Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Relaxing the jaw

I'm not going to presume to tell you how to do the exercises designed to get a horse to relax their jaw, you can't teach what you don't know, but I don't want to leave everyone hanging. So here are some helpful resources to get you started:

"Twisted Truths of Modern Dressage" (expensive but worth it)
"The New Method of Horsemanship" (free)
"The Education of Horse and Rider" ($7) 
"Equitation" (free)

There's a fine line between using flexions to get the horse to relax and accept the hand and using them to abuse and dominate the horse. I feel confident that those of you who regularly read this blog are not at risk of using these techniques to abuse your horses, but since it appears that so darned many people have fallen into the trap of misusing these flexions *cough ROLLKUR cough* I'm going to add a word of caution.

As an example, here are two methods of relaxing the jaw I pulled from Baucher's book.Can you see how these methods could become dangerous and abusive in the wrong hands? Gently moving the bit in the mouth to encourage chewing could so easily become sawing on the mouth and pulling to get the horse to "submit."

Crossing the reins under the jaw

Pulling the reins away from each other.

Froissard was so worried about people using this information incorrectly that in his book he prefaced the flexions with this:

"Since, aside from their suppling action, these exercises are a powerful means of domination, they also are rather dangerous and their practice requires great discernment. The trainer must be experienced enough to know which should be emphasized, which should be played down and which should not be employed. He must, moreover, be possessed of both innate and acquired equestrian tact, a somewhat rare commodity. Nothing is, we know, as dangerous as a little learning, but even an experienced trainer might fall into the trap of blithely and fragmentarily applying what may have been but a casual discovery on his part."

-Jean Froissard, "The Education of Horse and Rider"

When the trainer does not have innate and acquired equestrian tact and tries to employ the use of flexions bad things happen. Unfortunately you can't watch an international competition these days without seeing the evidence of that all over the place.

Poor use of flexion
Poor use of flexion
It's enough to make a person want to avoid the use of flexions at all cost in revolt of this abuse, but I'm not going to throw the baby out with the bathwater. If gentle, moderate use of flexions will help my horses become the best that they can be- then, by golly, I'm going to learn how to use them.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

When your horse's hide just isn't good enough...

Hidez has the answer!

Photo from Hidez

"The HIDEZ graduated compression animal suits are specifically engineered garments, using revolutionary technologies to construct the suits. Our scientifically engineered fabric is cut (into panels) in specific ways, then sewn together and strategically placed around the garment to focus in on certain muscle groups.

"The unique seams also play a role, acting as anchor points our seams they help us with muscle focus creating the right amounts of controlled graduated compression to the animals body.

"The term graduated compression means that we apply a greater amount of pressure at the extremities (the lowest point of the leg) and the pressure reduces off along the limbs and body. This technique HIDEZ uses force these vital blood supplies out of the lower limbs (where fluids tend to pool) back into circulation, back towards the heart.

"This process enhances blood flow and oxygen availability to animal’s muscles & speeds up the removal of waste products (e.g. lactic acids and carbon dioxide) for vital blood supplies. Good healthy blood supplies recover injuries faster, help prevent injuries by maintaining muscle temperature and it reduces muscle fatigue and by flushing out bad blood it reduces delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)."

Get ahead of this trend now, folks. Your horse will thank you.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Cession de machoire

As it comes out I was operating on a pretty fundamental misunderstanding of what a jaw flexion is in dressage terms. You see, I was told at one point in time that a jaw flexion was a slight rotation of the head to the left or right. In classical dressage, it appears, "jaw flexion" is just another way of saying "mouthing the bit."


My last post on jaw flexions brought up Philippe Karl, a person I decided I needed to do some research on. So I went to the library and got a copy of "Twisted Truths of Modern Dressage." WOW, what an interesting book. According to French classical dressage, horses that brace their necks (like Coriander) and have a hard time taking up contact (like Coriander) are often clamping their mouth shut. If you can get them to relax their jaws (by mouthing the bit), the poll, neck, shoulders, and back will follow in due course.

"Since the horse's mouth receives the action of the hand, it is the mouth that the rider must persuade and have yield from the outset. The horse displays its agreement to talk with the hand by softly mobilizing its tongue and lower jaw. When the horse "tastes" its bit in this way, this allows the rider to ask for variations in attitudes in the following order: lateral neck flexions, extension of the neck and poll flexion."

-Philippe Karl, "Twisted Truths of Modern Dressage"

Interested, I decided to dig a bit deeper and went to the source: Francois Baucher's "New Method of Horsemanship" (free for Kindle).

"The head and neck of the horse are at once the rudder and compass of the rider. By them he directs the animal; by them, also, he can judge the regularity and precision of his movements. The equilibrium of the whole body is perfect, its lightness complete, when the head and neck remain of themselves easy, pliable and graceful. On the contrary, there can be no elegance, no ease of the whole, when these two parts are stiff. Preceding the body of the horse in all its impulsions, they ought to give warning, and show  by their attitude the positions to be taken, and the movements to be executed. The rider has no power so long as they remain contracted and rebellious; he disposes of the animal at will, when once they are flexible and easily handled. If the head and neck do not first commence the changes of direction, if in circular movements they are not inclined in a curved line, in backing they do not bend back upon themselves, and if their lightness is not always in harmony with the different paces at which we wish to go, the horse will be free to execute these movements or not, since he will remain master of the employment of his own forces.

From the time I first noticed the powerful influence that the stiffness of the neck exercises on the whole mechanism of the horse, I attentively sought the means to remedy it. The resistances to the hand are always either sideways, upward or downward. I at first considered the neck alone as the source of these resistances, and exercised myself in suppling the animal by flexions, repeated in every direction. The result was immense; but, although the supplings of the neck rendered me perfectly master of the forces of the fore-parts of the horse, I still felt a slight resistance which I could not at first account for. At last I discovered that it proceeded from the jaw. The flexibility I had communicated to the neck even aided this stiffness of the muscles of the lower jaw, by permitting the horse in certain cases to escape the action of the bit. I then bethought me of the means of combating these resistances in this, their last stronghold; and, from that time, it is there I always commence my work of suppling.

The importance of these flexions of the jaw is easily understood. The result of them is to prepare the horse to yield instantly to the lightest pressure of the bit, and to supple directly the muscles that join the head to the neck. As the head ought to precede and determine the different attitudes of the neck, it is indispensable that the latter part is always in subjection to the other... That would be only partially the case with the flexibility of the neck alone, which would then make the head obey it, by drawing it along in its movements. You see, then, why at first I experienced resistances, in spite of the pliability of the neck, of which I could not imagine the cause. The followers of my method to whom I have not yet had an opportunity of making known the new means just explained, will learn with pleasure that this process not only brings the flexibility of the neck to a greater degree of perfection, but saves much time in finishing the suppling. The exercise of the jaw, while fashioning the mouth and head, brings along with it the flexion of the neck, and accelerates getting the horse in hand."

-Francois Baucher, "New Method of Horsemanship"


It appears that I've stumbled into the major discrepancy between classical dressage and modern, competition dressage. I imagine modern dressage looks at this method and exclaims, "They are riding the horse from front to back, heresy!"

But is it? Is it really? When modern dressage relies on contraptions like the crank noseband to keep the horse's mouth shut- by people who claim to ride "from back to front."

When horses are literally coating their chests in foam because their parotid glands are being squeezed empty from the hyperflexion of the neck- by people who claim to ride "from back to front."

Which method do you think the horse would choose?

Glenshee Equestrian Center has a post on jaw flexions too. Check it out.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Am I crazy?

Or is this horse lame?

Does anyone else see it?

I have a post on jaw flexions planned, just need to find the time to get all my quotes and pictures together...

Monday, March 12, 2012

Palate cleanser

Hey- you know what I haven't posted pictures of in a while? Healthy hooves!

These hooves belong to a 30+ year old shetland pony. Her hooves are not perfection but they are in much better shape than they were last August when I started trimming her. At that time she had so much heel and bar that she was walking on tiptoes, her coronet band was closer to the ground at her toes than at her heels!

As her hooves have become healthier so has her attitude. The first time I saw her she was surly and had to be dragged from place to place. Last weekend she was trotting next to her owner and striding out like a lion at the walk with long, fluid strides. It was a satisfying sight!

Right fore, still pretty contracted but getting better. The black line is my "cheat" mark for trimming the bars.

Left fore

Right hind, bonus shot of my camera strap

Left hind
As always, when I look at these pictures I see places where I could improve my trim. Hindsight is 20/20, especially when you've got pictures. Ah well, I'll just have to be content until I see her next month.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The magic of stretching

Have you ever looked at your horse and suddenly saw something you've never seen before that's been there the whole time? I had that moment over the winter, when the funkiness of Coriander's left shoulder suddenly appeared before my eyes. His left foot looks clubbed compared to his right and he nearly always stands with the left leg back, that's something I already knew- but I finally noticed that his left scapula and the muscles around it are much more prominent than on the right.

His typical stance, note the left leg back
A left leg forward miracle! Notice the funkiness in the shoulder up by the withers
See how the right shoulder looks different?
It made me wonder if it might be the muscles in his shoulder causing the club foot more than an issue with the actual bone (haven't gotten that foot x-rayed yet, that'll get done this spring). Maybe he's been in that habitual posture so long, possibly by copying his mother- Gwen does the same thing, that the muscles have knotted and shrunk until they pulled his left leg shorter than his right?

I felt that theory was worth testing, fortunately my Mom got me Jim Masterson's book of horse massage for Christmas so I had a place to start. I started out with the simplest exercises of dropping the knee down and back and pulling the leg forward and down to stretch the shoulder. Was I doing it quite right? I doubt it- yet after diligently doing the stretches every day for a week he started standing with his left leg straight down instead of angled back. Sometimes he even stood for minutes at a time with his left leg forward! Amazing.

It's much too soon to tell what the long-term benefits are going to be, I've only been doing these stretches for about two weeks, but so far it looks worthwhile. It certainly won't hurt him to do the stretches even if they don't smooth out his funky shoulder.

Here's another massage therapist to look at: This is April Battles, her technique is slightly different from the Masterson Method but I've been able to mix in a few of her stretches to my routine as well. Particularly the shoulder stretch forward and across.

Has anyone else incorporated stretching routines for their horses? Have you had any good results from it?