Sometimes, to "cure" a horse, a vet will prescribe an exercise. In general, that is great. I prefer not to medicate problems if possible. But... it is HOW you do an exercise, not that you do an exercise that will determine effectiveness. If you do something for training, for fitness, for gymnastic or skeletal health, or any other reason, there are always parameters that will define the success of an exercise or movement. Often times, the vet doesn't give the rider those parameters. Unfortunately, the purpose becomes lost. Sometimes, damage is increased. I have heard a vet order "trot sets" of 15 minutes to build stamina. I have heard many vets ordering "hill work". Both of these orders have great potential to improve a horse... or to break down a horse if executed poorly. Even a healthy horse can be hindered, but one that is already compromised could be destroyed by such work, if done poorly.
The working balance, tempo regulation, stride length, overall suppleness, state of mind and other things must be considered in all exercise intended to improve health and well being. Every time, every day.
Working balance: As opposed to the natural balance, the working trot or canter adjusts the horses posture and flexes his joints with degrees of suppleness necessary for the man-made figures and patterns the horse is required to do under the weight of his rider. Imagine, if a horse is hollow backed... or in-elastic... or mentally fragile... and asked to do hill work, there may be sad side-effects of the "hill therapy." There is a profound mechanical effect on the horse's skeletal system when bearing the weight of a rider up and down hills. Hills are good for the horse ONLY when done with care for the details in all the mechanisms (and minds) that are effected. Also, trot sets done in poor posture would not improve a horse's health either. Working balance is a necessary adjustment of a horse's posture and mechanics for riding.
Tempo regulation: The steadiness of tempo within the gait is necessary for a positive gymnastic effect in such basic things as transitions and changes of rein. The tempo needs to be moderated by the rider. Flux in tempo manipulates the core mechanisms for work in the horse. Insensitivity to tempo irregularities can increase the weakness of a weak leg, or heighten mental anxieties, or many other negative consequences over time. Over months or years of time. Tempo control is a useful tool for positive gymnastic improvement.
Stride length, overall suppleness and state of mind are also often unattended. So, if a vet orders an exercise for your horse, consider thoughtfully the possible parameters that can effect the quality of that movement. It is not that you do the movement, it is how you do the movement.
Here is a question for discussion: Should a horse warm up in a natural balance (often called "frame") or warm up already in the working balance (frame)? I've got my opinion. Let's hear yours.
Here is my favorite quote from the Gerhard Politz clinic: "Are you balancing your horse, or are you balancing yourself on your horse?" If you don't know your anwer to this, please write me. We'll chat.
What language does your horse speak? Body language! What body parts? All body parts! You give ample communication to your horse with your eyes, mouth, neck muscles, breath, etc. How does one learn to "read" and communicate with a horse, especially a dressage horse? The eyes tell some of the story and so do yours. Probably, your horse knows more about you than you do. Does your horse blink when you tack up? Does he watch your eyes? Do you watch his and if so, where does his gaze prefer to go when you brush his back? his face? when you walk toward him with paste wormer? And where is your gaze in these moments? If your horse is old, he may have learned to ignore most human movements. We tend to "daydream" or be beyond the present moment, so a horse learns to be de-sensitized to our expressions over time. A young horse reads all the time. Sometimes people send their young horses away to be de-sensitized so that the horse can tolerate being around humans calmly. That really isn't necessary or even good for a dressage horse who should retain his sensitivity and desire to read small details. But a person must learn how to be around an animal who is still sensitive and "reading". Dressage uses eye contact, body contact, and body rhythm and everything else that a horse employs for communication. However, most clinicians etc. don't get auditors to focus on that part. Usually we just see the "get on and ride" part. Often, when the clinician gets on a participants horse, the people watching comment and chat for the first few moments while the instructor walks and gets used to the horse. Those first few moments everyone should really be silent and watch. Those are the moments when the communication contract is written. When the code of ethics is decided. When the law is laid. Next time your instructor works with your horse, watch the first minute with focus. Watch the next five minutes also in silence. You will learn more from those minutes than from the rest of the ride.
Howdy! Just got back from the Raleigh show this afternoon... here are the quick hi-lights: The Sandbox Club WON the Pro-Am Challenge!!! WON it. Yippee! That was fun. Congratulations to Me, Dana, Phyl and Susan. I will post a photo soon. Dana/Watson also gets bravo for: two scores of 72 percent in first level and three first place wins!! (Other win was 69%) Phyl/Nick also won first level test one with a 68 percent. Got first qualifying score at training level too. This is after Nick told Phyl he WASN'T going in the covered arena. Period. Obviously, we convinced him otherwise. Smiles. Also, Nick spent a couple weeks before the show with an unfortunate fever illness. Overcame low odds with grace. Adorable Bodie (and Susan) got a 67% in first level test three and placed in every class with scores over 60! ... and my dear Welle won Saturday's Prix St. Georges with a 65%. Woowee! However, In keeping with our 2010 vibe we placed second on Sunday with only 0.6 % difference. Still so very pleased!!!
The low-lites: Welle needed the farrier and vet in one single show... never happened before. (lost nail and bum eye allergy) Every day the temps were over 90 degrees with extreme humidity. Thats all for the bummers. So, not so bad!!! Hope your weekend was warm and wonderful too!
....congrats to Haley also! ... congrats to Angie M also! Congrats to Elise Atwood also..woowee! Congrats to Carrie! Congrats to Eliza! Congrats to Donna! Congrats to all and thank you for a fun and friendly show~!
Winnie, our little June bug, turns three today. She is such a pretty little thing. Suppose she is destined for greatness?
Sanibelle, our little drama queen, misjudged her stopping distance today in the paddock. The fence is now a pile of splinters. She is fine. Two tiny scratches, no swelling, no nothing. The poor fence! Baby horses learn the laws of physics through living.... argh. Did I tell you about the time Winnie, about 4 months old, followed her mother into the paddock? Pearl, the mother, walked nicely through the gate. Winnie walked through the second and third fence boards in the section of fence next to the gate. Argh... babies!