Sunday, 10 November 2013

Time for a new beginning

Best followers and readers!

The time has come for me to move on and end of this blog. Thank you for the interest you have shown for all that Lena and I have written. Every question and comment meant a lot, feedback is a nice gift to receive.

For my part, it has been a busy year with horse's feet and hooves in focus. Since August 2012 I've been sitting with my head above living and dead hooves and a lot of books . During five full week courses in Applied Equine Podiatry (AEP) , I have studied the anatomy, function and structure of the hoof and foot in order to perform a balancing of the hoof capsule to the horse's feet ( = coffin bone and cartilage ) in accordance with the HPT method (Hight Performance Trim) which in turn is based on AEP .

On October 2, I took the practical test in Boden after a final exam on the internet-based theory set forth by the Institute of Applied Equine Podiatry, USA .

Kerstin Kemlén, Boden and I have started Horsequality Sweden AB. We both have expertise in AEP and in combination with the rest of our knowledge , we create an unbeatable concept, a company with research, horse health and human as our core.

Kerstin has a background in harness racing , where attention to details is a must when training has competition as a goal - ex diets/feeding performance horses , monitoring heart rate with a monitor and motion analysis , training etc. Kerstin can read horses as few others can and have, after several years of collaboration with veterinary professor Robert Cook, USA, developed bitless bridle for trotting horses in order to minimize physical bit-related damages on performance horses. She is specialist in bit-related behavioral issues and well versed in the research .

My background is in riding and driving. In Horsequality my contribution is the Alexander Technique, which gives riders and drivers good balance and suppleness. I have an education in Equine Touch (and its counterpart for people, VHT), a gentle manual technique that provides muscle tension release , increases circulation and creates wellness.

Horse welfare and habitat is an important area. Feeding, work/discipine, outdoor activity and interaction with conspecifics is important. All horse management involves various degrees of compromise: from our own perspective as a horse owner and  from a horse based perspective.

Horsequality Sweden offering lectures and clinics on hooves and feet, posture, bit, training schedules, new research related to the horse and more. Contact us to learn more.

Thank you for these years and welcome to join us in the future.


Horsequality Sweden can be found on Facebook.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Get your feet moving

This weekend, I learned to run and it was fantastic! Malcolm Balk, a teacher of the Alexander Technique and runner with many kilometers in his legs shared his knowledge with us.

As with everything else my mind slipped over to riding and horse management during the work shop. To run is to bring many small detailes to form a whole and every detail is important for the quality of the whole.

Just as in riding, it is important to know in which direction the movement will take place. For a runner, there should be an upward direction in the body while we want to move forward. If we bounce with each step we are wasting energy. I thought Malcolm said that with a bouncy running technique during a marathon you are likely to have climbed up to the top of the Empire State Building (381 m) and down again.

When we run, there is very little free energy for us to use, compared to cycling for example we can let the bike roll from time to time without stopping completely. The small amount of free energy in running is developed when the achilles tendon is stretched as the heel touches the ground and is released when the heel leaves the ground. In order to make use of that energy, our foot fall needs to be both accurate and fast enough. If we stand for to long on our foot the free energy disappears into the ground and we'll have to work our way to the next step. Besides making it harder to run if we waste the free energy our shock absorbing is decreased and  the risk of injuries such knee pain, shin- and calf muscle problems increases.

As we sit on horseback, we should have an upward direction in our body (vertical seat) while the horse should move forward. The horse's legs store and release more energy than we can in our legs and therefore can provide more free energy into the next step, if we let the horse's direction in the spine be forward and slightly upward. Riding the horse behind the bit, with the third cervical vertebra as the highest point, the horse moves on its forehand and the power from the back legs is pushed into the ground. Just like us, the loss of free energy forces the horse to work more with muscle power to take the next step and the degraded shock absorption increases risk of problems in fetlock and knees.

A good lateral balance is important for running, it increases the chance that the legs are equally loaded during a run. To train lateral balance, you can stand on one leg and then switch leg with a small jump. You should be able to do that transition without wobble and a need to balance yourself with your arms way outside your body. As humans, lateral balance is fairly easy, we have two legs that needs to interact. The horse has four. Shoulder in in walk is a movement that trains the lateral balance of the horse.

Step rate, or cadence as Malcolm calls it, should be 180 steps per minute (90 steps per leg per minute) when we run. If you, like me, is a recreational runner without competition aspirations, it's a good deal faster than what you're used to. Usain Bolt takes 2.5-meter-long strides with a cadence of 240 steps per minute, no wonder that he is the fastest!

The horse has different cadence in different gaits and that means walking horse with a lower cadence than that one should strive for is free energy wasted straight down into the ground. An approximate cadence to aim for in walk is 55 steps per leg/minute, in trot 75 steps per leg/minute and at a gallop 95 beats per stride/minute.

The best tool for keeping track of cadence is a metronome, there are small handy digital metronomes that you can attach to your clothing for around 100 sek.

I will be taking a summer break with the blog from today. On the schedule is, in addition to summer vacation with the kids, two practical courses in Applied Equine Podiatry (June and July) and the theoretical part where the final exam is approaching. Next week is a two-day conference on the theme Musicians Health in Piteå that I think will be very interesting. Music and riding has so many connections!

All that remains is to wish you all a wonderful summer, many tropical nights and moderately amount blood-sucking insects. Take good care of yourselves and your four-legged friends and we will meet again in the fall when life slows down for the winter.

Happy summer!

Friday, 17 May 2013

TMJ a joint of great importance and influence

The early summer made a highly acclaimed entrance here in Norrbotten yesterday and we celebrated it with a Preschool day at Tallbackkottarna, where my two older boys have been and the youngest still are. All animals on the farm is enjoying the warmth; horses, cats and dog lounges in the sun. We are waiting for the "big green" to take place and according to the weater forecast it might be happening this very weekend.

The theme for today is the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). The TMJ is an important point in the body for both human

and horse.

Looking at the head from a skeletal perspective, upper jaw and skull is one unity and the mandibular is a separate unity. Temporomandibular joint is the point in which the lower jaw moves relative to the rest of the head. The masseter muscles are so-called anti-gravity muscles, that holds the lower jaw in place. When we chew or talk, it is the lower jaw that moves up, down and sideways. Quite often I see tendencies in people that they lift their head up and away from the lower jaw when they open their mouth. The gesture becomes more evident in some singers who want to get their voice out with some force. Such a motion affects the balance of the body quite a lot because the head itself weighs several kilos (4-6 kg for an adult).

Since the jaw muscles are designed to keep the lower jaw up it is relaxed when the mouth is closed and in work when the mouth opens. This is true for both human and horse. The temporomandibular joint has the ability to move sideways, it is needed so we are able to grind the food with our molars (teeth at the back of the mouth). In horses, eating much larger amounts of rough fiber than we do, this grinding motion is important in getting the food properly micronized.

The concept of having a locked jaw is common in both man and horse, and for both of us a locked jaw causes the teeth to wear unevenly, we get bite problems, which in turn affects the temporomandibular joint, and that in turn affects the muscles around the TMJ and neck and muscular disorder moves further into the body. In humans, tensions in relation to TMJ is a common cause of migraine and we have expressions that connotes with how anger, anxiety and frustration manifests itself in and around the TMJ; having clenched jaws and grind teeth are two examples. By actively biting your your teeth together you can feel the tonus of the neck muscles change.

A poorly fitted bit and improperly thightened nosebands increases the risk of ulceration of the mucous membranes, puts pressure on the bars and tongue and pain causes tension in the TMJ in horses. These tensions locks the cervical spine and since the horse uses his neck as a balance bar, it is easy to perceive the horse as rigid and unbalanced. The horse should have a relaxed, closed mouth to have access to both breathing and a supple cervical spine. Closing the mouth with nosebands is to ignore the cause of, as it is often called, an anxious mouth. An anxiuos mouth is an indicator of an underlying cause that can be found in the horse or rider.

My horses got a check up of their mouths recently and it turned out that my mare had traces of bit related injuries in her mouth that will require careful fitting of a bit, if I ever consider to ride her bitted. The mucous membrane on the bars had slided up against her teeth. A bit like a rug would do when dog would slides it up coming at full speed. She had changes in the bone tissue in the bars themselves, which is almost a guarantee that she would experinece pain in the mouth having to have bit.

Everything is connected in both horse and human. We are basically designed to work, and with an open mind to our own and the horses' signals when something seems to have fallen out of balance and we sence that equilibrium is lost, we should give ourselves the time to investigate before the damage is a fact.

In September, a course in Applied Equine Podiatry (AEP) is held in Boden again. I heartily recommend this course to anyone who wants to learn how the horse foot (= all the tissue inside the hoof capsule) works and the stimulus it needs for the horse togrow a healthy hoof. Everything we do with our horses is a compromise with theiranimal naturel, so the better we become in our compromises the better our horses can stay in tune with their animal nature. Read more about the AEP and sign up via

Thursday, 25 April 2013

The effects of bit

This is an extra blog posting is directly taken from Kerstin Kemlén. Having horses is keeping an animal in captivity. Our decisions forms the captivity, we need to constantly think about how we treat our friends mounted as well as dismounted. We need to be aware of that the horse's life is a matter of compromising with the nature of the horse and our desire to use this magnificent animal's adaptability and ability to cooperate.
This summer - at the ninth International Equitation Science Conference - a new research entitled: "A Method of diagnosing and Measuring Pain in The Ridden Horse" is presented .

The experiment shows that the aversion against bit are very common and signs of aversion to bit is much larger in number than previously thought. In other words:
Many bit-related behavior problems disappear when the bit is removed and this includes those behavior that frequently is included in accidents with horse and rider.

The research results support the fact that
the committees that control the contest rules,
need to review the rules about bit being
demanded in competition!

How did they come to this result - what the scientific method was used?

58 riders were part of a controlled experiment group where they were asked to change from a bridle with bit to the bitless "whole head hug" concept. The experiment lasted from 2002-2008.

The survey included in the experiment was designed based on three years of feedback from riders who switched to bitless and the questionnaire listed 86 behaviors related to bit.

Experiments riders were asked to answer the questionnaire which was divided into two columns - one for the horse's behavior ridden with bit during the time the rider have had the horse in his possession - and another column for the horse's behavior when carrying out similar work when the bit has been replaced with a bitless"whole head hug".

Experiments riders had owned their horses between 9 months to 21 years, median 2 years.
The horses were 3.5 years to 24 years of age, median 8.5 years.
The horses had been testing bitless 1 day to 2 years, median 3 month.
The horses belonged in the disciplines of dressage, jumping, trail, pleasure, distance, eventing

EVERY horse showed fewer signs of pain when ridden bitless.
NUMBER of signals of painful symptoms showed by every horse when being ridden with bit were between 5-55, median 24 pain signals.
NUMBER of painful symptoms showed by every horse when being ridden bitless was 0-17, median 1 painful symptom.
OUTCOME  out of these 58 horses 90% of the signs horse showed of pain vanished when the bit was removed .

Thursday, 18 April 2013

The head leads and the body follows

Within the Alexander Technique we have the expression "head leads and the body follows." The term itself was coined by researcher Rudolf Magnus (1873-1927) in his studies of posture in mammals he found that the head and neck reflexes of mammals cause the body to follow automatically when the head moves.

When we ride, or drive horses, we have control over the horse's head through the head stall. Depending on the task we want the horse to do, the head stall can be a halter or bridle with or without bit.

But the term "the head leads and the body follows" has also a psychological bearing, the brain leads and body follows. Training and education is a coin with two sides, a physiological and a psychological and to get the best effect of training and education these two needs to coincide.I found an image illustrating the two sides of the coin in Hans von Blixen Fineckes book The Art of Training. 

It is a simple image that contains a lot of information. Interesting to me as an Alexander teacher is that he's talking about the conscious brain of both horse and rider. He describes how the motoric action that constitutes our aids is recorded by the horse's sensory nervous system. The information from us to the horse goes through touch and the information from the horse is conveyed to us through feel.
Hans von Blixen-Finecke talking about riding as a language of touch and a prerequisite for this form of communication is calm, within both horse and rider. Calm and presence.

A friend who has vast experience of riding young  race horses think the most important thing in any form of training of horses is that the horse never gets frightened during the early training. It gets a positive attitude to the rider and the work it should do, it will feel safe and it makes the psychological side of the coin interact with the physiological in a beneficial manner. A calm horse can digest information from the rider, a scared and nervous horse is blocked.

 Another friend was at a jumping competition at the weekend and reported with a tired tone that few were actually riding, most engaged in trying to control flight responses with both bit, extra reins and BF&I (brute force and ignorance). The BF&I riders had certainly gained control over the horse's head mechanically but they had totally missed getting the horse mentally.
It is important for us as riders to be in a good balance within ourselves. As we sit on the horseback our own internal weight distribution (skewness) affects the horse's body. Somehow the horse must handle adding our weight to its own and distribute it over his feet. The more equilateral and straight we are aligned around our own spine, the more even our weight is distributed to the horse.

When we ride, and I assume that we are aware of our own bodies, it is the shift in the horse's balance we feel through both seat and hands. The shift signals to us if the horse is in a good self carriage in the current movement.. An untrained, uneducated or a horse that is under rehabilitation have more obvious shifts in the balance than a healthy and more educated horse. By being present in each step, we as riders are able to feel how the horse move and we can with our signals, our touch, give aids that help the horse to place the weight and regain balance.

A good education ultimately leads to an equipage that makes everything look easy, it's two brains joined in movement and although it is the rider who leads it is the sence of trust developed in the relationship that makes the horse participate without fearAt this point the rider can be said to ride the horse's conscious brain and in that context, the rider, if the he/she would like, can remove all the equipment from the horse and ride on.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Perception - to hear the unspoken

Easter holiday and wonderful northern spring means that the blog has had to wait until sunset. The challenge is to capture the good days as a buffer for days of another kind.
In August 2010, I was out riding my anglo-arabian mare. We were out in the woods and rode on nice, gallop friendly sandy pine moore paths and I was so happy. She was alert, responsive and felt wonderful. One day I climbed her up a slight slope, four steps, we took the little slope twice - eight steps all in all.
We walked home and she went from calm and at ease to toss her head and stepping, she became generally annoying. I halted and thought that she would come to her senses, but she began to back up, and in the middle of a forced step back I felt how she lost her left hind leg. I got off her back and started walking home. Confused.
A few years later an acquaintance told me that she, after having taken a course on horses and bits, realized that the bit she liked to use when riding caused the most pain in the horse's mouth. It was incomprehensible to her, she felt that the horse was so soft and smooth in riding.
Another told me that they had discovered that the horse had lesions in the mouth but in riding the horse had felt soft and flexible. Another told me that the horse worked like a dream just to show lameness the day after.
Once is once but twice, three times, four times ... I know that this is not a statistically significant number, but never the less it raises a question in me. How well can we read horse?
Horses have utilized silence as their survival strategy, they are experts at hiding pain and the effects pain have on their bodies. Could it be that all the horses in these examples had showed small signals that something was wrong and since we as riders did not notice them, they moved within their frame of pain, and we considered them pliable and soft?
In my own case, I had taken her outside her framework under and she became very vocal in her behavior.
Had it been possible to discover pain reactions of the horses in the examples above by using a heart rate monitor? Were there some small indications from the horses' side that we missed, were there some big?
It is said that before you judge a horse to be disobediet, you should ask yourself if it understands what you ask for, if it has been trained to do what you ask for, or if it is physically fit to do what you ask for. You can tell by my wording that the way I reasoned in 2010 was disobedience - she was annoying and needed to come to her senses. The fact that it was the pain became apparent to me later, but at the moment disobedience was a closer option.
I have learned a lesson from the incident with my mare. Now I strive to ask me if it can be any of the other reasons that prevent the horse to do what I want instead of disobedience. I'm trying to train my perception, my ability to read horses better.
My new mare, whose feet carried me to AEP, enjoys the benefit of my homework and is also a good teacher. She signals in an ascending scale if I get too close to the edge of her frame of pain. In our training I don't not ask for any gait other than those she chooses to take in the pasture (the scare canter is not included). She has just recently begun to take a trot based on self carriage rather than a trot she jumped into. So we have now added short trot repetitons in our walks. We can take walks up to 1.5 hours, when we started she wanted to turn around after 10 minutes which added up to 20 minutes walk.
When we worked from the ground in a shoulder-in like move one step with left hind was enough in the beginning, one more and she gently nibbled my hand. Now we can take a series of steps in the corners. I propose a move and she adopts or rejects. It is not a question of obedience or disobedience to me, I trust that she knows what she is capable of doing and if I ask for more than she can manage so she shows me.
I see that she trained when she moves in the pasture. She's doing nice rollbacks on the narrow path where the gelding, who can not, must detour into the deep snow. The trot she offers now I long to ride. I really long to ride her, but I'm willing to give her the time she needs to heal. We do this together, she and I, we are a team.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Hooves and humans

It was a busy day yesterday with Vasaloppet for the children and that altered the writing schedule for me, but with that done, I can say that now it's finally spring!

Last spring a new horse came to my farm and she forced me to pay attention further down her legs to the hooves or more accurately to her feet. I have a good friend who dived into Jamie Jackson and Pete Ramey's wild horse model and one that focused on Applied Equine Podiatry (AEP). During the summer last year, I talked to both and juggled my thoughts about the new horse's hooves with them. For it soon became apparent that the traditional blacksmith could not come up with any solution that seemed sensible - or if I'll be completely honest, the farrier I contacted with a veterinarian referral was quote "so tired that he went home instead" end quote. After a response like that, it felt like I myself is my own best farmhand although I actually had big gaps in my knowledge.

At first I thought that my two friends had a similar vision of what was needed in terms of trimming, support and stimuli of the feet. I read about both their perspective and tried to insert my own horse's troubles in each framework. We struggeled on the horse and I, and although it was in small steps we progressed.

In September last year, the opportunity to immerse myselves in AEP came and I took it. After that I realized that what on the surface may seem alike can differ tremendously when you go in depth. AEP is a method of hoof care based on universal scientific principles that apply regardless of whether it's hooves, bow and arrow or cars being discussed. Wild Horse model is based on studies of wild horses in their respective environments such as Mustangs in the U.S. or Brumbies in Australia but it is not based on studies of domestic horses and their living conditions.

In Sweden there was a veterinarian who made headlines when he, in an article in an Equestrian Magazine, pointed out the area that created the most problems for horses in general. Can you guess where he was pointing?
In a place just behind the withers above the horse's back - man in the form of a rider.

When the horse went from being a prey animal to become a domestic animal the price it had to pay for food and protection was their lives and health. We have used them in war, to ride on long and arduous hardship and we have shaped them into different breeds to enhance properties that have been beneficial to us.

When farriery developed into the profession it is today, it was in response to the increased demands on the horse as transportation vehicles, a vehicle that would work more in one day and on surfaces that were more "hoof unfriendly" in the form of rough dirt roads, cobblestone, wet clay and so on. Horse managment changed, horses were more tied up in stalls with the consequence that they often stood in wet beds instead of roaming freely in pasture. The science was under construction, industrialization was still in its infancy. What they knew was static, ie load during quiet standing, pull, push and levers.

The farriery met the requirements that were on a hoof of a horse standing still. When the horses were predominantly started being shod long periods of the year, problems arose with ossification, white line disease etc. Everyone knew that it was because of the shoes, but they were seen as a necessary evil and a price you had to be willing to pay.

With industrialization came cars and the development of them brought dynamics, kinetic and now we have developed tools that enable accurate measurements of things that were previously hidden to the human eye.

The results of the scientific development is taken into consideration by AEP when the theory of the hoof and the horse's feet were designed. With the model that constitutes the AEP's basis for the work with horses' hooves and feet  I lcan earn to read a hoof at any time, wild or tame, and see if it is healthy or have defects in the structures. It's like a new world opening up!

Join course and get a new relationship with your horse's hooves!