Saturday, 25 October 2014

The veterinarians view of auxiliary reins/ gadgets

Adapted from a German article in Dressur Studien

Draw reins, Chambons, Market Harboroughs etc are devices used to ‘show the horse the way to the ground’, to help him raise his back and thereby avoid harmful postures – this is the argument posed by the many advocates.

But what are the risks and side effects of their improper use? From a veterinarians perspective…

Gadgets CAUSE DAMAGE: Tension in the neck and back, ‘rein-lameness’, arthritis in the cervical (neck) vertebrae, inflammation in the poll, teeth problems, the list goes on.

The common opinion that draw reins always put a horse in the correct posture is quite wrong.

Quite to the contrary, they impede or inhibit the back being raised correctly and prevent the hindlimbs from stepping under well. Instead of showing the horse the correct ‘forwards, downwards’ posture required to raise the back, draw reins produce a ‘backwards, downwards’ posture often clearly behind the vertical. This overstretches the whole topline.

When these muscles are overstretched, they will wear out, especially when they are not given a break.  This begins a vicious cycle:

When a muscle is contracted, it needs oxygen. If it is overstretched there is an oxygen deficit. The muscle soon starts anaerobic metabolism leading to a build up of lactic acid. The muscle becomes stiff and painful.

To escape the pain, the horse tries to rest these muscles thereby taking up a faulty hollow position.

The long back muscle, M. longissimus dorsi that runs on the right and left sides of the vertebral column, is one of the most important muscles to strengthen up with ridden training. This muscle is integrally connected to the croup muscles which pull the hindlimb underneath the body.

The logical consequence of this muscular interconnection – the long back muscle must stretch so that the hindleg can step under the centre of gravity. If the rider keeps the horse behind the vertical with gadgets, or it is not able to stretch out and relax for a long time, the muscle is overloaded and becomes cramped – the hindlimb can no longer step underneath. Worse still, continuous muscle pain causes the horse to escape by pushing the back away – he goes hollow, the opposite effect to what the rider is attempting to achieve with draw reins.

When the horse is ridden with this continuous tension longterm the muscle atrophies (reduces in size). This happens when the muscle hurts so much that the horse relieves it by recruiting other muscle groups. These muscles will also become overstrained completing the vicious cycle of pain and tension. 

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Bad Instructions

There is a widespread misunderstanding of the meaning of CONTACT.   In many riding schools you will often hear the instruction 'MORE LEFT REIN, MORE OUTSIDE REIN'. Pulling on or shortening one rein or the other does nothing to improve the connection or your horses way of going.
The contact (or connection) COMES FROM THE HIND LEG!!!!!

The horse will offer a contact when his hindlimbs become strong enough to raise the back and allow the horse to travel in a balanced way. If he cannot stretch out to the bit, the hindlimbs must be activated to create a stronger push forward. If the reins are shortened so that the rider has a direct connection to the horses mouth but the horse is not stretching over the topline to reach for the bit, he cannot work properly over the back, and thrust is suppressed.

The trainers should instead shout MORE INSIDE LEG to get the horse to bend correct and stretch the outside rein.
Pulling on the reins will disrupt the horses balance and make the job even harder for the as yet weak hindlimbs.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Equine Performance Analysis


The veterinary lameness evaluation is becoming less and less a search for sites of pain and inflammation. The traditional veterinary orthopaedic exam is no longer seen as the whole picture.
The training and riding methods are now dealt with in conjunction with the classical veterinary lameness exam. Both the quality and correctness of the riders aids and the quality and correct development of the contact are focuses of the examination.
For over 70 years the concept of ‘bridle lameness’ – the way in which the riders aids can cause gait disturbances – has been spoken of. It describes an uneven rhythm in a gait, that is easy to mistake for a true lameness, but is not caused by active inflammation nor can it be traced back to a previous injury. Training analysis and advice complement the classical lameness examination.
Other complaints that are presented to a veterinarian to investigate the cause of can also be traced to incorrect training practices. For example, irregular rhythm on bent lines, rideability issues, contact problems (horse behind the bit, leaning on the bit, tongue hanging out), difficulty for rider to sit to the trot, rearing, behavioural problems.  All of these problems can often be attributed to incorrect training or riding.


It is necessary to understand the horses basic anatomy in order to ride and train a horse correctly to produce a sound, free moving athlete that is happy, successful in competition and remains sound as long as possible. The horses main strength and biggest weakness at the same time is his back.
Correct training and systematic strengthening of the horses back is essential for optimum performance and longterm soundness of the equine athlete.
This strong, supple connection between the forehand and the hindquarters is the key to good riding,

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Good explanation of contact by Thomas Ritter

By Ritter Dressage
"The precise amount of the rein contact is determined by a variety of factors, not only by the rider’s hand, as some people erroneously seem to think. If the rider wants to recycle the energy of the horse’s hind legs in order to establish a circle of aids, he is forced to accept the weight which the horse puts into his hands, regardless how light or heavy the rein contact is. 

The specific amount is determined, among other things, by how much thrust the hind legs develop, and how much they carry at the same time. If the hindquarters push more than they carry, the horse will lean heavily onto the hand. If the hindquarters carry more than they push, the horse sucks back and the rein contact becomes too light. 

Closely related to the rein contact is the balance. A balanced horse, i.e. a horse that moves in self carriage, can also be light in hand. By contrast, a horse that is on the forehand will either lean heavily onto the bit, or it will curl up or invert.
A horse that is crooked will take too much contact on one rein and too little on the other. A horse with a high croup and straight hind legs will also tend to take a heavier rein contact. 

A horse with a low set, short, thick neck and fleshy poll will also tend to take a heavier rein contact. 
Horses with a long, slender, high set neck, on the other hand, will always tend tob e too light in hand and show a tendency to curl up.
The rider’s seat plays a role as well. If the rider tips forward, without sufficient engagement of his core muscles, he pushes the horse’s shoulders into the ground, and the horse onto his hand. However, if he sits up straight and engages his core muscles sufficiently, this will in itself often be enough to make the horse light(er) in hand. 

If the rider drives too much by pushing forward with his pelvis, this will also push the horse heavily onto the bit. 
If the tempo is too fast or too slow, the horse cannot find ist balance, which will also have repercussions for the rein contact.
A horse that is nervous for some reason will often take too much rein contact as well.

Many riders are concerned with the rein contact being too heavy. But there is also such a thing as not enough rein contact. When the rider can no longer feel the horse’s hind legs in his hands, because the horse is no longer seeking the communication through the rein, then the rein contact is too light. The conversation, the energy circuit, and the circle of aids have ceased.
A rein contact that is a little too heavy is still better than a non-existent rein contact, because in the first case, you can still have a conversation with the horse, whereas in the second case the horse has discontinued the talks."
(Thomas Ritter)

Monday, 13 May 2013

Why Is An Understanding Of Biomechanics Important?

See an article I published in Horse Magazine

Losgelassenheit - Suppleness and relaxation

For any progress to be made in building up the horses upper neck and back muscles, he must be working correctly over his back. The long back muscle must be swinging rhythmically, one side, then the other. That is, he must be losgelassen.

LOSGELASSENHEIT or suppleness  – A prerequisite for ANY work in a contact, or on straightness, impulsion or collection. Without losgelassenheit, attempting work on these things creates tension and resistance.

Only a back which has been well developed through training will be able to raise the forehand in trot. This is why the swinging back which allows the rider to sit in the medium and extended trot is the test of a well ridden horse.  If the rider is thrown up out of the saddle, this is an example of a rigidly held back that does not swing.

A section of the large rump muscles is joined to the long back muscle by a large tendinous sheet – the fascia. This means both the muscles work together during movement meaning that the hindlegs cannot stride out freely when the back is held tense. This also means that the back muscle cannot function properly if the hindlegs are restricted in their natural rhythm by the riders incorrect leg and hand aids. From the fascia also extends the broad muscle of the back, which runs from the lumbar area in an angle towards the ribs and upper arm.  If the long back muscle is held in cramped tension, this is transferred to the broad back muscle, restricting the action of the foreleg. As the long back muscle is also attached to the ribs, when it is tense it stops the horse from breathing freely. When the horse stops being tense and cramped and swings rhythmically, it can breathe and snorts. Snorting (deep exhalation) indicates a horse is relaxing.

The first thing that disrupts the function of the horses back is the incorrect seat of the rider. A rider pounding on the back in trot forces the muscle to become tense and cramped. The rider should sit lightly forward ie in the direction of the fibres of the long back muscle (These run from the top at the back to forward at the front). The back will relax even quicker is less weight is placed on it, therefore it is a good idea to begin training sessions in riding trot and only go into sitting trot when the back is supple and swinging and allows the rider to sit.


Exercising muscles of the back
Canter transitions, long canter sessions while out hacking, climbing hills. The canter is much more important and builds more strength than the trot.

Raising the back

Some basic anatomy


The horses back is a bridge between the forehand and hindquarters. It is composed of many individual bones called vertebrae. The neck has 7 cervical vertebrae, these are connected to 18 thoracic vertebrae, followed by 6 lumbar, 5 fused sacral and around 20 tail vertebrae. The sacrum is an integral part of the pelvic girdle and it is this joint (the sacroiliac joint) that the vertebral bridge receives the entire thrust from the hindquarters which gets transferred over the back as forward movement.


All the vertebrae have prominent spinous processes which project upwards. The spines of the front half of the back point backwards and those of the back half point forwards. The tops of the spinous processes are connected by a tendinous ligament (the supraspinous ligament which becomes the nuchal ligament as it extends from the withers to the head. This is the upper brace of the vertebral bridge. The lower brace, running from the breastbone to the pelvic girdle is made up of a mass of tendons which fuse into the central linea alba.


The horses back is often likened to a suspension bridge with levers at both ends. The front lever is made up of the neck (the nuchal ligament and upper neck muscles) and these do the job of pulling the backwards facing spinous processes forward and thus raising the back.


 At the other end, muscles of the hindlimbs and the abdominal muscles working via the sacro-iliac joint, raise the back from behind by pulling on the spinous processes of the vertebrae further back which are oriented facing forwards.