What’s your position on posture?
Forward and down. Long and deep, neck flexion, neck up?
It’s a topic we as riders can discuss and talk about very passionately. That speaks to my professional heart because it is important.
Both to have an opinion about and to achieve the correct posture.
For me as both a passionate dressage rider and an equine chiropractor, my stance on posture is clear. Because it’s about so much more than just posture. It’s about posture in motion.
So here is my posture in motion.
This blog is a sequel to a blog I wrote about how to prepare the young horse. In it, I described the importance of the young horse being physically and mentally ready for training. That is, how the young horse is best prepared for training and starting.
Of course, you can use this blog post even if your horse is past its youth.
Why I want the long, stretched form in horses
Unfortunately, many riders never work the long, stretched form into the horse’s body. As an equine chiropractor, I would like to focus on it, because that is when you relieve tension in the horse’s back.
The long, stretched form is beneficial for all horses, regardless of level and use. And yes, later on we want to work in collection, but we must never lose the stretched form. If we lose the stretched form, we also lose the release of tension, which can end up causing unfortunate breaks from training because of injury.
My horse carries itself a lot on the front legs – will that damage my horse?
I often get questions from worried horse owners, like this one: ”My horse carries itself a lot on the front legs – will that damage my horse?”
My answer is generally a clear “NO”. The horse is designed to carry about 60% of his weight on the front legs. That’s how the horse carries itself when they’re walking around and grazing. Remember that the horse has evolved to graze for 20 hours a day, so their bodies are built to do exactly that.
So do our horses damage themselves when they carry themselves on the front legs while riding or during other training?
As the horse’s veterinarian and chiropractor, I look at the horse’s health and always keep an eye on the horse’s anatomy and biomechanics to assess this.
You see, it depends entirely on how it moves on the front legs. Let’s go into the kitchen for a minute.
Casseroles and minute steaks
There are as many opinions about this, as there are postures the horse can be in. Ask 10 different trainers and you’ll get 10 different answers.
Before I tell you about my position on movement, horse posture, which posture when, etc., I will tell you a little about casseroles and minute steaks.
Stay with me, and soon you’ll know why, and which posture your horse is ready for at which stage of his life.
Have you ever eaten horse meat? If not, you’ve probably had beef, and the difference between the two is small in relation to what I’m about to describe.
Muscles are surrounded by and entangled in connective tissue (fascia). That’s what keeps the muscles, blood vessels, etc. separate, and keeps the muscle fibers together. Without connective tissue, everything would be jumbled about inside the body, and chaos would reign. Connective tissue is the white bit in the meat you eat.
If you buy meat from the front quarter of a cow or a horse, there’s a lot of connective tissue in the meat. Many people would say that it’s chewy and tough. That’s why meat from the front is often used in casseroles that have to simmer for a long time. Having simmered for quite a while, the meat becomes tender and delicious.
If you buy meat from the hindquarters of a horse or a cow, you won’t see much white in the meat. It doesn’t contain as much connective tissue. This is where you get the lovely red steaks that just have to be flipped over on the pan, and then your tender and juicy steak is ready.
What on earth does that have to do with riding??
Well, you see… as I wrote above, the horse is perfectly built to carry 60% of his bodyweight on the front legs. That’s because the muscles in the horse’s front are tough steaks. They are muscles full of white connective tissue, so they can work for a long time without tiring.
The muscles in the horse’s hindquarters, however, are mostly muscles without that much white connective tissue, and they quickly become tender or tired. That’s also why they’re quick and easy to cook in a pan.
But with muscles that are still alive and in training, it’s not so quick and easy, for the same reason.
The muscles in the horse’s hindquarters will quickly become tired/tender. We need to think about this when we train horses. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t teach the horse to carry more on the hindquarters. For one, it would look silly if everyone rode their horses relying entirely on the front in various competitive dressage exercises, and it would also cause injuries.
If you want your horse to learn the difficult dressage exercises, become a good showjumper, driving horse, harness racer, or other kind of athlete, the horse needs to engage his hindquarters and learn how to carry himself in balance between front and hindquarters.
But it has to be done sensibly and slowly, in small steps.
Remember the long, stretched form as stretching and rest in your training
Just like when you work out yourself, stretching and rest is required in between the tough and strenuous exercises.
In horses, that means you must never lose the long, stretched, and relaxed form, where the horse has a looong rein, and stretches the muzzle and neck forward and down towards the ground. In this form, your horse can rest and stretch.
I often meet horses in high-level training that can’t stretch themselves. That’s bad, and that’s when injuries happen, because the muscles are constantly tense, and it will wear on even the strongest horse.
The goal for all horses, if they are to last and continue to improve their performance
All horses, even the strong, well-educated horse, beging with the front, train in equilibrium and end on the hindquarters (this takes at least 2 years to train, with correct, consistent training) and never loses the long form/frame, where he can rest and stretch.
Monak, my 14-year-old experienced dressage horse, has reached a stage in his training where he can change between all the forms without changing pace in any gait and without resistance on the bit. That, to me, is a horse in good balance and with a strength in his body that makes him last.
So start on the front, train in equilibrium, and end on the hindquarters, and back again. Then you achieve strength in the horse’s body, so he’ll last, and you avoid expensive breaks due to injury.
Do you struggle with this? It’s one thing to read about it and understand it. It’s another to actually do it. Everything takes practice. I feel the same way about all the things I have to learn. If you experience problems, one way I can help you is through ProPrio Training which is one method we can use to change patterns of movement.