The Science of Motion Work in Hand
The Science of Motion Work in Hand
There is the Science of Motion work in hand and the others work in hand
Jean Luc Cornille 2014
Jean Luc and Lafeyette
Many imitate our approach holding the reins with two hands and touching the horse legs or body with a whip. Doing so, they miss the science behind the experience. The technique of holding the reins with two hands and touching the legs with a whip only allow talented but dysfunctional horses to perform movement for which their physique is not athletically prepared. The techniques were acceptable as long as the equine education was limited to the appearances. Most dressage manuals describe the training of passage and piaff, but very few explain how the horses perform them.” (Mikael Holmström, 1994)
Advanced research studies explain how the horse perform gaits and athletic achievements and the practical application of advanced research studies is precisely about preparing the horse’s physique for the move. The extension to therapy is the practical application of Rooney’s principle, ”A major cause of lameness is lameness.” The gait abnormality is there first and it is the repetition of this gait abnormality that causes pathological changes and therefore injury. In hands techniques that teach the movements without the capacity to precisely develop and coordinate the horse physique for the athletic demand of the performances are not therapeutic at all.
Naïve thinking believes that moving the limbs and therefore the joints is therapeutic. Cavalettis for instance, are commonly emphasized as a therapy for stifle injury. The thought behind the elementary thinking is that the flexion of the hind limb above the cavalettis gymnastics the stifle joint. More elaborate thinking exposes a different picture. The kinematics adaptation of the hind limb above the cavalettis induces flattening of the pelvic which in turns demands greater rotation of the femur around the hip joint. Such rotation creates at the level of the tibia an inward rotation that places the stifle at risk of upward fixation of the patella. This is explained in great details and muscle by muscle in our on line course. This is the difference between biomechanics and pathomechanics. Most of these naïve therapies are labeled as biomechanics. They are in fact pathomechanics. Pathomechanics is a new term describing mechanical movements of the limbs or vertebral column causing pathological changes and therefore, arthritis, spurs, tearing of tendons or ligaments, or other injuries.
“The biomechanics of the vertebral column, although very complex, are of vital importance because they form the basis of all body’s movements,” (Leo Jeffcott, Natural rigidity of the horse’s backbone, 1980) Proper limbs kinematics cannot be created or recreated without adequate work of the thoracolumbar column’s mechanism. This is why the work in hand needs to concentrate the horse brain on further mastering his vertebral column muscular system. The two hands a whip approaches concentrate the horse’s brain on the hind legs and bit. Instead, the science of motion approach, which emphasizes one hand on the horse’s shoulders, set the conditions for a dialogue based on better coordinating the horse’s vertebral column mechanism. Holding the reins with one hand on the horse’s shoulders is like removing the spurs. The technique goes far beyond one hand instead of two. I often say to new students, “The first day you will be out of control. Two weeks later you will still be out of control but you will get used to it. However, the horse will still be there, by your side, ready to further a dialogue based on intelligence. When control is not an option, intelligence enters the game. The two hands approach is about control and the culture of control is directed by fear of the horse. Unfortunately, the culture of control forces the horse into protective set of mind. Many emphasize mutual respect but their view of mutual respect is domination. The horse has to protect himself from domination and the horse’s resistance triggers harsher domination. The psychology of submission and obedience does not permit sophisticated coordination of the horse’s physique.
The intelligence that the horse needs to develop is the capacity to further refine the coordination of his physique. In hand the horse focus does not need to be on the bit and the whip touching his limbs or his body. Instead the horse’s concentration needs to be on his vertebral column mechanism. I removed my spurs knowing that, in face of difficulty, I would have resorted to the extra push instead of refining the vertebral column mechanism. In face of difficulty, one hand instead of two is the difference between refining and furthering mastery of the vertebral column mechanism, one hand, and resorting to domination and control, two hands.
Restoring soundness demands complicity between two intelligences; the analytic capabilities of the trainer’s brain and the processing for greater efficiency that only the horse’s brain can do. In order to perform efficiently and soundly, the horse needs to conceive muscles coordination far more sophisticated than natural reflexes. This form of intelligence demands creativity, pertinence and includes errors. The horse must not be afraid of making errors and this confidence commences in his relation with us in the stall, the handling and even the cross ties. Our safety demands establishing fair parameters of mutual respect but when these parameters include having the horse standing still and square in the crossties, this is not respect for the horse; this is insane domination. Such domination hampers the horse’s ability to further explore his body in the training ring. If the horse has to be slave in the crossties, he will unlikely take intelligent initiatives in the training ring. Without intelligent initiatives, the education cannot go beyond the refinement of natural reflexes and the rehabilitation cannot go beyond “doing better.”
“With rare exception, today’s parents believe discipline is all about the clever manipulation of reward and punishment.” (John Rosemond, living with children - 2005) This type of leadership numbs the horse intelligence. One needs to remember that at first, the horse’s nature is always protecting the horse’s body state, which is whatever muscle imbalance, morphological flaw, or bad locomotor pattern that is familiar. The true dialogue commences after the initial resistance, when instead of combating or dominating the resistances, the trainer guides intelligently the horse’s brain through these instinctive impulses. John Rosemont also says that a true leader does have sound understanding of the future. In equine education the future is the upcoming stride or performance and without a sound understanding of the athletic demand, no serious education can be made. Rehabilitation is even more demanding. Correcting the source of the kinematics abnormality causing injury demands a sound understanding of how one can influence the horse’s vertebral column mechanism while walking by the horse’s side.
Working in hand, Lafayette was probably not the first horse responding to minute adjustments of the trainer’s back. He might be the first one which was given credit for doing it. After six months of stall rest due to a fracture of the right hind leg coffin bone, Lafayette walked his first steps pointing the toe of his right hind leg onto the ground without any dorsi-flexion of the fetlock. Steps after steps, the hoof placement lightly improved but it was no dorsi-flexion of the fetlock. He was doing better but he was lame. Without dorsi-flexion of the fetlock, deep digital flexor tendon as well as superficial flexor and suspensory ligament would never reeducate. The horse would be “doing better” for the rest of his life. Only advanced placement of the hind leg under the body and increased duration of the decelerating phase could create dorsi-flexion of the fetlock. Lafayette knew about collection as it was part of his dressage work when he was an advanced three day event horse. The question was how to recreate such collection while working in hand. At this stage of his rehabilitation he was not capable to deal with the weight of the rider.
Prior to his accident, Lafayette was already trained through subtle coordination of his back via nuances in muscle tone of my back. All the conditions were set for his reaction but it was hard to believe that he could feel adjustments of my back muscles while I was walking by his side. Once it became obvious that Lafayette not only could feel nuances in my back muscles tone but was indeed very comfortable with this level of subtle communication, his rehabilitation used a technique referred to in the classical literature as “le pas contè,” the counted walk. It is a very slow and very collected walk as if one counts each step, one, two, three and so on. Lafayette held the collection three steps, five steps, fifty steps until he was able to walk each morning one hour in the Virginia country side. Lafayette fully recovered as he is the horse staring on the video, “One hand on his shoulder.”
The work in hand used for this rehabilitation was inspired form General Decarpentry’s technique. However, the horse’s ability to feel nuances in muscle tone and therefore energies created by the trainer’s body deeply changed the technique as well as the psychology of the approach. Decarpentry had a very analytic mind. He suggested for instance touching the horse with the whip on the chest instead of on the side because he observed that most horses avoided the whip contact moving their croup side way. He was also aware that the whip did not stimulate any specific muscle group but was simply a conditioned reflex. It was very easy for the horse to understand that a touch of the whip on the chest had the same meaning than the same touch on the flanks.
We do not use this approach because it limits the dialogue with the horse to obedience to cues. Lafayette did not need obedience. He needed concentrating on optimum coordination of his back muscles and consequently perfect limbs kinematics and hoof placement. Horses are designed to be superiorly efficient, maximum movement for minimum effort. This is their second nature that better training techniques can further educate. The problem was the right hind leg and Lafayette first nature would have been adapting to the tendons’ restriction. Hoof placement and gait would have adapted to the compromise and lameness would have been his way of life. Instead, by challenging the horse second nature, the intrinsic desire to be efficient, we corrected the kinematics of the right hind leg. We did not let the back adapt to the limb’s restriction. Instead, we coordinated the back efficiently and let the horse intelligence explore a hind limb kinematics adapted to the back coordination. By enhancing the thoracolumbar spine mechanism and consequently creating greater dorso-ventral rotation of the pelvis, the hind legs impacted further forward under the horse’s body. As the horse focus was on balance control, the brain furthered the decelerating activity of the hind legs, which for the right hind leg created progressive restoration of the tendons and ligaments elasticity.
At the level of the handling technique, evolutions to actual knowledge were necessary. Decarpentry advised bridging the reins and holding them with the right hand in pronation. We have observed that such techniques easily leaded to heavy contact with the bit. At the time Decarpentry wrote, “Academic Equitation,” balance control was figured as a backward shift of the weight over the hind legs. Advanced knowledge demonstrates that instead, balance control is a subtle orchestration between greater decelerating activity of the hind legs, greater conversion through the back muscles of the thrust generated by the hind legs into vertical forces and consequently greater ability of the forelegs to produce upward vertical forces. Balance is not achieved front to back but instead, back to front. Balance control is how the thoracolumbar spine and associate muscles manage the thrust generated by the hind legs back to front through the thoracolumbar spine. The work of the back muscles is precise, subtle and powerful. Any unnecessary contraction can easily hamper the process. This is why the science of motion approach promotes absolute lightness and a handling of the reins encouraging absolute lightness.
Lafayette demonstrated his capacity to feel nuances in muscle tone and therefore energy produced by my abdominal and back muscles. Many horses after him have shown similar sensitivity. In fact, most horses are comfortable communicating at this level of subtlety as long as they are given a chance. However, while most horses are willing to communicate and functions at this level of subtle communication, an education is necessary. The horse brain can easily be dispersed by gestures and voice commands. This is why we moved away from obedience to cues such as creating forward movements touching the chest with a whip. The intelligence that the horse needs to develop is about efficient use of his physique. Efficient use of the horse’s physique is not about executing gestures but instead understanding the muscular coordination preparing efficiently the horse physique for the athletic demand of the gesture. The pantomimes making a horse mimicking the trainer lifting one leg or other move, are not at all the form of intelligence that the horse needs to develop. These masquerades make peoples believe that they do dressage when in fact they are making the horse executing moves for which his physique is not athletically prepared.
The science of motion work in hand is a totally different level. We match the steps once the horse starts to coordinate his back muscles but the purpose is absolutely not the matching of the legs but simply that through this coordination greater harmony of the upper body can be achieved. Lafayette rehabilitation lasted a year. Each morning we walked side by side one hour in the Virginia country side, first on the flat and then by hills and valleys. This time together was a wonderful practical application of advanced research studies. I explored many nuances from the way I placed my feet on the ground for better control of my upper body, to the rhythm of the adjustments. All are important and demand practice, but the results are astounding. Gestural imitations don’t go very far. Soundness is a serious business but it is also the greatest gift that one can be given to the horse. Soundness is class as it cannot be achieved through approximations. The science of motion work in hand is sober, intelligent and classic as long as classic is about furthering the wisdom of centuries through new knowledge.
Jean Luc Cornille