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Look at this image. Can you spot the differences between the horse on the left and the horse on the right?

bend

 

Which one is a horse that is bending correctly?

If you guessed the horse on the right is bending correctly, you were right!

The horse on the left shows how in an incorrectly bent horse, the vertebral column kinks to the inside in front of the horse’s shoulder. This gives the illusion of bend to the inexperienced eye.

“Never bend the neck more than you can bend the trunk of the horse,” says Dr. med. vet. Gerd Heuschmann in his book COLLECTION OR CONTORTION? “All additional important elements of bend derive from this maxim. Only a neck that ‘grows with stability out of the shoulder’ and is stabilized by the muscles in front of the shoulder can contribute its important part to the correct bend of the trunk. If a horse has an unstable, loose, ‘wobbly neck’ in front of the withers, he can’t be ridden in the proper balance, nor can he bend, straighten, or collect. Only well-developed pushing power helps the horse’s neck become stable on its axis…. To this end, it is explicitly required to regularly ride transitions from working trot to medium trot in the horse’s first year under saddle. On the other hand, suppleness of the inside trunk and the inside hind leg leads to the development of carrying power and correct bend of the neck. Said another way, the initial bending work and the required stability of the neck promote flexibility of the hindquarters. The neck must be seen as a stable component of the body that is securely attached to the horse’s trunk. Bend runs linearly and evenly through the whole trunk from the poll to the sacrum.”

COLLECTION OR CONTORTION? is available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information or to download a free chapter.

GOODBADBEND

 

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small company based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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Last week, The Guardian released the findings of a new study that finds horses are stressed by tight nosebands.

Last week, The Guardian released the findings of a new study that finds horses are stressed by tight nosebands.

“Researchers studying the physiological impact of nosebands on horses competing in international equestrian competitions including the Olympics are calling for new regulations to reduce potential pain and distress from the equipment,” Nicola Davis reported in The Guardian on May 3, 2016. “The scientists found that horses’ heart rates were raised and they struggled to chew when nosebands were fitted too tightly around the animals’ heads.”

This was just last week.

“Serious concerns have been raised about riding equipment to be used at this year’s Rio Olympics,” wrote James Thomas for ABC Australia on May 10, “with scientists claiming nosebands and double bridles could cause unnecessary pain and suffering to horses during equestrian events.”

The ABC report prompted an immediate response and official statement from Equestrian Australia, released via EquestrianLife.com:

At Equestrian Australia (EA) events full consideration is given to the welfare of the horse. Trained stewards ensure that equipment rules are followed and are responsible for conducting saddlery checks, including checking nosebands and bits of competing horses.

The noseband check includes a physical check by the steward to guarantee that the noseband is fitted properly and is not having an adverse effect on the horse.

The story and its response, with the upcoming Olympic Games in full view, is only now finding headlines.

But it was a full 4 years ago that renowned horse behavior expert and founder of the Tellington Method Linda Tellington-Jones devoted an entire section of her groundbreaking book DRESSAGE WITH MIND, BODY & SOUL to the subject of tight nosebands and their detrimental effects. Ahead of her time, as is often the case with her innovative ideas and techniques for bodywork and training, Tellington-Jones brought in expert analysis from two top veterinarians to support her claims that too-tight nosebands are ultimately detrimental to equine performance. Here is an excerpt from her book and key points from Tellington-Jones and two equine veterinarians.

Maybe, finally, things will start to change for the good of the horse?

***

It has become commonplace to ride dressage horses with a very tight noseband (cavesson) and girth. Sometimes riders even use mechanical levers to crank the noseband or girth tighter when their own strength fails. This creates a major conundrum. A dressage horse is expected to be flexible and move fluidly, but the tight noseband and girth prevent free movement of the jaw and restrict the ribs. When any joint in the body is restricted, the movement of all joints is affected so that the horse cannot bend, flex, and achieve free-flowing gaits as expected.

In her seminal book CENTERED RIDING, Sally Swift described a simple exercise that illustrates this phenomenon: Take one hand and shake it. Now, continue to shake the hand and tighten one finger. Notice what happens to your hand…and what happens to your breathing. When you tighten one finger, you tighten the other fingers of the hand, as well as your wrist, on up into your arm, eventually limiting your breathing. One tight finger results in the larger part of your body becoming stiff.

For decades I’ve hoped that prominent veterinarians and trainers in the international dressage world would speak out against the practice of cranking nosebands and girths so tight that sometimes I have found my hands are not strong enough to release them. In 2007, 12 years after I had first visited his
farm and worked with him and Goldstern, Klaus Balkenhol taught a clinic during Equitana in Germany in which he recommended that riders loosen the traditionally tight nosebands and girths, mentioning that I had brought the matter of such restrictive tack inhibiting a horse’s freedom of movement to his attention. At the time I was both surprised and elated, hoping that the riding community would prick up their ears and pay attention. Unfortunately, I do not feel that enough change has come to pass in this area, even with the support of such prominent and successful individuals.

It was a number of years ago that veterinarian Dr. Joyce Harman first stated in one of my newsletters that “a comfortable mouth is as important to a horse’s happiness and performance as saddle fit, good shoeing, and tooth care.”

“For years,” she wrote, “in my quest to help riders improve their horses’ comfort and performance, I have asked them to loosen tight nosebands. When one part of the horse is tight, the rest of the horse cannot move freely—just clench your own jaw and feel how far down your back and shoulders the
tension travels.

“The key to understanding the effect of tight nosebands (and bitting, too) extends far beyond the mouth. It begins with the anatomy of the horse’s tongue, head, and neck, and expands to include how the front part of the body affects movement of the whole horse. The tongue lies partly between the
bones of the jaw (bars of the mouth) and above the jaw. Some of the tongue muscles connect to a small set of bones in the throat called the hyoid bones.

LTJnoseband

“Originating from the hyoid bones are two major neck muscles. One attaches to the sternum (sternohyoideus); the other to the inside of the shoulder (omohyoideus). Thus, there is a direct connection from the tongue to the sternum and shoulder along the bottom of the horse’s neck. Consequently, if you have tension in the tongue, you have tension all the way down to the sternum and shoulder along the bottom of the neck, where you actually want suppleness. Once you have tension to the sternum, the horse cannot raise his back and use the commonly cited ‘circle of muscles’ that allow for collection and the self-carriage desired in dressage.

“Small muscles also connect the hyoid bones to the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) and the poll. The TMJ is an important center for nerves that control the horse’s balance and proprioception. And the poll—its ability to bend and flex—is of central concern to the dressage rider. Because of the small muscles connecting them, there is a very close relationship (which few riders know about) between the horse’s tongue, hyoid bones, TMJ, poll, head, and neck.

“When the horse’s tongue is free and soft, all of this translates into a horse who is better able to move well, with coordination, improved balance, and a significantly lengthened stride.”

Dr. Renee Tucker, a veterinarian certified in equine acupuncture and chiropractic, concurs with Dr. Harman.

“The super-tight noseband,” she says, “what I not-so-fondly refer to as ‘STN,’ not only keeps the horse’s jaw from opening, but in a lot of cases prevents the lower jaw from moving forward and backward. When a horse is flexed at the poll, the lower jaw needs to move forward—just bend your own neck to bring your head toward your chest, and notice how your lower jaw moves forward to accommodate the movement.

“When the lower jaw is prevented from moving forward, the horse’s tongue gets ‘bunched up’ in his mouth. The amount of ‘bunching’ depends on tongue size and the arch above the roof of the mouth (both of which vary from horse to horse). I believe this is why we see many horses with STN trying to stick their tongue out the side of their mouth—there is no room in there! Especially for breathing!

“The joint with the most proprioceptive nerves in the horse’s entire body is the TMJ. When the horse’s lower jaw cannot move, it cannot, therefore, ‘transmit’ accurate positioning data to the horse’s body, which results in poor movement and performance.

“A tight noseband means the horse cannot breathe, cannot flex at the poll comfortably, and doesn’t know where he is in space. I feel justified in saying that this is not desirable when trying to attain optimal performance from any horse, and is especially problematic in the case of the dressage horse.”

***

“Finally, this important issue of tight nosebands is being more publicly and scientifically addressed,” says Tellington-Jones in response to the recent veterinary study and articles in both mainstream and equestrian media. “Tight nosebands cause unimaginable pain, and as I explained in my book, it is a fact that restricting the movement of any joint in the body inhibits and effects ALL joints. Therefore tight nosebands actually inhibit movement.”

It seems that now, with the whole world about to watch the 2016 Olympic Games, we should be able to finally demand more conscientious, fair, compassionate treatment of the elite equine athletes who will accompany their riders to Rio. Are we not outraged to discover human athletes suffering psychologically and physically at their hands of their trainers in pursuit of a medal?

 

Dressage-w-MBS-300DRESSAGE WITH MIND, BODY & SOUL is available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

Click HERE for to download a free chapter or to order.

 

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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Judging and Being Judged copy

Over the past decade, on numerous occasions, both top dressage riders and international judges have come under heavy critical fire regarding the treatment and training of competitive dressage horses. The internet is alight with related controversy, and print articles have not been afraid to label judges around the world as “cowards and ignoramuses who are incapable of telling the difference between a horse that is correctly and humanely trained and one that has been forced to perform with dubious methods,” says FEI/USEF dressage judge and former US Dressage Team Technical Advisor Anne Gribbons in her book COLLECTIVE REMARKS.

“How are we supposed to react to this?” Gribbons, who is judging the European Championships this summer in Aachen, Germany, writes. “Ignoring the subject is not an option for anybody involved in the sport. Shrugging it off because we are not personally ‘guilty’ of any sort of deliberate cruelty to our horses is not going to make the problem go away. These kinds of allegations tend to put a dark cloud over the entire dressage community, whatever your position within it happens to be.

“Taking a step back to view dressage objectively is not so easy when you are submerged in the game up to your eyeballs. Still, with some effort, I can see all three sides of this argument, because I wear all the hats at different times.

“To be successful as an international competitor you have to be determined, brave, and incredibly focused on those few minutes in the arena that are the culmination of all your work. If you find and can develop a method that works for you and your horses and gets consistently rewarded by the judges, why should you give it up? In every sport, the pressure is tremendous at the top level, and winning is the object. Since our sport involves a silent partner, the horse, the situation is more complicated. Add to this that the kind of animal that takes the honors in today’s fierce competition is a very sophisticated and high-powered equine, both physically and mentally. Dealing with some of these equine Ferraris, it has been my experience as a trainer, competitor, and judge that anything that is forced or unfair in the training does not come out well in the show ring. It is difficult for me to imagine that training that is one long torture session for the horse could lead to something beautiful to watch in the arena.

“Nevertheless, I know there are some unavoidable conflicts on the road from green-broke to Grand Prix that need to be worked out. Anyone who thinks that a competitive Grand Prix horse offers every movement he has to learn without occasionally questioning the rider has never trained one. The journey from green horse to Grand Prix is a long, sometimes rocky, but mostly inspiring enterprise. It should be a trip horse and rider take together, and they ought to arrive at their destination both proud of their achievements and eager to strut their stuff. Not all horses are comfortable in the show ring—they may have stage fright, or they may not like being in unfamiliar surroundings—but some really enjoy showing off, and those horses are always fun to watch and to ride!

“Being an international judge is a great responsibility and, especially at major events, the pressure can be quite strong to ‘get it right’ according to the riders, the organizers, the audience, and your colleagues. You cannot please all of them all the time. The decision about each score has to be immediate, correct, and fair, and there are thousands to be made in a weekend. The job description of a judge is limited to what occurs in the arena in front of him or her, and it is impossible for him or her to assess what goes on in the warm-up ring. Naturally, most judges can tell if a horse is tense, unhappy, and appears uncomfortable, and there are ways to express your displeasure about that throughout the score sheet. Remember, however, that there is sometimes a fine line between ‘tension’ and ‘brilliance,’ and that a breathtaking performance almost always has to include a certain measure of electricity and tension to become exciting. On this issue, judges tend to disagree more than on the technical aspects, and often it is the amount of tension versus brilliance that makes the judges come out differently in the scoring. Diversity in scores is not usually appreciated by competitors, audiences, or organizers, who want to see all their ducks in a row—even the press will sometimes attack a judge who stands out. It is assumed that this judge is incorrect, while it is quite possible that this was the judge who, at that particular competition, was the only one who had a truly sharp eye and the confidence to honestly express what he or she saw.

“The observer/journalist is the watchdog of the sport, and although neither competitors nor judges cherish criticism, checks and balances are of importance. If the process of reaching the pinnacle of our sport appears to be harmful to our horses, we need to clean up our act. Unfortunately, ‘perception is truth’ to a great extent, and if our equine athletes appear ‘unhappy’ it does us no good to protest and proclaim how much we love and appreciate them. Instead of indignation and lawsuits, riders and judges have to invite both the press and the public to be part of discussion, dialogue, and participation.

“We need to show the world that we are not involved in dressage to make our equine partners miserable but to build strong and proud athletes, which, while they may not be ecstatic all the time, are reasonably pleased with their lot in life as healthy and performing stars.”

 

CLICK IMAGE TO ORDER

CLICK IMAGE TO ORDER

For more insight into and history of the sport of dressage, check out COLLECTIVE REMARKS by Anne Gribbons, available now from the TSB online bookstore.

CLICK HERE TO ORDER

 

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of horse books and DVDs, is a small, privately owned company based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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“In the mid-2000s the German veterinarian Dr. Gerd Heuschmann, working with German Olympic dressage champion Klaus Balkenhol, created headlines when they publicized the findings of Heuschmann’s anatomical and biomechanical studies of hyperflexion,” writes Jennifer Bryant in “Rollkur: Dressage’s Dirty Word,” a recent article on TheHorse.com. “Heuschmann said that hyperflexion not only fails to develop the proper musculature for upper-level dressage, but the exaggerated flexion can also restrict the horse’s airway. Heuschmann published a book, Tug of War: Classical Versus ‘Modern’ Dressage, detailing his findings and arguing against the practice of hyperflexion.”

According to Bryant, “Some dressage enthusiasts remain convinced that rollkur still occurs. During the dressage competition at the 2012 London Olympic Games, some photos circulated on the Internet, appearing to show Swedish competitor Patrik Kittel on Scandic riding in a hyperflexed position. Online forums and the FEI’s Facebook page, among others, were barraged with expressions of outrage and accusations that the FEI was failing to enforce Annex XIII of the Stewards Manual.”

Dr. Heuschmann agrees that, despite the online uproar, there continues to be a troubling acceptance of certain training techniques amongst those who ride, train, and show horses. Heuschmann says this is not only an international issue, but a local one, and not only a dressage issue, but one that is relevant to the show jumping community and those who participate in competitive Western sports, namely reining.

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Heuschmann’s new book BALANCING ACT: THE HORSE IN SPORT–AN IRRECONCILABLE CONFLICT? is his attempt to keep equestrians around the world focused on the problems at hand, while at the same time offering well-researched, fair, and proven techniques for retraining:

-the tense horse,

-the rein-lame horse,

-the horse with gait deviations, and

-the hyperflexed horse, among others.

BALANCING ACT is available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is always FREE.

CLICK HERE NOW TO ORDER YOUR COPY OF BALANCING ACT TODAY

And check out the complete article about the debate involving the 2012 Olympics by Jennifer Bryant on TheHorse.com.

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On June 15, “The Rail” horse-racing blogger Leslie Knauf described how two sports perhaps perceived far apart on the equestrian spectrum—racing and dressage—have in fact long been interwoven.

“The highly contained nature of dressage,” Knauf writes, “with its collection and extension of the horse’s three gaits — walk, trot and canter — within a relatively small arena would appear to be the antithesis of racing — galloping at top speed around a vast oval — but its fundamental principles of rhythm, looseness, contact, impulsion, straightness and collection can provide a solid foundation for all forms of equestrian sports, including racing, where it already has had Triple Crown implications.”

This was news to me! Sure, I know the stories of ex-racehorses that have gone on to successful dressage careers, even at the highest levels (of course most notably Hilda Gurney’s Olympic mount Keen). But has dressage actually been used to prepare a Thoroughbred for competition on the track?

Knauf goes on to explain: “More than 35 years ago, the 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew was a gangly, unraced 2-year-old with significant coordination and conformational issues. Paula Turner, then the wife of Seattle Slew’s trainer Billy Turner, reportedly used her previous training and competitive experience in dressage and three-day eventing to help Seattle Slew develop the impulsion and self-carriage the young colt needed to overcome his physical challenges as he embarked on his career as a racehorse.”

It would appear the 1970s were the heyday for this dressage-racing integration! And with the winning examples provided, it certainly appears to have been a formula that worked.

I do think that there is today more awareness regarding the need for retraining those Thoroughbreds that do not “make it” as racehorses for one reason or another. Programs such as New Vocations Racehorse Adoption, directed by TSB author Anna Ford, go to great lengths to prepare these horses for the new homes and new “jobs” that can secure them a long and healthy future. (Anna Ford’s book BEYOND THE TRACK is a wonderful resource for those considering adoption of an off-the-track Thoroughbred.)

However, it would seem that there are also great possibilities for racing trainers to more actively incorporate dressage principles as they prepare young stock for the track. This kind of “cross-training” is surely not so farfetched as it seems.

Perhaps Leslie Knauf’s point, made toward the end of her New York Times’ piece, should be more boldly stated, and yes, repeated: “…the paradigm for racehorse training already is starting to shift toward incorporating fundamentals of other competitive horse sports, including dressage, as part of their racing training, which promises the potential for an even brighter future for racing’s most important players. The odds are heavily in favor of all involved — especially the horses — coming out as winners.”

—Rebecca Didier, Senior Editor

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The disturbing image I accidentally caught while photographing a recent polo match.

It had been almost 20 years since I’d seen the game played when I recently ventured near a polo field. A childhood friend had handled a string of ponies for a local player, and I distinctly remember the challenge of exercising them (rein, seat, and leg aids were a whole new, well, “ballgame”). To be honest, I really hadn’t thought much about the sport since those days, but being a horse lover who generally enjoys any excuse to sit in the sun and gaze at glossy four-leggeds, I eagerly accepted an invitation to attend a match a couple of months ago.

While admittedly the horses were finely bred and in excellent physical shape, I found myself decidedly uncomfortable as the afternoon wore on. I couldn’t help but think of the developments in other horse sports over the past decade, and how we have become far more cognizant of the fact that horses suffer, often needlessly, due to rough or careless riding and ill-fitting or harsh tack and equipment.

I am prepared to state that I am very conscious of the fact that many polo players are excellent riders with a secure seat, and no doubt they spend a lot of money to keep their string in good health and peak condition. However, the need for control of the ponies’ movements in such a fast-played, stop-and-go game, and the use of what appear to be fairly severe bits and strong hands, made it very apparent to me that many of the horses were hurting.

I was spinning through my photos from the day when I got home, and sure enough, I was gutted by one particular image I had captured, quite by accident, that in my mind was equal in horror to many of the images we have seen publicized during the Rollkur/LDR debate. My eyes were truly opened, just as this horse’s eyes were rolled back in his head, the whites showing, as he obviously reacted to extreme pain in his mouth. Now, I can’t help but notice, everywhere I see a photo from a polo match, there is undoubtedly one or two ponies exhibiting similar expressions. It saddens me greatly to know that so many of the activities we pursue with these wonderful animals cause them pain and distress.

Public outcry has helped to change training methods and decrease the use of training devices in many of our horse sports. Perhaps it is time to reconsider what has traditionally been acceptable in the sport of princes and kings?

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Barry Irwin's vocal criticism of trends in US racehorse training reminds us of what we need to do to ease a transition to a drug-free life when Thoroughbreds retire.

It was with keen interest I scanned the piece in the New York Times yesterday on Team Valor International chief Barry Irwin’s blunt criticism of US Thoroughbred trainers. “At the heart of Irwin’s broad swipe at trainers,” writes Joe Drape, “was the use of medication — drugs given to keep horses running, to make them run faster, to make them run through pain or infirmity.”

Legislation has only just been introduced to limit the use of performance-enhancing drugs in the sport of flat racing, and the United States is admittedly behind the times when it comes to control of these substances. “Major players in the industry have acknowledged that medication rules in the United States are out of step with Europe, Hong Kong and Australia, where horse racing thrives,” says Draper, “and that it is time for a significant overhaul.”

The issue first came to my attention when I worked on our TSB book for transitioning and retraining “retired” Thoroughbreds—BEYOND THE TRACK by Anna Morgan Ford (Program Director for New Vocations Racehorse Adoption) with equine journalist and photographer Amber Heintzberger. In the chapter on common lameness and health issues seen in OTTBs, Ford and Heintzberger included a section on the aftereffects of anabolic steroids, as they can remain in a horse’s system for months even after administration has ceased, and negative side effects can last a year or even longer. It is of the utmost importance that those adopting retired racehorses or providing foster homes prior to finding them permanent living situations be aware of this issue and manage the OTTB carefully until enough time has passed for the horse to no longer feel the steroids’ effects.

According to Ford, there are several things you can do to ease an ex-racehorse’s transition to a life “off” steroids:

1  Quickly, but strategically, incorporate regular turnout in the horse’s life (a mild sedative may be necessary for the first few sessions), and if possible, introduce a confident, friendly same-sex turnout companion that remains the same for several months.

2  Handle any horse coming off steroids as you would a stallion—be extremely conscious of basic safety measures when grooming, handling, and working around him/her in the stall, and use a chain over the nose when leading.

3  Be sure to adjust the horse’s diet so he/she is consuming enough calories to gain weight as he/she loses the extra muscling associated with steroid use.

4  Above all, be patient and give the horse lots of time to withdraw from the drugs gently.

BEYOND THE TRACK, the book Liz Harris—former Executive Director of Thoroughbred Charities of America and current Vice President and Executive Director of Churchill Downs Incorporated—called “breakthrough racehorse literature” and “the ultimate in training manuals for anyone thinking about adopting an ex-racehorse,” is available at the TSB bookstore, where shipping in the United States is always FREE.

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