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Posts Tagged ‘Dressage Movements Revealed’

We’re happy to have TSB author, translator, and Masterson Method Practitioner Coralie Hughes discuss the idea of “balance” in the horse, providing insight and ideas from her experiences at a clinic with Dr. Gerd Heuschmann, as well as in her work with Jim Masterson and the Masterson Method of Equine Bodywork. Coralie and Jim’s new book THE DRESSAGE HORSE OPTIMIZED is due out in June 2015. CLICK HERE to add your name to the wait list to be notified as soon as its available!

Coralie Hughes and Jim Masterson discussing the painted horse from their new book THE DRESSAGE HORSE OPTIMIZED.

Coralie Hughes and Jim Masterson discussing the painted horse from their new book THE DRESSAGE HORSE OPTIMIZED.

Having translated his book BALANCING ACT from German to English, I felt I understood Gerd Heuschmann’s equestrian philosophy pretty well. Attending a recent riding clinic of his and listening as he taught dressage riders of all levels to Grand Prix was still an extraordinary experience for me, both from the perspective of being a dressage rider myself and being a Masterson Method practitioner.

If you haven’t yet encountered Dr. Heuschmann of Germany, he is an accomplished dressage rider and trainer, a veterinarian and the individual who led the international charge against Rollkur (a flawed training practice used in all disciplines, English and Western, that brings the horse’s nose to the chest in the mistaken notion that the poll and the back will release, while actually accomplishing the opposite). Dr. Heuschmann is also a fan of the Masterson Method and loves to watch the horses release as Jim works.

To Dr. Heuschmann, what he does in his clinics is balance horses. He teaches the riders to ride with the sensitivity of seat and hand that allows the horse to free his back and poll. If the horse is ridden at the tempo and rhythm that is most comfortable for that horse (“Every horse is a song and we must find the melody”) and the back is free, full utilization of the hind end in his work is possible. If hand, seat, or leg transmits negative tension to the horse, then tension develops in the poll and transfers to the back and to the hindquarters.

During the clinic, Dr. Heuschmann identified common riding errors, especially in the use of the hands, that cause increased poll tension, inhibit the movement of the corresponding hind leg, and negatively impact the back. Such a horse is imbalanced in his movement and the dressage goals of impulsion, straightness, and “throughness” are impossible to achieve. There is a kink or block in the energy transfer through the body of the horse.

But even the best-ridden horse is going to develop negative tension in his body as a result of his efforts to please his rider and just simply as a result of repetitive motion. Over time, the muscles lose the ability to fully contract and fully relax, and the muscle chains of the body become unbalanced. As a Masterson Method practitioner, it is commonplace to feel the tight and locked poll, the stiff back, and the shoulders and haunches that have only limited range of motion. It is also commonplace to be able to restore range of motion and release restriction in the body of the horse through Masterson Method bodywork.

Click the image to join the wait list.

Click the image to join the wait list.

With the Masterson Method, we have recently taken it a huge step further. With the painted horse project that yielded the DRESSAGE MOVEMENTS REVEALED DVD SET and now the book THE DRESSAGE HORSE OPTIMIZED, we studied the biomechanics of the dressage horse so that dressage riders, and we Masterson Method practitioners, would be better able to understand how the horse uses his body in his work. The better we understand how the horse must use his body to perform movements of upper level dressage, the better a rider understands how to be in sync with the horse and not against his motion, and the better a Masterson Method practitioner understands why certain muscle groups are involved when a dressage trainer is having given training issues. Bodywork can often feel like a “hide-and-go-seek” effort. Through the work we did with DRESSAGE MOVEMENTS REVEALED and THE DRESSAGE HORSE OPTIMIZED, we have gained an understanding that removes a lot of the mystery when horses can’t perform as well as they used to, barring a frank veterinary cause.

Since completing the research and work related to this new book, co-authored with Jim Masterson, I find in my Masterson Method practice that I better understand horses of all equestrian disciplines. The reiner that is having trouble in a spin reminds me of the front end of the dressage horse’s half-pass. The jumper that can’t use his back or flex his lumbosacral joint or use his gluteals in a good push off, is a dressage horse that is too locked up to collect properly or has lost his extended trot.

The musculoskeletal system of the horse allows for a limited set of movements of his body parts. Because the dressage horse is asked to perform the greatest range of different movements, understanding how the dressage horse uses his body can be a springboard for understanding any equestrian discipline as a bodyworker.

Betsy Steiner on Bacchus from THE DRESSAGE HORSE OPTIMIZED.

Betsy Steiner on Bacchus from THE DRESSAGE HORSE OPTIMIZED.

Most equestrians are trying their best to be good riders. But as one of the old dressage masters said, “A lifetime isn’t long enough to learn to ride a horse.” With the Masterson Method we can help the aspiring rider travel the long, often frustrating but also joyous journey of learning to ride by rebalancing the musculoskeletal system of the horse through regular bodywork. In essence, we are giving the rider a new “blank slate” for his or her continued efforts to learn to ride this most noble of creatures.

It’s all about balance… from Dr. Heuschmann’s ground-breaking work about how to ride a horse in balance, to the Masterson Method’s rebalancing of muscle systems through release of tension. For every horse of any discipline, it is a question of balance in how the horse is using his body, or the lack thereof.

The DRESSAGE MOVEMENTS REVEALED DVD SET and THE DRESSAGE HORSE OPTIMIZED BOOK are available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

For information about Masterson Method courses, seminars, and workshops visit www.mastersonmethod.com.

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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.

CLICK IMAGE TO ORDER.

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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