The Samurai Shoulder fore

Chazot Thought's

Part XIX




A second Chazot thought in less than two weeks, you might wonder what’s going on, but I can explain. Georgia has been soaked with abundant rain storms and some water infiltration occurred under the glue of my shoes. I have some damage on the white line and on the toe and I am without shoe for a while as they take care of the damages. I am on “soft ride boots.”  They are very comfortable but a little cumbersome. He told me, “Those are like sleepers, very comfortable at home but not too good for ballet dancing.”  So I don’t dance, I graze. He grazes me twice and sometime three times a day, so, physically, I am doing OK but I miss the intellectual activity. As you know, his training approach is based on challenging and therefore developing our intelligence and I love it. He understands my frustration and more than under normal circumstances, he comes in the barn with his computer and work by my side.

Often, from the Dutch door of my stall, I watched the other horses working. One is a new comer and I find similarities between his difficulties and my own physical problems. I watched the entire training session realizing that it was for me like a mental therapy. Our survival capacities can take many creative ways. Years earlier, as I was miserable on the race track, I could not think beyond revolts.  Today, I love refining my body control and I feel that I would betray myself returning to revolt. I watch the new horse working with he and I mentally analyses his difficulties. I even react correcting my back muscles. I am here, in my stall comfortable in my sleepers, enjoying the fresh air of the running fan and I am correcting with my back muscles the torsion that handicaps the new comer’s performance. This morning, as he came back from the training session and while the stable manager gave a shower to the new horse, he came to see me thinking, “You were watching so intensively that it looks like you were doing all the work.” This is when I decided to write this study. Who better than a horse can explain what straightness is about. I am not talking about primitive formulas such as straightening the horse between the inside leg and the outside rein. I am not talking either about juvenile theories such as straightness via relaxation. I am talking about dynamic straightness, which is what real straightness is about.  

Just follow me step by step and you will understand what straightness really is. At the walk, my left front leg touches the ground. As soon as impact, a series of events is going to take place. However, for clarity, let’s go briefly over my neck and focus on the mechanism of my thoracolumbar column. The splenius of my upper neck muscles, contract resisting accelerations of gravity created by impact forces pulling my head and neck down to the ground. The second major upper neck muscles, the semi spinalis capitis synchronizes their action and both muscles are creating the neck movements that complete my thoracolumbar spine movements. Most training techniques focus on neck postures, making up interactions between our neck and back that rank from highly theoretical to plain false. He thinks and act the other way. He focusses on our thoracolumbar spine mechanism letting us completing the work of our back placing our neck where we feel most efficient.

Ok. now follow me. I am walking and my left front hoof impacts ahead of my left shoulder. My body moves forward and therefore we can describe the kinematics of my left front leg as moving backward. This sequence of the stride is referred to as support phase. It is also referred to as the stance phase. As my body moves over my left front leg, my thoracolumbar spine bends laterally concave left. The backward movement of my left front leg is therefore synchronized with a left lateral bending of my thoracic vertebrae. This bending occurs mostly between the 9Th and 16th thoracic vertebrae.

In our thoracolumbar column, lateral bending is always coupled with a movement of transversal rotation. Left lateral bending of my thoracic vertebrae is therefore coupled with an axial rotation of the vertebrae. The terms “axial” or “transversal” are used indifferently as they describe the same rotation. Left lateral bending is coupled normally with a rotation shifting the tip of the dorsal spine toward the inside of the bend and therefore to the left. In the scientific world, such rotation is described as right rotation. This seems confusing but the reason is that scientific studies refer to the rotation in respect of the direction faced by the ventral part of the vertebral bodies. Therefore when the rider, who is seated on the top of our dorsal spines feels a shift toward the left, the rotation is technically referred to as right rotation. This is like in politics, left means right and vice versa.

Therefore, during the time that my left forelegs propels my body upward and forward, my thoracolumbar spine combines left lateral bending and a transversal rotation shifting my dorsal spines to the left. Simultaneously, in order to control balance or even more if I explore collection, I have to produce vertical forces. He explained the phenomenon in the fourth installment of their on-line course, the IHTC. The camera is placed above the horse vertebral column that is suspended in his office. Acting like a frame by frame photographic series, he bends the thoracic spine laterally to the left inducing with each degree of bending a correspondent transversal rotation of the vertebrae. You can then see successive degrees of lateral bending and correspondent axial rotation. He explains that with each degree of bending and rotation, we have to create vertical forces resisting gravity and furthermore, controlling balance.

This brings a totally different perspective. Not for us horses; as it is the way we do it all the time, but for you riders because simplistic theories have told you that balance control was created through longitudinal flexion of our thoracolumbar spine. When my left front legs moves backward or more exactly, when my body moves forward over my left front leg, my thoracolumbar column bends laterally to the left. This lateroflexion is coupled with a movement of transversal rotation and simultaneously my back muscle convert part of the thrust generated by my hind legs into vertical forces. Without the knowledge of modern science, our ancestors interpreted the feeling of the vertical forces that our back muscles create, as longitudinal flexion. He often says that without the right picture in mind, which is sound understanding of the horse’s vertebral column mechanism, feeling might lead to misconceptions.  The vertebral column that he manipulates is not different than mine or the one of your horse. At this sequence of the stride, my right forelegs is about at the middle of the stance propelling my body upward and forward. My thoracolumbar spine is laterally bend to the left combining lateral bending and a transversal rotation shifting may dorsal spine slightly to the left. Simultaneously, the muscles creating lateral bending and axial rotation are producing upward vertical forces. This is the reality. The vertical forces that we create give you the feeling of longitudinal flexion.

Keep following me, it will became clearer every stride. Truly, this is not complicated but it is different that what you have been told and your mind is confused because unconsciously you do not like giving up your old beliefs. I know what you are going through; I went through the same process. Keep walking with me. I now alights my right front leg in front of me. My thoracic spine is starting a right lateral bending coupled with a transversal rotation shifting my dorsal spines to the right, (left rotation.) However, proper correlation between lateral bending and transversal rotation is related to correct development of my back muscles. If I had developed imbalance between right and left side of my back muscles, I would likely associated right lateral bending with a rotation shifting my dorsal spines to the left. This is referred to as “inverted” rotation. Technically, I would combine right lateral bending and right rotation. I don’t really have a problem of inverted rotation associated with my lateral bending however my thoracolumbar spine does not rotate evenly right and left. The new horse does have an issue with right lateral bending and watching him working, I can almost feel in my body what is going on.

At different level of intensity, this problem is true for every horse and unless riders as well as the trainers are aware of the problem and therefore capable of providing appropriated gymnastic, we are not capable to correct it. In fact we are not even aware of the problem. Our central nervous system registers the asymmetry and shields it through protective reflex contraction or other compensation. Soon, the compensation became our “natural” locomotor pattern. He told me that surprisingly, very few trainers are aware of this problem. As a result they resort to “band aids” which do not help at all. If for instance I combined right lateral bending with inverted rotation, my dorsal spines would be shifted toward the outside of the bend, which in the circumstance would be left. This would shift my rider’s seat slightly to the left. If the rider does not know about this problem of inverted rotation, he or she would fit the saddle to my back muscles imbalance adding some padding on the left side. This of course would not fix anything but even worse it would handicap my rider ability to feel and therefore address and resolve the problem.

I don’t have to worry about such quick fix since he is perfectly aware of the problem. He does not fit the saddle to our defect, he corrects our defect. It is where I like watching the new horse. First, he is a good athlete and second, even if it is the same side than me, it is not exactly the same problem. In fact, it is never the same problem and this is why rules formulas and order of priorities don’t work. For example, let consider hypothetically, the situation that I just describe. Due to muscular imbalance that tend to keep my dorsal spines inclined toward the left when I bend my thoracic vertebrae to the right, I would function then in inverted rotation during the retraction of my right foreleg and in proper rotation when I retract my left foreleg and therefore bends my thoracic vertebrae to the left. This is going to have several repercussions on the kinematics of my front limbs. This situation will shift every stride some weight on my left front leg and therefore, the kinematics of the left front will adapt to excessive load. The consequent abnormalities can be numerous. For instance, my brain could adapt to my thoracolumbar spine dysfunction creating early impact of my left front leg, or my tendinous structure could absorb increased weight through greater downward translation of the left fetlock. This abnormality could engender several secondary problems. Most of the joints of the legs undergo an inward rotation that is synchronized with their flexion and extension. All these subtle movements are orchestrated a very specific way and they would be disturbed by this excessive downward translation of the fetlock. You can now start to understand why he is capable of correcting limbs kinematics abnormalities by correcting muscle imbalance or other vertebral column dysfunction. You can also understand why he is capable of resolving problems that conventional therapies cannot resolve. Without addressing the source of the problem, which is proper functioning of the thoracolumbar spine, treatments executed on our lower and upper limbs are unlikely to work. Our vertebral column dysfunction would induce again the same abnormal stress as soon as I would be back in motion.  

At this point, you are right to think that straightness is related to symmetry of our back muscles and this bring us to the heart of the discussion, but also the heat of the discussion. You will never create symmetry through stretching and relaxation. These theories are simplistic and not even close from the real work of our muscular system. Just replay in your mind the sequences of the walk that I previously described. While my left front leg moves backward because my boy moves forward, my thoracic spine bends laterally to the left and this lateroflexion is coupled with a movement of transversal rotation. Simultaneously my back muscles create upward vertical forces resisting attraction of gravity or enhancing balance control. As the stride continues, my right front leg now alights and my thoracic vertebrae bend to the right combining lateral bending with transversal rotation. Simultaneously, my back muscles produce vertical forces.

If you remember what was explained in the fourth and fifth installment of the online course, “The reflex contraction of the spinal column muscles compensate for the bending of the spinal column.”  (J. K. Ober, 1974) This is a characteristic behavior of the spine stabilizing system during movement. Some muscles and associate tendons induces lateral bending, others resist for the bending. Some muscles induce axial rotations. The muscles and others produces vertical forces. Concentric, eccentric and isometric contractions are involved. Any muscle is likely to work concentrically, isometrically or eccentrically at different sequences of the stride. It will be nuances in muscle tone but not lack of muscles tone. I you remember what was explained in the on line course, the primary function of all these muscles during walking, is preventing amplitude of movements that would exceed our thoracolumbar spine’s possible range of motion. Release and increase occur within a precise and reduced magnitude. There is no room for stretching and relaxation. In fact, just think about the complex muscular work that I just describe and you realize that the concepts of stretching and relaxation are irrelevant. Instead, it is all about subtle orchestration of numerous and minuscule contractions and compensatory contractions.

Create or recreate symmetry of the back muscles demands sound analysis of our individual morphology, preferential bending, favored rotation, support of the trunk between the forelegs, etc. From this careful analysis, a gymnastic program can be created focusing on development and coordination of our main back muscles. This is what he is working with the new horse, which is close but different from the way he ensures symmetry of my back muscles. As you can see, the development of my back muscles as well as base of the neck is considerable. The new comer, which is also a thoroughbred, is not as developed yet but I can already see strong development of his base of the neck.

Alternative lateroflexions also occur at the trot. The canter induces a different work as lateral bending occurs mostly in one direction and the nature of the gait induces naturally some longitudinal flexion of the thoracolumbar spine. This Picture illustrates the work of Samuel Chubb (1863 – 1949). The longitudinal flexion of the thoracolumbar spine is apparent. However, the longitudinal flexion is very likely exaggerated. Such flexion fit what we feel but probably not the way it works in reality. As you might know, 41% of quadruped of museum specimens are wrong. 50% of our toys are wrong and 63% of anatomy textbook images are wrong!!!  Considering the shape of the thoracolumbar column and in particular the curvature of the thoracic area, it is unlikely that the placement of the thoracic vertebrae is accurate. More likely, the position of both hind legs should be associated with greater rotation of the sacrum and pelvic around the lumbosacral articulation and lesser longitudinal flexion of the thoracic vertebrae.

This exposes a fundamental problem. Your ancestors did not have the technology that you have in modern days and you have been told theories that are not substantiated, or are even sometime contradicted by new knowledge. As humans you do not like to change and you try integrating new knowledge to old beliefs. Commonly, trainers referring to themselves as “Classical” but acting as curators of the museum, protect antiquated beliefs with the label “scientifically proven.” A scientific study is always influenced by the specific angle of the investigative technique. Without carefully reading the protocol used for the investigation, the conclusions of the study can easily be misinterpreted. Albert Einstein, who was aware of the problem wrote, ”A theory is something nobody believes, except the person who made it. An experiment is something everybody believes, except the person who made it.”

Symmetry of our back muscles favor straightness and straightness creates symmetry of our back muscles. This is why orders of priorities are ineffective. Straightness and balance and forwardness are created by the same muscles and cannot be addressed separately. We always start with a muscular imbalance, which affects lateral bending and/or transversal rotation. The first step is identifying our defect and this is where we need you. As humans you have the capacity of analysis and therefore, observing our preferential direction, analyzing why our mind elects for a given compromise when working on our difficult side, you can identify the root cause and guide our brain toward appropriated corrections. Such mental analysis demands of course that you have a sound and updated understanding of our vertebral column mechanism. If instead, you limit your knowledge to dressage formulas and if your psychology is distorted by infantile theories such as herd instinct, you will interpret our reactions is respect of these formulas or social order and you will miss our part of the dialogue.

Straightness can only be achieved through a dialogue. You own the analysis and we own the processing. Our brain processes the most efficient possible response. The theme of the dialogue can be resumed in the concept of “narrowing the corridor.” At the walk as well as at the trot, our thoracolumbar column bends laterally. I have talked so far about lateral bending of the thoracic vertebrae. We have also a small capacity of lateral bending in our lumbar vertebrae between L1 and L5. However transversal rotations only occur in our thoracic vertebrae between T9 and T14. Straightness is about narrowing the amplitude of our alternative lateral bending, while increasing the production of vertical forces. There is a Samurai proverb that says, “To know and to act are one and the same.” I have my say on this one. “If you don’t know, don’t act.” I experience firsthand the work of somebody whom actions are directed by his knowledge. I also listen to Manchester or Caesar who have been trained by peoples who acted without knowing. Their lameness was the result of whip actions stimulating their legs without understanding their vertebral column mechanism.

He must be a Samurai. The way he rides is very much like knowing and acting are one and the same. Let me talk to you about the Samurai shoulder fore and you will understand how straightness creates muscles balance and how muscular symmetry creates straightness. However and quite obviously, shoulder for is not the only movement than he uses. As you know, straightness demands advanced analysis of our locomotor patterns as well as morphology and muscular development. The gymnastic exercises are then selected accordingly. I want to talk with you about one exercise only because it is not the exercise that develops and coordinate our physique, but instead, it is how the rider understands and uses the exercise. First, the shoulder fore that I am talking about is the concept of Gustave Steinbrecht updated to actual knowledge. Steinbrecht observed that if we keep our haunches perfectly straight and we push a little our shoulders toward the inside, we bend laterally our thoracic vertebrae and this bending give us greater freedom of movement. Steinbrecht discovered in fact the transversal rotation phenomenon. By pushing our shoulders slightly toward the inside of the bend, you stimulates a rotation of our thoracic vertebrae, which in turn induces lateral bending.“In the cervical and thoracic vertebral column, rotation is always coupled with lateroflexion and vice versa.” (Jean Marie Denoix, 1999). Steinbreicht was a visionary but, unfortunately, he did not have available at his time the scientific explanation. As a result, his idea is brilliant but his explanation is inaccurate. Quite certainly, if the German author knew that the phenomenon that he observed was in fact a rotation starting in the vicinity of the fourteen thoracic vertebrae, he would not have advised using the inside leg and the outside rein but instead the rider’s upper thighs. This is exactly how he rides us. 

For us, the Samurai shoulder for is about walking or trotting within a very narrow corridor while maintaining a slight bending of our thoracic vertebrae toward the inside of the ring. Narrowing the corridor is what straightness is about. The lateral bending is so light that the way we feel it is like there is only a transversal rotation. Muscularly, transversal rotation and creation of vertical forces are very close and in fact when we succeed, we feel like we have increase the longitudinal flexion of our thoracolumbar spine. Interestingly I have heard him telling the same thing to his students, “When properly donce light lateral bending feels more like a longitudinal flexion.” Since I feel it every day, I can tell you hos he does it. His calves are on contact each side of our body helping us achieving control of our hind legs. When we lose our alignment pushing for instance the right haunch toward the inside, the calf of is right leg resists. He does not push our haunch back. He just resists creating between both legs a narrow corridor. The inside of his upper thighs hugs our thoracic vertebrae suggesting a light bending to the right. I say his upper thighs because it is how I feel his action but the energy is in fact created in his whole upper body which remains in perfect alignment with his pelvis and upper thighs. He does not twist his spine. He does not even turns his head as he knows that turning his cervical vertebrae would alter the integrity of his spine, pelvis and upper thighs. In fact, both Helyn and he came last night with a Professor of the UGA who has completed an advanced three dimensional study on human nuchal ligament and upper body muscles and he asked her if she would give a talk on the matter during their first IHTC international conference. Helyn and he were very happy that she accepted and she was thrilled with the idea that her advanced research would be applied for the riders.

Steinbrecht idea was that during right shoulder for the right foreleg would be placed in front of the right hind leg through very light bending of the thoracic vertebrae. Steinbrech believed that the horse forelegs were narrower than the hind legs. Even if often true, the difference is insignificant. He does not focus on our legs position but instead on the verticality of our whither. Transversal rotation tends to occur up and down. Down right when the dorsal spines shift to the right, up middle and down left when the dorsal spines shift to the left. The complete explanation of the phenomenon is part of the fourth or fifth installment of their online course. Placing our poll slightly to the right and maintaining our haunches straight, he asks us to keep our whither exactly vertical. This is where our back muscle imbalance, preferential rotation or other issue shows up. He analyses each one of our errors reformulating the question with nuances guiding our brain toward the proper coordination.

A protective reflex contraction is a part of our protective reflex mechanism. This is how our brain protects stability. We need stability and you are not going to make us stretch, relax, release and giving up stability, even a bad one, unless you offer a better stability. There are theories that promote enhancing suppleness of the neck through lateral bending of the neck. As I explained earlier, our neck is part of our balance and locomotion. If we freeze the neck, it is a protective reflex mechanism against balance problem, stability or other difficulty. Unless you identify and address the root cause, you can bend our neck as much as you want and never achieve any suppleness. Caesar entered the conversation saying, “I can tell you firsthand about this one. They bend my neck over and over trying to resolve a problem which was, as you know, arthritis between my second phalange and coffin bone. Freezing my neck was my way to reduce the weight on my right front leg. They never thank beyond appearances. They saw my neck rigid and they deducted that they have to supple up my neck. The problem is that if they believe in a technique, they believe that their technique improves our athletic abilities and they make us perform is respect of the body that they believe that we have and not the physical abilities that we really have. Once, traveling onto a show, I saw a city sign saying, welcome to,( I don’t remember the name,) dress according to the body that you have and not the body that you think you have. I hoped that my rider, who was driving the truck pulling my trailer, saw the sign and think about it. Once on the show ground, I realized that he did not see it or did not make the connection. He bended my neck right and left thinking that I will enter the ring with a supple body.”   

Caesar’s thought directs the discussion toward the rider’s hands. What the rider hands must do, or more exactly what the rider’s hands should do. Helyn published a beautiful picture and a quote about the hands. I like the picture because I look good and I like the quote because this is exactly what he does.  

The Samurai shoulder for is about knowledge and the practical application of knowledge. The hands are part of the dialogue. They continue the concept of the narrow corridor all the way to the bit allowing him to feel all nuances in our physical evolution and consequently, following our mental processing. The hands are definitively part of the game. I call our education “game” because it is the way we perceive it. We are not afraid of errors; we explore in the unknown, he helps us in our search and the reward when we find the proper body coordination is physical comfort.

I often heard him telling during a lesson, “The softness of the hands is not the length of the reins. It is the softness of your fingers, the softness of your forearms and the elasticity of your elbows and shoulders. I totally agree with him when he explains that contracted forearms muscles as well as stiff elbows and shoulders are more painful for us at the end of lose reins. His fingers are acting as filters. When I push on the bit on one side either because I bend my thoraclumbar spine laterally or do not sustain enough my body with my serratus muscles on the right side, his fingers filter the weight in the sense that they resist some but they do not cut the movement or forbid the increased contact. Acting as sensors, his fingers inform his brain of my mistake and his body suggests appropriate adjustment. I know that this the process happening in his brain, because very shortly after that I increase the contact on one side of the bit, his right or left upper thigh or calve or greater tone in his psoas muscles and gluts suggest a correction of my body that is the reason why I increased the weight on the bit. Sometime, just for fun, I tense the contact on one side of the bit even when my body is well coordinate. I can feel his mind working trying to figure the root cause. The game does not last too long. If I do it again he gently touches me with the whip thinking, “come on; give me a break.”

Basically, nothing moves in his body, except his vertebral column and the sobriety of his movement as well as the rhythm, are very comfortable for us. I know that he explained in the members of the IHTC that most of our back muscles are built with cells creating energy and connective tissues conveying the energy to the next cells, Connective tissues are acting like tendons. I remember a quote in one of his studies saying, In a sense, because the muscle is composed of both muscle fibers and tendinous materials, all of these structures must be collectively ‘tuned’ to the spring properties for the muscle-tendon system to store and recover elastic strain energy during locomotion.” (Eccentric Muscle Contractions: Their Contribution to Injury, Prevention, Rehabilitation, and Sport. 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. Journal of Orthopaedic & sports physical therapy. 557-571. Volume 33, NUMBER 10, October 2003)

The amplitude and frequency of his body movements are tuned to the frequency of our body movements. Manchester explained that to me one day. Manchester has become extremely clear about what he accepts from the rider and what he does not tolerate. He responded, “I can’t stand it when they relax their back moving their vertebral column faster than my natural frequency. I protect myself from their excessive and too quick movements contracting my back and then I am no longer capable of controlling my own body.” I asked him, is it the reason why you stop and refuse to move? He told me “Yes, if they want to ride me they have to ride well. If they want to swing their back and move their body all over the place, they can ride a bull or a carousel horse.” Teasing him I say, well I saw you more patient.  He was now almost annoyed, “yes, I gave up, submitting myself to their theories and I have been crippled for years. Sorry, no more. That will not happen again.” He stopped there looking at me with a smile thinking, “well, you get me each time on this subject.”

There are no movements in his body but there are a lot of movements. They are not gestures; they are nuances in muscle tone. If I lose my body coordination favoring left lateral bending and shifting my weight a little on my right shoulder, I immediately feel a slight increase in the tone of his body on the right side include his upper thigh. If I express the same dysfunction shifting a little my pelvic and therefore left haunch to the left, I feel instantly a slight increase in the tone of his left calf. He is the corridor and each one of my errors is corrected by nuances in muscle tone of his body. The term corrected is too harsh. His dialogue is not about correction but rather suggestions. This is why it is a dialogue. He gives me the time to process, sometimes electing to let my mental processing go through without adding any insight. At first, when he let me process a series of thoughts, I wondered if he might have fallen in sleep on my back, but then a thought that makes my body feel good crossed my mind and he immediately rewarded thinking, “that was pretty good.”



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