Thursday, 20 December 2012

What can a horse carry?

The last blog post this year will be about the horse's back. The purpose of the blog entries on hoof, mouth and back is to make us, who spend part of our time with horses and make use of their abilities, more aware that we are asking for something that the horse certainly can perform (and with honor!) but at the same time is contrary to its nature as an animal called horse.

When one gets involved in a thoughts it often happens several things simultaneously that really sets the own thoughts on spin. One student told me the following. During a visit to a friend in a barn, a horse was standing in the aisle. My student stroked the horse over the back and the horse lowerd its back - Don't tuch him over the back, the owner said, he is in pain. And that was obvious, but when the box was cleaned out the owner saddled the sore horse and took it for a ride. Where is the logic in this? One would expect a back that touchy would hurt bad when ridden.

Later that week I got a tip on an article written by Stormy May that added a few more sticks on the fire light going on in my head. The article is about what happens to the horse when we place our weight on its back. My post is a mixture of extracts from the article and my own words.

In "Journal of Veterinary Science" Volume (Vol14 (11), 1994)  the well-known veterinarian and saddle fitter Dr. Joyce Harman published an outcome of a study.

"For the purposes of this study, saddles with pressure up to 1.93 psi (pound force per square inch)  were assessed to have good fit, between 2.0 and 3.38 psi, but persistent pressure points, to have moderate fit and saddles that exceeded 3,4 psi or had persistent pressure points throughout the session was considered poor fit. These figures come from preliminary data showing that it was difficult to find an English saddle with a lower pressure than 0.75 psi, which is the highest pressure in the capillary bed, pressure exceeding 0.75 psi shuts off the blood flow in the arterial capillary bed. "

It is important to note that Saddle Tech preassure measuring tool, used in these studies, had sensors that have been developed to evaluate the risks of pressure sores in bedridden people and only measures pressure up to 4 psi. Modern sensors, such as the FSA (Force Sensing Array) developed by Vision Engineering Resaerch group (verg Inc) in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada can read a lot more pressure. In a test with Western saddles with good padding, measured normal "pressure spikes" between 8.25 and 14 psi. (Wesley, ED, McCullough, E, Eckels, S, Davis, E, Article # 9329, 2007, "The Horse" magazine).

The pressure that occurs on the tissues under the saddle is propagated down through the muscles to the bone structures found underneath. Research on pressure ulcers in humans have shown that tissue death begins near the bone long before redness and skin lesion is present.What have happened with the horses that have visible wounds or scars in the saddle area?

The muscles longissimus dorsi and trapezius, which the rider sits on, the horse has developed since Eohippus (between 60 million and 45 million years ago) to facilitate mobility. This structure was never designed to carry weight in the form of a pressure from above. In many horses, you can see a marked muscular atrophy just behind the scapula up at the withers. Nevertheless, I have heard a coach say that he did not want to have horses with muscular backs because they become so difficult to saddle.

Pressure from the saddle and rider on the horse's back occurs independent of use. When blood is pushed out of the tissue and comes back, it feels like a thousand needles sticking in the body part. We have embedded sensors that ensure that we change position from time to time, when the pressure on a single point has been too high for too long. For a horse that is ridden, it is difficult to stow the weight on his body that way. It can try to attract your attention by taking shorter steps, swishing tail, scratching himselves against the fence /riding school wall, nip at the leg, have ears back or even bolt or buck.

What is emphasized in the article is that it is all too common with today's horsemanship, to dismiss the horse only possible way of communicating, body language,  as disobedience and as such it should be corrected - often with "stronger pain in the mouth, on the head, ribs and flanks, probably in combination with a longer session under saddle" writes Stormy May.

Now neither the author nor I are proposing to forbid riding but I share the conclusion that increased knowledge of the horse's movement mechanics would be a fantastic Christmas gift that would please both rider and horse.

I have searched both articles Stormy May refer to online but without success. It seems like an interesting task for 2013 to gain more knowledge on the issue. I would like to know more about how each study has been done.

As always, when it comes to our relationship with the horse, it is we who must strive to interpret the horse's signals/language - the horse already has full notion of us, as the true humanist it is.
Now I take Christmas holiday and will return after Twelfth Night. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Friday, 7 December 2012

Bitting, episode 3

We who choose to engage in horses, be it pleasure riding, competative riding, driving, harnessed horses or racing must at all times be aware that we choose to do something that the horse was not originally intended to make.

The horse is not designed to bear weight on his back, pulling heavy loads, have metal shoes (or any hoof protection for that matter) on the hooves or bit in his mouth. That it allows to let us make use of it is due to the fact that the survival strategy of the horse is silence. The horse is basically a docile animal, an animal that seeks to minimize conflicts because, in the wild, that has saved lives. The horse devotes no time to unnecessary quarrel, it is pre-programmed to find their place in a hierarchy, and to be responsive.

The horse, like the dog, has proven to be a useful companion for us. Their different characteristics has improved and simplified our lives and now that we who live in developed countries no longer need them for our livelihood they enhance our leisure time.

I have no moral qualms about owning and have a horse (or dog). What I strive for is to make the life that my horses will live with me as "a little bad as possible" by learning everything I can about the well fare of horses. Keeping a horse is compromising the horse as a biological being and the better compromise the fewer degrees in hell for the horse - a little brutally expressed.

Dr. Cook has devoted much of his professional life to research and to issues that he defines as bit-related problems. Just as Lena pointed out, some of the behavioral problems he connects to bitting can occur for other reasons. To me, it means that there are more variables to consider in this multifactorial equation that horse ownership entails. Leave no stone unturned ...

In his research, Dr. Cook compared the skulls of domestic and wild horses. What he has seen in the tame horses are so called bone spurs, micro cracks in the bars and deformed teeth, damage completely absent in the wild horse. That is damage to the hard tissue, a horse dentist may see friction damage to the tongue from a bit that slid back and forth across the tongue, sores on the inside of the cheek, crushing, pressure sores on the palate, etc.

Certainly, many of the injuries are resulting from careless handling and improper fitting of the equipment, absolutely! With better educated of horse owners, many of the problems are eliminated. Note bene! Not even bitless bridle is completely without effect on the horse if they are ill fitted or handled roughly.

Dr. Cook notes"By removing the metal bit out of the horse's mouth, you can address many problems, but one can not expect that all problems are cured.

A horse that previously had recurring throat noise will not stop sounding bad, a horse who developed permanent deformities of the airways as a result of bit use will still be handicapped by deformations.

If you remove the bit it heals no lameness other than "rein lameness" nor can it replace proper training of the horse so it correctly understands rein aids (slow down, stop and turn). All horses with bit caused nerve pain does not stop shaking its head from one day to another when the bit is removed. A few never stop. " (this is a translation from a swedish translation so...this one can deviate from the original english text.)

We need as riders and drivers to understand that the horse does not automatically understand our signals, that we need to train the horse to the language of signals we choose to use. When I was with Rune Olofsson in Sollebrunn he told me that 98% of the horses he had re-educated in riding had problems because they had never been taught the signals for start and stop properly, they did not know what was expected of them. The basis for all training is that the horse understand the signal for forward, stop, back up, left and right. When the response to those signals is established, the horse is ready to perform movements that combine these directions.

But there is another aspect of bit that concern the horse's physiology. When the horse has a bit in the mouth it stimulates the digestive system, which means that the horse's body is programmed to low activity and a lowered head/neck position while you want the horse to be alert, ready to perform and with raised the head/neck.

In the horse's throat, there is a switch function which opens or closes the passage of the air ways and esophagus. The horse breathes through the nose and when breathing, the lips must be sealed so that the mouth is free of air. With a bit in the mouth the lip seal is broken and air is swirling into the oral cavity, at the same time the stimulus on the tongue results in production of saliva that needs to be handled. When the horse swallows, it can not breathe and when breathing it can not swallow. It is a physiological impact of the horse as biological beings, and it has consequences.

A short note on why I chosed Dr. Cook's bridle. Amaretto has a convex nose and thus makes a rope halter or bosal tipp forward/downward and end up being in the wrong place. The nose band on the bitless bridle can be fasten and is thus kept better in place.

The signaling system is similar to the one I have when I worked Amaretto in rope halter, the headstall also conveys the signals from the reins that the direct and indirect rein aids create. Hackamore has never been an issue and the bridle that looks like a wheel with spokes I have not tried.

I was at a lecture given by Per Larsson on bit and bitting, he showed a picture of a bit called "Liberty", he graded it to be hot, really hot actually and it could "correct" the horse inducing so much pain that the horse either surrendered or went crazy ... we have an ability to paraphrase we humans, Liberty - freedom to whom?

Thursday, 22 November 2012


Is anyone else, besides me, wondering if we really have our 24 hours daily and an average of 30 days per month? It feels like it was only a moment ago that I had the last sip of bubble to celebrate the New Year - and soon it's coming up again!

Kerstin Kemlén is a good friend of mine and as a person she is one that goes to the bottom of all issues she is faced with. She is a owner of harness horses with a strong focus on performance. It was a question of performance that led her into the subject bits and bitting and its consequences for horses. In the beginning the question was one of solving a problem for a specific horse in her stable which drove her to explore the topic, but now it has become a question of  horse health in general.

Early on Kerstin came in contact with Dr. Robert Cook, who developed a bitless bridle, and they have had an extensive email exchange over the years where Kerstin has raised questions and Dr. Cook answered by the best his of understanding and ability.

The essence of Dr. Cook's research is that bit, regardless of form, material or the quality of the riders hand causes damage to the horse. The damage can range from physical injuries from bit on bars, tongue and teeth into njuries that take a little more time to develop such as breathing disorder and behavioral disorders.

Just as traditional horse shoeing affects the horse negatively the tradition of brideling does the same thing. This colorful image taken from Dr. Cook's website shows by the scale the relative sensitivity to touch the different body parts of the horse have. The red areas represent the areas with the highest amount of sensory nerves. As you can see muzzle and mouth are areas very sensitive to touch.
Being a horse owner is to be aware of what you compromise with and why. I myself have chosen to shoe my horses this fall, and although I know that it costs in the form of hampered hoof mechanism, I´d take it rather than to have a horse rip itself.
I have bitted bridle in the tack room, but I ride using Dr. Cook's bitless bridle. And of course there is a difference in experience! The horse is a good deal stronger in bitless, 16 times stronger compared to a bitted horse according to Kerstin (who happily and readily calculates everything). Such a difference most certainly have an effect on the relative balance of strenght (if I can use that word) between horse and rider.
So when my horse gets Mr Hot in the Hat, that strenght it's really apparent ... but I have not felt unsafe despite some lively gallops. It is possible to make a one-stop rein with the bitless bridle and there is every opportunity to get a low-key communication via the bridle.
The difference is the feeling in the hand, there is no sensory feedback via the reins as one gets when the reins are attached to a bit the horse's mouth. It's actually quiet in the reins ... no chewing, no movement and it's really how it should be according to Dr. Cook. When the horse is working it has its mouth closed and it is still, it is only when the horse eats it should open the mouth and chew.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

The hoof - a genious invention

Last fall, I was down to Iotas Hovbalans in Dalarna and took a course in Applied Equine Podiatry with KC LaPierre.
It was an interesting and thought-provoking course with many, for me, new perspectives on how the horse's hoof works and how it responds to the load that the horse is exposed to.
In the middle of his career as a farrier takes KC a place as an apprentice in a forge. The intention was to become such a skilled blacksmith that he could form any kind of horse shoe that he needed. During his two years as an apprentice the foundation for what would become KC's mantra was created: structure + function = performance. When he completed his apprenticeship period and returned to his profession as a blacksmith, he could really forge any shoe  atany time but there were still horses that he could not help. It led him on the path he walks now.
KC seeks to shift the focus of farriery from craft to science. Farriery became a profession that ceaced to develop as a new era of technological development began, and this in turn makes today's farrier trained with knowledge from the day before.
The basic thesis is that a healthy horse is dependent on healthy hooves whose function is to manage and distribute and utilize energy. Farriery in turn is designed to neutralize energy. This leads to a collision between nature and human demands and leaves the horse's hooves trapped in the middle.
KC has defined every part of his mantra: structure + function = performance. The structure is the internal components of the hoof and each component has a specific function that will work in harmony with all the other parts. Within the hoof there are several different types of tissue; blood-filled, not blood-filled, soft tissues and bone. The performance refers to how well a hoof can meet the requirements that the chosen activity imposes on the hoof. A recreational horse can function with lower demands on hoof performance than a racehorse in full racing condition. It may seem like a given truth, you do not drive Formula 1 with a SAAB V4 and hope for a top position, but according to KC lacking that insight is nonetheless quite common.
Domestic horses are living under very different premises than wild. It allows KC sometimes choose to talk about shod and unshod horses to emphazise that shoes may actually be the best compromise for some horses. Barefoot is always best for the horse, provided that its hooves have the qualities needed for the task. In shoeing the horse the hoof's natural mechanism is always adversely affected but if the job the horse is expected to perform also affects the horse negative, it may be better to have the horse shod.
Today there is are alternatives to iron shoes in the form of boots, various two-component gadges as "hoof wraps", plastic shoes and sole guards. A remark KC made is that, according to him, some of them does not take sufficient account of how the hoof defacto is built and that, indeed without nails, still hampers a proper foot function.
I have had my horses unshod in the summer but has been, because of lack of an alternative to shoes with studs, shood my horses now as the ice came. My horses are out 24-7 in a hilly forest pasture with a creek that runs through the pasture. When the creek begins to freeze and the water from the overlying wetlands continue to flow it floats out of the stream bed and freezes to ice on the ground. Our place is  popularly known as Märsfallet just because a mare slipped badly in the wake ice.

Personally I'm hoping for a snowy winter without periods of thaw because then I can take off the shoes at the end of December and then put them on again in March /April when spring with its icy periods comes. It is a compromise with the desire I have, but it's a conscious compromise, and I have (thank goodness!) a farrier that is open to dialogue.
KC comes to Boden in June and to give a 5 day course, read more about it on Kerstin's website. I recommend the course strongly!

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Rein in hand

In early October, I attended a lecture by Kerstin Kemlén on the topic bit and bit related problems.

Kerstin has for over three years been involved in intense email exchange with Dr. Cook, an American veterinarian and professor emeritus, who has devoted much of his professional life to studying horses and their mouth and throat health and its connection to bit.

According to Dr. Cook, there are 47 problems that can be scientifically verified to be connected to the use of bit. A part from the physical damage that bits can cause in the mouth; damages on the bars, ulceration of the mucous membranes and deformation of the teeth, there are a number of behaviors that can be associated with bits and with a scale from immobilised to flight. Kerstin has the full list, if you want to know more contact her.

During the lecture, with an audience coming from both the riding and the harnessed horse world, those who wanted to try Kerstin home made reintaking gadget were urged to do so. The picture shows the principle of the gadget (lackning round rod, I had to use my son's wooden Winchester replica). The spring balance is attached to the rod together with the rein.

Anyone who wanted to test the pressure on the reins took the reins and tried to establish the contact they usually had while riding or driving. Kerstin was reading the pressure on the spring balance and kept the value to herself. Then she got the rider/driver stand between the reins and put the bit on forearms and lean on the bit until Kerstin said they reached their previous pressure. (The picture was taken by my 4-year-old assistant, so he has time to get better at sharpness ...)

Putting the bit on the forearm is as close as we can get to the horses bars in on our body, the bones have only a thin layer of skin over them, just as the bars themselves only have a thin mucosa over the thin and sharp edge.

Those who dared to try the gadget in front of the group had a range in pressure from 15 kg to 600 g.

She who held her mighty strong horse with 15 kg in the reins found it difficult to lean into the bit with the equivalent weight because of the pain she felt in her arms.
This is perhaps not an exact scientific method, but it gave palpable knowledge to each rider and groom! Please read a previous post on the blog about pressure on the bit.

I want to remind you of the importance of avoiding bringing your hands backwards when you hold the reins in riding or driving (more difficult to completely avoid in the latter case) and if you do have to take your hands backward REMEMBER to ease off!

Thursday, 11 October 2012

More hands

The hands theme continues. A rider's hands are expected to have many qualities, it should be soft, sensitive, quiet, offering horse support and much more.

Many of these qualities, can be impoved off the saddle and in third posting I'd like to give you some ideas of how you can train your perception of and in your hands. The basic idea of the Alexander Technique is that anything you are unaware of, you can not improve, and awareness is aided by the ability to percieve.

By taking a few moments each day to pay attention to what your hands are doing and how they do will refine your perception.

Take time to notice how what you are holding in your hand feels; its weight, texture, temperature. When you let your hands stroke the horse, notice how the hair, muscles underneath the skin feels and you try to register any temperature difference on the surface.

A good opportunity to exercise, that many of us have every day (and I am at right now), is when our fingers and hands move across a keyboard. How hard do your fingers press on the keys? Or when you hold a pencil, how hard do you have to hold it to write?

Become an explorer in yourself, experiment! If you can do something with a certain force, try to do it with half as much power next time. Be easier in that you do!

Take the time to rest your hand against your thigh when the opportunity arises. Avoid pressing down on the thigh, just rest your hand, that in itself encourages relaxation and is a very soft stretch of the hand muscles.

Friday, 28 September 2012

The Hand

Welcome to a "the day after" blog. Yesterday I came home at 7:00 am after a driving the entire night from Svärdsjö in Dalarna. Together with three other northeners, I have been on a five day hoof clinic with KC LaPierre and it gave lot of new input to be processed. I slept all day...

Today's post will be about our front hoof - the hand. Our hand plays a big role in our daily dialogue with the horse. We inspect the horse with our hands, we stroke it, it holds the brushes we use when grooming, it lifts the horse's legs, it holds the reins and much, much more.

I would like to hand out some tips on how we can improve our use of the hands to make the dialogue with the horse more nuanced. The hand, which I described earlier in the post The hand is dominating, occupies a large part of the brain's sensory and motoric centers. It has an amazing ability to develop fine tuned skills and sensitivity. All we need is to engage in deliberate practice.

These are three experiments for you to play with
1, Take a straw from the horse's tail or mane, put it under a page in the telephone directory. Look out in the room and let your finger cross out the page and feel hair through the paper. Add on another page, feel again. Add on another page, and another. Do this until you no longer think you can feel the hair. Then touch lightly, lightly over the paper. Can you perceive the hair?

2, Develop touch

Take an ordinary A5 envelope and hold it between your thumb and other fingers. Let the fingers "pads" rest on the envelope. Does the envelope bend? How much do you need to hold to keep to the envelope between your fingers? Can you walk with the envelope still between your fingers? Once you find a light touch you can try to replace the envelope with a paper folder, it is a bit heavier but keep your efforts as light as possible to hold the folder between the fingers.

3, Tip touch

Let the envelope rest on your fingertips, with all fingers in contact with the envelope. It can feel like it tightens in the hand. Breathe and let your fingers find their way up towards the envelope. Inhibition, to say no to any attempt to force your fingers into contact with the envelope. Direction, to know that you want your fingertips to have contact with the envelope.

Good luck!

Thursday, 13 September 2012

The work on the wooden horse

Welcome to the blog autumn 2012. As Lena wrote last week, she will spend the fall writing her essay, and when it is ready, she will become an even better teacher out on riding arenas. At my home, summer vacation is over and "regular routines" have started to find their form. It is both sad and a relief at the same time! With that said, I turn to today's post - work on the wooden horse.

An important part of Alexander Technique training for riders is the work in the saddle on a wooden horse. Originally the  procedure was developed in the 60's to help an AT teacher who had had a hip injury and wanted to resume riding. In order to prepare the body, muscles and hip joints, to sit in the saddle again the saddle was placed on a specially built "wooden horse".

As a rider, there is plenty of information to retrieve from a lesson on the wooden horse. The saddle is one contact point between horse and rider. The seat of the saddle should fit the rider. If the rider is hurting while in the saddle that affects the riding negatively! Since the wooden horse stands still and is both level and straight, there is more for the rider to learn about his/her seat; is the rider crooked, rotated, skewed, leaning forward or backward. All that is possible to explore in peace and quiet on the wooden horse. 

As I lift a leg, rotate the femur in the hip joint rider gets a feeling of how "well" the body works and how if it differs in the quality of mobility and movement between left and right leg - and it often does!

It is also possible to ride the wooden horse! A rider can, for example, give the aids for reing back, and I can see if the horse back straight up, or if the rider somehow gets twisted when giving aids and thus get the horse to move off to one side as it is backing up. The rider can give the aids for canter, shoulder in, haunches out, turns - everything is going to educate the rider (but to do posted trot on a wooden horse is difficult...) 

Work on the wooden horse is designed to train the riders perception, ie, the ability to read what is happening in their own bodies, to become familiar with the habits that are established in the body and to get tools to consciously work to improve what might stand in the way of good riding.

On the wooden horse, I can also help the rider to develop their hand by simply working with the reins. A gentle hand is entirely dependent on a movable arm and it will be the theme for the next blog!

Thursday, 6 September 2012

The autumn of 2012

Dear readers,
the summer here in Sweden is slowly turning into autumn. There will be some changes here on the blog since I'm taking a time out from writing here on the blog in order to finish my masters thesis about how to teach riding. Both me and my supervisor thinks it can be a very good thesis but I need time to write it. Maria will however continue to write every other week so stay tuned!

I would also like to take this opertuinuty to intive you all to the first Morning demonstration held by me and my fellow instructor-student of Ecole de Légèreté Sweden on September 29.

Hope you have a wonderful autumn and see you again next year!

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Table of contents and reader's companion

Maria and I have been posting a blog entry every week for a over two years straight. That means that there are over 100 blog entries! This summer we have decided to take a break from writing here on the blog. Rest assured we will be back again at the end of August.

In order to give you, our devoted followers, something to read until then, I have prepared a table of contents, or if you will a reader's companion. I have grouped a selection of the existing entries into categories and suggested an order for re-reading the entries. Remember, repetition is the mother of all knowledge!

This reader's companion is also helpful to any new readers to get started with reading all the great material already collected here on this blog.

This table of contents does not include all entries. I have focused on the entries concerning the nature and biomechanics of the horse, as well as the training of the horse and the rider. 

Overall introduction

Nature of the horse: his mind and anatomy
Is the horse's personality changed through training? Part 1, part 2 and part 3

Klas Adam Ehrengranat (1751-1842)

Rider training
Training the physical body of the rider
Seat training (video)
A connected leg. Part 1, part 2 and part 3

Schooling the eye and the mind of the rider

Training the attitude of the rider

Horse training

Educating the mind of the horse

Educating the body of the horse
The shoulder in (videos)


Classical riding, how to

One example: Hagens Yeats

Thanks to Mark Stanton of Horsemanship Magazine for proof reading!

Friday, 8 June 2012

New entry next week

Dear readers, some nasty germs have taken residens in Maria's throat this week and made her very sick and in need of antibiotics, plenty of sleep and fluids. This means there is no blog this week.

Thursday, 31 May 2012

The myth of overall bend

“Bend your horse around your inside leg”. I'm sure you have heard this countless times, just as I have. What your instructor has asked of you is to bend your horse evenly from nose to tail around your inside leg.

Overall bend in the horse is explained as follows, according to official theory:

“The term 'overall bend' is used when a horse is bent throughout its whole longitudinal axis, the whole length of its spine.” (The Principles of Riding, page 88).

On the same page the explanation continues:
“A rider must avoid asking for too much bend of the head and the neck and must focus on correct costal flexion around his inside leg”.

There is, however, one major point missing in the official theory and that is the anatomy of the horse's spine. As explained in Twisted Truths Of Modern Dressage by Philippe Karl, most parts of the horse's spine have a very limited capacity for lateral bending. Specifically:
  1. the five sacral vertebrae are welded together (the sacrum) = no lateral bending
  2. the parts of the spine that make up the withers are strongly linked together by supra-spinal ligaments connecting the spinal apophyses, and also each vertebra are linked to the sternum via the sternal ribs = no lateral bending

There are few examples of photos showing a bird's eye view of horses performing a circle, volte or lateral movements in which, according to the official theory, the horse should have an equal overall bend from nose to tail. There are, however, photos of Harry Boldt, a German dressage rider and Olympic gold medal winner in the 60's and 70's, showing shoulder in where you can clearly see that the horse's spine is straight between the tail and the withers. Only the neck is bent, creating the movement we call shoulder in (photo from

So what can I as a rider know for sure when riding a horse on a circle?
  1. I can know in what direction the horse is looking (into the circle or to the outside) or if the horse is straight in the neck.
  2. I can know if the horse is “falling” in the direction of motion by overloading the inside front leg (usually the horse turns faster and tighter than you asked for if this is the case)
  3. I can know if the horse is “falling” to the outside by overloading the outside front leg (usually when this is the case the horse will bend more in the neck than you asked for)
  4. I can know if the horse's croup is to the inside (the horse's hind feel are moving on a smaller circle than the front feet)
  5. I can know if the horse's croup is to the outside (the horse's hind feet are moving on a larger circle than the front feet).
In my experience none of these problems can be solved by the rider simply pushing more with the inside leg. More efficient solutions require noticing the causes of deviations from the ideal:

1 has to do with how well the horse follows the bit (flexions)

2 and 3 have to do with where the horse has its weight and how you as the rider influence the weight distribution by the correct use of your hand (direct and indirect rein, and figure 8).

4 and 5 have to do with a combination of how well the horse follows the bit (#1), if the horse can maintain a desired weight distribution (2 and 3) as well as if the horse can maintain an equal use of both hind legs.

When you have educated your horse's mouth so that she stays light in hand with an equal contact on both reins and moves on the circle without increasing or decreasing it and maintains an equal use of both hind legs, I would suggest it then feels like the horse is bent around your inside leg. This feeling is a result of a correctly working horse, but not the way to get there.

Thanks to Mark Stanton of Horsemanship Magazine for proof reading!

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Bone-Tendon circumference

A question in the Swedish blog in regard to Bone-Tendon circumference (BT-C) has brought about this posting - how do you go about calculating the load the horse has to carry?

The pressure that the horse's legs are subjected to consists of its own weight, the rider's weight and the weight of equipment and should  really be expressed as kg/square centimeter or pounds/square inch. The formula used in this case to estimate the weight the horse has to carry on his forelegs creates a relationship between weight and BT-C. (A way to construct a more handy mathematic formula that may not fully follow ingeneering standards and recommendations.)

total weight / (BT-C x 2)

The way to go is as follows
  1. Sum up the weight of tha horse, rider and equipment. 
  2. Measure the TB-C just below the carpus. You can, if you want take measures from both front legs, divide by to ang get the average BT-C for your horse.
  3. Divide the total weight by the BT-C.
  4. Divide the sum from paragraph 3 with 2.
The guideline is a sliding scale where below or close to 13.4 kg /cm (75 p/inch) is good and up to 14.3 kg  cm (80 p/inch) is acceptable but when it approaches and exceeds 15.2 kg /cm (85 p/inch), you have to be observant of the increased risk of injury.

This is to give a guideline to the rider, but should not be seen as a simple truth! On a long term basis you might be able to increse BT-C by low impact training. The weight can be adjusted. Some extra pounds on horse and /or rider can be dealt with, the equipment may be changed. The horse's conformation, hoof size and status, the work they are expected to perform a number of other factors also matter - and it is important to remember that.

The U.S. Cavalry's own measurements from the 20's and a study by the Kentucky Equine Research (2008) focused on how horses respond to load verifies the conclusion made by the cavalry, a horse should carry a maximum of 20% of its body weight. (NB: a measure calculated with the assumpion that the horse is not obese)

And a quotation that summon the upcoming summer in Sweden.

"Horses make a landscape look beautiful."
Alice Walker

Thursday, 17 May 2012


Flexions are a way to introduce the bit to the horse, and also a way to supple the horse. Flexions include asking the horse to mobilise its jaw, raising and lowering its neck, bending laterally right and left and flexing the poll.

Suppleness and mental cooperation
We all want a supple horse, but what does it mean? A horse is supple when there are no unnecessary muscle tensions. This means when you ask your horse to bend to the right, the muscles on the left side of the neck can relax and allow the bending to the right. The horse is supple.

In order for your horse to perform flexions well, he also needs to be relaxed and calm. A horse that needs to scratch his belly can easily bend his head all the way around to his belly. This does not mean the same horse will bend when you ask for it. If your horse does not bend when you ask, he either does not understand your request, and/or his muscles are tense. You might think your horse is stiff, but I would like to suggest it is more of a mental “stiffness”, i.e. lack of understanding or willingness to follow your hand, rather than a physical stiffness in the muscles. A well schooled horse will easily follow your signals and requests while being both supple and relaxed.

Flexion is not just a means for schooling physical suppleness, but also for mental schooling of the horse. As described by the Father of Modern Equitation, de la Guérinière, a schooled horse should follow the bit wherever the rider places it and flexions are a way to train this.

From the ground or in the saddle
You can ask for flexions either from the ground or in the saddle. Here I will describe how to introduce flexions to your horse from the ground.

First flexion: flexions of the jaw, “cession de mâchoire
As I already mentioned, flexions are a way to introduce the bit to the horse. The horse should neither fear the bit, nor lean or brace on it. The horse should calmly move the bit with its tongue and through relaxation of the lower jaw be able to swallow. Therefore it is imperative that the nose band be adjusted so you can fit two fingers between the nose band and the bridge of the horse's nose.  

How to ask for the flexion of the jaw
Stand in front of your horse, assuming your horse can stand calmly. Place your thumbs in each ring of the bit. Lift the bit into the corners of the horse's mouth. Lifting the bit avoids pressure on the tongue and the bars of the mouth. In the best of worlds, your horse now responds by lightly mobilising the lower jaw. If not, you can try to either increase the pressure in the corner of the mouth or vibrate. Different horses respond differently so try what works best for your horse. As soon as your horse mobilises the lower jaw and the tongue let the bit drop down and hang in the cheek pieces, i.e. release of the hand. The goal is for the horse to calmly mobilise the jaw whenever the horse feels a light presence of your hand through the bit or the reins.  

Second flexion: raising and lowering of the head
The first part of the second flexion is the raising of your horse's head and neck. You begin as you did for the first flexion by standing in front of your horse and asking your horse to raise his head and neck by gentle upward rhythmic circular actions of your hands in the corners of your horse's mouth (demi-ârret). The height of the head you are seeking is the height your horse would take when looking out over an open field.

When you try this for the first time, your horse might try to back up instead of raising the head. If this happens you might have acted on the tongue or the bars of the mouth instead of into the corners of the horse's mouth, or you might have asked your horse to continue to raise his head even after he is as high as when looking out over an open field.

When the horse has raised his head to the proper height, and he is not leaning or bracing against your hand, he is standing still and calmly mobilizing the jaw, you stop doing the demi-arrêt. With correct training your horse will maintain this position, but the first time you ask this of your horse you want to completely remove your hands from the bit as soon as the horse raises his head, stands still, is light in hand and calmly mobilises the jaw.

The purpose of this flexion is to have a signal when riding which will ask the horse to remain light in hand (not lean on the bit), and to raise the neck which will shift its weight to the hind legs.

The second part of the second flexion is the lowering of the horse's neck, known as neck extension. It is important to teach your horse when he lowers his head he should also take his nose forward, so in neck extensions the nose is always in front of the vertical.

Third flexion: lateral bending
Lateral bending is asking your horse to take his head right and left. When bending the horse to the right, stand on the horse's left side. Place your left index finger in the left ring of the bit, the right rein is placed over the horse's neck close to the withers. Hold this rein between the thumb and the index finger of your right hand. When you ask for the flexion with precision, have a light contact on both reins or if you find it hard in the beginning to control both reins you can loosen the right rein.

Prepare your horse for the actual bending by having the horse stand with a raised head as if he was looking out over an open field (second flexion) and also mobilising the mouth (first flexion). Now ask for the bending by gently pushing your horse's head to the right with your left hand. If your horse is resistant to bending his neck, most of the time, the horse will also have his jaws locked. If this happens just ask for the first flexion until the horse again mobilises the jaw. If you press too hard with you left hand or ask for too much bend (more than 90 degrees) you might cause the horse to move his feet. The goal is to have the horse bend his neck 90 degrees while standing still and gently mobilising the jaw.

When your horse has bent his neck, is standing still with the ears at more or less the same height and he is calmly mobilising the jaw, you should reward your horse by releasing the bit and taking a step back. Let your horse decide when he wants to straighten his neck. If he stays bent for a moment after you release the bit it is a good sign of suppleness.

Forth flexion: flexion of the poll
It is important that you first have flexion of the jaw (the first flexion) and the second flexion (neck extensions) well established before you ask for the flexion of the poll otherwise you risk your horse taking his nose behind the vertical. The first (flexion of the jaw) and the third flexions (lateral bending) is the preparation for flexion of the poll.

Differentiate between local and systemic effect
When you ask your horse to either bend or do a full flexion, all you want is a local effect on the horse's neck. When you apply a direct or indirect rein you want a systemic effect on the whole horse that affects the horse's balance. With a well schooled horse you can ask for either a local or a systemic effect, or a combination of the both. In practical riding this means you can bend the horse either in the direction of motion or away from the direction of motion, or bend the horse and continue on a straight line, or ask for shoulder in or half pass, renvers or travers.

I hope this will help you understand the practical benefits of flexions for refined riding. 

Thanks to Mark Stanton of Horsemanship Magazine for checking my spelling and grammar! All other errors are my own.