movement retraining

maximize your horse's potEntial

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Learning about equine anatomy and bodywork has changed how I view horses, their posture and how they move. I've been a rider my entire life and have competed in both jumpers and dressage and felt like I had a very good understanding of what a correctly moving horse should look like. The more I've learned about equine anatomy, however, the more aware I've become of how often horses work in poor posture and develop compensatory movement patterns in an attempt to continue to please us under saddle. I no longer see difficult and complicated horses, or horses that struggle with a certain task or movement, as strictly having training issues, but often find that the horse's difficulties are caused by movement dysfunction. Address the movement dysfunction the behavioral problem or training issue often resolves it self.  

HOW IT STARTED

A few years ago I became curious if I could improve horses' posture and movement patterns by adding targeted movement training.  I decided to do a case study on a severe kissing spine case that was owned by one of my clients. The horse in question was diagnosed with kissing spine at four years old. He had been through kissing spine surgery to shave bone off his spinous processes in nine places. Unfortunately, even though the owner had followed the rehab protocol prescribed by the surgeon, and several trainers had attempted to start the horse under saddle, the horse would still not tolerate anything on his back and was deemed un-rideable and therefore retired. He was six years old when I started working with him.

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PRIOR TO MOVEMENT RETRAINING
Weak thoracic sling. Hollowness/extension of back. Extension of lumbosacral joint. Grounded movement. Short stride. Base narrow stance. Stabbing/toe first landing. Tucked tail carriage. 

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1 MONTH OF MOVEMENT RETRAINING

Improved posture with more thoracic sling engagement. Increased stride length. Supple and improved muscle development of topline. Better core engagement. Flexion of lumbosacral joint. Improved tail carriage.

I spent four months with this horse and by the end he was able to successfully and willingly work under saddle with a rider at walk, trot, and canter.

Following the success of that first kissing spine case, I have continued to develop my approach, I have since then had horses sent to me from in and out of state and also been able to develop a distance program where I visit a horse to do bodywork every couple of months, and in between, work closely with the owners who follow the program that I have designed for their horse. I have yet to come across a horse with kissing spine that has not been able to return to work. What took me four month with the first horse now typically takes me about two months.

kissing spine gallery

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core, strength, balance, and stability work

Most horses I work on (even upper level competition horses with very talented riders) have some sort of movement dysfunction. When evaluating a horse I look for areas that appear short and restricted, weak and under developed,   A lot of horses lack stability along spinal column, lack strength in their thoracic sling and are disconnected in their bodies. They often have short/restricted/overactive extensor muscle along the topline which combined with a weak thoracic sling, makes it difficult for them to lift through shoulders and withers, flex their back, and flex at the lumbosacral junction. Without engagement of the thoracic sling they are not able to bring their hindend underneath their body. The result is a weak looking topline, a dipped appearance in front of withers, under-developed neck, hollowness behind scapula, a dip in front of sacroiliac joint, and a "hunters bump". A base narrow stance and a "tight rope" type movement pattern with front legs is common. "Flashy" leg movement is also common, but where the balance is too far forward in front of shoulders with hind legs out behind the horse, rather than underneath it. The horse will often struggle with horizontal balance (be on forehand) and if asked to lower and lengthen the neck, become heavy and braced in the neck or overly round.  The horse will often also struggle with vertical balance, landing heavy on inside front leg, curving spine to the outside. In both cases it's common for the horse to use speed to maintain its balance. A weak thoracic sling will also often result in frequent tripping and toe first landing on front legs. 

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PRIOR TO MOVEMENT RETRAINING
Underdeveloped neck. Dip in front of withers. Hollowness behind scapula/next to withers. Dip in front of SI junction. Weak thoracic sling with balance too far forward.

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1 MONTH OF MOVEMENT RETRAINING
More developed neck and shoulders. No dip in front of withers. Improved musculature behind scapula/next to withers. Improved musculature in thoracic and lumbar portion of back. No dip in front of SI junction. Stronger thoracic sling with improved  balance.

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ottb movement retraining

Thoroughbreds  off the track present with their own set of challenges due to the posture that they spend so much time training and racing in. They often present with short/restricted/overactive muscles along the extensor line making it difficult to engage the thoracic sling, lift through withers and shoulders, and  telescope the neck forward. They are also frequently diagnosed with kissing spine. 

Although this horse is in his early stages in his movement retraining, these pictures still do a fairly good job at showcasing where he came from and how he's now better able to use his body. 

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Prior to movement retraining

During movement retraining

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