The Art of Natural Dressage

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PostPosted: Tue Jul 31, 2007 3:25 pm 
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I would like to add something here that we are all talking about back muscles and we seemingly not mentioned much about the stomach muscles which are just as important if not more so, as they help the horse lift it's back and engage the rest of it's body correctly just as in us humans it is by using our core muscles in our stomach that we can achieve better balance and strength through the rest of our bodies.

As I have just found out by an interesting discussion on a different forum about sagging bellies in horses and why they do appear like that and how we can help correct this for them, and it is cause they are basically hollowing their backs when ridden or exercised.

I guess you could get a horse to lift it's back without engaging it's core, as we can which inturn put more strain on the back and other areas in the body too.

So the key is to get all the muscles working and supporting especially the core as if that is strong then it helps to work on the other areas to be strong and work correctly.

You can on horses from the ground see the stomach muscles working correctly, engaged, as their is a definition of them you can see in the stomach.

This is a great discussion and am finding it very interesting :D


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PostPosted: Tue Jul 31, 2007 3:43 pm 
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Indeed, without the belly muscles there is no collection at all :D smart remark!


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PostPosted: Tue Jul 31, 2007 3:56 pm 
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So true.. this is essential part of the "ring of muscles."

Sometimes it appears to me that horses in extreme/natural collection, with the very high and superflexed head set don't appear to be using their stomach muscles as much as horse using a somewhat lower neck position. THis is how I experience it in my own body, when I try to emulate these positions. When I lower my head slighly, and flex it under so that the base of my neck is stretched out, I can feel my stomach muscles want to tighten. Yet when I force my head very high and flex my neck, my stomach wants to bulge out. Of course I'm not a horse.... and I've had NO training in any kind of dressage.. higher school, classical or otherwise, so my observation could be totally off base..
ANy comments?


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PostPosted: Tue Jul 31, 2007 8:01 pm 
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This has been a fabulous and detailed discussion which I am enjoying very much :D I've spent the last 6 years hiking and riding "out" with my horses and also learning how to apply principles of collection the NHE more natural way as opposed to dressage training (germanic style?) years ago.

Sue, I've experienced much of the same results with my young mare, Breeze, as you have described with Sunrise. Breeze was born in my lap six years ago, and I have been hiking out with her since she was six months old. She had no hesitation to leave her mom (poor mom) and to this day is the most adventurous horsey member of my family. She is a left-brained dominant extrovert (very external) whose curiosity at new surroundings always overcomes any momentary lack of confidence when something unexpected occurs. She has always had the tendency to travel with her head thrown up, hollowing her back when excited. You know, that ugly ewe-necked posture that certainly is a no-no when riding.

Have you folks thought about the horse's vision during this discussion of collection? Research has proven that horses don't see in front of their faces when collected - they are essentially blind! This was a shocking revelation to me and I'm sorry that I can't come up with the proper research and reference. I bet someone on this list can cite the studies and references for this concept. When travelling down the trail - now ridden - Breeze carries her head in that slightly out, comfortable position with the plane of her face maybe at 45 degrees as opposed to vertical. As soon as something catches her attention, up goes the head - sometimes up and down - to establish focus on something in the distance. I can't imagine trying to ride a horse out on the trail without allowing them complete use of their heads.

I live in the Sierra Nevada foothills of California. This is endurance country. It is amazing to me to see endurance competitors riding their horses for years and years - well into their 20's, with some still competing. Most of these horses are in great shape with no ill effects from years of riding "out". Of course there are a few who have been cruelly damaged by poor fitting equipment, improper riding practices, etc. But in this area, these are the exception, not the rule.

The big thing we have going on out here is hills. Like others have said, the long, slow conditioning my horses have done in this hilly terrain - first on hikes with me when they were babies and now being ridden at gradually increasing distances - have made all the difference in their conditioning, muscle tone and subtle "collected" way of handling themselves. I do think that riding out for a couple of hours max is about right for each of my two horses. More than that in this extreme terrain gets to be a bit of a chore and a bore for them. I do want to keep it fun.

My personal experience and years of studying and thinking about this truly makes me agree with Sue and disagree with the philosophy that a horse should not be ridden "out on the trail" and should only be ridden "collected". Horses need to get out and move and gain fitness thru a gradual process of slow conditioning. The fit physical appearance, health and mental well being of my horses is proof enough to me that I'm on the right track with this.

I am very interested in Sue's ideas regarding "conflict" and horses who are not happy doing either arena work or going out on the trail. I don't want to forget to add some comments on this in a subsequent post. Gotta do a little work for my boss right now. I'll be back later. Thanks to all for such great input. I sure feel more comfortable talking about all this over here on this site. :shock:

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PostPosted: Tue Jul 31, 2007 9:19 pm 
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Regarding horses not liking being ridden, Sue wrote:
Quote:
Horse generally DO dislike being ridden. The dislike stems not from actually having a person on their backs.. it comes initially, and mainly, from the "CONFLICT" that arises for them through being ridden.


CONFLICT hmmmmm. I'm thinking lots about this with regards to Breeze, my mare who loves going out on the trail but gets annoyed in the arena, and my gelding, Cam, who loves prancing around and showing off in the arena, but doesn't much like being ridden out on the trail.

It is not so much that Cam shows any overt irritation at being out on the trail, it is just that he doesn't seem to be particularly enthusiastic. Perhaps I would not even notice this except that it is such a great contrast with Breeze who tries so hard to be the one chosen for the outing and has ears in full attentive, excitement mode the second we hit the trail. She will often choose to take a divergent fork in the trail rather than take the path she knows is the direct route home.

Cam dawdles along, enjoys eating grass. To him, it seems the only point of riding out is to take advantage of the smorgasboard available particularly during the springtime each year.

Is he conflicted? Well, we did have a couple of troublesome encounters with a bear last year. He has no problems when he can see the bear, but when there is lots of noise and rustling in the trees and he can't see what is causing it, that is when he gets quite worried and wants to leave. Certainly this would cause lots of "conflict" in his mind about going out again, but this is a new concern that only began last year. He is a right-brained introvert type of horse who loves to watch me and offer all sorts of behaviors in hopes of getting some kind of positive response. It used to be just a laugh or smile and lots of scratches from me, but now he knows he will get a little treat when he is asked for more advanced movements such as Spanish Walk, piaffe, passage, etc. He loves doing all these things in the arena. He probably prefers me being on the ground, but we did take some recent film of him showing his enthusiasm for performing while mounted. He certainly rarely pins his ears or acts perturbed about what he is being asked or shown how to do. I just think that when I am on his back and he can't "see" me, he doesn't get the same feedback, and so it is just not as much fun for him. I'm not sure I would call it "conflict". Perhaps I can create a way to reward and reassure him from on his back that might remove any uncertainty. He is quite enthusiastic about me hiking with him - especially our secret liberty hikes. Again - here he is having fun with me when I am in his line of sight. Have to be careful about this as there are areas with hidden barbed wire and we could have a disaster in certain areas. I had him out on the bear loop trail (riding) just the other day and he seems to have all his confidence back. I can easily tell when he is worried and from now on I shall hop off immediately to reassure him when necessary.

As for Breeze, she certainly experiences no "conflict" out on the trail. I think her dominant, extrovert personality actually overrides pretty much everything when there are such fascinating things to look at. Over her six years, she has never seemed all that impressed with me or my opinion on things, so I imagine her "conflict" over not liking the arena is simply because it is not much fun for a horse who likes to go exploring. My thought now is to make it more fun by setting up a few obstacles. In fact, since she has always been one who loves to jump, now that she is six, I might just set up a few low cross poles and hop her over them when she gets mad about doing arena stuff. I would like to focus more on collection with her, but the relationship, tho improving daily, is not quite there yet. She doesn't seem to care much about my opinion of her efforts yet. Things are getting much better and now she does offer lovely vertical flexion when I ask (from the ground) and reward with a treat.

Thanks, Sue, for getting me thinking about all this. I really think horsenality is a big part of this whole concept of a horse liking to be ridden or not. I think there is more to it than "conflict" although you could probably use that term for anything I've said above. :)

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PostPosted: Tue Jul 31, 2007 11:07 pm 
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Haha :lol: Yes, I would use the word conflict to describe what happens. They want something different to what you are suggesting. If you persist, you can feel that they are not happy - they have internal conflict arising from trying to perform for you something that goes against their own desire or need.
When you line up their desires with yours (a trail ride for Breeze) there is no conflict and they love being ridden. Simplification I guess..

There is much more there I want to respond to .. particularly your mention of eyesight.. and some ideas I have about straightness...
But..we're off to the beach again for a four day camp this am..
So will have to wait till after the weekend...


Seeya!
Sue


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PostPosted: Thu Aug 02, 2007 8:13 pm 
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Not so long ago I was talking about belly muscles with a natural healer, then encountered what she said in an interview with a vet, and then in another article written by a vet: they all stated that its a myth that bellymusles add a lift to the horses back when collecting.

I thought that was really interesting: They told that the belly is full of soft tissue with horses that is hanging down: The horse just isnt able to lift his back by pulling together his bellymuscles as all that would do is squeeze his intestines.

However: horses do have bellymuscles and welltrained horses do have less of a belly than others,, with racing horses being the most tight in the belly. Thats because the only real function of the bellymuscles is to draw forward the pelvis and hipbone when both hindlegs are in the air - at canter and gallop to provide a gigantic forward reaching movement. Thats why especially race horses have such tight bellies and other horses (trotters, but also dressage horses) dont. Just compare an ordinary race horse with a horse of the Spanish Riding School: the latter will have a straight belly, while the former has a lifted belly. And not because he's bred like that: when he leaves the course and becomes an ordinary riding horse, his belly will sag again because the highly specialized belly muscles that tug lifted hindlegs under the body as far as possible is't used that much anymore.



I thought it was very interesting to hear this from three corners, and also agreed with my doubts about bellymuscles and collection before. I guess the emphasis most trainers put on belly musculature comes from comparing horses anatomy with that of humans: we train our bellymuscles, but horses have a horizontal instead of vertical spine so those bellymuscles can never provide the same lift with the hindlegs standing without concussing their intestines. The latest research on horses has discovered that all the backlifting in horses comes from the spinal musculature.

Another interesting thing that scientists have found out is that horses dont bend their ribcage and loins around the inside leg in curves and for example shoulder-in as we have always been taught, but instead rotate their spine towards the outside a little and by that lifting the inner ribcage-half out of the way of the inside hindleg - without actually bending the spine even though it looks like that because the inner ribcage half seems to bend away.

I hope that they continue to do more research on this!


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PostPosted: Thu Aug 02, 2007 8:37 pm 
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This is very interesting...so the muscles that develop in the belly are in indication of drawing the pelvis forward and not from lifting the back? That's cool...that means the horse is making more effort to be under him/herself?

On this photo I've circled the area where I can see a visible line that develops when Cisco is in really good shape (he's put on weight and mostly lost it for now (sob!)). We're working to get it back...

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PostPosted: Thu Aug 02, 2007 8:57 pm 
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Do you mean the line you see at this old photo of my Atreyu?
When I see this line with a horse I mostly am worried. Atreyu looked this way when she was always nervous and tense. Now you see this line only when she is like that again (she pulls up her belly) and never when she is at ease.
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 02, 2007 11:01 pm 
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Bianca I would say your horse is indeed is tension with the belly muscles, but it is similar but a difference as it will be working but not tense the muscle should never be tense as that causes discomfort, it does in us when we are tense as i am sure it does in animals too, so another key is to get the muscles working they have to be toned not tense looking. :) I have a great picture of them being used it is of one of Heather Moffett's horses but would you be ok with it as it is bitted but does demonstrate the muscle being used wonderfully for this purpose :D

Miriam I see their point but I inclined to disagree slightly that

Quote:
They told that the belly is full of soft tissue with horses that is hanging down: The horse just isnt able to lift his back by pulling together his bellymuscles as all that would do is squeeze his intestines


This is same in us humans our muscles are outside of our intestines too so we do squeeze ours as well so to me that doesn't stand very well.

As all the muscles are connected the back muscles will be connected to the stomach muscles they work best when they are all working together and if we can train the horse to do this it will help their back, I am going to go back us humans again ok we stand up on two legs but when we build our stomach muscles up and get them working our back muscle will be more protected and stronger from working together with the back muscles.

So what I was saying it is just as important to make sure the stomach is connected while working the horse to raise it its back as if it is it would allow a better movement and freer movement from the back.

I agree that the horses do have use the belly muscles to help draw the legs under more when galloping with Race horses but RHs do have poor backs, part is from having too much weight on their backs at a young age but also that they will and are trained to use their stomach muscle more than their back muscles, hence why they have back problems but tighter belly muscles.

So what I am saying both have to work together more or less equally in harmony not one is better than the other as you still end up with back problems or a better back but a belly that still sags. Now learning how we can get a horse to do this is a good question and it is maybe in the way we work the back by getting the hind leg to step under int he exercises we do with them that this happends naturally.

Quote:
Another interesting thing that scientists have found out is that horses dont bend their ribcage and loins around the inside leg in curves and for example shoulder-in as we have always been taught, but instead rotate their spine towards the outside a little and by that lifting the inner ribcage-half out of the way of the inside hindleg - without actually bending the spine even though it looks like that because the inner ribcage half seems to bend away.


Yep they do indeed lift their rib cage, as I have known since my Alexander techinque teacher, (reiki, kinesiology, bowen therapist) said about going round on a circle think of it as if you are trying to lift the rib cage outwards, so the inside will come under and the outside will lift out further enabling the hind leg to come under easier.But is different movement to the SI.

With the SI it works the same way on us too if we mimic it, it does do all that is said by Miriam :D But going on a circle is slightly different to SI as they you don't always do SI on a circle and well my horse doesn't but does lift her rib cage outwards to the outside though. :D

Windhorsesue to regard about your posture I feel another thread coming on :D But that is basically as the muscles are doing what has come naturally to them over time and this all changes when we learn how to connect to our core which BTW is not just our stomach muscles as they do attach to the spine as well this is why getting the core working helps our backs :D :)


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PostPosted: Fri Aug 03, 2007 12:32 am 
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OH Bianca, Atreyu DOES look tense! She is the kind of horse you want to whisper to, closely, and tell them nothing will make them that tense ever again. I'm so glad you have her!

Yes, it is the same muscle line, but Cisco just isn't a tense and nervous horse. He got his from learning to collect, and it was less than half the length of Atreyu's. Perhaps it's just hidden beneath a layer of fat? Oh the grass was so lush this year. Poor Cisco...


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PostPosted: Fri Aug 03, 2007 7:51 am 
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Yes luckily this muscle is barely ever shown now by Atreyu :D . She is doing very very well and is very relaxed 8) now.
Good to disassociate this muscle with tension through your stories :D so I won't be that worried when I see it at other horses again.


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 29, 2007 9:11 pm 
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I started to think what is so good (or at least not so harming) in trail riding. On the other forum ;) there is a discussion about harm of riding. Is it true, that only riding collected is healthy, and only for such a short time, as 15 minutes? I agree, that no riding is natural. On the other hand, we humans do many unnatural things. If I have a sophisticated bag designed with NASA technology :lol: I can carry almost as much as my own weight. In a simple plastic bag, I can carry only very light load, of course ;)
Anyway, I have to read this topic again, because it seems to be even more interesting than the other one :D for now, as I was thinking about trail riding, or collection vs long back, I drew these two pictures. They are not perfect, because I didn't look at any anatomy picture (or any horse at all) and it's a long time since I drew a horse (last time I posted these pictures here, too :P ). So don't think that this is how a horse looks like :twisted: however, my idea was to use colours like a thermograph uses them. It's quite fun and I'm trying this since few days. But then, when I came to muscles (at the end) I simply drew them in red, like on all anatomy pictures. So it's not like a thermograph and not like a anatomy drawing, you tell me what is it then :P
Also, I drew the human as a part of the horse, to see which would look more "natural" for me. Definetely the collected one is better, but probably it's because I'm thinking only about collection :oops: especially when I'm clicker training my horse 8) and the vertical seat is more like our T'ai Chi "rider's position". I guess that these pictures are not correct, but maybe they illustrate my way of thinking. Now I'm trying to guess what I'm actually thinking about this.
Image
Image

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PostPosted: Wed Oct 31, 2007 6:38 am 
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Okay you guys HAVE to check out this thread and you will completely understand the whole belly vs back thing!

The muscles that raise the back are UNDER the spine- not he whole way to the belly, but not above the spine either. The horses that are inverted have strong tone tense back muscles0 we want loose flabby back muscles.

Go to www.equinestudies.org and read the articles "Lessons from Woody" and "True Collection".

Than head to the forum (registering not needed) and read the thread on "help with kissing spine"

It is SO enlightening!!!!!

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PostPosted: Wed Oct 31, 2007 10:28 am 
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Thank you so much! I've read this articles but I didn't know that there is so informative forum as well!

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