Chazot Thoughts


The wonder of evolution

Jean Luc Cornille

A student asked to Dr. Einstein, “Aren't these the same questions as last year's exam? Einstein responded, “Yes but this year the answers are different.” In one year, knowledge of physics has evolved so much that the same questions demands different answers. Knowledge of our physique has evolved in equal proportions but the answers have not. Questions posed by modern performances are treated with riding and training principles conceived decades or even centuries ago.

The problem is that you riders, are learning movements and us horses are feeling forces. Your equestrian education is based on gestures, reins effects, legs action, swinging motion of your vertebral column and we perceive your gestures as forces and even energy. I remember Caesar commenting after one of his first training session, “We had a great conversation; it was a subtle interaction of forces and it was no disturbances. He did not move or more exactly, he moved just enough to stay in harmony with me. I was able to feel his back muscles’ adjustments without apprehending any shift of his body weight. The problem with all my previous riders was the ‘background noises.’ I could not understand their language. It was nuances in muscle tone that I perceived and liked but these few comprehensive sentences were drawn in nuisances, all these hands, legs and vertebral column movements that rendered any subtle conversation totally impossible. It was annoying; I wanted a subtle dialogue but all I got was a series of formulas. I picked up the meaning of some of these catch phrases and my rider was apparently happy with that. I was expecting a conversation but my rider was expecting my submission to stereotypes. I gave up. I submitted to the rider aids looking around for distraction. I concentrated during the first half of the session but by then, I was bored to death and I entertained myself blowing up for no reason.”

Manchester asked, “And you were not punished for that?” Caesar was amused by his own thought and replied, “Yes I was but soon, I figured that blowing up higher and harder ejected my rider. By the time that the rider recovered his breath and dusted the dirt of his new jacket, he was coming back to me respectful and polite. I understood later that he was in fact scared to death.” Manchester asked, “Is that why you are here?”  Caesar replied, “Yes and no; I am sure that it is a factor but mostly, I am here because I became lame and no one could figure why. I am quite powerful and not afraid of jumping. I flew above any jump presented to me but with a dialogue limited to a series of ‘dressage formulas’, my rider was unable to coordinate efficiently my physique for the athletic demand of the performances. I was, like say Peter Egoscue, a dysfunctional athlete performing out of his talent, but exposed to injury. The injury came under the form of microfracture in the subchondral bone of my second phalange. It happened at the right front leg landing of a large oxer. I felt the pain but it was not intense and I kept going. The next day, I told to my rider that I was tender but he wanted to show and he ‘warmed me up’ out of my pain. As you know, adrenaline is a pain killer. When the pain is mild, we do not feel it anymore after a few minutes of light work. This does not mean that the lesion is not there. It simply means that feeling of pain vanish. From this day, my condition deteriorated rapidly. I knew intuitively that I needed moderated and regular stresses on my bone and I was ready to walk slowly around my turn out. Unfortunately, the vet had diagnosed stall rest and I was confined in my stall. I looked intensively at everyone walking in the barn trying to convey my thought. My thinking  was that I needed to move and their interpretation was that I was bored and they gave me carrots and treats. I gained weight, which further aggravated my condition.”

I told to Caesar that this was exactly the conversation that he had with Helyn on the phone when they decided to save your life. It was Saturday and you were scheduled to be put to sleep the coming Monday. I remember him telling her, I think that they misdiagnosed. They say tendon issue but there is no heat or swelling justifying the level of lameness. Besides, he does not lame like a horse with a tendon problem. I think that it is more a problem of arthritis. If they don’t see anything on the X-rays it is because the lesion has not reach the cartilage yet. This gives us a chance. The lesion is in the bone before it alters the cartilages. If we recreate regular and moderate stress, we might reactivate the remodeling process. It is probably too late for stopping the development of arthritis in the joint but we might be able to slow the process. I remember him telling me the day of your arrival, five months of stall rest was a big mistake. I hope that it is not too late. It was effectively too late. The lesion was in the join when they took X-rays after your arrival. Yet, it was not too late to bring you back into a fully active and sound life.

And that is where the questions were the same than last year exam but the answers were different. I would never have figured the subtle orchestration of my back muscles if he had ridden me the way my previous riders did. It was all about shifting their weight and large oscillations of their vertebral column. Instead, I never felt any shift of his body weight. As I took confidence in his neutral balance, I started to feel his back muscles adjustments. In fact, it was so quiet and soft and subtle that I wondered if we were communicating at the level of forces or energy. The fact is that the precision of his suggestion is the reason why I gradually took conscience and mastered my vertebral column mechanism. Previously, I never have been capable to reach such coordination because all my riders were doing gestures that they were referring to as ‘aids’ and they were creating disturbances with their vertebral column movements. Their vertebral motions hampered my capacity to refine the work of my back muscles. My riders were not bad riders; a few of them were Grand Prix riders. The problem is that they were riding gestures and I was feeling forces. We communicated to a point but never at the level of subtlety that would have allowed me to perform at my full potential and remain sound.  

I told Caesar that in one of his studies, the scientific explanation of Caesar feelings was pertinent and clear. I even remember one important quote. “Apart from the role of tendons and collagen in energy storage, the muscle itself stores and recovers elastic strain energy, as elastic strain energy can occur in the absence of tendons(Paul C. LaStayo, PT, PhD. John M. Woolf, PT, MS, ATC. Michael D. Lewek, PT. Lynn Snyde-Mackler, PT, ScD. Trugo Relch, BS. Stan L. Lindstedt, PhD. Eccentric Muscle Contractions: Their contribution to injury, prevention, rehabilitation, and sport. Journal of Orthopaedic & sports physical therapy. 557-571. Volume 33, NUMBER 10, October 2003) Since our muscles are composed of both muscle fibers and tendinous materials, we are responding to riders movements at a much greater level than the riders imagine.  The tendinous components of our back muscles vibrate in response to any shifts of the riders’ weights as well as excessive motion of their vertebral column. When riders follow the principles of elementary equitation relaxing their backs, their range of motion exceed the possible range of motion of our thoracolumbar spine and we have to preserve our stability contracting our back muscles. Hans Carlson explained in 1976 that the main function of our back muscles was not to create movements but instead to protect the metameric structure of our vertebral column from movements exceeding our possible range of motion.

Caesar recalled his first work in hand experience saying, “This was a mesmerizing experience. He asked me to walk very slowly and I was reassured as moving was painful for me. I had the time to carefully place my right front hoof. His steps matched my steps but I observed that doing so, he was holding his torso upright, like if he was taking deeper breaths. I felt coming from his body an invitation to slow down the pace even more. He did not let me lean on the bit and therefore, I had to further coordinate my back muscles in order to control my balance. I realized then that the impact of my right front leg was painless. When you have been lame for months, any reduction of pain feels like a miracle. I had two revelations simultaneously. I can feel nuances in muscles tone of his body or perhaps it was the energy that his muscular work created, and as I adjusted my back to his back, I mastered my own balance reducing the weight on my right foreleg. His right leg was moving exactly like my right front limb. I was not at all interested by mimicking his legs movements. My brain was working at a much more sophisticated level than primitive imitation. I worked on greater coordination of my back muscles. The greater I controlled the translocations of gravity through my back, the softer and the more precise was the impact and placement of my right front leg. I was delighted and he congratulated me profusely.

What I had encountered so far was ‘last year answers.’ I was now experiencing ‘this year answers.’ It was more one light year ahead than just one year. I never experienced anything like that before. My education was all about fast forward, submission to riders’ aids and obedience to dressage formulas. I figured more than truly understood what these ‘gestures’ were about. When I became lame, all these gestures were unable to create the coordination of my thoracolumbar spine reducing the lead on my front limb. I did not even know that my vertebral column mechanism directly influenced proper kinematics of my hind and front limbs. Truly, “this year answers are light years ahead of ‘last year answers.’

Chazot as told to Jean Luc Cornille 2014 April

All Rights Reserved