Horses’ spines are like our spines, in that it is meant to support their structure and be straight, but some people who ride, think that the horse has to only be made ‘supple’, mainly in their neck muscles (because it is the easiest part to bend). The neck has 7 cervical vertebrae and is part of the spinal column with the spinal nerves going from the head to their sacral area. The neck is the supplest part of their body, so you really do not need to concentrate all your training in that area of the horse. As well, it is usually the first place a horse will show resistance to evade an action.
The most rotation that occurs in the horse’s vertebrae is between T14 and T9 – right where the saddle and rider sit. This area is one of the most vulnerable for causing problems in the whole horse.
Horses can have problems in their spine caused by poor riding, training, or trauma that flow onto their other parts of their bodies – sacroiliac, pelvis hamstrings, stifle hocks etc. This often results in pain, visible lameness, heat and swelling, and behavioural issues.
This also causes problems that seem to be completely unrelated, for example – Navicular Syndrome, hock issues, stifle issues, and hoof problems (due to the incorrect angles of the hoof/leg when the horse decelerates).
Thinking that you are suppling them by circles is not good if their spine is rotated too much, if they are over flexed, or over bent.
It is necessary to be careful when doing circles, that the horse has a correct longitudinal flexion and rotation of the spine.
Horses appreciate concepts rather than the mechanical gestures of ‘aids’. Incorrect posture also becomes a bad habit. With over 700 muscles alone a horse can use (or not use) quite a different set of combinations to ‘get the job’ done.
- Ride the horse at his own cadence
- Keep the horse in a corridor – straight – hindquarters in line with the spine.
- Lateral bend to equal the amount of rotation… this is where focus is needed, because you have to feel the amount of lateral flexion/ bend the horse needs to keep straight.
- Exercises that make the horse supple without exaggerated contortions.
- The horse’s neck never needs to be forced lower than the wither, unless you are giving the upper neck muscles a break (& then the horse will lower them himself)
- Complete lightness of the horse – not just the bit…but the horse should hold the bit himself – without being violently corrected. If he leans on the bit – there will be some imbalance in his body somewhere that has caused him to lean. Stop and regroup is the way to go or slow walk if you do not know the cause. Sometimes going to trot helps – you have to work it out yourself how best to help your horse. No one else – you’re the one on the horse feeling where he is at – no amount of instruction can help in this situation (feeling and timing as Tom Dorrance stated).
7.. If a horse is in pain or disturbed in some way or another, he is not going to work happily unless his pain or discomfort has gone and his correct posture is re-established – and as we now know – slower is better to teach something to a horse – no point if he is not listening or contracting his muscles.
This video is of Kody on about his 10th ride:
Equine Remedial Services