Chazot Thought 43

Running like a girl

Get Adobe Flash player

He came in the barn this morning, served us breakfast as usual and waited for us to eat checking his e-mails. He laughs out loud looking at the picture and thinking, Mia Hamm is superb. Not only she is a great athlete but she nails it in style. Often, riders and trainers who cannot evolve, find refuge into conventional beliefs as irrefutable proof. “He does not believe in half halt.” He laughs about this one thinking, “If they knew a little further, they would not too.

Classic authors can be used as umbrella against progress or a reference that can be furthered being analyzed in the light of actual knowledge. Half halt is a great example. The ones arguing that our balance can only be improved through half halt, don’t even know that their “half halt” is based on a false theory. It is pathomechanics and not biomechanics. No, we do not control and never the less enhance our balance shifting our weight backward. No, we do not control our balance increasing the weight on our hind legs. We control our balance increasing the duration of our hind legs’ stance, which, in lay language means that we keep our supporting hind leg a longer time on the ground. Members of the online course know very well about the decelerating phase and the pushing phase. He has explained the phenomenon over and over but let me explain it to you again. As we move forward, our body is submitted to gravity forces, which pull us down to earth, and inertia forces, which push our body forward. James Rooney defined this combination of forces as “acceleration of gravity.” At impact and during about 45% of the stance, the joins of our supporting hind limb fold resisting accelerations of gravity.  Quite obviously, the work is done by muscles, tendons and ligaments resisting the combined action of gravity and inertia. As the tendons of our lower legs became longer, they store what is called elastic strain energy that is use later in our stride to swing our leg forward. Not only our tendons store and reuse energy but also the aponeurosis which are around some of our muscles. In a study about our psoas, he explained how the aponeuroses of our tensor fascia latae muscles are actively involved in the forward swing of our hind legs. Our muscles can also store and reuse energy even in the absence of tendons since they are composed of cells and connective tissues, which are tendinous material.

They did a nice video illustrating the decelerating phase and the pushing phase of our hind legs. This first half of our stride is also referred to as the braking phase. In motion, our supporting hind leg decelerates our body from impact to almost half way through the stride. After the peak vertical, which is the instant where our supporting hind leg is acting vertically onto the ground; our supporting hind leg propels our body forward. Through computer program, they colored in red the horse’s polo wraps when the hind and front limbs were in the braking phase and in green when the hind and front legs were in the pushing phase. I never meet the horse on the DVD. His name was San Diego and he does have a strong place in his memory.  

At first, the decelerating phase and our pushing phase is easy to see as they play the video frame by frame. As they accelerate progressively until normal speed, it became obvious that the claim that one can discriminate and act individually on the braking phase or the pushing phase is from la la land. This is so fast that you can barely see the colors. I loved one of his thought, “The guy who pretend that he cans touch the limb during the braking or pushing phase is so fast that he cans shoot faster than his own shadow.” He also smile when opponent write, “The whip is an extension of our hand.” I asked him, and why would they touch me with their hand on my flanks, my hind legs, or my shoulders when I am working?  I am a little flinch and if they were touching me with their hand while I am working I would quickly remove their glove from their hand with my hind leg if I am precise enough. If I don’t, I would remove their arm from their shoulder joint.

The pushing phase of our hind leg commences after the peak vertical and therefore when our supporting hind leg is vertical under our croup and moving behind our body. This is why the net effect of our hind leg is a force in the direction of the motion and not upward as riders from previous generations used to believe. Formers riders used to believe that our hind legs were propelling us upward because they were not aware that our supporting hind leg does not propel us upward as soon as ground contact but instead, decelerates first our body resisting accelerations of gravity. Only after during the second half of the stride, our supporting hind leg propels our body forward. At the contrary of what classic authors believe, we do not propel ourselves upward into lightness but instead we use the decelerating phase of our hind legs for balance control. The joints of our supportive hind limb fold resisting attraction of gravity and forward shift of our body over the forelegs.

Once established the fact that our supporting hind leg is no longer under our body but instead behind our body during the propulsive phase, it became easy to understand that the pushing activity of our hind legs does not propel our body upward but instead travels forward through our spine where it is submitted to the attraction of gravity. Consequently, part of the thrust generated by our hind legs loads our forelegs. Our forelegs have to compensate for the loading effect of our hind legs by producing a force mostly upward instead forward. This is why, in 1993, a group of scientists explained, “In horses, and most other mammalian quadrupeds, 57% of the vertical impulse is applied through the thoracic limbs, and only 43% through the hind limbs.” (H. W. Merkens, H. C. Schamhardt,G. J. van Osch, A. J. van den Bogert, 1993).

Mammalian quadrupeds…, can you believe how they call us. Tomorrow morning I will welcome him saying, Hello bipedal humanoid, how was your night? Our pelvic muscles are stronger than our forelegs muscles and therefore, if a percentage of our hind legs’ propulsive activity is not converted through the muscular system of our back into vertical forces, too much weight is loading our front limbs and we can no longer propel our body upward.  We have compromises that we use. We can increase the braking activity of our forelegs. This is horribly uncomfortable as it hurts our front limbs’ bony column and joints and we contract our thoracic spine trying to deal with the opposition of forces between the propulsive activity of our hind legs and the braking activity of our front legs. Our trot becomes very uncomfortable and the discomfort is hurting our rider too. At the least, we are not the only one to be hurting. Another option is using our forelegs as struts instead of spring and we simply vault our body weight from one front limb over the other. This is less uncomfortable for the rider but as bad for us. Doing so, we have no suspension and our balance is hampered. As a result, we contract our back muscles increasing lateral motion of our thoracolumbar spine. This places our pelvic and therefore hind limbs out of line and consequently, induces abnormal kinematics.    

Truly, we enhance our balance refining and furthering the capacity of our back muscles to convert the thrust generated by our hind legs into vertical forces. This is very subtle and very complex and when these theologians believe that they can teach us this sophisticate coordination pulling our head up or lifting our head up without pulling or pushing with their seat into their study hand, whatever they believe a correct half halt is, they have no understanding whatsoever of our vertebral column mechanism.  So why does he uses a type of half halt? The response is in the classical literature. I am not talking about the Mickey Mouse type of classical literature, which appears to be the main source behind opinions of his opponents. I am talking about the real classical literature.  François Robichon de la Gueriniere, (1688-1751) wrote, “The halt is only suited to a very small number of horses, due to the fact that there are very few of them who would have enough strength in the loins and hocks to support this action. Therefore the greatest proof of a horse’s strengths and obedience is the execution of a light and steady halt after a last peace, which is rare since, to go so quickly from one extreme to the other, it is necessary that the horse has an excellent mouth and haunches. To the extent that these violent halts can ruin and discourage a horse, they are only used as a test. Such is not the same case with the half-halt, where the horse is only held slightly more in hand without being completely halted. (Ecole de cavalerie)Francois Robichon de la Gueriniere, 1688-1751)

He does that but with nuances of muscle tone within his back and abdominal muscles instead of his hands. It is the concept of “filter” that every one of his students is familiar with.  La Gueriniere was not aware that our back muscles have the capacity to convert the thrust generated by our hind legs into vertical forces and therefore balance control. The concept was explained long after the father of classical riding. Richard Tucker completed in 1964 the first dynamic study of the equine back. Tucker realized that the thrust generated by the hind legs was translated at the level of the vertebrae through the associated muscles, into horizontal forces, forward movement, and vertical forces, balance control. “An initial thrust on the column is translated into a series of predominantly vertical and horizontal forces which diminish progressively as they pass from one vertebra to the next. (Contribution to the Biomechanics of the vertebral Column, Acta Thoeriologica, VOL. IX, 13: 171-192, BIALOWIEZA, 30. XL. 1964)

Many progresses have been made since. Tucker talked about rotary movements. More than a decade later, Rooney talked about forces, decades later Denoix explained how the vertebrae move in relation to each other, etc. The practical application of advanced research studies is a very intelligent, pleasant, soft, subtle and precise equitation. Updating the wisdom of centuries with advanced knowledge of our physiology is what La Gueriniere describes as Perfecting the horse nature with the aid of art.

He is very careful in staying in neutral balance; the middle of his vertebral column exactly at the vertical of his seat bones. We never have to deal with any shift of his body weight acting back to front or front to back or side to side. This is very comforting for us as our back muscles are set in oblique and opposite directions and it is difficult to coordinate our back muscles when we have to deal with a rider shifting his or her body weight, or relaxing back muscles. I don’t have to deal with this problem as he is always steady, but Manchester talks about the disturbances created by shifts of the riders’ weight. I often tease him saying, any rider is only a very small fraction of your body mass; how can you feel them? Knowing that I respect science Manchester quotes Jose Morales saying, “It should be borne in mind that the weight of the rider will raise two- or three-fold during locomotion and also that more energy is required by a mounted horse and this energy must be obtained by increasing the stance phase so as to recover more energy during the swing. (J. L. Morales, DVM, PhD, 1998)

The second problem for us is that the tendinous components of our muscles vibrate in response to shifts of the rider’s weight creating chaos within our muscle architecture that we have to control with cells contractions.  Once we don’t have to protect our thoracolumbar column from any shift of the rider weight or excessive relaxation of the rider’s back, we can concentrate on nuances in muscle tone which is the level of subtlety that we are comfortable with. He does not slow us down holding with his hands. He invites us to follow lesser movement of his vertebral column. In order to explain the process, I have to talk about movement of his vertebral column. In reality, his body language is more refined than that. In order to reduce the movement of his vertebral column, he slightly increases or nuances the tone of his back and abdominal muscles.  In fact when we are familiar with the feeling, we pick up the energy created by his nuances in muscle tone. Explaining it looks like incredibly difficult. Truly, the only difficulty is moving away from primitive riding principles emphasizing shifts of the rider weight, relaxation of the rider back, driving the horse onto the bit and other rudimentary techniques. What he is doing is what great riders have done but have never been able to explain it. What he is doing is what most riders are intuitively ready to do.  

From my window stall, I have a view on the ring and I love watching a very young and petite girl working with Manchester. You can barely see her on the top of this giant and he is so comfortable feeling and responding to minute changes in her back muscles. The mind of this girl has not been spoiled with these shifts of the rider weight and driving aids theories and Manchester refers to her as “crystal clear.” He is not talking about her incredibly blue eyes. He is talking about her body language.

As we learn greater control and coordination of our back muscles, we are making errors, leaning occasionally on the bit and therefore on his hands. His hands do not halt the movement; his forearms and fingers filter our errors. He nuances the tone of his back muscles in respect to the contact that we give on the bit and, as we respond to his back muscles adjustments, we don’t need pushing on the bit. However, says Caesar, while I do like this dialogue, once in a while I put pressure on the bit. I don’t really like it but I have been conditioned to do that for so long that even if I hate it, my body does it.

I heard riders telling him the same thing. I remember a quote saying, A master fails many more times than a student ever tries. Try again; mastery is cool. It does not have to be the mastery of superior movements. It can be the mastery of sound trot or canter or a simple movement. The satisfaction of feeling us sound and comfortable and in partnership with you is the equestrian art..


IHTC Course