricted; that “sidedness” we now know as “laterality” or handedness. All horses are either right side dominant or left side dominant. Though the laterality serves them very adequately in nature, it is not compatible for the ridden horse in terms of longevity of performance and soundness.

Laterality, plus being on the forehand, result in poor performance. These factors also create so many of the problems veterinarians see on a daily basis. The root source is the omnipresent muscular and skeletal pain that crooked horses have. Veterinarians – especially those trained in integrative veterinary medicine, such as acupuncture, chiropractic, myofascial release etc. – can address the musculo-skeletal issues that keep the horse functional and maintain its performance levels. Knowledgeable body workers and physiotherapists can also help facilitate pain relief and functionality. However, not a single one of these groups of therapists can change the horse’s biomechanics or create a straight horse. They can only manage the ongoing consequences –They cannot cure the root cause. That root cause is a lack of correct training and a lack of knowledge or skills to create the necessary biomechanical changes.

Creating straightness is solely the province of trainers and the subsequent riders who truly understand the requirements and can “create” a horse that is more ambidextrous. This is a horse with an up-swinging back that results in a “back mover” instead of a “leg mover.” The good trainers and riders are those who also recognize that the foundation and basis of straightness is extensive proper groundwork involving many weeks (rather than the typical one or two weeks) before a rider is placed on the horse’s back. One more element beautifully articulated by Colonel Carde is the importance of empathy, gentleness and reward as essential aspects of training any horse.

All said, the trainer’s and/or the rider’s work can, obviously, be greatly facilitated by removal of the musculo-skeletal pain prior to and during the training, as well as ensuring proper shoeing and saddle fit. Thus, by far and away, a team approach is most favorable to the horse’s ability to meet its genetic potential. The real bonus is that horses, so trained and cared for, can maintain peak performance and soundness for many more years; and that is certainly good for everybody concerned.