Advanced Horsemanship 2
Jean Luc Cornille
Dressage and In hand horse trainer
“My horse is a dominant horse. I have been told that I have to dominate him”. Think again. If the horse is effectively a dominant horse, he will resist or even fight domination. The story will end, like they often do behind the curtain, with old cowboy tricks, roping one of the horse front leg, throwing the horse onto the ground, keeping the head shortly tied for hours in the stall, etc, You might end with a submitted horse but you will have severely damage the horse’s brain and consequently you will have hampered all chances to properly educate the horse’s physique.
In the training ring, you are not in competition with your mare’s hormones or your gelding or male testosterone. From the simplest performance, carrying a rider through the country side, to the most complex athletic achievement, a grand Prix jumping course or dressage test, the horse’s limbs and vertebral column kinematics adapt to the burden of the rider’s weight and the athletic demand of the performance, The more complex the performance, the greater the involvement of the horse’s intelligence. For instance, Jose Morales measured in 1998 the hind legs adaptation to the addition of the rider’s weight. “It should be borne in mind that the weight of the rider will rise 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 bottom line is that even the most elementary performance, carrying and rider, demands an adaptation that the horse is unlikely to succeed efficiently without educated insights form the rider. Academic equitation as well as natural horsemanship oversimplify the problem pretending that the horse’s education is about , “restoring to the mounted horse the gracefulness of attitudes and movements which he possessed when he was free. But which becomes marred by the weight and interference of the rider” (General Decarpentry – 1949) This concept is naïve and inaccurate. Athletic performances are inspired from natural movement but they are stylized versions form these natural movements. A ballet dancer lifts her leg at the vertical. The move is the stylized version of a natural movement, the one that you and I may execute lifting the leg at the horizontal. We are executing this natural movement using muscles of the upper thigh. The ballet dancer executes the stylized version of this natural movement using and coordinating totally different muscle groups. Preparing a horse for modern athletic performances through the repetition of natural reflexes condemn the horse to performances below their potential and inevitable lameness.
True education is about preparing efficiently the horse’s physique for the athletic demand of the performance. Therefore, true education is about guiding the horse’s brain toward an orchestration of natural reflexes sophisticated beyond the scoop of natural reflexes. Already at the 17th century, the Duke of Newcastle understood the concept. “Art and science coexist creating perfect motion.” A century earlier, Leonardo da Vincy (1452-1519) also related art to scientific knowledge. “Lacking an appreciation born of a detailed analysis of bone structure and muscular relationships, the would-be artist was liable to draw wooden and graceless nudes that seem rather as if you were looking at a stack of nuts than a human form, or a bundle of radishes rather than the muscles….” Leonardo metaphors, “stacks of nuts, bundle of radishes,” apply both to the muscular development of horses trained through natural reflexes and the look of performances executed by dysfunctional horses.
Creating a functional athlete and therefore a horse muscularly prepared for the athletic demand of the performance, engages the horse’s intelligence and instead of killing the brain of a dominant horse training psychology should at the contrary develop the horse’s intelligence. The brain of a dominant horse is more active and creative than the brain of a submitted horse. In the history of evolution, it has been observed that predators needed, in order to survive, more mental diversity than grazing animals. They needed more planning, observation and exploitation of the prey’s habits, the hunt demanded strategy and ruses, the attack required planning and so on. Dominant animals are mentally more active and instead of killing the gift, training techniques should challenge and direct the horse’s mental processing.
Domination often leads to abuses cornering the horse into the ultimate protective reflex mechanism which is shutting off mentally. The horse does not submit, he turns off his brain in order to survive. Doing so, the training psychology amputates the horse ability to ever conceive the body coordination appropriated for the athletic demand of the performance. Robert Brault wrote, “If you keep rephrasing the question, it gradually becomes the answer.” This is how a rider can direct the horse’s brain toward the body coordination adapted to the physical demand of the effort.
Instead of translating the horse’s reaction in terms of social order which truly, does not have much to do with the relation that we have with the horse in the training ring, a much greater lesson should be taken from the horse’s wilderness. In spite of a large size and consequent weight, the horse is capable to run faster and for a longer period of time than most of his predators. This capacity has been key component in the horse’s survival. To achieve so much speed in spite of such size, nature had to design a very sophisticated system of energy saving and energy restitution. Down to macroscopic level, the horse is intrinsically designed to reduce the metabolic cost of locomotion. The horse’s brain process therefore in terms of efficiency, maximum movement for minimum effort. The horse’s natural search for efficiency is a great asset in the horse education. If asked a question, the horse will naturally look for the most efficient possible solution. The problem is that the final question, a modern athletic performance, demands body coordination more sophisticated than natural reflexes. The horse’s education is therefore guiding the horse’s brain toward the appropriated body coordination through aiming at creating progressively the appropriated body coordination.
The horse’s brain will process each question balanced between two priorities. One is the horse’s natural research for efficiency. The other is that the horse’s protects instinctively any morphological flaw, muscle imbalance or other problem. Instinctively, a horse does not work a problem but instead protect it. Balanced between these two priorities, the horse response to any challenge is a compromise between executing the move while protecting as efficiently as possible actual conformation defect, muscular weakness, protective reflex contraction or other issue. If the rider’s psychology is limited to reward an punishment or behavior related to social order, there is no dialogue and the horse’s solution will be limited to natural reflexes. Furthermore, if the horse has given up mentally, the horse’s response to any performance will be stubborn protection of the horse’s actual body state.
The rider has no business judging the horse’s reaction in respect of stereotypes, such as packing order, dressage formulas and other rule. Instead, the rider’s responsibility is analyzing each horse response and reformulating the question adding the insight that might direct the horse’s brain toward the body coordination optimally adapted to the athletic demand of the performance. The art of riding is a conversation and a partnership between two intelligences, the rider who has the capacity of analysis and the horse, which process the most efficient possible response considering his view of the world. If instead of using his intellectual faculty of analysis, the rider judges the horse reaction in respect of stereotypes, the horse has no chance to ever perform at its real potential and remaining sound.
Jean Luc Cornille
A course of Corrective Biomechanics. without time requirements
Not only principles and formulas scleroses the riders’ talent but doctrines and clichés also alter the horse’s potential. Albert Einstein wrote, “if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life believing that it is stupid.” As well, if you train a horse for sophisticated athletic performances with simplistic training techniques, the horse will spend his whole life struggling with performances for which he is not athletically prepared. Einstein also reflected,
“Everything should be made as simple as possible but not simpler.” Most equestrian theories are simpler counting on the horse’s talent to compensate for the inaptness of the horse’s education. The outcome of course is lameness. Instead, why not enhance the horse’s talent and also propensity to remain sound upgrading riding and training techniques to actual knowledge of the equine physiology?
The answer is a course which is not about making the horse do it but instead how the horse does it. The IHTC focusses on preparing efficiently the horse’s physique for the athletic demands of the performance. The outcome is a horse performing at its utmost potential and remaining sound. When a performance is thought in terms of optimal muscular development and coordination, the outcome is not only preserving soundness but also restoring soundness. Repetitive abnormal stress causes injury and correcting the root cause of the abnormal stress is the most efficient therapy. “The gait abnormality created by a specific lesion is the gait abnormality that causes the lesion.” (James Rooney, Biomechanics of lameness in horses - 1969).
The IHTC condenses decades or researches, experiments and practical applications. There is only one syllable between simple and simpler and without adequate knowledge simple is simpler. We do not pretend that the horse’s biological mechanism is simple, but it can be clearly explained. We do not pretend that riding efficiently is simple but it can be learned. We do not pretend that reeducating a horse is simple. Accepting the complexity of a problem is a decisive step toward resolving it. In most instances a horse’s can be reeducated if we move away from the riding and training principles that created the problem.
The IHTC approaches your education from three different angles, biomechanics, practical application, and cases studies. The cases studies demonstrate how reeducations are achieved addressing the root causes of abnormal stresses. The main course, the practical application working in hand and/or riding the horse, familiarizes you with advanced concept, demonstrating that these advanced concepts are not out of reach but instead, are easily understandable with concentration and ethic. The word ethic is used in reference to the fact that the horse will suffer if we don’t have a sound understanding of the horse’s functional anatomy and therefore, the ability to prepare the horse’s physique for the athletic demand of the performance. This education is the task of the biomechanical study presented with each installment.