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  • Writer's pictureLouise Stobbs

The missing link?

I used to think that things like joint issues and kissing spine were just something that happened to horses, and your only option was to medicate, bring the horse back into gradual work and hope for the best. I have come to learn that there is potentially a lot more we can do in our day to day training to make it easier for our horses to live with these afflictions.

Horses develop compensatory movement patterns and postures for a multitude of reasons, it could be an old injury, a crooked rider, hoof balance or just inadequate training practices resulting in a horse that has never been able to develop the right muscles to carry a rider without putting excessive strain on their body.

Lack of development of some structures in the body can result in the overuse of others which in turn can make horses sore. For example if the gluteals are underdeveloped this can increase strain on the hamstrings due to overuse, which is why it is so common to find a horse with sore/tight hamstrings. But the hamstrings aren’t really the problem, the problem is the underdeveloped gluteals. No amount of stretching or massaging the hamstrings is going to fix the issue.

Rectifying this unfortunately requires a little more nuance than just lunging in training aids, doing hillwork, transitions or raised poles. It doesn’t just matter what your horse does, it matters how they do it. Walking over poles could be helpful and appropriate, or it could be unhelpful and inappropriate.

If we start trying to rehab without being able to recognise when the horse has reached the point of fatigue and is having to resort to compensatory movement patterns, we risk continuing to strengthen the dysfunction.

You might wonder why its my place to talk about this as a trainer but I think its really important for trainers to know this stuff. Who else is going to help the owner and the horse to develop these new movement patterns? Its no good if your bodyworker is telling you one thing, then your trainer is getting you to do things that directly counteract your efforts.

The frustration for many of us is that the industry is full of horses being ridden with compressed necks and sub-optimal posture right up to the top levels, so finding someone to help you is a bit of a minefield. Being ridden with a compressed neck and hollow back is not healthy for any horse no matter how widely accepted and rewarded it seems to be. It is harming our horses.

The way forward is education, instead of seeing new information as an attack on the work you’ve already done, we can see it as an exciting learning curve to help our horses feel even better, even if that means relearning a few things and looking at horses through a different lense. Just for the record this is not an anti-medication post, both of my horses have had joints medicated and I have then used that window to put the work in try to rehab them into better movement.

No amount of training is going to reverse arthritic changes but if we can potentially develop the horse so they are putting less strain on their joints shouldn’t we try?

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