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Horse Muscle Management

We marvel at the speed, the athleticism and the grace of movement of our equine partners but how often do we think about what makes that movement possible? In this article I have explored the factors affecting the horses ability to move to its full potential; what we can do to help and how to identify and take action early when things start to go awry. I have owned horses for most of my life (I am now 49) and started riding at 11 years old. Whilst I am not a professional horsewoman, I have studied horsemanship: both under the British Horse Society (BHS) system to stage 4 horse care and through British Dressage judge training (assessing quality of movement). I have also had several articles published in Horse & Rider magazine and a book Riding Dynamics.

Whilst studying for BHS examinations I was taught to regularly check the horse's feet and tack for my safety before mounting. However, I was never routinely taught to check the stuff that actually holds the horse together between his feet and the tack: His musculature! I was taught the signs of good health in the horse but not how to understand the way the horse communicates. This summer I had a wake-up call. I saw a stunning horse warming up at a show jumping competition at the National stud at Pompadour in France and was enchanted by this stallions athleticism, power and lightness. I spoke to the rider and discovered that 3 years before this beautiful animal was on the equine scrap heap. Unable to perform due to injury and declared untreatable by vets, the stallion Vigo, was picked up for meat money by Willy Sidorak. Willy and his apprentice, Stephen Goodridge, nursed Vigo back to health at Samsara Equitation their rehabilitation centre in the Auvergne in France. Vigo is one of the lucky ones. Intrigued, I decided I had to visit Samsara and understand more about what they do.

Vigo with Jean-Charles Pirot on board

The day before I was due to visit, my horse, a pure bred Lusitano called Eric, came in lame from the paddock. Willy and Stephen decided that they would visit me instead. They showed me how to examine my horses musculature: How to feel my horses muscles and to interpret his response. Without seeing my horse move Willy told me how he would move and what I would need to do to put it right. At the time Eric was living at the Gammas Stud in Champsac, France. The yard owner Sam de Wykerslooth asked them to take a look at her stallion. The same thing happened. Willy felt the horses muscles and then told Sam what she would feel when she rode the horse. Again he was right. I was fascinated to know more. Willy and Stephen came home with me and we talked horse for many hours. Their goal is to establish a european centre of excellence for ethical horsemanship . A key element of this is educating horse owners on how to care for their horse's musculature. We watched videos of a variety of horse problems and they explained the importance of healthy musculature to a horses performance, how to care for that musculature and how to identify a small problem and address it. This is the key. Avoiding the problems in the first place and noticing and addressing small problems. We tend to push our heads in the sand and avoid confronting a subtle problem, meaning it becomes more pervasive. Like us the horse will start to compensate and soon there are problems (and pain) throughout the horse's body. Willy told me that in Holland he ran a rehabilitation centre treating upwards of 2000 horses per year. This got me thinking. We are all well aware of the wastage rates in the horse racing industry. What about the other competitive disciplines? How many young dressage horses do we see making old bones? What about at riding club and leisure horse level? I looked for information on the internet. I found a study published in the Equine Veterinary Journal in November 2010 ( which followed a random sample of 520 horses registered with the Dutch National Equestrian Federation. The average age of these horses was 7.1 3.2 years. A total of 334 horses (64.2%) ended their competition career with their initial rider during the 5 year study period. Orthopaedic problems accounted for the majority of the veterinary career-ending decisions (63.7%). A total of 385 horses (74.0%) had one or more career breaks; main reasons were riderrelated issues (39.2%), others included temporary withdrawal from

competition (21.6%), veterinary problems (21.8%), breeding (9.1%) and miscellaneous (8.3%). One vet has spoken out about the consequences of modern competition training methods. In his open letter to the FEI dated December 18th, 2009, Dr Gerd Heuschmann (GH) differentiates between back movers and leg movers. He accuses the FEI of paying lip service to its stated goal of happy athletes and back movers whilst rewarding those training their horses to be showy leg movers. GH states that the leg movers working with a tensed back will suffer in the long term. In the letter he says I cannot shake the impression that horses have become mere extras such as bikes to the Tour de France and that the actual goals are fame and money. Even THE world centre of excellence for horsemanship, the Spanish Riding School, is now under threat if we are to believe an article published recently in the Horse & Hound. Vets fees have become accepted as a fact of horsey life. I wonder how much of what they look at is preventable or treatable at home? No livery yard owner ever got sued for calling the vet! We have also seen a growth in what I call preventable equine illness, the two most obvious examples being laminitis and colic. Both are connected to lack of knowledge and poor care. In the same way that we rely on doctors to look after our health are we subcontracting the job of looking after our horses health to the vets? Often the horse tries to tell us how he feels in his language. When we carry the saddle into his stable he turns away. He swishes his tail (or even tries to bite us) when we do up the girth. He stands in a certain way in the stable. He tries to avoid certain paces or transitions. If we choose to ignore the signs and carry on pushing forward with our plans for competitive success the problems will generally get worse until we can no longer ignore them. Interestingly enough it is the horses who are the most valuable who tend to suffer most, often, stallions who have a valuable future career in breeding. They cannot be seen to be under-performing or off the circuit so the owners mask the symptoms with painkillers. This is the short term fix which will fail in the long term unless we find and address the root cause. Not so many years ago in the UK horsemen learnt their trade as apprentices to older more experienced horsemen. There was not so much money about to pay vets, so they were not generally the first port of call. Natural remedies were the norm and avoidance the priority. Horsemen understood the role of cereals in the horses diet and how to use them. Horses worked hard, often all day in the fields or on the roads with their owners. What has happened to the old ways? Why have they disappeared? Even for those actively seeking knowledge it is difficult to know who to trust. There are so many different ways of feeding and training our horses. All beautifully packaged and tempting. Which one to choose? Fascinated I decided to dig a little deeper and do some research. What affects the quality of the horses musculature and how do we diagnose and treat performance problems? What affects the quality of the horses musculature?

In his book, The Way to Perfect Horsemanship, Udo Berger states the horse is an articulated system that must function as one unit. Our final aim is to become united with that system. Fluidity is just one element of this unity, made up of so many interrelated parts or elements that it requires deep study to comprehend it perfectly. Like us the horse is a system of interacting elements. To work to its full potential we need to do our best to ensure that each and every element has what it needs to perform. To achieve peak performance we have to get everything right. This is because through the interconnections one thing not quite right will ultimately affect the whole system. By profession I am a business consultant. Essentially I am a doctor for businesses. Like us and our horses, businesses get ill or off colour and dont quite achieve their full potential. My job is to help an organisation diagnose the root cause of the problem and then to develop and implement ways of fixing the problem in a way that lasts long term. To do this I use a technique called systems thinking to map the cause and effect relationships driving the success of the organisation. I create these maps by encouraging key people in the organisation to share their knowledge of what affects what in the business. You can find out more about these simple techniques in my book and on the internet. I decided to do the same for the horse: To create a map of the factors affecting the quality of the horses movement. To help me with this I decided to consult vets, physiotherapists, equine osteopaths, equine nutritionists and a number of riders. I received contributions from Dr Sue Dyson MA VetMB DEO PhD FRCVS of the AHT, Sue Devereux BA BVSc MRCVS, Mr Johannes Hamminger of the Spanish Riding School, Louise Carson BSc MSc MCSP SRP ACPAT (CAT A), William Micklem FBHS, Jo Bower MSc EqS an equine nutritionist and owner of Horsesource Ltd and a number of trainers and riders both competitive (in a variety of disciplines) and leisure. You can see some of their specific advice in the I asked. They said boxes below. The map I was able to develop with their input is shown in the appendix. Using computer software it is possible to rearrange the map into a driver tree showing the hierarchy of relationships driving quality of movement. Again you can view a copy of the tree in the appendix. Many businesses make the mistake of focussing on the elements in the tree which are closer to their goal. In actual fact the most important things to focus on are those at the base of the tree for if these things arent right we have no chance of making the journey up the tree and achieving our goal. Like a plant we nourish the tree through the very tips of roots.

d e m a n d s e x c c a p a b il i t y ( c o m p a n io n sh ip ) f i g h t in g ( m u sc le to n e ) m u sc le in j u r ie s ( c o m p a n io n s h ip ) p la y O (fre e d o m ) (q o f surfac e) ( m u s c l e i n j u r ie s ) h a nd m assag e o i l s /r u b s / l in i m e n t s q o f m a ssa g e p a i n / i n f l a m m a ti o n O O w a te r m a ss a g e u se o f p a in kille r s q f b r e e d in g q o f c o n f o r m a tio n ( # m o v e m e n t) ( a d l ib f o r a g e ) ( # m o v e m e n t) f ib r e in d ie t ( h y d r a tio n ) e f f e c t i v e e x c r e ti o n D i r t y s t a b le O q o f s t a b le h y g ie n e O ( b e d d in g ) u r in a ti o n ( h y d r a ti o n ) fre sh n e ss o f fo o d q of paddock ca re q of fee t c o n f i d e n c e in f e e t c o m p e n s a t in g fat O q of food q o f s h o e in g / t r i m m i n g q o f su rfa c e ( m u sc le in j u r ie s ) O a m t o f tr a in in g s ta b le d e s ig n # m ovem ent fre e d o m ( m u s c l e in j u r i e s ) ti m e i n s t a b l e ( a d li b f o r a g e ) O ( c a l m c o n f i d e n t m in d ) O b o l ti n g f e e d O m e a l s iz e O O ( c h e w in g ) q o f d ig e s t i o n e a tin g a t g r o u n d le v e l q o f t e e t h a v a i l a b l e c a r b s q o f d e n ta l c a r e q o f m o u t h c o n f o r m a t io n (q o f fo o d ) (q o f p a d d o c k c a re ) m u sc le f u e l w orm burden q o f w o r m in g p r o g r a m m e ( D ir ty s ta b le ) O q o f a ir ( s ta b le d e s ig n ) e f f e c ti v e r e s p ir a t io n ( q o f b r e a t h in g ) (f r e sh n e ss o f f o o d ) ( fr e sh n e ss o f f o o d ) q o f w a te r h y d r a tio n ( # m o v e m e n t) t h ir s t ( # m o v e m e n t) q o f c i r c u la t i o n ( # m o v e m e n t) C a r d i o f i tn e s s ( # m o v e m e n t) ( m u s c le in j u r ie s) ( c a lm c o n f id e n t m in d ) b e d d in g ( c a lm c o n f i d e n t m i n d ) f e e lin g s a f e ly in g d o w n m u s c le r e l a x a t i o n ( c o m p a n io n sh ip ) ( p a i n / i n f l a m m a t io n ) m u sc le to n e (q o f m a ssa g e ) ( q o f d ig e s tio n ) (q of food) a v a il a b l e p r o t e i n m u s c le r e n e w a l (w o rm b u rd e n ) ( m u s c l e r e la x a t i o n ) ( q o f m o v e m e n t) q o f w a r m - u p /c o o l d o w n ( # m o v e m e n t) a d lib f o r a g e ( # m o v e m e n t) sm e ll o f f o o d O ta s te o f f o o d c h e w in g appe a l of food a p p e t i te te x tu r e o f f o o d v a r ie ty o f f o o d ( w a s te d isp o s a l) c la r it y c o n s i s te n c y o f t r a in i n g / c o m m u n i c a t i o n c a l m c o n f i d e n t m i n d ( s ta b le d e s ig n ) c o m p a n io n s h ip q o f b r e a th in g c o n f r o n ti n g f e a r s ( d e m a n d s e x c c a p a b ility ) (fre e d o m ) ( m u sc le r e la x a tio n ) ( q f b r e e d in g ) ( c l a r i t y c o n s i s t e n c y o f t r a i n i n g / c o m m u n i c a t io n ) tr u s t ( e f f e c ti v e e x c r e t i o n ) w a s te d isp o s a l ( u r i n a t io n ) ( # m o v e m e n t) q o f lu n g s ( c o m p e n s a ti n g ) ( q o f m o v e m e n t) c o r e m u sc le s tr e n g th e n g a g e m e n t o f p e lv is q o f p o s tu r e ( q o f r i d i n g / d r i v in g /l u n g i n g ) ( c a lm c o n f id e n t m in d ) a tte n tio n o n r id e r q o f r i d i n g / d r i v i n g / lu n g i n g in te r e stin g w o r k ( c a lm c o n f i d e n t m i n d ) r e a c tio n /p a n ic

Lets take a look at each area in turn

Based on my research these things can be summarised as follows: Conformation, Nutrition; Training; Stable Management; Injury avoidance (risk management); Hoof care and Muscle care.

What does this mean for owner/riders? Well we need to be honest about our ambitions. We need to buy a horse which suits the job we have in

I spoke to Sam de Wykerslooth of the Gammas Stud. Her objective is to produce top quality sports horses. She told me that the horse with perfect conformation does not exist. She aims to compensate for a broodmares weaker points by putting her to a stallion that is strong in those areas. Her choice will be guided by character, conformation and genetics.

Willy also breeds top class horses. He told me that he allows his mares to choose their stallion. He believes the mare knows intuitively which stallions genes will be the best match for her own. For this reason he doesnt agree with artificial insemination. He also breeds from young mares and the foals are raised in a herd as they would be naturally. To avoid the stress of weaning he has a special barn stabling complex he designed where the foals can be together in one area and their mothers opposite. Less stressful and better for all involved.

Conformation, conformation, conformationIf we want a horse to have the best chance of staying sound we need him to have both good conformation and a conformation which suits the requirements of his future career. Why? This is because conformation defects will predispose a horse to muscular problems. Ultimately this is affected by breeding and the decisions we make as horse breeders.

q of m ovem ent

mind. What then if we have a horse that is not well suited to our ambitions? A friend of mine was in this position with a young horse she bought as a 2 year old to event. He didnt have the aptitude for the jumping and so she changed her ambitions to something that the horse could do. He now represents GB on our TREC team in European competitions. So to sum up we must either find the horse for the job or do the job that suits the horse. If we arent prepared to change our ambitions then to avoid a lot of frustration we would be better to seek a new/owner rider for the horse and find another to be our partner. As Louise Carson told me We wouldnt ask Sir Steve Redgrave to compete in the 100m or ask Linford Christie to wrestle! There has been a trend to breed taller sports horses. I personally dont understand this. Tall horses will always be more challenged to maintain their balance, especially tall horses without the requisite bone. Any loss of balance can result in muscle tension and injury. It is also important to consider the conformation matching of horse and rider. A cyclist is well aware that the cycles frame must complement his own if he wants to be successful at his sport. How many riders consider this when they are seeking a new equine partner? Nutrition 80% of the battle is nutrition according to Samsara. Horses muscles need fuel: energy to work and protein for development and renewal. Poor quality cheap food is false economy. We may save money in the short term but in the long term we will more than make up the difference in vets fees. The fuel or energy supply for muscles is provided by adenosine triphospate which is often abbreviated as ATP. ATP is formed by the cooperation and absorption of oxygen (from breathing) and sugar (glucose) from nutrition. Yvonne Sidorak told me that we often overlook the importance of the horses respiratory system to correct muscle function. For our horse to get the most out of top quality feed he needs a fully functioning digestive system to extract the full nutritional content. We can help our horses digestive system by looking after his teeth and ensuring we have a worming routine that works. Why waste money on feeding worms? I talked to Peter Smith EDT about the impact of the teeth on our horses musculature. He said Good dentistry has a part to play in both efficient mastication and bit comfort. He told me that there are really only two muscle groups that regularly concern me as a dentist: The Masseter Muscles which are the large round cheek muscles that provide the power for the grinding molars and the Temporal Muscles that lie on either side of the forelock between the eyes and the ears. These position the mandible prior to the power/grinding stroke of molars. These should be bi-laterally even if good mastication is occurring and provide an early symptom of unilateral problems.

When there are dental or bit comfort problems I am sure they cause tension in the poll and upper spine areas and this is undoubtedly transferred to other muscle groups causing forelimb Bridle Lameness on occasions but what the nerve and muscle mechanics of this are is way beyond my field of expertise. Equally it is pointless paying good money for food the horse cant utilise. Our horses digestive system is designed to work on fibre so we must ensure that he has plenty of it in his diet. Ad lib high quality organic hay and organic straw bedding address these needs well if our horse is stabled. Also, we must not forget the micro-nutrients. The quantities required may be tiny but they are essential to ensuring our horse gets the most out of his food. Obtaining these micro-nutrients through natural dietary sources is always better than supplementation for us and our horses (see Insert piece by Ellen Collinson on herbs etc Colic and obesity (laminitas) Fresh clean water is a high priority. We and our horses can cope with toxins better if we keep flushing them out! A non-horsey friend of mine, Brazilian swimmer and sports coach, Flavio Lapis, told me that water is like the air of our cells. Everything in our body works a lot slower and not properly if we are not properly hydrated. If we are injured water helps us to heal much faster than if we are not properly hydrated.

Flavio in his natural element

I asked: What factors affect the quality of a working horses musculature? They said: Adequate nutrition and balanced feeding Sue Dyson (AHT). It starts right at the beginning! Feeding the mare correctly during gestation, supporting the foal whilst it is growing and throughout its early life but once fully grown more specifically for the intensity of training and the type of riding discipline intended Jo Bower (Horsesource)

As far as the horses feeding is concerned, each horse has its own dietary plan. In the winter, we add sunflower oil and linseed to their diet. We especially recommend to use fodder of really high quality and moreover to feed enough raw fibre (hay). Besides, regular inspections of the teeth are very essential. If there are any muscular problems a horse owner should also fortify the fodder with vitamins in order to encourage the metabolism of the musculature. Mr Johannes Hamminger, Stable manager, The Spanish Riding School at Vienna Quality of training: We can load up with great fuel but if the engine doesnt work we will not get anywhere in either our car or on our horse. The horses engine is his musculature. Whilst the quality of the musculature depends on breeding and conformation (and we cant change that in the short term), it can be improved with correct training. The horses back is not designed to carry weight. To enable him to do this without injury we must develop the horses musculature before he is ridden. At Samsara the young horses start their training in the cart to build their strength. Out on the by-ways the young horse is exposed to varying terrain and gradients and various hazards, learning in the process to find his balance and overcome his fears. Ridden work starts when the horse is sufficiently strong physically and mentally. We wouldnt go to the gym and try to lift huge weights on our first visit. Samsara horses first experience being ridden with an experienced balanced lightweight rider. Again his first experiences are outdoors along the byways and roads he traversed in the cart.

A young horse ready to go carting

All work focuses on developing the horses core strength, tone & suppleness. A strong back is essential for our young horse to cope with greater weights and more complex movements. Like many riders, I have suffered with my back. I was diagnosed with a sacroiliac joint strain and referred for physiotherapy and osteopathy both of which gave me some short term relief. Finally, in 2005 I went to see an orthopaedic consultant and the MRI scan he prescribed revealed a severely degenerate L5S1 disc. The rest of my discs were pristine. You can see the scan below.

Damag ed L5S1 disc

I was offered surgery but decided to opt for the less invasive option of intensive physiotherapy and modified pilates exercises. The physiotherapy was painful but it helped to free up my lower back muscles which had become contracted and tight. The Pilates exercises I learned taught me how to protect and strengthen my back by engaging my core muscles, rotating my pelvis and giving at the knees. It is the same with the horse. We must teach our horse to use his core and push his back up in the same way to prevent injury.
Side Befor e Sid e Afte r Front Befor e Fron t Afte r

Andrew Day of the TTTTrust told me that the horses natural way of going could be described as falling forward. The horse economises on energy by using gravity to help him to move. However, this is not the best way to carry the weight of a rider. Working in this way subjects the horses muscular-skeletal system to repetitive strain (especially in the forehand) and the poorer the conformation the greater the impact. Andrew told me that understanding this is the key to improving our horse. The horse isnt born knowing how to carry humans effectively. Our task as a rider is to help our horse to learn how to do this.

In addition to the balance front to back we must also consider balance side to side. I recently met Monique de Rijk of Atletischerijkunst in the Netherlands. Monique specialises in training horses with physical and/or psychological problems. Monique pointed out that many horses she sees have developed their problems as a result of their natural asymmetry. She told me The natural asymmetry of a horse really affects the way he moves and uses his body. Because of this asymmetry the horse has a wrong vertical balance which means he cannot relax his back muscles. This means that to develop a horse properly, the rider must work on straightening the horse so that he can relax in his body and mind. An asymmetric horse always has to compensate and that damages the musculature and the skeleton.

Our ability to achieve this can be limited by unsuitable or uncomfortable tack and an unbalanced rider. Equine masseur, Yvonne Sidorak, told me: The fit of the saddle has far reaching consequences for the entire musculature of the horse. A good saddle places no pressure on the spinal column and an equal load on the muscles. The muscles under the saddle need space to tighten and relax. The saddle must allow this process to happen. If some muscles are less used, or dont have the possibility to move freely, the muscles will degenerate. The muscle fibres decrease in size and they lose their power and flexibility. The cumulative effect of this is called atrophy. When the horse is ridden in a badly fitting saddle his back muscles will be damaged. Trainer and author, Lynn Henry of Think like a Pony, told me that a poorly fitting saddle is, in her opinion, the biggest cause of muscle problems in horses. She said Most people do not understand the basic design features that are required for a saddle to be comfortable. This is only hampered by bad advice from saddle fitters. It is the single most

important factor that I come across whatever the calibre of rider. Horse owners are not aware that the wither pattern in different horses should be more the same than different. Three out of 4 of my horses are the same, the 4th is only 3 years old! Lynn recommends Lavinia Mitchell for saddle fitting. I contacted Lavinia to find out more about what she does. She told me Where muscle wastage and posture problems exist, it is sadly common practise for a new saddle to be fitted to the contours of this incorrect shape. This only compounds the problem and will not help the horse in the long term. What do Master Saddlers say to this? Local master saddler, Glenn Hasker, told me that many saddle fitting problems are the result of unfit horses with poor conformation or musculature, or both. A saddle for an unfit back will be more difficult to find and is often more expensive to fit. He said "For a saddle to fit the back, the back must be fit." Lavinia added The large majority of horses with well developed back muscles and no atrophy will be a very similar width when measured across the back where the saddle tree points lay. In my experience there is an average width that the majority of horses will be. Other than the exception of certain broader breeds of horse, it is unrelated to breed, height, age and discipline. This width is significantly wider than most wide saddles and is often a revelation to the rider/owner. Is this really the case? I contacted the Society of Master Saddlers to see if they collated data on saddle widths. Unfortunately they dont. Local master saddler, Glenn Hasker, went back through his records for me. Since 1986 he has fitted over 1000 new saddles. The breakdown by width is captured in the pie chart below. As you can clearly see the majority (80%) of new saddles he has fitted have been narrow or medium.


This is in complete contrast to the experience of Lesley Taylor of Balance International. She told me that she and fellow trainer, Carol Brett, became interested in the question of why horses moved better at liberty than when tacked up back in 1993. She said that the narrowest horse template they measured back then was a Medium Wide. I looked for information on the internet. I found and contacted the owner, Colleen Meyer, one of only a few American saddle fitters qualified with the UK Society of Master Saddlers. I asked her about average wither patterns and saddle

fitting best practice. She told me I think it is fair to say that no one knows for certain what is "best practice" in saddle fitting. My personal mantra is that there is only one rule that applies to every horse: that horses' backs did not evolve over 30 million years to bear the weight of a rider in motion. That is the one and only thing I feel confident that we know for sure. The corollary to that is that it's not surprising that so many horses do poorly in their saddles; it is amazing that any of them do well. And what about the average wither pattern? She continued I personally think that average is a marvellous thing in an equine back, but it's not that common. Every horse even an average one is a unique three dimensional puzzle. Movement adds an even more complex fourth dimension. I am ready to be proven wrong by science-based research, but from practical experience, I don't think I agree that the shape of most properly trained and unatrophied horses will necessarily converge on wide and dome-like. Among elite human athletes, sprinters, middle distance runners, and marathoners typically have very different body types. They have different mixes of muscle fibres, for one thing. Why would this not be true of horses? In my experience, lean, high-withered horses are not necessarily "atrophied" in the physiological sense, just because they are not covered in bulging muscles (or bulging fat wedges disguised as muscles in some cases.) My instinct is that there is at least as much normal, healthy variation in body type among elite equine athletes as there is in human athletes probably more, since the overall range of variations in phenotype is greater in equines than in humans. In November last year I visited Your Horse Live. There were so many saddlers trying to sell their wares. All claiming that their saddling system was the best. I saw trees in all shapes, sizes and materials and saddles without trees. I saw panels in all shapes, sizes and materials and saddles without panels. I saw saddle fitters recommending saddles be fitted very wide with lots of pads, others slightly wider with a uniform pad and others exactly to the contours of the horses shape. If professionals cant agree where does this leave us and, more importantly, our horses? Colleen told me ultimately, the saddle is the interface between two separate bodies in motion. How can that interaction of kinetic mass - facilitated by such a crude piece of technology as a saddle - be simple? Unfortunately, our understanding of the forces at work between a horse's back and a rider is vast terra incognita, which I find really frustrating in my job. I personally would like to see some scientific study of this topic. In the mean time we do have one opinion we can always rely on, that of our horse. For a number of years I have used a Forestier general purpose saddle with no problems. My dressage trainer recommended that I switch to a dressage saddle for my flatwork. The first lesson I had in my dressage saddle revealed a very annoyed Eric. Ears flat back on canter transitions. Now this is a horse that loves his work and often doesnt want to leave the school when finished! The only difference was the saddle. I called local master saddler, Glenn Hasker, to check my saddles. The GP was a good

fitthe dressage saddle was too wide. The morale of the story? Listen to your horse. Unlike humans, horses dont lie. I contacted the Society of Master Saddlers to understand their point of view on this important topic. Stewart Hastie MRCVS contacted me on their behalf. He explained the complexities of saddle fitting and encouraged me to attend the SMS Introductory Saddle Fitting course to find out more. He explained that even with a perfect fitting saddle the secret to avoiding muscle damage under saddle is a balanced rider. If the rider is unable to maintain self carriage how can the horse? I would go one step further and encourage riders to seek a horse with conformation and movement that suits their conformation and ability to maintain their balance. You can find out more about this in chapter 10 of my book Riding Dynamics. The British Equestrian Federation and the SMS jointly own a Pliance system, which is operated by master saddler and qualified fitter Mark Fisher from Woolcroft Equine Services, Cambridgeshire. A mat with more than 250 sensors is placed under the saddle and transmits pressure pictures to a computer, showing exactly whats happening underneath the rider. It isnt always the saddle thats to blame with problems such as movement over to one side, says Mark. For instance, even some of our best riders can tend to load their weight to one side, which means the saddle follows. We can compensate by adjusting the saddle, but it shows the importance of looking after yourself as well as your horse. If youre asymmetrical because of injury or wear and tear, get yourself looked at by a good physio or other qualified person and if youre not already doing so, get help from a good trainer. Lesley Taylor, of Balance International, told medata is all very fine but the key is in the interpretation. What do the figures mean? We dont know what pressure is ideal. We assume that even pressure is what is required, but is it? Are all horses the same? Lesley believes in letting the horse choose. However, in all instances, she recommends extra care over the sensitive Junction Box area over the withers and behind the shoulder. Lesley recommends that saddles are fitted slightly wider in this area and then a shock absorbing JB pad used under the saddle to protect this area. The logic is that this will allow the muscles to expand and widen below the saddle. I asked Sue Norton, a lecturer on the SMS April 2012 Introduction to Saddle Fitting course, about Lesley and Lavinias philosophy of fitting a slightly wider saddle to allow for the dynamic shape of the horse and this giving him the freedom to develop his musculature. She told me the subject of fitting a little wide to allow the horse to come up into his saddle as he works is excellent but we must have seen both horse and rider show their skills. Our dressage customers will back this theory up over and over, ridden out for warm up the rider can look out of balance as the saddle, a little too wide, is low at the front. Within 15 minutes the horse is engaging and balance is restored. Vet required here but I assume that the muscle

being used has an excellent blood flow and expands. A bad rider in the same fitting on the same horse would in a matter of weeks create atrophy in the trapezius muscles where their weight has been forward continuously. Note here the whole tree in the rails needs to be this slightly wider profile. Lesley would not compromise on this. She demands that since we wish to ride the horse we must learn how to ride him so he can be as comfortable as possible. She despises the practice of fitting a saddle on the horse like a clothes peg to support an unbalanced rider. To feel the effect of a badly fitting saddle and/or rider for your self try on different knapsacks. Youll find that some fit and some dont. Notice how they affect your ability to move. Try packing the sacks in different ways. You will find that the easiest to carry has the weight balanced evenly left to right and has the majority of the weight low-down and still. When we think of tack we typically consider the saddle first but an uncomfortable bridle can also block the horse. Again there is much controversy as to which is the best bridle and bit to use. The answer is as for the saddle. Each horses head shape and mouth are unique and comfort/fit is more important than brand or fashion. Even if the saddle fits well we riders can cause problems when mounting. Martin Wilkinson Saddlers has also been involved in SMS testing (using the Pliance System) and warns its clients that the latest findings show that mounting from the ground is bad news for the horses back and the saddle some tests registered more than double the peak pressure recorded when jumping a 1.40m fence. To minimise the risk to our horses muscles try to use a mounting block, get a leg up or learn to vault on. Dont always mount/dismount on the nearside, alternate with the off side to even out wear and tear. One of the best ways to develop empathy with a horse in training and to become aware of the challenges to muscles is to train your self. In this way we can feel the role of warming up, stretching, work and cooling down in our training regime. Why not take up a physical activity such as gymnastics, martial arts, dancing.and see how far you can go? Mr Hamminger told me that the equine athletes needs are similar to the needs of human beings. There is much to be learnt from human athletes. Recently I spoke to an Olympic trained gymnast about his training regime.

Ultimate strength and poise in human form

I learnt that to work well training needs to become a habit. That is to say we do it regularly. He told me that he has found that the maximum time he can take off training without significant impact is 1 week. After 2 weeks he feels like he is starting from scratch. I learned that we must warm-up before stretching and working to avoid muscle strain. He told me that he drinks lots of water, doesnt smoke (the horsey equivalent would be access to fresh air) and eats quality fresh food, only consuming treats (like beer) in moderation. In order to reach full potential he said that training must start early. In Russia the gymnasts begin their training at 6 years old. I guess some of you will be Strictly Come Dancing fans? I do modern line dancing and I love it. I cant help noticing that despite the fact that were all doing the same thing we all look completely different. George Archer, our instructor, is truly through his back. He is what GH would call a back mover. In contrast the majority of the other dancers (irrespective of age) are leg movers. They look like the torso of their body is a fixed rigid box and the only parts that move are their arms and legs. This leads me to ask are we naturally back movers? Are horses naturally back movers? Is it a learned/trained activity? Do we all have the capacity to be back movers? I leave these questions for you to ponder. What if we dont do any of this? I asked classical dressage trainer, Lynne Varley. She said If you leave the horse as he accepts you from the moment he is backed he will continue to develop a way of coping with the interference that carrying the rider causes. It may take many forms not all of them acceptable to the average rider. Hence why so many riders have problems with their horses, the problems the horse experiences increases with the expectations of the rider. So if you lived in the plains of the USA and could ride for miles without having to turn quickly or stop for traffic or even keep the horse straight at the side of the road then schooling could be simplified down to the horse accepting tack and the rider and going forward on command. But if you lived in Germany where the weather in winter made riding impossible except in an indoor school where you may have ten or more riders working at once schooling becomes a necessity if you are to avoid an accident. The horse is not designed by nature to be ridden and even the horse with the most perfect conformation will not know how to carry the rider

correctly if he is not shown how. So if you left the horse to do his own thing you may manage depending on what you wanted to do, but the horse would not develop in a physical way and any difficulties he experiences with carrying the rider would continue unaddressed and lead to long term problems both physically and mentally. It is not just a lack of training that can cause problems. Practice makes permanentonly perfect practice makes perfect. Yvonne Sidorak told me that she sees horses with muscular problems who have been over-trained or who have been made to repeatedly execute training exercises incorrectly. She emphasised the importance of warming up and cooling down to avoid muscle injury. She told me Proper warm-up increases body temperature and smoothes muscles. This promotes flexibility and reduces the chance of injuries. In warm muscle the metabolism works faster so its much easier for the horse to get the power which he needs. A good warm-up not only has a positive influence on the force, but also on the speed, the agility and the endurance of the horse. Insufficient warmup causes poor blood circulation, elasticity decreases increasing the likelihood of injuries. We also need to remember that after exercise the muscles still need oxygen. Insufficient cool-down leads to a shortage of oxygen. The shortage creates damage in the muscle fibres. This oxygen shortage is called Anoxia. I asked: What factors affect the quality of a working horses musculature? They said: The key is how you work your horse. He needs to be in a round outline. Cross training can be used to help build different muscle groups. Its important that rider rides adequately and in balance and that they understand the importance of hindlimb impulsion. Sue Dyson Of the many factors that govern the development and efficiency of the horses musculature the engagement of his postural system is the most interesting for the rider to consider. Only when the horse is exerting effort in a state of lateral and longitudinal balance will the family of postural muscles engage thereby enabling him to work correctly on the bit. If the rider is able to achieve this state the horse will be able to use his locomotor muscles with optimum efficiency and the entire musculature will develop in a natural balance and harmony. A beautiful state to see! Andrew Day, Senior Lecturer at the Training the Teachers of Tomorrow Trust Avoid at all cost quick fixes and unproven ideas. Educating horses to advanced in a correct way without gadgets or short cuts is time consuming and difficult. Many people give up and look for an alternative. Sadly there isnt one and although you may be able to cobble things together for a while eventually the problems re-emerge and the training stops. Training correctly has been done for hundreds of years with time worn systems which work for all horses, the information is there if you want to find it. Arthur Kottas is a great rider and teacher and his book is a

must, combined with correct practical teaching. Lynne Varley Classical Dressage Trainer The key factors affecting the quality of a working horses musculature are on the one hand the horses feeding and on the other hand its exercise. Mr Johannes Hamminger, Stable manager, The Spanish Riding School at Vienna When it comes to training you can really prevent a lot of problems if you learn how to make a horse straight and help him find the right vertical balance. Monique de Rijk of Atletischerijkunst Ultimately there are only two factors affecting muscle injury: The strength and flexibility of the muscle, (affected by the quality of the training), and the stress that we place on that muscle. Lynne Varley told me It should be noted that all disciplines with the exception of ( correct*) dressage cause damage to a greater or lesser degree. Training in dressage or flat work aims to minimise the damage caused by building the horses musculature and enabling the horse to reach a state of lateral and longitudinal balance, only then can the horse relax in its work. The most destructive disciplines are Polo because of the rapid stops and turns and rider/horse weight ratio: Racing, because of the youth of the horse and the lack of correct training and unnaturally high grain content of their diets: Any jumping disciplines as the horse places incredible strain on the forelegs on the descent and enormous strain on the hocks on the take off coupled with the difficulty of keeping the horse relaxed through its back: Driving, as the horse has to pull which encourages the horse to use its shoulders and drag the hind legs and it is very difficult to straighten a horse when driving and of course straightness is an essential ingredient of correct muscle development. Hoof care It is impossible to train the horse and develop his musculature without good feet. The starting point for good feet is of course nutrition which we have already discussed above. Unbalanced feet will lead to compensation and ultimately muscular problems. Samsara shoe all their own horses because depending on work load shoes wear out at differing rates and they believe in shoeing when the horse is ready rather than when the farrier is able to come. One of my horses is retired and barefoot and I trim his feet myself. Im not advocating that all riders shoe or trim their own horses feet, just that a rider needs to know how to care for the feet and ensure her farrier is doing a good job. I searched the net for answers to the question how do I tell if my farrier is doing a good job. Top of the search list was Matt Taimuty of The most basic answer to the question comes in the form of another question. Is your horse sound, comfortable and happy with his work? If the answer is yes, then you can bet that your farrier is doing at least a fair job. The flip side of that answer is the lame horse. The problem here is that many farriers get blamed for lameness that has nothing to do with their work. Others get blamed for not fixing

something that isnt a farrier problem. He goes on to list a detailed set of inspections the owner can do to work out an answer for herself. In the UK my horses were shod by Jay Tovey (see With his help I managed to keep my part-bred arab gelding, Shantie, sound. This was no mean feat as Shantie has many conformational defects including a club foot, a foot prone to collapsed heels and shoulders of differing heights!

Shanties shod feet

I asked Jay for his thoughts on how the horses feet impact the musculature of the horse. He told me Incorrect foot balance has an impact on bones, joints, tendons, ligaments, nerves, blood vessels and of course the musculature of the horse. The subject is vast and difficult to summarise in a couple of paragraphs. Recognising the basics of static conformation to the more advance understanding of dynamic conformation and there after the subtle changes of foot balance comes with experience and is a good skill to learn with the assistance of a reputable farrier/hoof care specialist. They will help you recognise both good foot balance; immediately after shoeing or trimming and bad foot balance which may result from growth and general working of the horse or caused by a conformational defect or specific ailment. This enables the responsible horse owner to recognise when their horse is ready for re-shoeing or trimming, before the horse becomes unbalanced, rather than leaning towards the irresistible urge to eek out weeks between visits and feel confident in requesting that the feet are attended to before the next scheduled visit. As we know, one horse differs from another, one breed from another and the four feet on one solitary horse often all differ. It would therefore, be impossible to categorise, as few horses are perfectly straight and fit into the guidelines of basic foot balance, this is where the skill of the job lies, striving to obtain correct foot balance for each individual foot and horse. A further responsibility of the horse owner is to appreciate the complexity of the numerous different foot types and conformation defects a farrier is presented with daily. When trimming a horses foot you are trying to

achieve overall balance, within the whole horse as well as the feet. With feet that are chronically out of balance, this may take a considerable amount of time to achieve. Bearing in mind the growth rate of a hoof, and work undertaken on the bottom portion of the foot ultimately influencing the growth at the top of the foot, from the coronary band down, this could possibly take anywhere from nine to twelve months to correct. Most horses do not need special trimming or shoeing, just a good professional adhering to basic foot balance, ensuring a healthy strong balanced foot, which results in a well balanced horse. Individual foot balance is SO IMPORTANT and whether to shoe, or not, or use hoof boots is really secondary to good foot balance. The unshod foot is the ideal, but many horses need protection when working in unnatural environments that horse owners frequently present them with, such as concrete or deep abrasive sand. Performing unnatural movements such as dressage or even consequence of mans intervention of cross-breeding, taking horses away from their natural make-up. Sometimes these feet, although balanced correctly may need some protection to compensate for the demands of wear on the foot, which is quicker in these instances, than the natural growth rate of the foot. Below are some pictures of Boomerang. I've known Boomerang for 19 years and he was without shoes until he was 6/7 years old. He has a naturally occurring broken back hoof pastern axis (HPA). When his trainer and rider started to work him more intensely at dressage he started to go lame and trip. Once shod he then became sound as it was found he had been suffering from bruised soles but the occasional tripping still occurred. His HPA was corrected using a graduated frog support shoe, after which his tripping stopped. Boomerang moved away for a time, again became lame and started tripping and reluctant to move forward, due to being shod differently. When he returned, I corrected his HPA, which made him more balanced and was sound again. His heels finish far too far forward for him to generate enough heel growth himself, as they collapse under his weight.

In contrast below are pictures of endurance horses that have been without shoes and competing successfully for a number of years. They have no problems at all hacking over 20 miles on any terrain. If they become sore on particularly hard ground, or the feet become short due to a lot of work, then their owner manages this by using a horse boot for protection when needed. Basic foot balance at regular i ntervals and common sense is all that is required to keep these

horses sound.

Where I struggle as a farrier is understanding the ethos of barefoot trimming when their sole belief is to only bare foot trim, which I believe in some instances can result in problems and long term lameness issues. There are many horses that I only trim because I believe this is best for the horse and I take pride in not just knocking on a pair of shoes for financial gains. Ultimately it is the welfare of the horse and taking into consideration its individual requirements at that stage in the horses working life. As you can see its no coincidence that Jay is an official farrier for the 2012 London Olympics.

Once we have correct foot balance we must consider the surfaces we ask our horse to work on. If the horse becomes unsure of his feet he will cease to move freely forwards and tense muscles in an attempt to protect himself from slipping. I am sure that you will all have felt this yourself when walking on ice or descending a mountain trail of loose shale. Avoiding Injury Even with the best nutrition, training and foot care there will always be accidents. The trick is not to go looking for them. To do this we must assess risks and make a balanced choice. This involves understanding the effect of the things we cant control and taking action to mitigate future problems. Lets look at a few examples. If its cold and frosty outside the paddocks could be slippery early on. Maybe it would be better to delay turning out until later. Cold muscles are tense and therefore more subject to strain. This means that I will need to use rugs and warm up gently in trot if it is cold and ensure that the horse is truly warmed up before starting work in earnest. Prevention is always better than cure and prevention means understanding the potential causes of injury. Yvonne Sidorak told me that all accidents result in muscle trauma. If our horse has been cast in his box, had an accident in the trailer, pulled back and broken his head collar, taken a tumble in the field, got caught up in fencing etc we see the blood and the broken bones but we dont see the muscle damage. Understanding that there will have been damage and managing the horse accordingly can save a lot of problems later. To avoid injury we need to understand the vulnerable parts of the system ie the areas of weakness on a horse where muscles are most stressed. For jumpers this is what Stephen calls the arm-pits.

The Pectorals *Diagram reproduced courtesy of Pauli Groenberg from his ABC of the Horse Atlas

This is a vulnerable area for all horses as this is where the horse carries the majority of his (and our) weight, on his forehand. We have pectoral muscles too but unlike the horse they dont carry our weight. What can we do to help our horse? As we have already seen, correct training can help to transfer a little of the weight back. Massage of these muscles can also help and yet is often ignored as we focus on more obvious larger muscle groups in the shoulder and quarters. Another issue is ensuring that we work our horse within his capabilities. This means that if we have a particular discipline in mind we must seek a horse with that in mind. Alternatively if we already have a horse we must assess his capabilities dispassionately and either train him to his strengths or seek another horse for the purpose we have in mind. Louise Carson told me another cause of problems is Horses being ask to do a job that they arent conformationally or mentally capable of. Another interesting point Louise raised is that of muscle memory. She told me that left to its own devices, (a horse that has been laid off and lost muscle bulk due to injury), will use its muscles and its body in the way it was first trained as a result of muscle memory. This has major implications for the rehabilitation of a horse who has changed career eg the racehorse turned showjumper or eventer. It also re-emphasises the point already made about the importance of early training being correct. Even within capability we must develop our awareness and understanding of fatigue to avoid injury. As swimmer, Flavio Lapis, told me don't force a hard training if you are tired and try not to be tired for a competition or competitive activity.

I asked: What are the muscular problems you see most in working horses? They said: Sore neck, shoulder, back, gluteal, hamstring and abdominal muscles. They all occur but are not always recognised. Occur as a result of overuse, improper training, accidents, nutritional issues leading to tying up, not cooling down properly, hereditary muscle issues, badly fitting saddles and just general wear and tear on an animal that was not designed to perform in the ways we ask of them. Sue Devereux Muscular problems can vary significantly and not often discipline related. Louise Carson Blocked muscles. Mainly the armpits, shoulders, hamstrings and around the hips. The problems are remarkably consistent across all horses irrespective of the work they do. They just tend to be more severe in sport horses Stephen Goodridge We also need to be able to identify injury in the early stages. We can see lameness but we cant see pain. Just like us a horse can be carrying pain and not be lame. Equally a horse can appear lame and not be in pain, so-called mechanical lameness. My mother is a very good example of this. She has arthritis in her right knee. She is lame but she feels no pain (and is not taking pain killers.) I asked: What are the warning signs? They said: Mental stress or distress, way of going, paces William Micklem Change of temperament, increased irritability, loss of enthusiasm for work. Sore to touch, abnormal tension, heat, swelling, stiffness, change of posture, shortening of stride or reduced range of movement may occur before the horse is obviously lame. Sue Devereux Do not like to be brushed. Do not want to be saddled. Will not flex the neck. Do not have fun while training. Nodding in the knees. The front legs are not positioned right. Irregular steps. While transitioning to canter, dont want to deconstruct. Headshaking. Overturning head and neck. Do not want to collect. Having difficulty with length flexion. Crookedness. Resistance to straightening. While jumping lifting one leg higher than the other. Refusing in front of an obstacle (if it doesnt fit with the character of the horse). Teeth grinding. Tail swishing while driving. After a long time of riding, still functioning with problems. Underdevelopment of certain muscle groups. Yvonne Sidorak

A masseur friend of mine touched me in the pecs recently. I flinched. She said she had watched me emptying barrows on the muckheap and that she knew I would have minor strain there. Minor strain is not a problem. We just need to be aware of it. Training relies on us creating a minor

strain. We can treat minor soreness at home with ice, massage, hot and cold (water, infra-red) and nutrition. Finally we need to know who can advise us. The first port of call may not always be your vet! For more information see the appendix. Injuries can also be caused by the tack we use to train our horses. Comfy tack that fits horse and rider is the key not colour, quality of materials or brand! I asked: How can we avoid muscular injuries? They said: Get the right horse for the purpose you have in mind. Choose a horse with good conformation. Maintain a regular routine of work. Remember that regular movement is essential for muscle fitness. Do turn-out but ensure good ground and fencing Sue Dyson Respect your horse that is totally dependent on you for its well being. Learn to trust your gut instinct, and do not be afraid to question others. Do not always accept what you are told if it does not sit well with your conscience. Give your horse the benefit of the doubt until you can prove otherwise. Lavinia Mitchell Stable management: Most of what we have examined so far is physical. Muscle problems can be caused by mental, as well as physical, stress. F. M. Alexander, founder of the Alexander Technique, said that we translate everything whether physical or mental or spiritual into muscular tension. The physical element is obvious but how to avoid mental tension (stress) in our horses? Essentially, we need to respect his basic needs as a horse: friends of his own kind that he can touch, fresh air and water, freedom to move, roll and express himself and forage to chew. Touch is so important to horses. Yet many competition horses, especially stallions, are denied this need. Is it any wonder that locked up in solitary confinement 23 hours out of 24 our horse turns to a life of crime? The equine athlete needs rest and relaxation. Encourage your horse to lay down by giving him a good bed and helping him to feel safe. Massage with hands, water or a machine designed for the purpose can all be therapeutic. Mr Hamminger told me we make sure that our Lipizzaners have enough exercise (in the fresh air) and nutritional additives. In July, all of our stallions have a break of at least five weeks at Heldenberg, but also during the year each stallion is taken there to enjoy the advantages. During the time at Heldenberg the stallions are trained and enjoy paddock boxes, pastures and are ridden in the woods. I asked: How can we avoid muscle tension in our horses? They said:

Treat the horse as a horse....treat the horse as one the horse towards a quality way of going with impulsion and straightness....if necessary without a rider. William Micklem As we use Solarium and Magnetic Field Therapy we can avoid most of the muscular problems. The Magnetic Field Therapy can be used for different purposes: the activation of the organism, in order to encourage the metabolism of the musculature as well as for regeneration. Mr Johannes Hamminger, Stable manager, The Spanish Riding School at Vienna

Muscle care Caring for muscles is a process of doing the best we can with each of the elements above then monitoring (through observation and touch), diagnosing (where there is a problem) and developing a treatment plan or developing the next stage of the training programme, then putting the plan into action. Above all we need to be vigilant. We must know our horse and how he is normally so that we can spot quickly when he is a little off colour and change his regime accordingly. Samsara have taught me that by touching each of my horse's muscle groups I can detect problems early and take appropriate action. Getting the right help early can make a huge difference in the long run. Yvonne Sidorak is an equine masseur. She told me that it is important for trainers to understand what muscles are and how they work. She told me A muscle is a tissue structure of cells which has the property to tighten making movement possible. Skeletal muscle (attached to the body) provides motion in the skeleton by contraction and relaxation. Muscles are always connected by tendons to the skeleton because the tendons can absorb a much larger force than the muscles can. The tendons absorb the blows but the muscles provide the movement of the skeleton and are also the protector of the joints. Did you know that 60% of your horses mass is muscle? The muscles of a horse need to relax after contraction. The relaxation should be synchronized with the contraction. The contraction process always works, but the relaxation process can fail. When this happens the horse is limited in his freedom of movement. The relaxation process depends on the muscles being well supplied with energy. The power or energy supply is provided by adenosine triphosphate which is often abbreviated as ATP. ATP is formed by the cooperation and absorption of oxygen (from breathing) and sugar (glucose) from nutrition. If the energy supply to the muscles is not sufficient for the movement demanded the fibres become increasingly contracted. Working the muscles in this state can result in a blockage in the muscle caused by the adhesion of damaged muscle fibres. As a result oxygen and glucose cant find their way through the entire muscle and waste can not be properly expelled. The muscle loses its function as a protector and loses its flexibility. Muscle tensions are not confined to one area because the adjacent muscle group has to take over the function, so the stress is also distributed to the acquiring muscle group.

Each movement of the horse creates an enormous amount of tension at one point. A muscle contains about a quarter of a million fibres. A minor muscle injury might damage only about ten thousand of these fibres and because of this the problem can go unnoticed. The horse has enough power to function normally but when these muscles are further stressed tension, discomfort and pain will be the result. The sports massage that I use is the Jack Meagher therapy, also called stress point massage. Jack Meagher developed the concept of sports massage in the fifties. Jack developed this therapy after he had got injured and came in contact with a masseur who changed his life. Jack massaged thousands of people and horses. He always says: A problem in a particular muscle is always the same problem. This is the origin of his therapy. For many years he has been the mentor of the U.S. Equestrian Team, he also worked for the NFL Athletes. His therapy is characterized by the accuracy of the massage. Its hard to localize the specific point because the muscle one inch beside the specific point will probably be in an excellent condition. Each of these specific points when overstressed will produce a specific problem. The stress points will be found in the same places on every horse. The Jack Meagher approach goes far beyond any other massage therapy. The accurate therapy is locating and releasing the exact stress point which is in spasm. Of the influence create a direct relaxation of the muscle. The Meagher treatment involves - A Hyperaemia (increase of blood circulation / Direct Pressure) - Therapeutic motion to the spastic fibres to restore normal motion of shortening and lengthening. (Cross Fibre Friction) - Treatment of the entire muscle (Compressions) *Compressions: Pushing in to the muscle so that it will touch the bone.

Yvonne at work

Is there anything we can do at home to help our horse? Peter Gray MVB MRCVS, a UK vet specialising in chronic lameness and performance problems, says on his website that We need to understand that routine muscle care is vital for all athletic animals. In the past, this was achieved by daily strapping of all major muscle groups. It helped to disperse waste products of normal contraction as well as effusions from damaged areas. For those of us who treated muscular problems in the Sixties and Seventies, there seemed to be a lower incidence to contend with. Now, perhaps because we are not encouraged to strap, or to recognise problems in the muscular system, the incidence is far greater. This, too,

may reflect more intensive training regimes, the use of all-weather surfaces, the tendency to use steep gradients as a means of extra workloading. Ideally, strapping will take five to ten minutes per day on each limb. The quarters and shoulders are massaged, using a wisp or other suitable implement, like a pad. The movement can be an extension of normal grooming, as when using a brush firmly; or firmer, bringing pressure down on deeper areas by gentle pounding; or manual, using fingers and palms to encourage suppleness. Many won't have time to strap, this being the reason the exercise became obsolete in the first place. However, any effort to soften the heavier muscles of the shoulder and pelvic roof have to be an advantage to the horse and reduce the incidence of lameness coming from this source. Samsara have taught me a simple thing we can all do. After weve tacked up, (for riding, lunging or driving) and before we start work, we can stretch our horses shoulders. Many years ago I was taught to pull the horses forelegs forward from the knee to smooth the skin and hair beneath the girth. This is a development on this but instead we take the horses foreleg forwards supporting the hoof and fetlock. To ensure we dont strain our own muscles as we do this we must engage our core, rotate our pelvis and flex our knees as shown in the previous photographs. In Iberian equitation the horses are taught the Spanish walk. This is an expressive variant of the walk where the horse really extends his forelegs forward. Again this form of walk will be a good way of getting our horse to really work through and stretch the muscles in his shoulders.


Muscle Manag em ent Cycle

Diag nose


I asked: How do you know that a horse has good musculature? What things do you look at? They said:

The horse looks in proportion. He has a balanced physique. Depends on type a lean event horse will look different to a showjumper. Depends on discipline. Sue Dyson. Size and shape of muscle groups. Whole horse conformation. Cannot always tell by just looking. Sue Devereux Everything fits, balanced and natural....William Micklem Generally speaking, the Lipizzaners have a very athletic muscularity, a strongly built back and well trained joints. These physical conditions make it possible for our horses to easily perform the classical School jumps. In order to correct any weaknesses we recommend specific training, especially the work in hand. Mr Johannes Hamminger, Stable manager, The Spanish Riding School at Vienna I asked: How do you diagnose muscle problems in horses? They said: Palpation (feeling the muscles) and gently testing the range of motion , looking for symmetry on both sides of the horse, watching the horse work, blood tests for CK and AST, less commonly muscle biopsy. Taking an accurate history is important Sue Devereux By eye and touch Lynn Henry I asked: What treatments do you recommend for muscular problems? They said: It depends what the diagnosis is. It may include non-steroidal antiinflammatory medication, chiropractic, osteopathy, acupuncture, physiotherapy, rest, change of diet, controlled exercise, Sue Devereux First diagnose the root cause of the problem. Is the muscle painful because of a blockage in the skeleton or in the muscle? If it's in the muscle then early intervention is essential. Massage and rest can sometimes help for small initial problems. Otherwise for bigger problems our Samsara Massage oil can work. For problems that have not been recognised early our strong massage oil is the only solution we know. Massage can help, stretching can certainly help but if the muscle is not fixed and comes under load again it will fail. Stephen Goodridge It depends on how recent or longstanding the problem is. Acute-antiinflammatory treatments such as cold therapies & rest. Sub-acute to chronic: electrical stimulation & exercises to encourage the correct pattern of muscle firing, this can be from as basic as the horse standing still and being requested to shift its balance to more in depth pole work exercises in hand to specific lateral work exercises under saddle. Manual techniques to release muscle spasm, increase range of movement, reduce pain and return normal biomechanics. Muscle strengthening exercises.

Electrical stimulation to encourage chronic wasted muscle to start to receive an impulse and start firing. Electrical & manual therapies to dampen down the effect of over active/tight muscle. Stretching. Louise Carson I asked sports coach, FL, about how he deals with muscle injuries. He told me First of all ice! Second, lots of water and some extra protein. After 2 weeks some stretching. In the 3rd week back to the normal bodybuilding training (the stretch is very, very light). After a month increase the stretch, and after 5 weeks some balistic stretch to test in a "controlled" situation if the muscles are really healed. If the injury is really bad some anti inflammatory is taken on the first 2 weeks beside the ice. I try to focus my mind on now and the next steps only. These days we are always in a rush. We want everything and we want it now. But there are no quick fixes with living systems. The trick is not about being able to do something nowit is whether we are still able to do it 5 or 10 years hence. We are impressed by speed but at what sacrifice to sustainability? It is no coincidence that the SRS takes 7-8 years to train a horse and that those horses will still be performing well into their twenties. In conclusion Our horses musculature is our responsibility as horse owners. Not the trainers. Not the dressage judges. Not the vets. Not the physios. Not the farriers. Ours. I asked each of my correspondents what single thing a horse owner could do to prevent muscular problems in her horse. Sue Devereux said There is no single thing. Everything matters. Stable management, amount of turnout, feeding, worming, foot balance, shoeing, saddle fit, training regime, skill of rider and trainer, the surface it trains on, to mention but a few. Regular checks by a good chiropractor/osteopath, acupuncturist, massage therapist, physiotherapist are invaluable in the performance horse or indeed any horse. These practitioners will detect and treat problems before they become apparent to the owner in many cases ie prevent them from developing into more serious injuries limiting the performance of the horse. Some horses and some conditions respond better to one type of therapy compared to another. It is really important to know your horse and take action at the first sign of anything being wrong. It is also important to make sure the practitioner is properly qualified and to have confidence in them. Everyone involved in caring for the horse should work as a team I will leave the last word to Lavina Mitchell who pointed out that the key is education. We riders owe it to our horses to learn to recognise what a healthy horse looks like, feels like and behaves like..and to know what we can do to help him stay that way. I hope reading this article has inspired you to do just that. About the author: Kerry Turner is a management consultant, author, freelance journalist and dedicated lover of horses. In 2011 she met Stephen Goodridge of Samsara Equitation which engaged her interest in

researching this important topic. To find out more about Samsara see To find out more about Kerry and her book see and Kerry is planning to organise Horse Muscle Management seminars in France and the UK. To register an interest and to find out more send Kerry an email at About Stephen Goodridge: Stephen is in the process of planning his return to the UK from an intensive 3 year, 7 day-a-week, 12 hours-a-day training with one of the worlds top horsemen, Willy Sidorak. Willy cuts a controversial figure in the horse world with his uncompromising approach to sport horse development but no-one can question his knowledge of horses or the quality of the horses he produces both physically and mentally. Stephen is the first person to have completed the course and now wants to bring the message he learned with Willy back to the UK, that we who love horses must all unite for the good of the horse. Our horses are constantly talking to us and it is up to us to learn to understand their language.

The author would like to thank: Dr Sue Dyson MA VetMB DEO PhD FRCVS (; Sue Devereux BA BVSc MRCVS (; William Micklem FBHS (; Jo Bower MSc Eq S (; Yvonne Sidorak of; Monique de Rijk of Atletischerijkunst in the Netherlands; Peter Smith EDT; Mr. Johannes Hamminger (; Lynne Varley; Lavinia Mitchell (; Lesley Taylor (; Sue Norton; Louise Carson (; Glenn Hasker; Colleen Meyer (; Andrew Day (; Lynn Henry (; George Archer (; Jay Tovey DWCF (; Stewart Hastie MRCVS (; Peter Gray MVB MRCVS ( and, of course, Willy Sidorak and Stephen Goodridge, without whose inspiration this article would never have been written.

demands exc capability (companionship) fighting (m uscle tone) muscle inj uries (com panionship) play O (freedom) (q of surface) (m uscle injuries) hand massage oils/rubs/liniments q of m assage pain/inflamm ation O O water massage use of painkillers q f breeding q of conform ation (# movement) effective excretion Dirty stable O q of feet confidence in feet


(ad lib forage)

(# movement) fibre in diet (hy dration)

q of stable hy giene O (bedding) urination (hy dration) freshness of food q of paddock care

(ad lib forage) O (calm confident mind) O (chewing) eating at ground level q of dental care q of m outh conformation

q of food q of shoeing/trimming q of surface O (muscle injuries) amt of training stable design freedom (m uscle injuries) tim e in stable bolting feed meal size O O q of teeth q of digestion available carbs

# m ovement

(freshness of food) (freshness of food)

fat (q of food) (q of paddock care) m uscle fuel worm burden q of worming program me (Dirty stable) O q of air O (stable design) effective respiration (q of breathing) q of water hy dration (# movement) thirst (# movement) q of circulation (# m ovement) Cardio fitness (# movement) (m uscle injuries) (calm confident m ind) bedding (calm confident m ind) feeling safe ly ing down m uscle relaxation (com panionship) (pain/inflam mation) m uscle tone (q of massage) (q of digestion) (q of food) available protein muscle renewal (worm burden) (muscle relaxation) (q of movement) q of warm -up/cool down (# movement) ad lib forage (# movement) smell of food O taste of food chewing appeal of food appetite texture of food variety of food (waste disposal) clarity consistency of training/communication calm confident mind (stable design) com panionship q of breathing confronting fears (demands exc capability ) (freedom) (muscle relaxation) (q f breeding) (clarity consistency of training/comm unication) trust (effective excretion) waste disposal (urination) (# movement) q of lungs (compensating) (q of movem ent) core m uscle strength engagem ent of pelvis q of posture (q of riding/driving/lunging) (calm confident m ind) attention on rider q of riding/driving/lunging interesting work (calm confident mind) reaction/panic

q of movement

smell of food

texture of food q of dental care eating at ground level q of mouth conformation q of teeth meal size O q of digestion appetite q of food O <q f breeding> <muscle relaxation> available carbs q of paddock care confronting fears calm confident mind clarity consistency of training/communication trust O bolting feed O ad lib forage <# movement> freshness of food taste of food appeal of food variety of food chewing

q of worming programme respiratory infections <Dirty stable> effective respiration worm burden reaction/panic

q of air

muscle fuel q of water

available protein stable design fat demands exc capability freedom

<stable design>

q of breathing

hydration q of circulation thirst Cardio fitness q of lungs O O # movement muscle renewal q of movement amt of training O


core muscle strength engagement of pelvis <calm confident mind>

time in stable

waste disposal

play O fighting

q of posture

q of riding/driving/lunging

muscle tone q of warm-up/cool down

muscle injuries O q of surface

attention on rider compensating interesting work confidence in feet <Dirty stable> <q of food> q f breeding <# movement> <q of surface> q of shoeing/trimming hand massage lying down pain/inflammation O use of painkillers <# movement> fibre in diet <hydration> urination feeling safe water massage oils/rubs/liniments effective excretion O Dirty stable O q of feet O q of conformation q of massage <calm confident mind> q of stable hygiene muscle relaxation

<ad lib forage>


Every two years until 1960 the Ministry of Agriculture carried out a census of horses in the UK. In June 1922 there were 1,340,000 domesticated horses and ponies. Of which 805,000 were for agricultural purposes. In June 1953 there were 282,000 domesticated horses and ponies. Of which 180,000 were for agricultural purposes. In June 1960 there were 138,000 domesticated horses and ponies. Of which 46,000 were for agricultural purposes. In 2006 the ILPH carried out its own survey and assessed the current equine population of the UK as 1,350,000. I very much doubt that there are more than the 1960 contingent of 46,000 working farm horses. So that leaves at least 1,300,000 horses in the care of whom??????? A friend who wishes to remain anonymous told me: I was working with horses in Newmarket in the late fifties, at the low tide of the equine population and can remember the old men and women that were still possessors of horse knowledge that had been handed down to them by their ancestors for centuries. Certainly some of their methods were rough and ready, often bordering on the cruel and would never be tolerated today but their overall husbandry kept the equine population in a far better physical state than they appear to be today. The instances of poor management were very soon pointed out and severely criticised by a large body of knowledgeable onlookers not least by Horse Vets whose word was law. Nowadays Obesity, Laminitis, Colic, Chronic lameness, lack of condition and plain dangerous, bad manners are not just widespread but apparently endemic. The explosion in books, magazines, web sites, forums, demonstrations and experts showing the new batch of horse owners and trainers how to school horses is mind boggling. These new age experts offer the complete novice to horse ownership the delusion that with the purchase of a special head collar and long lead rope; the art of Join Up; the Myler Combination Bit and bridle; the Be Good knotted head collar; the Moody Mare calming paste; the patented Balancing Reins as used by international show jumper Fred Bloggs. With these they can overnight turn their unwilling, often dangerously cantankerous mount into a certain winner. The option of long term training with a strict routine of steady progressive steps along a well planned and monitored path never enters their heads. The fad for treating horses in the same way as the family pet dog is completely wrong. All a dog wants to do is please and get praise from its handler and good dog training emphasises this trait. A horse just wants to stay in his field and eat grass. Certainly there are horses that are more willing to work than others but they would all still prefer to stay in the field given the choice. Ask any professional that has to work on a daily basis with horses and ponies Farriers, Dentists, Physios, Vets and you will hear the same sad tales of owners making excuses for equines that are downright rude and a danger to themselves and others around them saying that they are boisterous, nervous or worst of all a bit of a character.

How do we know the difference between a naughty horse and one that is in pain?