Dressage or what I do while recovering

I had surgery on my foot on Wednesday. I’m recovering, and that has given me tons of computer time. This leads me to research and research and I will get so deep in researching that I end up far from my original thoughts.
Last weekend I realized that my journey as a competitor in the Retired Racehorse Projects Thoroughbred Makeover is long and just that; A JOURNEY. I started thinking about my foot injury and riding again. When I can ride again, what am I going to be most comfortable riding in? Will I be ready to take Mikes Dixie Dancer over jumps even after months? Since dressage has always been my foundation, it was a no brainer, but It still took me analysing it before I made a decision. Dressage will be less stressful on both ME and MIKE. It will give us a stronger foundation for when we do start jumping again. It will also make me a much better rider for both of us. So, my research has been on DRESSAGE.
For the makeover we will have to perform Training Level Test 2. EASY. It’s a basic test. 20m circles in both trot and canter. Free walk and medium walk. Change of diagnals. Really easy. The things we’ll be working on are a good canter, a working trot and learning to stretch down and through his back. Oh, and relaxing. These things are easy on paper, but will take work. We are up for the challenge. The other thing will be bending and straightness. All things we can work on both on the ground and under saddle.
The next thing that crossed my brain was how was Mike going to get worked? Sure I can lunge him but I can’t ride him. I found a local friend trainer that does training rides. She’s a classical dressage trainer which I really like. After talking to her and getting her fee, it was an easy choice.

dressage training Carl Hestor
The above video was really informative. This is definitely one to save and go back to over and over again through out the year.

Another thing to really consider is THE PURPOSE OF DRESSAGE MOVEMENTS.

“The movements in dressage all have a purpose. They are there to help improve the horse’s suppleness, his balance and his reaction to your aids. I find that the movements can also help you discover where your horse needs a bit more work. I am a firm believer that if the movement is not going well, just continuing to practice it with the same mistakes over and over again is detrimental to the horse’s training.

Many years ago I trained my horses differently. I showed Arabians and those that have seen the main ring classes will understand. The difference between training a western pleasure horse and a dressage horse is very black and white. However, there are some things that make the training the same. Self-carriage, forwardness, collection, suppleness and so on. There are some things that are very different. Contact with the mouth, tempo.
That being said, I have over the last several years changed the way I train but not entirely. I still used dressage basics back when training main ring show horses but it was used in a different way. I didn’t want contact with the reins and now I do. I wanted a slower tempo for western.  The one thing I found that helped an Arabian mare of ours transition from main ring hunters to sport horse hunter was teaching her to reach down with her head and neck. Now there is some controversy that goes way back to the peanut roller Quarter Horses, but this article was an interesting read.

Dr. Robson here…
“I read a post from a fellow DVM this morning who was sharing a post from another person about the impact of horses traveling on the forehand and the potential for damage to subchondral bone and other structures. Her title was “Beware if your horse spends too much time with its head below its withers.” Rather than respond on her page, I would prefer to share a broader post. While I believe that her intentions were completely correct, and absolutely agree that horses ridden on the forehand are prone to damage, I’m concerned about the bigger picture. Rather, just because a horse travels with its head below it’s withers, doesn’t automatically mean the horse IS on its forehand. Does it?
There are only 2 journal articles demonstrating kinematics on the limbs at different head-neck positions (HNPs). One ridden, one unridden. While the conclusion included increased forelimb loading in a “longitudinal extension down and out head-neck position” in both ridden and unridden horses at walk and trot on a treadmill…the picture of HNP6 (longitudinal extension) is not really below horizontal, nor is the horse actually “connected and pushing from behind” as we might say. There are also semantic issues cropping up both in journal articles and in lay-speech regarding “low neck.” Do we mean low neck as in longitudinal flexion, or rollkur as in low-deep-round, as in extreme hyper-flexion? This is most often what is insinuated, and does have a negative impact on a number of health parameters. Interestingly, “When the head was fixed in a high position at the walk, the flexion-extension movement and lateral bending of the lumbar back, as well as the axial rotation, were significantly reduced when compared to movements with the head free or in a low position.” Interestingly, time and time again, it seems it’s actually the HIGH head position (extreme elevation, as seen in most advanced dressage horses) that has the most negative impact on kinematics and stress indicators (cortisol, heartrate, anticipatory anxiety, and objective behaviors).
Additional research is needed to piece together the circle of influence of the horse’s skeleton, muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia, etc. against gravity, the influence of a rider, and how we can best support the horse to develop strong physical and mental health. This is one area that Equitopia is aggressively working for further information and elucidation.
Images are included to further highlight the discussion; as always (our disclaimer) – we recognize these are one static moment in time. The first horse is elongated quite nicely in longitudinal contact, the LH is striking just prior to the RF (not on forehand). The middle horse is “stretched” and quite relaxed on a loose rein but the front foot is actually landing before the hind diagonal (mis-matched pairing) with slightly less reach behind and is on the forehand. The third is elongated forward-down-out and striking apparently simultaneously or possibly just on forehand. The fourth is, well, lovely, (can’t you feel your own body relax and breathe when you see this?) and again hitting slightly RH prior with some elevation to LF diagonal.
If anything positive has come from the rollkur and people vyying for their training method being the best method, it’s that there is interest in peer-reviewed research on head-neck positioning and affect on physical and mental state and training methods, and welfare of the horse in equitation science. Much more is needed. For the horses’ sakes.

The thing with our Arab mare was that teaching her to stretch down was easy. She wanted her neck down and she was rather heavy in your hands. This taught her to use her rearend more and get off of her front end. We didn’t spend too much time with her head down. Just enough to help her, which it did.
Now with MIKE, things are different. He doesn’t like having his head down. He’s weak in his rear end but not heavy in your hands. He is built slightly down-hill. Teaching him to relax and stretch down has been a challenge and again we didn’t spend an entire riding session that way. Mostly at the walk and to teach him to reach into my hands and for the contact. The biggest issue was that he tripped a few times once and stopped reaching for the contact after. I started over and we got back to the same spot in him reaching down and relaxing. One thing I have noticed is that while teaching him to read down with his head, he has learned to stretch over his back and reach more under himself with his hind legs. This is important when teaching self-carriage and is needed for collection and extension of gaits.  It isn’t however required for the horse to spend hours and months with his head down. I think it’s most important to teach this but to understand that you need to be able to know when it is helping and when it is hindering or causing problems. If I couldn’t get Mike to reach down with his head correctly then it would only be detrimental to him and that’s not a good thing. The opposite isn’t good either. I think each horse is different just like each rider. What works for a handful of horses and riders may never work for a handful of others.
It’s best to figure out what works for you and your horse and progress. Not follow the trends or do things because you want to “Keep up with the Jones’s”.

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Next post will be on Establishing Forward Energy. Mike and I struggle with this.
Happy Saint Patrick’s Day. Be safe and follow your dreams.



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