Sophisticated Equine Education
Sophisticated Equine Education
©Jean Luc Cornille 12/09/2013
Dressage and In hand horse trainer
For long, horses were purchased for their talent, hoping that they will stay sound long enough to reach higher level. I remember an old French horse dealer advising, “Buy a horse with superior gaits because they lose some of their movement with training.” The man was the greatest French horse dealer in the seventies and his reflection was not sarcastic. It was an objective observation. Training should at the contrary enhance gaits and performances, but one just have to sit in the warm up area at Devon and watch the progressive deterioration of extraordinary horses to realize that the old man words remain true. Superb equine athletes start the warm up showing outstanding amplitude, rhythm and suspension and their movement deteriorates as the warm up goes on. Their talent is submitted to a system instead of sublimed by sophisticated education.
“This is the way it is” was perhaps acceptable decades ago when little was known about the horses’ muscles architecture, neuro-physiology and dynamics. Today, the same remark is more a cover up for ignorance. Exploiting the horse’s talent without adequate education of his physique leads to lame performance. Lame performance does not simply suggest that the horse is lame or will be lame in a close future. Lame performance means that the horse performs below his real potential. Lame performance means a circus trick instead of the outcome of a precise and appropriated coordination of the horse physique. Lame performance is what François Robichon de la Gueriniere denounced as “false practice.”
Not long ago, a horse was rewarded in the Grand Prix ring in spite of a double beat action of the hind legs at the passage. The horse bumped the ground with the toe during the swing phase just before impact. This is a kinematics abnormality. This is the adaptation of a horse improperly developed and coordinated for the performance. This is a gait defect that should be penalized. Rewarding such aberration is an aberration. Dressage is a specialty which, theoretically, sublimates the horses’ movement; dressage should be immune from such anomalies. Instead, these abnormalities became more and more part of the specialty and not simply in the show ring. Videos and pictures posted on social media often show and even promote aberrations.
Isaac Asimov suggested a good reason. ”The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.” (Isaac Asimov's Book of Science and Nature Quotations, 1988) Most training programs refer to scientific studies but do not question their own beliefs in the light of these studies. Scientific references are used as marketing strategies to make one believe that the technique or person that they promote is knowledgeable. The words “scientific studies” are used to sell old techniques instead of being applied to improve old techniques. At the contrary, if they were ethically applied, scientific discoveries would greatly enhance the horses’ ability of performing at their full potential and soundly.
For example, we posted a few days ago a study about the ability of energetic horses to take off with the forelegs over the second element of a bounce, before ground contact of the hind legs. Simplistic application of the finding would be practicing the bounces. This would not work. Studies have observed that with fatigue, older horse no longer take off with the sole upward propulsive power of the forelegs but instead wait a fraction of a second longer until the hind legs are on the ground. Repeating the bounces is more likely to create muscle and mental fatigue than improving the horse’s power. A better approach is developing the muscles involved in the bounce.
The most important muscles are illustrated here. They are named serratus ventralis thoracis. Of course, they are not the only muscles involved but they are large and powerful and their architecture is very specific. They are also very much involved in the quality of the gaits. R. C. Payne concluded his study on the role of the extrinsic thoracic limb muscles in equine locomotion, saying, “In conclusion, equine thoracic limb extrinsic muscles are large with long, parallel fascicles and a low muscle-to-tendon length ratio. This would equate with a capacity for doing work. The exception was serratus ventralic thoracic which, although large, had very short fascicles compared with aponeurosis length. This muscle may contribute to the overall elastic properties of the limb.”
The serratus ventralis thoracic (SVT) is a large flat muscle sandwiched between two broad sheets of elastic tissues like tendon that are referred to as aponeurosis. The main function of the SVT is supporting the trunk between the forelegs. Due to its short fascicles, the muscle does not absorb impact forces elongating and shortening but instead creating optimum tension and therefore elastic recoil of the aponeurosis, which are acting like the tendons of the lower leg. The development of these specific muscle and aponeurosis is therefore not achieved by creating violent stress, such as the second take off of a bounce, but instead by the repetition of moderate stresses that are working the structure but not challenging the integrity of the structure.
Jogging the horse at its natural cadence and in relatively good balance and therefore a very light contact on the bit, is the best way to achieve effective development and elasticity of these muscles. The horse’ natural cadence is a phenomenon that has been discovered by the biologist Penyquick and largely explained in the Science of Motion online course, the IHTC. We published a whole study about the first application of this phenomenon in the story of the horse “Quolibet.” The technique is labeled the “Pignot Jogg” in reference to an old steeplechase trainer who applied the technique for the training of his steeplechase horses. Pignot discovered the benefit of the technique before it was scientifically explained. The horse’s natural cadence is a slow, rhythmic and bouncy jog that is executed at the rising trot, on long reins or with very light contact on the bit. The horse bounces the trot using maximum elasticity of the tendons and aponeurosis elastic recoil and consequently minimum muscular work. The rising trot technique is very specific. It is executed by a rider keeping the upper body more forward and in balance over the stirrups like a jumper. Also, instead of lifting his or her body high above the saddle, the rider stay at all times very close from the saddle. Because the rider executes then a smaller movement, the rhythm of the rider’s body is slower inviting the horse to slow his own cadence.
In the light of conventional theories, slowing the horse down to its natural cadence appears to be a bad technique where the horse will lose forward movement. Instead, in the light of recent scientific discoveries, it is the fast forward approach that is a bad technique hampering forward transmission of the thrust generated by the hind legs forward through the spine and altering the horse ability to learn efficient use of his physique. The energetic forward motion currently promoted in conventional equitation is based on primitive and false understanding of the equine muscular work. Efficacy in locomotion demands instead that muscles and tendinous material are tuned at the horse’s optimum frequency. “The ability of the muscle-tendon units to recover elastic strain energy is apparently energetically so advantageous that the most economical stride frequency in running may be set by this key component alone.” (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)
The horse most economical stride frequency is the horse natural cadence.
Jean Luc Cornille © 2013
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