Truth In Training

Chazot Thoughts


They activate our legs because they don’t understand our back.

As you know, I have this unusual power to know what he thinks. He does not have the same power but I sometime wonder if he does not know, indeed, what I think. Also, I refer to him as he. We share many instances, grazing, working, taking care, or studying. Of course, he does not graze and I don’t read scientific studies but I follow his thoughts when he reads a new report.  The grazing is a phenomenon that herd instinct theories cannot understand. Right now, he grazes me in hand because I am healing form a hoof issue that does not permit letting me free in turn out. He knows that I will run and I honestly know that I would run. I appreciate the fact that he spent with me grazing the time that he would spent with me if we were in our regular training schedule. For a man that sustains a very busy schedule, I feel privileged that he takes the time to stay with me that long. As equines, we are sensitive to such consideration. We do not look at humans as members of the herd. All these horsemanship theories largely underestimate our sensitivity and intelligence. We can appreciate subtle gestures and I am using the word gesture in the figurative sense. We are sensitive to the attention and we do not need gestures in the physical sense of the term.  I appreciate the fact that he is there, with me and for me.

His dog, which is free on the farm all day long, is very proud to be in leash as they go together for a walk or to the vet. I do understand that. He hand graze me sometime even when I have my regular turn out schedule, and this makes me feel very special. Helyn is also aware of my sensitivity. When he is away for a clinic, she find the time in spite of her very busy schedule, to come in the barn giving me a shower and taking extra care of me. It is not that I do not need a shower but she stay with me longer and I appreciate it. The difference between their psychology and the training psychologies commonly applied is that their relation with us is not based on obedience or packing order. They establish parameters of safety but do not feel the need of imposing more rules. We have the right to be who we are. We are allowed to express frustration or impatience. They are perfectly aware that we are powerful animal but instead of creating safety through more disciplines and demeaning rules such has imposing that we stay standing square in the cross tie, they create a safe and comfortable situation letting us being who we are and being careful about how they act around us.

There is the same atmosphere in the barn and in the training ring. We are asked to think about our body and we are interested to do so because we are not afraid of unfair reprimand. Our errors are not punished; they are analyzed and the same question is reformulated differently. I don’t see how any equine athlete could conceive the complex coordination of our physique allowing performing soundly and at the best of their talent without this mental engagement. We are intuitively balanced between contradictory impulses. One side of our psyche is about resisting changes. This is a survival reflex. Our body needs stability and we protect our current stability even if it is a bad one. In counterpart, we are also muscularly constructed and neurologically wired for efficiency, minimum effort and maximum movement. We are large animals that have the capacity of running faster and longer than most of our predators. Nature had to create sophisticated adaptations in order to maximize efficiency while minimizing weight and pathologic cost of locomotion. This is why we have small muscles and long tendons. The tendons move our limbs reducing the role of our muscles to maximize the elastic recoil of our tendons. Our body sophistically orchestrates interactions of forces and consequent actions. We can be educated and if necessary, reeducated because, if properly guided, our brain works for efficiency and comfort. We cannot find efficiency and comfort without the help of the rider because we are not wired to deal with the burden of the rider’s weight. We deal with it protecting first any existing muscle imbalance, weaknesses or morphological flaw. Unless our initial reactions are intelligently analyzed by the rider, we remain at this level switching eventually protective reflex contractions but not figuring and addressing the root cause.

This is what he does. When I express difficulties in the training ring, he reformulates the question. As I realize that he just listened to my resistance proposing a different approach, I don’t feel that I have to protect myself. I switch from protection to curiosity. I explore greater efficiency. This where I enter  “the zone”. There are these moments of sublime harmony where I fell so powerful, so talented and yet at ease. It is effortless and incredibly comfortable. Now I know what he aims for and I willingly became part of the research. I remember Manchester coming back in the barn all exited and telling me, “I was sound for three strides! Can you believe that, I was sound for three strides!!!” You have to understand, Manchester has been lame practically all his life. He told me when he arrived at the center, “I don’t even remember the feeling of soundness.”  He was sound for thee strides. Now he is sound for three thousand strides. The principle of training is the same for education or reeducation. He uses the term reeducation instead of rehabilitation because rehabilitation is about educating again the horse’s physique but this time by providing a sound education. Manchester went on and on telling me, “he knows that I have a right stifle severely damaged and he does not even touch my leg. He focuses on my vertebral column mechanism and my hind limb come in place and functions soundly and pain free.” I told to Manchester, They activate our legs because they don’t understand our back. They think at the level of gesture and they don’t understand than limbs kinematics result for a great part from elastic strain energy. Instead of learning how our body works, they made us mimicking the move touching our legs. We are then dysfunctional athlete executing compulsories. Our dysfunction limits our talent and induces abnormal stresses on our limbs or vertebral column structure. I watched him writing the study on Sacroiliac dysfunction. The thesis emphasizes that SIJ result from a dysfunctional physique inducing abnormal stresses on a joint that is not supposed to move. Of course, ligaments and muscles stabilizing the joint became sensitive but releasing them is more likely to further the existing instability. The cure is recreating proper coordination of the whole physique. 

For many years, veterinarians treated back issues injecting our hocks. The general consensus was that back soreness was only a compensation for hock pain or other musculoskeletal disorder. In 1999, Kevin Hausler wrote, “Limb disorders are often treated exclusively, without investigating possible structural and functional interactions between the spine, upper limb and lower limb. Even if back soreness is thought to be only a compensation for hock pain or other musculoskeletal disorders, practitioners still have an obligation to evaluate and manage the back problem concurrently. As a profession, our task is to acknowledge that primary back problems do exist in horses.”  (Kevin Hausler  DVM, DC, PhD, 1999Preface, Veterinary Clinics of North America) Today, better practitioners focus routinely on our back. He is happy about this evolution even if it is only a first step in the right direction. The problem is that trainers need to evolve. As long as they believe as it is preached in the training pyramid, that our hind legs propel our body upward as soon as ground contact, incongruities such as driving us onto the bit will be taught and consequently abuses such as the rollkur will be used compensating for the ineptness of the training techniques.

I know that he explained the process over and over but perhaps the same explanation coming from a horse might be easier to grab. No we do not propel our body forward as soon as ground contact. We are submitted to gravitational and inertia forces. Just imagine that you are hacking downhill with a back pack weighting fifteen pounds. Your leading leg decelerates your body. Your knee extensor muscles elongate resisting gravity and therefore working eccentrically, which is a very powerful muscular contraction. In fact, if you do not hack regularly, this muscular work will make you sore the next day. Your leading limb decelerates your body. This is exactly what our supporting hind leg does. From impact and until approximately 45% of the stance, our supporting hind leg decelerates our body. This is called the braking phase. He does not like the term baking because it is not truly a braking action. In fact, the decelerating phase is the sequence where our tendons store elastic strain energy that is use for the second half of the stride, which is the pushing phase, as well as the forward swing of the limb.  Hind and front limbs movements are essentially a game of storage and use of elastic strain energy and when incompetent trainers activate our limbs with one or two whips, they disturb proper synchronization of our physique.

We can modulate duration and intensity of the decelerating phase. For instance, during piaff, we increase considerably the decelerating activity of our hind legs in order to resist forward shift of our body weight over the forelegs but this adjustment cannot be the response to any touch of the whip. Feedback correction is too slow, 0,6 of a second, and when the whip touch, the decelerating phase is already completed. The only reaction that we can have is increasing the propulsive activity, which is not at all how we perform the piaff. It demands more than one or two whip to create a sound performance. As well, it demands more than a software program to complete serious gait analysis.  It demands knowledge and it is precisely why trainers, who do not understand our back, activate our legs.

We can regulate decelerating and propulsive activities of our hind and front legs but it demands anticipation and sophistication. We have for instance an internal tendon in the middle of our biceps brachii, which is the biceps of the forelegs. We can regulate the intensity of the elastic strain energy accumulated in our internal tendon during the support phase in order to modulate the intensity of the forward swing. This is practical since at the trot for instance the energy demanded for the forward swing of the limb is less than for the canter. We do that within our brain deciding how many cells have to contract during the support phase in order to provide adequate resistance of the internal tendon. Basically, we prepare the swing during the previous sequence of the stride, which is the support phase. All the trainers can do when they touch our legs with their whip, is disturbing our subtle coordination.

There is no stimulus that can make us adjusting the decelerating and propulsive activity of our hind and front legs, but there is a conversation and such conversation includes sound understanding of our vertebral column mechanism. Follow my thoughts on this one and you will understand. Between his abdominal as well as back muscles, as well as his legs, as well as his hands that are not really acting but “sensing” my reactions, he asks me more balance control through my back muscles. I am wired for efficiency and I immediately think that more balance control would be easier if I increase the decelerating activity of my hind legs. It is my choice and I further the sophisticated control of my muscular and neuromuscular work to achieve better balance. I do that every day when we are working together and I enjoy doing it because it is mentally challenging and because it leads me to physical greatness and comfort. Since his first three strides, Manchester enjoys his work more and more because soundness feel better every day.



Science Of Motion

Jean Luc Cornille