I see many horses in my clinics that are exhausted from carrying a rider. Often the owners sign up for the courses without noticing the conditions their horses are in. In this article about Topline Syndrome I am explaining how to recognize a horse that suffers from it.
Horses are growing to the age of seven. During that time, the body changes constantly. Bones grow, dentition changes, vertebral bodies fuse, muscles develop, ligaments and tendons gain stability and the hormonal balance transforms. As if that isn’t enough, it is also a time in a horse’s life, when training starts...
It is a sad fact: Many horses suffer from back pain. Symptoms such as muscle tension, pain and damage in the back area are often rooted in one or multiple of the following mistakes: incorrect horse training, unfitting saddles, too much load on a horses’ back, imbalanced riders, hereditary diseases or debilitations, etc. Horses are not naturally born to carry weight on their back.
Not only humans but also horses can end up with learned helplessness. Unfortunately, wrong handling and poor husbandry often lead to learned helplessness. Certain training concepts specifically aim towards learned helplessness, such as:
No matter what kind of violence is used on the horse, the consequences are devastating and depending on the extent, they leave deep scars – physical and mental. Constant stress with associated high hormone levels, auto-aggressive behavior (windsucking, weaving, hitting legs, biting) or aggression towards horses and people, illnesses and even death can result.
The length of time we lunge depends on several factors, for instance the horse’s age and condition. In a young horse about 15 minutes is sufficient. In a horse that lacks conditioning and just recently got back into training we mostly work in walk and slowly increase the training. For healthy horses aged 3 years and older I generally recommend
Using a cavesson lets you achieve the poll position required for healthy work. Through bending at the poll and correct positioning of the head you can start working on the horse’s lateral bend. In my experience, this is much less effective with other bitless bridles (like a halter). The cavesson has the advantage that you can work with the horse at a high gymnastic level without affecting the mouth.
Before we start looking at the details of a specific horse’s way of moving, we need to take a look at the basic gaits – walk, trot, and canter. In order to be able to evaluate the basic gaits, one must know what they normally look like – in general, but also in the individual horse. Every gait in every horse looks a bit different due to the respective breed, conformation, age, training level, and many other reasons. The first thing to do is to look at how the horse moves naturally without trying to manipulate the gait. This way you get to know its unique way of moving and you get a feel for the special challenges of this individual horse. This short introduction into the evaluation of the basic gaits will help you.
Every horse has a natural crookedness and is therefore never fully balanced. This crookedness causes the horse to lean into the circle on one hand and move in a tilted position. Through targeted training we help our horses develop balanced shoulders.
A good way of moving is an essential precondition for the horse to develop the necessary strength for carrying a rider. That is true for a young horse as well as a mature animal. In order to be successful, we need to understand the difficulties our horse faces when we start training it. In the wild a horse essentially moves only in straight lines. He may turn abruptly or change direction, but he never moves continuously on a curve or even a circle.
The most important requirement for a good and correct movement pattern is suppleness. Horses that are tense, nervous or afraid will always move in a rather bad manner. Note: We define suppleness in the horse when he is physically and mentally relaxed and enjoys the work. A supple horse lets his neck stretch forward down calmly from the withers as we can see here with Losti. The under-neck muscles, marked in orange, need to be relaxed:
Why Forward Down Posture is Healthy? | Horse Training
We differentiate between three positions: forward down, working frame and collection. Suppleness is most important at first, so we usually shift between forward down and a working frame during lunging. Advanced horses can be worked in collection on the lunge but should often get the opportunity to stretch and relax.
What do I do if the correct head and body position falls apart once I increase the distance to the horse? I have been working on leading in position as per your lunging course for some time now and it seems to be going well. However, every time I increase the distance to my horse and lose the contact to the cavesson, she loses the correct leading in position. Should I disregard it and continue leading with the cavesson?
Some horses need to get used to the tightly fitting cavesson. It is really important to take the time to familiarize the horse with the cavesson. Please don’t rush into this project by putting on the new cavesson tightly and immediately getting to work.
I would generally advise that you discuss any form of training of a horse with health problems with the vet in charge of treatment and with every illness that affects the horse’s ability to move with a physiotherapist as well.