WE GRATEFULLY ACKNOWLEDGE Sam Pawley Photography for her wonderful photos used in this chapter.
Throughout this book we have emphasised the importance of shoulder movement, balance of dorsal and ventral muscular chains, and freedom of lumbosacral range of movement. In this chapter we will show you how you can achieve this with your horse. These exercises are simple to perform and involve very little in expensive equipment. Indeed, Gail has specifically designed this programme so that anyone, on any budget, can afford to build optimum foundations for their horse. You do not need a riding arena, just a few poles. However, there is no substitute for taking advice from your local ASSVAP veterinary physiotherapist and getting some individual input for your horse’s particular problems.
Some of the first and most important exercises you can do involve stretching the muscles within your horse’s neck, shoulder, back and hip. You will never see a human athlete competing without first having a good stretch of their muscles. Stretching muscles has many effects but the main benefits are lengthening of fibres and increasing blood flow. There still remains controversy within the sports-science literature as to whether passive or dynamic stretching is the most efficacious. Passive (static) stretching involves reaching to a point of tension within the muscle(s) and holding the stretch. Passive stretching has been used throughout the years for two main reasons: injury prevention and performance enhancement. But there is now some evidence in the human sports-science literature that passive stretching is not recommended for athletes whose sport involves quick changes of direction. Dynamic stretching involves moving parts of the body and gradually increasing reach or speed of movement, or both.
Whilst there is confusion in the human literature and little or no evidence in the equine literature as to the efficacy of stretching techniques, we will include both passive and dynamic stretching exercises within this chapter. However, Gail’s experience in rehabilitating hundreds of horses leads her to believe that in a rehabilitation programme, dynamic stretching should be included in the programme, and passive stretching should be applied at the end of the exercise session. In fact this will generally apply to all horses, whatever their ability, training and athleticism.
Passive stretches with your horse are generally simple to undertake as long as you remember the golden rules.
Ensure that the environment in which you intend to carry out the stretches is safe for both you and your horse. Particularly, do not stretch with the horse standing on concrete or any slippery surface. Always make sure that your horse is standing as square as possible.
Do not perform passive stretches with your horse tied up. Ask a friend to hold him for you whilst you do it.
Always make sure that there is enough room around the horse for you to be safe. Getting trapped in the back corner of the stable stretching a hind limb is very dangerous.
Once your horse has accepted passive stretches as part of his daily routine, you will find that he enjoys them, but do take care for the first few times and always make your movements slow and careful, because this will be new to him.
Make sure you don’t injure your back, always try to keep your back straight.
For young horses, or those recovering from injury, hold the stretch for about 15–20 seconds. For athletic conditioning, hold for about 30–40 seconds.
Do not stretch further than the ‘end feel’, i.e. at the point where there is a resistance to your stretch.
If in doubt consult an ASSVAP veterinary physiotherapist.
For all these demonstrations we have used Lazy Acres Buccaneer, known as Barry at home. Barry is one of the UK’s top eventing ponies and is part of the Lazy Acres Event Team, ridden by Amber Franklin. Passive and dynamic stretches form a part of Barry’s daily routine, and he is an expert ‘stretcher’! Don’t expect your horse to be able to do these stretches as effectively as Barry straight away; these are the stretches that you are ultimately aiming for.
Shoulder and forelimb stretches
Generally individual stretches should be carried out on one limb and then the same stretch on the other limb. For example, you would do the shoulder protraction stretch on the right forelimb and then do the protraction stretch on the left forelimb. In this way you can make an assessment of any differences between the two. For example, is your horse able to stretch the left limb more easily than the right, etc? If you also make notes of your findings, you will then have a record of your horse’s progress.
Photo 8.1 Holding the protraction stretch.
Pick up the forefoot, and place both hands around the back of the fetlock or pastern. Draw the limb forwards keeping the height of the hoof of the limb being stretched at about the height of the knee on the other forelimb (Photo 8.1). Hold for 15–20 seconds and then replace the foot on the ground either in line with the other forefoot or by just lowering the foot to the ground from the stretch. This will leave the foot in a position in advance of the other forefoot and will allow the horse to continue the stretch himself should he wish to.
In the photo you can see that Barry is actually leaning back slightly. As an expert stretcher, he will take the stretch to the level he wants to, and Gail can just ‘anchor’ the foot whilst Barry does the stretch himself.
The muscles that are being stretched here are the muscles behind the shoulder: latissimus dorsi, triceps, deltoid, deep pectorals and thoracic trapezius. However this will also stretch the limb flexor muscles.
Contraindications to any stretches are muscle damage to any of the muscles which would be stretched. Also be careful if the horse had known knee-joint problems. However, you can still do the shoulder stretch but by stretching with your hands placed behind and slightly above the knee joint.
Photo 8.2 The athletic protraction stretch. Care must be taken with its use.
If you want to stretch the athlete to his maximum range of movement you can raise the height at which you hold the front foot (Photo 8.2) but this is an advanced stretch so please take care.
Photo 8.3 The retraction stretch. Notice that Barry has learned that by flexing his neck away from the limb being stretched, he can enhance the stretch all the way through his neck.
Stand at the side of the horse, facing the limb you wish to stretch. Pick up the foot supporting the pastern with one hand, and place your other hand at the front of the knee (Photo 8.3). Taking care to keep your back straight, take a step towards the rear of the horse. Using only the hand in front of the knee, draw the limb backwards until you reach the end feel. Always make sure that the limb remains level to the body and that you are not pulling it away from his side. After the appropriate time, replace the foot gently back on the ground.
This stretches the muscles of protraction, in front of the shoulder mainly: cervical trapezius, omotransversarius and superficial pectorals. The stretch can be extended to the cleidomastoideus (to gain the full brachiocephalic stretch) by the horse flexing his neck away from the limb being stretched.
Contraindications to this stretch are as for the previous stretch.
Photo 8.4 The abduction stretch to open out the chest area. Make sure that the lower leg is kept in line with the knee so there is no twisting at the knee.
The abduction stretch requires the forelimb to be drawn away from the side of the body to open out the chest. Stand at the side of your horse at the level of the forelimb and facing towards it. Pick the foot up and support the fetlock with one hand whilst the other hand reaches around the flexed knee (Photo 8.4). It is very important in this stretch that you do not put any twisting pressure on the knee, so again the hand on the knee is used to complete the stretch whilst the other hand simply supports the fetlock and keeps it in line with the knee. Once you have achieved the correct hold, lift and draw the limb out to the side. Hold the stretch for the appropriate time and then gently replace the foot on the ground.
This will stretch the transverse pectoral muscles predominantly, but will also stretch the superficial pectorals and subscapularis. However, another benefit of this stretch is that the serratus ventralis muscle on the opposite side needs to contract to stabilise the ribcage aiding balance particularly in lateral work.
Contraindications are as before.
The adduction stretch allows all the muscles which lie laterally to the shoulder to be stretched. It is also probably the one that, at first, you will have problems with because you will be asking the horse to pick up the forefoot on the other side to which you stand.
Photos 8.5a and b The adduction stretch. You may need help from a friend when performing this stretch for the first few times until the horse understands what you are trying to do. a) It is important that you bring the leg in front of the leg that remains on the ground with one hand supporting the fetlock/pastern and with the other hand placed around the knee to guide the movement across. b) The placement of the leg at the end of the stretch.
To perform this stretch stand on the opposite side of the horse to the limb you want to stretch, at about the level of the shoulder and facing the horse. Reach over and pick up the other forefoot (for the first few times you can ask a friend to help you, by standing on the other side of the horse from you, by picking up the foot and passing it to you) (Photos 8.5a and b). It is most important that you take the limb to be stretched in front of the limb remaining on the ground.
Once again it is important that no twisting pressure is put on the knee, so as before, just support the fetlock/pastern with one hand whilst placing the other hand around the front of the knee and, just using the hand on the knee, bring the limb across the front of the horse until to get to the end feel. After holding the stretch for the appropriate time you should then replace the foot gently on the ground.
The adduction stretch will mainly stretch the trapezius muscle, but again it has proprioceptive advantages in that it will aid balance.
Contraindications are as before.
Hip and hind-limb stretches
Before you consider performing any of the hind-limb stretches do please make a risk assessment. If you know your horse well and know that he will not object to you being behind him, then proceed with caution. With a horse that you are unfamiliar with proceed very slowly and with extreme caution. Again, once horses are used to stretching they find it a very pleasurable experience but even the most bomb-proof of horses can be startled by incidents happening elsewhere on the yard, so it would be good to do your stretches in a quiet part of the stables at a time when few people are about. If in any doubt whatsoever, consult an ASSVAP veterinary physiotherapist.
The contraindications to all the hind limb stretches are injury to the muscles to be stretched and hind limb joint injury, and in an injury treatment scenario stretches should only be carried out by your ASSVAP physio after veterinary diagnosis.
Photos 8.6a–c The hind limb protraction stretch. Placing your hands behind the fetlock, lift the foot (a) and draw it forwards (b). Note how straight my back is. c) Point the toe of the hind foot towards the heel of the front foot.
Walk to the hind limb you are going to stretch, whilst patting your horse along his side and down the leg so he knows where you are going. Pick the foot up and, as with the front limb protraction stretch, place both hands behind the fetlock and gently draw the limb forwards, making sure to keep the limb in line with the body and not pulling out to the side. Keep the foot close to the ground and stretch until you get to the end feel. If your horse is unused to this stretch he may snatch his foot back, so please make sure you keep your back straight (Photos 8.6a and b, see overleaf). Also make sure that you do not hold the foot too high. Think of just pointing the toe towards the heel of the front foot (Photo 8.6c).
This stretch is generally known as a hamstrings stretch because, as you see from the photographs, the semitendinosus, semimembranosus and biceps femoris muscles are being stretched. However, this will also stretch the gluteal muscles. This stretch is excellent for lengthening the hind-limb stride length.
Again, do make sure that you are in a safe, clear area and that you proceed with caution. Run your hand along the horse’s back and down his hind leg so that he knows where you are going.
Photos 8.7a and b The hind limb retraction stretch. Ensure that you have assessed the risk. If in any way unsure as to your safety when standing behind the horse, this stretch can be carried out standing at the side of the horse. Pick up the foot and draw it out behind the horse, keeping the foot low to the ground. Pressure must be applied to the hock to gain the full stretch.
Pick up the foot and draw it out behind the horse, keeping the foot low to the ground. Whilst using one hand to support the pastern/fetlock, use the other hand to apply a downwards pressure on the point of the hock. Pressure must be applied to the hock to gain the full stretch (Photos 8.7a and b). Hold for the appropriate time and then return the foot gently to the ground.
If you are in any doubt as to the safety of your standing behind the horse, this stretch can be carried out whilst standing at the side of the horse. This stretch is normally known as a ‘quad stretch’ in that it mainly stretches the quadriceps group of muscles, but there is also a stretch to the tensor fascia latae.
Again, make sure that safety is paramount, both in terms of the environment and the temperament of the horse. Make sure that you run your hand along his back and down his hind leg so that he knows where you are going. When doing this stretch it is vital not to put any strain on the hock.
Photo 8.8a and b The hind limb abduction stretch. Care must be taken not to strain the hock as you take the limb away from the body and lift it. a) The off hind is lifted and the stretch begun. b) The leg is lifted and stretched further.
Standing level with the hind leg that you are going to stretch, pick up the hind foot and place one hand on the inside of the fetlock/pastern, with the other hand on the inside of the hock. Gently, using the hand on the hock, bring the limb away from the body and lift (Photos 8.8a and b).
Hold for the appropriate period of time and then gently lower the foot back to the ground. This will stretch all the hind-limb muscles on the inside of the hind leg such as the gracilis and the adductor.
Like the forelimb adduction stretch you will probably find this very difficult to start, but as you and your horse become more confident it will soon get easier. Stand on the opposite side of your horse to the limb you intend to stretch and bend down so that your head is level with the top of the hind limb. Reaching in front of the leg closest to you, pick up the foot of the other hind leg. Again the help of a friend can be utilised.
Photos 8.9a–d The hind limb adduction stretch. Make sure that you draw the leg in front of the other hind limb and do not put any twisting strain on the hock.
Once the foot is off the ground bring it across the front of the leg closest to you. Take hold of the outside of the hock on the leg that is off the ground as soon as you can reach it, and using the hand on the hock, draw the limb towards you, without twisting the hock, as seen in the sequence of photos (Photos 8.9a–d).
After the appropriate time, gently release the leg, replacing the foot on the ground. This will not only stretch the biceps femoris and the gluteals but it will help develop balance and posture.
These stretches are not strictly passive because you utilise basic back and pelvic nerve reflexes, but once you have learned to perform them, you will find them extremely useful for ensuring back-muscle health and suppleness. As you will be working on the dorsal chain, it is important to stretch these muscles so that they can lengthen when the ventral chain is contracted. They also evoke movement throughout the lumbosacral joint.
These stretches can be tricky because you need to apply pressure to exact structures to achieve the reflex action and it would be wise to seek advice and instruction from your local ASSVAP veterinary physiotherapist before attempting them.
Lateral back stretches
This stretch will affect the longissimus and multifidus muscles. Keeping these muscles in good health is of paramount importance especially the multifidus which is the deep spine stabiliser.
Photos 8.10 The lateral stretch of the back to the left. Gail’s left hand is placed in the lumbar area and the tips of her right fingers are applying pressure on the sacrosciatic ligament.
Photo 8.11 The lateral stretch to the right, with the hand positions reversed.
You will need to locate the sacrosciatic ligament in the quarters, as this is where the pressure needs to be applied to invoke the reflex, but the general location is demonstrated in the photographs (Photos 8.10 and 8.11).
To perform the lateral back stretch to the left, place your left hand over the lumbar area to stabilise the lower back and with the tips of your right fingers exert a downwards pressure on the sacrosciatic ligament and then draw the pelvis towards you. This will cause the lumbosacral junction to ventroflex and lateral flex, lengthening the long muscles of the right side of the back.
Again do be careful because if a horse is painful in the back or lumbosacral joint he may lash out. Once you have held the stretch for the appropriate time release the pressure on the sacrosciatic ligament.
This involves ventroflexing the lumbosacral junction, changing the angle of the pelvis (so that the horse tucks his quarters underneath him) and stretching the long back muscles on both sides. Please take note that this can be dangerous if the horse is painful or he is taken by surprise, because you have to stand directly behind him. Although Gail demonstrates this stretch with Barry confidently, she is still in a position of danger if Barry reacts badly to the stretch. In these circumstances, you are strongly advised to perform this stretch with the horse in the stable, his quarters at the closed door, and with you outside the door.
Photos 8.12a and b Drawing your thumb and forefinger down the horse’s quarters produces flexion in the lumbosacral joint stretching the long muscles of the back (look at the angle of the pelvis in the two photos in comparison with the windows of the building behind).
To perform this stretch you need to press your index finger and thumb together and place one hand either side of the tuber sacrale – the start position – and then slowly draw your fingers down towards the tuber ischii – the finish position (Photos 8.12 a and b).
The neck is important to maintain because there is such a lot of intervertebral movement, and it is vitally important for the athlete. Apart from anything else, you will know that any pain in your neck makes you feel miserable and affects your posture and movement. A long, supple neck helps to produce long, supple movements and improve the horse’s jumping performance.
The difference between neck stretches and other stretches is that the horse needs to do them himself and will need to be tempted with a treat. That is why the stretches demonstrated in this section are called ‘carrot stretches’. But they will work equally well with pieces of apple, or mints, or anything else that your horse likes.
Again Barry is a seasoned stretcher, so don’t expect your horse to perform these as well right from the start but the following exercises and their photos show you what you are aiming for.
Photos 8.13a–f Using a treat, tempt your horse to bring his head round in front of you as far as he can reach before allowing him to take a bite.
To get a full lateral flexion throughout the neck and open out all the intervertebral joint spaces, the easiest way is to make the horse stretch round you as demonstrated in the sequence of Photos 8.13a–f. Stand with your back against the horse’s shoulder and, using the treat, tempt the horse to reach round you before you allow him to take a bite.
Photo 8.14 Another way to achieve the lateral neck flexion is to ask the horse to stretch for the treat along his side, but this does not flex him throughout the entire neck as does the method in the previous photo sequence.
If your horse will not stretch round you, you can just tempt him to take the treat by flexing his neck along his own side rather than round you as shown in Photo 8.14. However, you can see in this photo that Barry is mainly bending round the bottom of the neck but in the previous photo sequence he had to bend throughout his entire neck.
These stretches should be performed to both sides.
It is mainly in the horse’s neck that axial (rotational) movement takes place. This can be enhanced by using a stretch method that makes him rotate through the neck.
Photos 8.15a–c The axial neck stretch. Encourage the horse to stretch his neck down and round to take the treat from a point behind his front foot.
Again, using a treat, tempt your horse to take it from a point just behind his front foot. In this way he has to stretch and rotate the neck (Photos 8.15a–c).
Repeat on the other side.
This is an excellent stretch for suppling the rhomboid and rectus capitus dorsalis muscles, which very often get tight after a horse has been incorrectly schooled with the head held high. Again, this is centred on making the dorsal chain as long as possible.
Photos 8.16a and b The neck flexion stretch. Using the treat, bring the horse’s head down and in between his knees.
Simply take the treat and tempt his head downwards to reach between his front legs at about the height of his knees (Photos 8.16a and b).
Exercises in hand
A lot of people do not understand the necessity of working horses from the ground. And yet if you replaced just one of your ridden schooling sessions every week with working your horse from the ground you will reap the benefits as you get a completely different picture to the one you get when you are riding. You can watch his footfalls, are they even? Is he falling in or out? Is he tracking up? What are his transitions like? One of the most distinguishing features of good horses is the quality of their transitions. On the lunge or on long-reins you can establish transitions that you can continue working with from the saddle.
You can re-establish the balance of dorsal and ventral muscular chains by encouraging the horse to start bringing the hind leg under to work the ventral chain, the lumbosacral joint and to lengthen the neck and free the shoulder.
Passive stretching is all very well for greater shoulder, hip and dorsalchain development, but it is also vitally important to work the ventral line and tighten up the abdominals with dynamic stretching. If you stand up and completely relax your abdominal muscles, you will feel your lower back hollow. Now if you tighten your abdominal muscles you will find that this supports your lower back. This is what human athletes call ‘core stability’, from which all athletic movement stems. So by lengthening the dorsal chain and tightening the ventral chain in the horse we are giving him the same core stability. However, try as she might, Gail has never been able to persuade a horse to do sit-ups and abdominal crunches! Therefore a lot of the exercises that we do in hand with horses are designed to strengthen the core. But how do we do that?
Once again, you can get the feel of what you want to achieve by trying it yourself first. Stand up and place your hands across your abdominal muscles just below your waist. Alternately lift your knees in a marching action and feel how your abdominal muscles tighten on the side where the knee is lifted. We can use this action in the horse to strengthen his core, therefore we need him to take really big steps and lift his hind limbs.
A number of people feel that working on the lunge or long reins is very difficult, and rehabilitating the seriously injured horse is a specialist physiotherapeutic job. But the majority of mildly dysfunctional horses can be helped by even the novice horsewoman/man if they have a structure and plan as to what they want to achieve, because most of the rehabilitation work that Gail does centres on the walk. The reason for this is that the walk is a gait in which the horse uses each leg in turn and takes it through its range of motion. The walk is a deliberate gait which acts as the foundation for movement. Once the foundations are stable then you can start to build the rest of the athlete.
Most of the following exercises can also be used when starting the young horse ensuring that they get the best possible start, and even for the elderly horse that may have some creaky joints.
Throughout this section we will be regularly referring to ‘posture’ and ‘proprioception’. Posture is developing correct movement and core stability, for which the horse must have a full awareness of the position of parts of his body in time and space, i.e. proprioception.
Ideally you would start your exercise programme using an indoor school, and that is certainly recommended for starting youngsters, but it is not necessary and an outdoor arena or even a field will suffice. Again Gail is using Barry as her demonstration horse, so what you will see in the photographs is what you are aiming for, which is not necessarily what you will start with!
Proprioceptive wrapping techniques
It is necessary here to introduce another term: kinesthesia. Kinesthesia is the awareness of the position and movement of the parts of the body using sensory organs, known as proprioceptors, in joints and muscles, but it is slightly different to proprioception. Kinesthesia focuses on the body’s motion or movements, while proprioception focuses more on the body’s awareness of its movements and behaviours.
Kinesthesia is a key component in muscle memory, and training can improve this sense. However, equilibrium and balance is uniquely related to proprioception. We need to bring these two together in a logical and focussed schooling programme, to enable the horse to have a better awareness of movement.
One of the ways of achieving this greater awareness is to use items that you can apply to the horse’s body in such a way as to provide him with the sensory feedback from the body areas that you wish him to concentrate on.
The first of these items are Ace bandages. These are highly elasticated bandages that maintain this elasticity even after washing. They are relatively inexpensive and, although not manufactured for this purpose, they are excellent for constructing all manner of kinesthesic/proprioceptive tools.
Photos 8.17a and b Application of the basic wrap. One bandage is tied loosely around the neck and the second bandage is tied to the first and taken around the back of the stifles and tied to the other side of the first bandage.
The basic wrap uses two Ace bandages to form a ‘box’ around the body of the horse (Photos 8.17a and b).
One bandage is tied very loosely around Barry’s neck, and the second bandage is tied to the first bandage at about mid-body level, taken around the back of the stifles and tied to the same place on the opposite side. This creates a very light pressure on the back of the stifles that Barry will be aware of and it will encourage him to bring the hind limb through a little more. The first bandage will make him aware of his shoulders, and the whole wrap creates a kinesthesic loop giving feedback to his body, keeping him straight.
Gail has also found that this configuration has a calming effect, particularly on young or nervous horses, so is excellent for starting youngsters. Please do, however, take care when placing the wrap behind the stifles the first few times; it can evoke a flight response. So make sure that someone else has control of the horse and they are wearing suitable protective clothing.
Photos 8.18a–c Moving forwards at walk on long reins. Note the nice long hind-limb steps and straight movement.
Gail uses long-reins and moves Barry forwards at walk (Photos 8.18a–c). (Note that the long reins are attached to the cavesson and not the bit; you should only attach them to the bit if you are unsure of your control.)
You can see that the stretchy Ace bandages keep contact with Barry at all times bringing continuous feedback to his central nervous system, making him aware of his body and limbs.
Photo 8.19 Gail and Kerry work with a racehorse, using wraps for posture correction.
Just to demonstrate that this technique can be used in any situation, Photo 8.19 shows Gail using it with a 17.2hh thoroughbred racehorse that has been on box rest for nearly six months! Please note that remedial schooling in these situations is a much specialised job and you should seek the guidance of your ASSVAP veterinary physiotherapist before even attempting rehabilitation of a racehorse in these circumstances. Also in the photo is Kerry Millership who owns a rehabilitation yard. Gail works with Kerry to rehabilitate a number of horses with complex, multifactorial problems. They have a number of specialised skills enabling them to undertake this type of remedial work.
Once the horse is calm and relaxed walking forwards with the wraps applied, you can then start using different surfaces, again to stimulate proprioception and to make the horse begin to concentrate on his foot placement. For example, you could do some walking work in the school and then walk across concrete, gravel, unlevel fields, some poles etc., making sure that you perform turns and figures of eight, to keep the horse concentrating and calm.
You will note from the previous photos that the horse is not wearing a lunge/long-rein roller, and this is fine in the very early stages where you simply want to use the wrap to keep the horse straight, and you want nothing to impede shoulder movement. However, if you want to introduce circles and some more advanced exercises using long-reins, then a roller is necessary to feed the long reins through for better steering and control.
Photos 8.20a–c Gail applies a lunge/long-rein roller and threads the long-reins through the rings on the side, keeping the wrap on the hind limbs to lengthen step and encourage core stability.
In Photos 8.20a–c Gail has applied a suitable roller and then put on the wrap that goes behind the horse’s quarters. The long reins have been fed through the rings on the side of the roller. The wrap is left on the hind limbs to continue to encourage their length of step, which will also work the abdominal muscles in the ventral chain and produce greater movement in the lumbosacral junction. The long-reins are now acting to keep the shoulders straight.
Going forwards at the walk, Barry is encouraged to relax the neck, and keep his head low to lengthen the dorsal chain.
Figure 8.21 Lengthening the neck draws the withers forward and flexes the back.
Lengthening the neck is very important in the re-establishment of dorsal and ventral muscular chains, because when the neck is lowered the nuchal ligament draws the withers forwards allowing the back to flex and lengthen the dorsal chain (Figure 8.21).
Photo 8.22 A maze of poles on the ground. The aim of the exercise is to walk the horse through the zig-zag of the maze without him stepping outside.
Again, when the horse is comfortable with this new arrangement, you can start to introduce more complicated remedial exercises to improve posture and core stability. One of Gail’s more favoured exercises is to construct a maze, or labyrinth, of poles (Photo 8.22). This is an excellent exercise which requires the horse to make very tight turns in succession. In this way he has to flex through his body, abduct and adduct all his limbs and concentrate on his movement. By being behind him, Gail can appreciate any problems with the horse’s movement and correct them immediately.
Photos 8.23a–g Guiding the horse through the maze makes him use his legs in all planes.
Just how effective this exercise is can be appreciated in the sequence of Photos 8.23a–g.
Photos 8.24a–e Working through the maze from the other direction.
This is also a good exercise because it keeps the horse interested and concentrating on weaving through the turns. You can then come through the maze from the other direction (Photos 8.24a–e).
Photos 8.25a–g Adding interest to the exercise by taking the horse another route: over a corner.
Once you have laid out your maze of poles, however, you can mix up the routes you take just to keep the horse interested in what he is doing. For example, you can take him over a corner as shown in the sequence in Photos 8.25a–g. Alternatively you can use the line where all the poles of the maze line up (Photos 8.26a and b, see page 176).
Photos 8.26a and b Walking straight along the poles within the maze.
Introducing the Pessoa training aid into your exercise programme
There are many training gadgets on the market but the one that Gail uses is the Pessoa. There have been many studies looking at the effects of the Pessoa on equine movement, most of which recommend it. However, like any gadget, if it is misused it can be extremely harmful, and many people are unsure how to use this training aid in their exercise programme.
We will briefly describe how to fit the Pessoa here and if you are applying it to your horse for the first time please take additional care. There is an excellent video on Gail’s website that you can view for more information on fitting the Pessoa.
Photo 8.27 Fitting the Pessoa training aid correctly.
In Photo 8.27 Gail has fitted the Pessoa to Barry. Again, Barry is very used to being worked in the Pessoa and is very comfortable with it.
Once you have completed your exercise programme with the wrapping techniques, your horse should have achieved a better stride length and lumbosacral joint movement. You can then start on lengthening the dorsal chain and shortening the ventral chain by using the Pessoa training aid. Please note that if your horse has a lot of pain and muscle spasm in his back or neck, you should not use the Pessoa immediately. Use the proprioceptive wrapping technique first.
The benefit of using the Pessoa at this stage of your programme is that you can now start to really lengthen the dorsal chain because the Pessoa requires the horse to work with his head lower than his withers whilst continuing with the proprioceptive effect of the tensioner behind his stifles to lengthen his stride. Because of the lengthened stride, his abdominal muscles are being worked and the lumbosacral joint ROM is increased. Also, as you are lengthening the neck, you will be freeing the shoulder.
The following four points are the golden rules for effective fitting of the Pessoa.
Make sure that the tensioner sits just behind the stifles. You can shorten the tensioner string that goes up to the back of the roller to achieve this.
Never use the Pessoa with the lines clipped anywhere other than on the bottom of the roller. The lines are passed through the D rings on the side of the roller, the sliding clips are clipped to the bit rings, and the lines are then passed between the front legs for the fixed clips to clip on the D ring underneath the roller.
The tightness of the lines should be set so that when the horse works in the outline you want, the long and low outline, the lines are slack and exerting no pressure on the horse at all. Only if he works outside this outline will the lines tighten.
Photo 8.28 Long reins clipped to the cavesson and Pessoa lines clipped to the bit rings.
You can now fit the long reins or lunge line. Never attach these reins to the bit, you will interfere with the action of the Pessoa. Always clip them to the cavesson. Remember: the Pessoa is clipped to the bit but the long reins or lunge rein are clipped to the rings on the cavesson (Photo 8.28).
Photo 8.29 Barry works in a perfect long and low outline with long steps. This self-carriage means that the lines of the Pessoa are slack.
You can now start on lengthening and flexing the neck, and you can see from Photo 8.29 how Barry is working long and low, with a lovely big stride, but the lines of the Pessoa are slack, producing self-carriage.
Photo 8.30 Turning tightly in the maze, long and low, flexing through the body, crossing the hind limbs and opening up the front limbs; all in perfect balance.
Begin by working through the maze once more at walk. In Photo 8.30 you can see Barry taking a tight turn in the maze, flexing through his body, in a long and low outline, crossing hind limbs and opening front limbs. In fact this photograph almost entirely epitomises the goal of any conditioning programme.
Bringing the horse onto a circle
Photos 8.31a and b Still working on long reins and in the Pessoa, bring the horse onto a circle and introduce some trot work.
We are now in a position to start bringing circles into our conditioning programme. We can also start to work at the trot (Photos 8.31a and b). Initially just work on the transitions, so a few steps in walk followed by a few steps in trot, etc. The transition should come from behind with the head remaining low. If the horse throws his head up when you ask for the transition, then keep working at the exercise until you get a correct transition. Always finish your schooling session on a positive note.
Photo 8.32 Introducing poles into your trot work.
If your maze of poles is still on the ground then you can now introduce them as trotting poles (Photo 8.32).
Once your horse is balanced and moving forwards freely in selfcarriage, bringing his transitions from behind without throwing his head up, you can start to work on the canter transition. Initially you might find that your horse will produce a better canter transition if you ask for it over a pole on the ground.
Introducing some more specialised conditioning/rehabilitation techniques
Up to this point, the exercises Gail has described can be conducted by the vast majority of horse owners without problems. However, simply as an introduction to some more specialised techniques, which can be used for treating differing conditions, we can demonstrate some more complex techniques that should not be attempted by anyone other than a specialist in remedial exercise because anatomy and biomechanics skills are required for their correct application. Advice from your ASSVAP veterinary physiotherapist should, therefore, be sought.
Kinesthesic taping is a rehabilitation technique that is controversial at best. There is little evidence in the human literature as to its efficacy, let alone in horses, but some equine rehabilitation specialists use kinesthesic taping extensively to treat a number of issues. However, its correct application is a fairly complicated process, involving an extensive knowledge of anatomy and physiology.
As its name suggests, kinesthesic taping is purported to stimulate various neural feedback systems. In fact there are many claims (all unsupported by science) that they can stimulate the lymphatic system, treat kissing spines, and even correct tendon problems in foals. Use of taping is, however, certainly fashionable if not scientific.
Photos 8.33a and b Kinesthesic taping together with a proprioceptive neck wrap.
Gail does occasionally use taping as part of a rehabilitation programme but only in conjunction with other techniques such as proprioceptive wrapping, discussed earlier in this chapter. For example, Photos 8.33a and b show Barry with a proprioceptive wrap on his head and neck, with kinesthesic taping on his abdominal muscles and across the lumbar region. The kinesthesic tape reacts like skin stretching and relaxing as the body moves, and the application of tape in these circumstances can provide a temporary proprioceptive feedback, the intention of which is to contract that portion of the ventral chain, and bring awareness to lumbosacral joint movement.
Photo 8.34 Using wraps instead of taping.
The neck wrap is to persuade Barry to lengthen and stretch his neck, with some flexion at the poll. Again this produces the long and low outline required to develop the dorsal and ventral muscular chains. However, you can also achieve this result using just the wraps. In Photo 8.34 a horse is being worked in a neck wrap with a stifle wrap to achieve the desired long and low outline.
Improving flexion through the neck
So far we have worked on keeping the horse stretching through his neck. However, a soft flexion through the neck, without the horse sitting on one rein or the other, is very much needed to give a nice overall picture. Again we can use the taping and wrapping techniques but introduce a novel method of lungeing with a double-ended lunge line devised by Gail. She feels that this is the best and easiest way of training horses to flex through the neck with self-carriage.
Photo 8.35 Preparing to work on neck flexion. Kinesthesic tape is still applied, but an Ace bandage has been used as a side rein on the outside.
In Photo 8.35 Barry is still wearing the kinesthesic tape as before, but this time an Ace bandage has been used as a side rein on the outside.
Photo 8.36 The application of the double-ended lunge line.
Gail then applies a specialised lunge line which has a clip at either end (Photo 8.36). One end is clipped to the D ring at the bottom of the roller and the other end is passed between the front legs, through the bit ring, and then clipped to the ring on the front of the cavesson. The excess line is pulled through between the bit ring and the cavesson, and held by Gail.
Photos 8.37a and b a) Gail askes for flexion through the neck with her left hand, whilst the Ace bandage keeps a contact on the outside rein (b).
Photos 8.38a and b a) Gail takes a contact on the bit to persuade Barry to flex through the neck. b) Barry has softened so Gail takes the contact on the cavesson.
Gail can then work Barry on a circle (Photos 8.37a and b), applying gentle contact on the bit with her right hand (Photo 8.38a) until Barry flexes his neck and immediately Gail can take the pressure off the bit and apply it to the cavesson with her left hand (Photo 8.38b). In this way the horse learns that if he flexes his neck appropriately, then his reward is the removal of the contact on the bit on the inside rein. Should he then move out of the flexed position, the contact can be re-exerted on the bit until flexion is given. At all times a contact is kept on the outside rein by the Ace bandage, preventing him from falling out through the shoulder.
Exercises under saddle
Photo 8.39 Amber rides to achieve lengthening of the dorsal chain and shortening of the ventral chain.
Use of kinesthesic tape and proprioceptive wrapping can be continued when you commence ridden conditioning/rehabilitation. Amber Franklin of the Lazy Acres Event Team (Barry’s competition rider) can continue the exercises with Barry under saddle (Photo 8.39). She starts with similar exercises to those completed in hand, long and low, flexed neck with the kinesthesic tape still in situ to help lift the abdomen.
Photos 8.40a–h Amber walks Barry through the maze in a long, soft outline.
Amber can now walk Barry through the maze, ensuring that she keeps the long and low outline, using a soft and open rein (Photos 8.40a–h).
Photos 8.41a and b Riding through the maze with the stifle wrap.
You can also ride with wraps fitted. Amber walks Barry through the maze with a stifle wrap (Photos 8.41a and b).
Finally we have built firm foundations for posture and athletic performance.