The Horse

DEC 2018

The Horse:Your Guide To Equine Health Care provides monthly equine health care information to horse owners, breeders, veterinarians, barn/farm managers, trainer/riding instructors, and others involved in the hands-on care of the horse.

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48 December 2018 The Horse | Nobody's Perfect Straightness is a goal, but it's rarely a given, our sources say. Most riders have asymmetrical hip angles. And most horses are born with at least some slight crookedness, which could evolve over time to more significant crookedness. Many horses have asymmetrical shoulder musculature, which influences saddle movement. The muscles are usually bigger on the left side (though research- ers don't know why), pushing the saddle slightly to the right. "If you're not actively trying to get them straight, I think most horses are slightly to the side," Rhodin says, adding that research hasn't confirmed this yet. "It seems most riders need to train their horses for straightness." Moorman agrees. "A lot of young horses—like 2-year-olds—might not move straight initially, and I think some of that comes from having never been ridden, and there's still a lot to learn," she says. "Plus, it can depend on the horse. Those that look around at everything might be less straight than those that are very un- concerned about their surroundings." Life experiences, such as traumatic injuries, could create crookedness in a straight horse or exaggerate it in an already crooked horse. "They might get cast in the stall or have a trailer accident or slip during work or fall for whatever reason," Moorman says. "We see quite a number of crooked horses with trauma in their history." Unsuitable tack can also contribute to crookedness. "Horses can become crooked by trying to adapt to a saddle that doesn't fit properly," says Dyson. Channon agrees. "A badly fitting saddle makes a horse hollow in the back," he says. "That will give him pain, and he'll try to compensate for that pain in ways that make him more crooked." The Crooked Rider The forces we exert on our horses with our bodies and especially seat bones directly impact our horses' comfort, freedom of movement, and balance, says Simone Ravenel, equine chiropractor, en- gineer, and co-founder of the Equi-Libre Dynamique Association, in Lausanne, Switzerland. "Most riders have some level of crook- edness, which we've detected ourselves," says Ravenel. Like horses, riders have natural asymmetry that injury or pain can exacerbate, she explains. Every rider at every level is subject to unevenness; it's not just a matter of experience. Researchers measured British dressage team riders' asymmetry with a special saddle pad, says Channon. "It was fascinating to see the data," he says. "Sure, almost everyone was pretty even, but you could still see the lopsidedness to some degree in each rider." Horses can respond to rider uneven- ness by adapting their own straightness, says Dyson. They'll modify their posture and gaits to compensate. So the more crooked the rider, the more crooked the horse is likely to become, she says. Getting Back on the Right Track Typically, crookedness can improve to straightness. Our sources say you can do specific exercises to this effect. But before starting them, determine if the crooked- ness is simply a side effect of the horse's build—and not causing pain—or if its root is in discomfort. Nerve blocks can help detect pain- related crookedness, Dyson says. While blocking pain temporarily might improve straightness in a subtly lame horse, the differences might not be dramatic if the horse has become accustomed to moving crookedly. "The neurologic pathways have been altered through prolonged crookedness," she says. "They'll have to be reprogrammed." The first step, then, is to treat any un- derlying pain—from the neck, the back, the body, or the limbs, she says. Once you've resolved that issue, start the horse on a "straightness" training path, just like you would for a naturally crooked horse without pain-related asymmetry. "Ride in quadrants, with corners," Rho- din says. In other words, ride in squares, SPORTS MEDICINE Horses might modify their posture and gaits to compensate for rider asymmetry. AMY K. DRAGOO Researchers used pressure mats to measure rider asym- metry and found that nearly every rider at every level is subject to some unevenness. CHRISTA LESTÉ-LASSERRE

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