Jean Luc Cornille
Dressage and In hand horse trainer
“The first rule of holes: When you’re in one, stop digging.” (Molly Ivins)
Helyn published a few pictures of Caesar’s muscular transformation, before and now. Caesar’s muscular development stimulated a very large number of responses. In our standards, Caesar’s muscular development is normal. Independently of their breed, every horse that we train develops muscularly in the same proportions relative to the length of time they stay with us. Their intelligence also evolves in proportion to their physique. Of course, the feeding program is part of the equation but if the training approach that you follow does not develop your horse musculature in comparable proportions, “stop digging”; your training approach places your horse into a hole.
A horse physically uncomfortable such as a horse rushed forward at speed greater than his natural cadence will not develop muscularly. A horse heavy on the forehand will not develop muscularly. A horse traveling with a crooked spine will not develop muscularly. A horse pushing heavily on the bit will not develop muscularly. If you want to develop your horse efficiently and harmonically, move away from training techniques preaching simple and therefore attractive but false formulas. When the training pyramid want you to believe that rushing the horse energetically forward will enhance the hind legs’ propensity to carry the horse forward, the claim is false. The theory is based on the belief that the alighting hind leg commences its propelling action as soon as ground contact. This is an uneducated theory. At impact and during approximately 45% of the support phase, the supporting hind leg produces a decelerating action, resisting gravity and inertia forces. This decelerating phases stores energy for the following propelling phase. The pyramid of training talks about storage and restitution of energy but advising rushing the horse at speed faster that the horse’s natural cadence, the pyramid of training handicaps the ability of the limbs’ muscles, tendons and ligaments to effectively store and release elastic strain energy.
Horsemanship theories tell you that the horse moves in 6 directions, forward, back, right, left, up and down. The theory omits the most important movement; the transversal rotations. Lateral bending is always associated with a movement of transversal rotation and each front limb movement is synchronized with lateral bending of the thoracic spine. When the left foreleg moves backward, the thoracic spine bends laterally to the left. When the right foreleg moves backward, the thoracic vertebrae bend laterally to the right. Each lateral bending is coupled with a movement of axial rotation, which is also referred to as transversal rotation. The correlation between lateral bending and transversal rotation can be correct, or inverted. The alternative rotations can be asymmetrical or even totally localized in a single direction. Each abnormality does have consequences on the kinematics of the hind and forelegs and therefore, each abnormality between lateral bending and transversal rotation is the root cause of poor performances and limbs injuries.
If your horse expresses difficulties, “stop digging,” stop categorizing your horse into simplistic formulas or infantile psychologies. Your horse is not lazy; he does not have testosterone impairment; he does not have an attitude. Your horse is likely protecting his physique from pain or discomfort. Any imbalance in the system of ligaments and connected muscles and fascia stabilizing the sacroiliac joint will stimulate cautious propulsive activity of the hind legs. Any inverted rotation associated with lateral bending will create sharing forces on the vertebral structure and consequently protective reflex contraction of the surrounding muscles.
The horse’s locomotor mechanism is not simple. It can be clearly explained but it cannot be soundly developed and coordinated with simple formulas. In the light of actual understanding of the equine biological mechanism as well as the horse’s neurophysiology, the principles emphasized in the training pyramid are far off. The horsemanship approach created some awareness but the simplicity, which explains its success, is now showing its limits. At the seventeen century, the Duke of Newcastle, defines academic equitation as “Perfecting nature through the subtlety of the art.” Equine athletic performances are inspired from natural movement but they are the stylized version of such movements. The stylization of natural movements cannot be achieved through the repetition of natural reflexes. The muscular work executed by a ballet dancer lifting on leg at the vertical is completely different from the muscular work allowing anyone lifting one leg up to the horizontal. Through their experience, their sense and in some instance, their clairvoyance, classic authors are the ones who have came the closest from actual knowledge of equine physiology.
However, in order to be effective, the wisdom of our ancestors needs to be updated to actual knowledge. Applying classic authors teaching at the letter may burrow your horse into a hole as deep as the training pyramid. Time has come for all training techniques to stop integrating new discoveries to old ideas but instead enhancing the value of previous teaching through the practical application of new knowledge. Time has come for the natural horsemanship to become advanced horsemanship understanding the horse’s psychology in respect of how their brain works when they have to create the body coordination optimally adapted to the athletic demand of the performance instead of how they deal with performances in respect of a social order ruling their interactions in the field.
Horses are even more sensitive than every poetic thought can picture. Their willingness questions the need for all submissive techniques. Their intelligence is largely underestimated. Their performances are below their talent. Most of their lameness could be prevented. Stop digging; you are in a hole we will gladly give you a hand out of the hole and toward a much better way. Jean Luc Cornille 2013