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Jim Masterson is creator of the Masterson Method, an innovative form of bodywork that relaxes the horse and relieves his body of deep stress and pain through the gentle and light manipulation of targeted Release Points; the movement of joints or junctions through a range of motion in a relaxed state; and studied observation of the horse’s responses.

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CLICK IMAGE TO ORDER.

In his bestselling book BEYOND HORSE MASSAGE, Jim tells us how his Method can serve to improve health and performance, while enhancing communication, with horses in a number of popular riding and competitive disciplines.

“Different equine sports and activities, in combination with different breed characteristics, result in a range of different considerations when doing this work,” explains Jim.

Below are some general guidelines: what to look for overall and which areas tend to accumulate tension, as well as issues particular to specific breeds due to factors such as conformation and disposition, and to different disciplines due to the nature of the sport. Of course, these observations are just rules of thumb. The range of issues can apply to any horse in any sport. For complete instructions on how to apply the Masterson Method yourself, check out BEYOND HORSE MASSAGE the BOOK and DVD, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

 

 

HUNTERS AND JUMPERS

Nowadays most horses in this discipline are the larger Warmbloods. They carry most of their weight on the front end. They land on the front end, so feet and legs are constant issues. Consequently, they accumulate a lot of tension in the poll and atlas, and in the lower neck and shoulder. In addition, most hunter-jumpers spend a lot of time in the stall—part of the job, but not necessarily the healthiest thing for the feet or for the horse’s blood circulation. Weight has a big effect on the feet and due to the nature of this sport, hunters carry even more weight on the forehand. Sore feet equate with a sore neck and poll.

In the hind end, hocks and stifles are regular issues in hunter-jumpers. Generally, I find the tension in the hind end easier to release than in other sports such as dressage, but you will come across plenty of horses with hind-end issues. It’s important to keep the lumbar area loose.

You will need to keep the mid-back loose, although you may not find as many back problems as you would think compared to some of the other riding disciplines. This may be because the rider spends a lot of time out of the seat, and the horse can carry himself in a more natural frame.

 

ENDURANCE HORSES

Endurance horses spend a lot of time in training so work pretty hard. Arabians (popular in this sport) can also be very alert and “mental” (in a good sense), so can hold a lot of tension in the poll and atlas. Their lighter weight makes it easier on the feet and legs, but they use them a lot so they can be sore just about everywhere.

Hamstrings putting tension on the sacrum is pretty common, and the muscles of the back and lumbar area work hard and steadily.

Fortunately, in general, Arabian horses are easy to work on because of their size. You just have to have a little patience with their responses as they can be a little guarded by nature. (This is just a generalization. I know a lot of Arabian owners consider the breed “cuddly,” but the “one-owner horse” can have a different view of a stranger like me coming into his stall the first time it happens.)

Endurance is one sport where being available to keep the horse loose at the holds during the event is helpful. I find it a good idea to leave the neck alone, but gentle Front and Hind Leg Releases are helpful, not only to keep the horse limber, but to feel when an area might be tensing up. Allowing the horse to rest for a minute in the Farrier Position alone can relieve a lot of tension in the sacrum, lumbar area and deeper muscles in the groin and psoas muscles.

Another thing that helps to keep tension from building in the back and hind end during the ride is to do the Bladder Meridian—using air-gap and egg-yolk pressures—especially on the back and lumbar area. Use the Under-the-Tail Points to release tension on the sacrum.

Anywhere the horse gives you a “blink” when working on the hind end is worth spending time on. Watch his eyes.

 

DRESSAGE HORSES

Also available from Jim Masterson: CLICK IMAGE for more information.

Also available from Jim Masterson: CLICK IMAGE for more information.

Dressage is very athletic and even the most well-balanced dressage horse can benefit from regular bodywork as he conditions for higher levels and new areas begin to “show up” as needing special attention. Bodywork is important if you want to keep the horse balanced, soft and moving forward.

Poll and atlas: Particular attention should be paid to maintaining looseness and flexibility between the occiput and atlas in the poll. If work isn’t balanced, excessive tension can build there, affecting movement in the rest of the body.

Shoulders and withers: As the neck, shoulders, and withers begin to strengthen, Scapula and C7-T1 Releases are important for progress to be made in this area.

Hind end: When the horse begins to get stronger in his hind end, movement in the pelvis and lumbar region needs to be maintained, and as the loin strengthens, lateral movement, too. Lateral Rocking, which progresses all the way from the pelvis up through the ribs into the back of the withers is particularly helpful with this, as is the Dorsal Arch. Loosening the sacrum using Under-the-Tail and other Release Points helps the horse release the increased tension from the developing gluteals and hamstrings. It’s important to keep the pelvic structure and all its connections loose to help the horse “come through” from behind.

Training and conditioning: Often training is pushed ahead at a faster pace than the level of conditioning can handle. When this happens, excessive tension develops in the hamstrings, sacrum, and eventually the muscles of the lumbar region. The dressage horse can become extremely tight in the poll, throatlatch and neck if the horse is over-ridden in front, leaving the hind end to fend for itself. When balanced self-carriage isn’t allowed to develop naturally and evenly through the body, the front and hind ends have to work independently of each other, and the back ceases being a part of the show. Focusing on the three key junctions—Poll-Atlas Junction, Neck-Shoulder-Withers Junction, and the Sacroiliac Junction—will help keep the horse balanced. The Head Up Technique can be especially effective in the front end, and Release Point and Hind Leg Release Techniques that release tension on the sacroiliac are good behind.

 

EVENTERS

By definition the goal of eventing is to develop a well-rounded equine athlete. Overall, the eventers I’ve worked on seem all too often to share the same issues as those described in hunter-jumpers. I have also found that as they move up through higher levels of training they will develop similar issues in the hind end as dressage horses.

 

REINING HORSES

“Reining horses need to have their lumbar, SI, and pelvis and hip joints kept flexible as they build strength in the hindquarters for the sliding stops,” says  Tamara Yates, a Masterson Method Certified Practitioner and Instructor who shows reining, cutting, and reined cow horses. “The Hind Leg Releases are vital, in particular, the position of the leg to the back resting on the toe and asking the horse to sink into the hip, thereby releasing the psoas. Regular releases of the entire hind end are invaluable for maintaining soundness.

“More important, and perhaps less obvious, is the need to keep a reining horse’s shoulders and withers loose. Reiners often travel with their head and neck low, but their shoulders must be ‘up’ in order to perform the maneuvers required of them. Loose shoulders are a major part of a well executed sliding stop as well as a fluid and fast turnaround. Releasing tension in the scapulae and C7-T1 is exceptionally helpful for increasing performance.”

 

CUTTING HORSES AND REINED COW HORSES

“Cutting horses’ and reined cow horses’ stifles and hocks are used more than in any other discipline,” says Tamara. “The torque experienced on hocks is significant and the lateral movement of the stifle is almost constant in the cutting pen. Between events, getting these horses loose throughout the pelvis, in particular the sacrum and the hip joint (along with the gluteals) is a priority.

“Emphasizing the hip drop with the Hind Leg Release Down and Back, wiggling the hock and stifle back and forth with the toe resting on the ground helps to maintain hock and stifle soundness. Maintaining lateral flexibility in the lumbar vertebrae also relieves stress on the stifles and hocks. These horses also need loose shoulders and C7-T1 freedom to make the sweeping moves necessary to hold a cow. Keeping fluidity in the neck with Lateral Cervical Flexion moves earns points for cutting horses for ‘eye appeal.’ Like reiners, however, you need to be careful how close to an actual event a full-body workout is performed. Recognize that some tension is needed in the hind end to hold the ground while working the cattle.”

 

BARREL RACERS

Barrel horses sprint, stop, and turn in seemingly the same movement. The Neck-Shoulder-Withers Junction can be a consistent issue, along with ribs and back, especially just behind the withers. Tension or spasms in the T18-L1 Junction are common, possibly due to the “twisting” motion between hind and front ends required for the turns, and the power generated by the hind end that has to pass through this point. Transition points in the spinal column are common stress areas.

It’s good to keep the poll and atlas loose, as they are so connected to flexibility in the rest of the body. Equally important with the barrel horse is the TMJ: When you find tension in the poll, it is likely you will find soreness in the TMJ and/or soreness in the feet.

 

And be sure to watch for these sure signs of “release” in your horse after applying the Masterson Method:

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Solstice has passed…we’ve turned the corner and we’re headed toward longer days and a whole New Year. At Trafalgar Square Books, we took a look back at the books we published and DVDs we released over the last 12 months to remind ourselves what we learned about improving horse-and-rider partnerships and performance in 2013.

 

ModEventwPhilDut-300From MODERN EVENTING WITH PHILLIP DUTTON:

“No matter how good your coach is, he or she cannot help you if you are not willing to put yourself out there and learn. There is an art to being a good student and to listening and accepting criticism without taking it personally…If you want to really succeed, you need to make your coach feel truly a part of your riding career.”

 

Dressage-w-MBS-300From DRESSAGE WITH MIND, BODY & SOUL:

“When grooming a horse it is common, I find, for the base rings for cross-ties to be positioned high on walls (or posts, depending on stable design). This is often combined with very short lengths of rope or flat nylon, usually only just long enough to reach and clip to the side rings on a standard halter with a little sag or ‘give’ on each side…this practice holds most horses in an unnatural position. The horse’s head is held so the neck is above the parallel (or almost parallel) line from the withers commonly seen in the horse at rest. This results in tension from the poll to the croup and encourages an ‘upside-down’ neck and hollow back…Over time, this habitual positioning has a bad effect on the musculature necessary for the horse to round and work over the back.”

 

KnowYouKnowYrHorse250From KNOW YOU, KNOW YOUR HORSE:

“Introverts tend to prefer a horse that will do the task fluidly but with less speed and more perfection. They like control—precision riding, for example. They want their horse to be proficient at lateral movement, stopping, backing up, or ‘putting his nose’ where asked. Introverted riders are known to be very quiet with their body language, with quiet hands, and not aggressive with their movement. Any horse they ride needs to be receptive to subtle body and leg cues.”

 

From GEORGE MORRIS: TEACHING AND TRAINING THE AMERICAN WAY DVD:

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CLICK IMAGE TO VIEW TRAILER

 

From GEORGE MORRIS: DRESSAGE FOR JUMPERS DVD:

CLICK IMAGE TO VIEW TRAILER

CLICK IMAGE TO VIEW TRAILER

 

From FORM FOLLOWS FUNCTION WITH CYNTHIA HANKINS DVD:

CLICK IMAGE TO VIEW TRAILER

CLICK IMAGE TO VIEW TRAILER

 

From THE AMERICAN HUNTER/JUMPER FORWARD RIDING SYSTEM DVD SERIES:

CLICK IMAGE TO VIEW TRAILER

CLICK IMAGE TO VIEW TRAILER

 

balanced-horse-cover-300From THE BALANCED HORSE:

“It is not always understood that the more collected the horse, the more precarious his base of support. This requires a lot of trust—the horse is literally putting himself at our disposal—so we must treat this with respect. If you have difficulty with this concept, then consider the opposite. A young horse at halt with a rider on his back will generally try to spread his weight over all four limbs. You could compare the balance to that of a table—a leg in each corner. This is a very safe position from the horse’s point of view…At the other end of the scale is the fully collected horse….provided we ourselves stay erect and central to the movement, the horse will [still] feel safe.”

 

Riding-Barranca-final-300From RIDING BARRANCA:

“While I love the silence of riding by myself, I also enjoy showing family and friends my favorite spots, exploring new places I wouldn’t dare go to alone, riding at dawn or under a full moon, meandering beside the Sonoita Creek where one can wander in and out of the water beneath the carved out bluffs, lying down in a field of wildflowers and dozing off in the sun, or finding a surprising, fresh trail. But the familiar can also be comforting. My familiar horses are my greatest solace, along with my old broken-in saddle and well-worked reins.”

 

RiddenPLC-300From RIDDEN: DRESSAGE FROM THE HORSE’S POINT OF VIEW:

“Likening ‘being ridden’ to learning to ski occurred to me when I started teaching my students comparative movement and the systematic evolution of training from the horse’s perspective. Just as the advanced skier becomes accustomed to the sensation of gliding down a mountain on a pair of skis attached to her legs, so the dressage horse can learn to move forward with power, swing, and harmony with a rider on his back. The skier who can use her knees and hips well and has sufficient conditioning can make skilled and fluid changes of direction, even on difficult terrain. It is the same for a dressage horse: the better the horse can shift his weight to his hindquarters by flexing his haunches and the better condition he is in, the smaller the turns (all the way up to pirouettes) he can make while maintaining impulsion and balance.”

 

Philosophy-300From CLINTON ANDERSON’S PHILOSOPHY:

“I don’t want you to be a wimp or a barbarian. I want you to be effective and to stay in the middle of the scale. If you want your horse to understand what you’re asking him to do, you have to be effective. The best way to turn your horse into a willing partner is to be a great leader. How do you become a great leader? By being black and white with no shades of gray. You’ll make the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult. Just because you want to be in the middle of the scale doesn’t mean that you get to stay there all of the time. The middle of the training scale is like a line drawn in the sand. If your horse is disrespectful toward you and doesn’t pay attention, you’ll step toward the harder side of that line. Once you get his attention, you can jump back to the easier side.”

 

From HORSE AGILITY: THE DVD:

CLICK IMAGE TO VIEW TRAILER

CLICK IMAGE TO VIEW TRAILER

 

JumpCourseDesignManual-300From JUMP COURSE DESIGN MANUAL:

“Setting related fences at angles that are at least 180 degrees to each other makes the approach to the next jump, as well as the subsequent track that you take when you land and canter away from it, much easier. Wider angles allow you a much better chance of setting your horse up to be straight to the second jump (perpendicular to its center, which is best), and keep the flow of the course much smoother. In order to determine the angle between two jumps, visualize a line extending straight out from the poles of each obstacle, creating a virtual angle that you can then measure.”

 

pressure-proof-cover-300From PRESSURE PROOF YOUR RIDING:

“Writing your goals down on paper also stimulates a portion of your brain called the reticular activating system, the same area responsible for awareness. This means that writing goals not only makes them more memorable, it also makes you more conscious and aware of them. It stimulates the portions of your brain responsible for thinking, seeing, and writing. Read the words of your goals out loud and the areas of the brain that control speech and hearing will also be engaged. Obviously, the more areas of the brain you stimulate the more effective your goals will become.”

 

AlchemyofLightnessFinal-300From THE ALCHEMY OF LIGHTNESS:

“When we go through the learning process with the horse—that is, creating our partnership with him, learning to dance with him, and to communicate with him both in and out of the saddle—we have to learn the basics. It is like when we learn to play the piano, and we are first taught where to place our fingers. Once we get the basic mechanics of moving our fingers, it becomes automatic—we do not even have to think about it anymore…Riding a horse is the same. We have to learn the basics first until gradually, our physicality is automated and we are ‘doing’ less and less. Then we can arrive at a certain spot where we start to feel.”

 

SufferinginSilencePLC-300From SUFFERING IN SILENCE:

“Along with ‘trainable’ or conditioned reflexes, both horse and human have many parasympathetic, non-consciously controllable reflex points, where the muscles react to a stimulus of nerves…A saddle that sits on one of the horse’s specific reflex points can cause many problems. As with humans, the equine spinal column has nerve ends, which protrude between each of its vertebrae. Some of these are actual reflex points, and depending on the length of the horse’s saddle-support area, there are between four and six of these along each side of the backbone…Using even light pressure you will be able to observe a very subtle muscular reaction and ‘flicking of the skin’; using greater pressure to approximate the feel of a saddle under a light rider causes the horse to drop his back.”

 

From DRESSAGE MOVEMENTS REVEALED DVD:

 

40-5-Min-Jump-Fix-300From 40 5-MINUTE JUMPING FIXES:

“When the rider’s lower back and pelvis are correctly aligned she can let go of counter-productive tension in the hips and legs, thus unifying her body with that of the horse in order to remain with him over fences. Her weight becomes part of the system of horse and rider, allowing the horse to use himself more fully without rider interference over the jumps, and providing her with a much greater ability to guide, balance and correct the horse when necessary between fences. When the lower back and pelvis are not correctly aligned, a rider has to use more muscle strength in the torso as well as gripping power in the legs to remain with the horse’s body or suffer the consequences of being jostled forward and back over the fence—or even falling off.”

 

You can check out all our latest and greatest books and DVDs online by CLICKING HERE.

A very happy 2014 to all, from the TSB staff!

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In her new book RIDDEN: DRESSAGE FROM THE HORSE’S POINT OF VIEW, Ulrike Thiel explains why it is important that the horse be able to use his neck as a “balancing rod.” She says the horse’s ability to use his “balancing rod” neck defines his balance and instills confidence in his movement.

“The comfort of the connection between horse and rider depends directly on the availability of the ‘balancing rod’ neck,” says Thiel. “And remember, contact should come from the horse—he should stretch elastically into the reins rather than yielding to the rider’s hands. In several modern schools of riding, correct contact is replaced with the horse yielding at the poll and going behind the vertical in response to pressure from the rider’s hands.”

Try this easy exercise to see how important it is for the horse to be able to use his “balancing rod” when being ridden:

First, walk the length of a narrow piece of wood with your arms free and out to the sides.

First, walk the length of a narrow piece of wood with your arms free and out to the sides.

1  With your arms free and held out to your sides, tread the length of a narrow surface, such as a balance beam or even a long strip of wood flat on the ground, such as that shown in the image above. Most will find that this neither causes insecurity nor is difficult to accomplish—you can rely on your “balancing rod” arms as necessary.

Next, repeat the exercise with your arms folded behind your back, but not fastened together.

Next, repeat the exercise with your arms folded behind your back, but not fastened together.

2  Now try the exercise with your arms folded behind your back, but unfastened so you can use them if you need to. While you may fall out of balance and your muscles may cramp momentarily, you know you can put your hands out to the sides to catch yourself and relieve your muscles if you need to. Therefore, again, the exercise is neither particularly anxiety-inducing nor difficult.

Finally, try again but this time with your hands tied or handcuffed together in front of or behind your body.

Finally, try again but this time with your hands tied or handcuffed together in front of or behind your body.

3  Finally, tie or handcuff your hands in front of or behind your body and try again to tread the length of the beam. You will discover you fall out of balance more often and your muscles are more likely to cramp—plus, the knowledge that you cannot catch yourself from falling even if you want to, or relieve your cramping muscles, causes anxiety.

“When the horse is in the ‘classical contact’ (in front of the vertical and with sufficient neck length), he is able to use his ‘balancing rod’ (his neck) whenever he needs to catch his balance,” says Thiel.

This is like treading the beam in Step 2, with your hands unfastened but folded behind your back.

“However, when a horse is held in a shortened neck position by the rider’s hands, he doesn’t have that ability,” she goes on. “This is comparable to us having our hands tied behind our back [Step 3 of the exercise]. Think about it: Police bind prisoners’ hands behind their back with handcuffs so they can’t run away—their feet are free, but their balance is compromised. When the reins act as ‘handcuffs’ on the horse, they not only prevent him from balancing himself, they also cause instinctive fear in a flight animal, since he feels he can’t run away if necessary.”

Click image to order.

Click image to order.

RIDDEN: DRESSAGE FROM THE HORSE’S POINT OF VIEW is available from the TSB online bookstore.

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD A FREE EXCERPT

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“Movements that were once natural to the horse become suddenly very tiring when a rider is on his back because it changes his balance,” says Ulrike Thiel in her new book RIDDEN: DRESSAGE FROM THE HORSE’S POINT OF VIEW. “A new balance must be developed—the horse must learn a different way of controlling his own movement and distributing his weight and the rider’s in order to effectively support the rider.”

Try this exercise to help better understand what it is like for the horse to control his body with the additional weight and movement of the rider on his back:

 

Ridden1

1  Balance a 6-foot-long, hollow, plastic pole (PVC works) from the building supply store on the flat of one hand while you “walk,” “trot,” and “canter” straight and on turns. When you first attempt the exercise, it is difficult to balance the pole and your body. You may have to use your other arm to stabilize yourself.

Ridden2

When the pole is not symmetrically balanced, as shown in the photo above, it causes stiffening in several areas of the body (noted by the arrows). Your resulting movements are abrupt, which is hard on your joints.

Ridden3

3  When changing direction or speed with the pole, you must again rebalance, or stiffness is the result (see arrows in photo above). It is difficult to move as you may have planned, which can be frustrating.

Ridden4

Eventually, you grow accustomed to carrying the pole and can “trot” and “canter” with it. The pole, in effect, becomes an extension of your body.

Ridden5

5  When carrying a rider who sits crookedly, as shown here, the horse must constantly react to the unbalanced weight of the rider. This again causes stiffness and tension, interfering with his ability to execute movements as he may be capable.

“I always have my students try this exercise,” says Ulrike. “They quickly come to understand why their horse does unexpected things like, for example, falling to the outside, going too fast, or shortening his stride. They also learn how hard they must concentrate on the pole in order to keep it balanced when they first attempt the exercise and how it moves on curves to such a degree that they frequently bump into objects in the arena or other students.”

 

Isn’t it eye-opening to see how it feels to be a horse?

 

RiddenPLC-300RIDDEN: DRESSAGE FROM THE HORSE’S POINT OF VIEW is available from the TSB online bookstore.

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD A FREE EXCERPT (click on the red download link on the right side of the page)

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“Everybody should read Janet Foy’s new book, DRESSAGE FOR THE NOT-SO-PERFECT HORSE,” says double-gold-medal-winner Weltino’s Magic on his Facebook page. “I hate to admit it, but I am not perfect. The great majority of us horses have to work our butt off to do things in dressage that don’t come natural to us. So help us learn by reading DRESSAGE FOR THE NOT-SO-PERFECT HORSE.”

Thanks, Magic!

dressage-for-not-so-perfectDRESSAGE FOR THE NOT-SO-PERFECT HORSE is available from the TSB online bookstore—orders received by midnight December 16th can still ship FREE in time for Christmas in the US!

CLICK HERE TO ORDER NOW

 

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