Sunday, February 16, 2014

Training Tip: A Dressage Hack–Hill work

A different kind of horse on a hill - A Riding Habit

The other day I was out and about doing some warm up with Copper and I was delighted to find the most powerful, spring-y, suspended walk strides that I have ever felt from him. I mean, that boy was really sitting on his haunches and engaging his hind engine – he was so collected and elevated!

Thus, my secret hack for a sport we all know has no short cuts… Hill work.

How to do it:

I was warming up Copper, so I focused on allowing him to swing freely over his back. To do this, I sat in two-point and gave him his head so he could walk freely up the hill. At the top, I turned him around and sat as lightly as possible through my seat as he went downhill.

I did that until he felt sufficiently free-striding, then shortened my reins to take up contact. On the way back down, I rolled my hips with the swing of his barrel (sometimes this is described as a figure of eight motion, sometimes a ‘C’ shape, sometimes a side-to-side movement. I like to think of it like bicycling my hips in time to his swing.) and sat down into his movement.

At the same time, I kept my hands steady, and light, with an elastic, supple connection through my elbows. I literally was thinking “Lift up, lift up” asking him to lift through his shoulders. He responded by doing that and really sitting on his haunches. Man, it felt so good!

I was like *gasp!* “We can dressage!” and Copper was all *gasp!* “HARD!” and lost it… Haha. 

Still, it was one of those lovely moments when you know that you are doing something right because you felt that next level dancing tantalizingly just out of reach. I love it, because it gives me something to aim for. I know the movement and ability is there, I just have to unlock it.

I called this post ‘hack’ though for good reason, because honestly, I think it easily could have been months, maybe years before I felt that kind of movement from him in an arena. Having the benefit of the hill to encourage Copper to sit deeply and engage his hindquarter engine is invaluable.

Though we know there really aren’t any hacks to true collection, I think we both benefited from feeling that true elevation. Hill work is a great tool to have in the dressage training toolbox as it’s a long path, but so worth it.

See ya,


Thursday, February 13, 2014

Rehabilitating Tendon Lameness for a Paddock-Kept Horse

It’s been two and a half weeks since Copper came out of the paddock lame. He has been out in the paddock for all of that time because he wasn’t that visibly lame when he was walking, and also because the pens we have aren’t really suitable for keeping a lame horse in.

The pens are too big, so when the herd disappears out of sight, your patent spends their time pacing (or running) up and down the fence anxiously waiting for the herd to come back. Not ideal for a fast recovery!

So what to do when rehabbing a lame horse and you can’t pen or stable them?

Well essentially, I just let time and nature do it’s thing. I poultice Copper’s leg with Tuff Rock, a great clay mineral poultice that you slather on their leg and can either wrap or leave it as is.

Tuff Rock Poultice - A Riding Habit

I didn’t wrap because 24 hour paddock turnout and bandages really don’t mix well. You can do it, but it’s a pain.

So I pulled him out the other day, and wasn’t overly surprised to see that there was still some puffiness and tiny bit of heat in his tendon. I saddled him up anyway, he was walking fairly easily and I wanted to see how he felt.

He felt good walking out and warming up, but when I went into the arena he didn’t not like turning or bending much. I immediately hopped off to check his leg ‘coz I was all like “Oh no! I just made him worse!” but to my surprise the swelling had gone down and the leg had tightened up nicely. There was much more tendon definition, and the secondary swelling around and underneath the puffy area had all disappeared.

I assume that his leg had stocked up, and there was a bit of blood pooling around the area, but the exercise helped move that away.  I hopped back on, but ditched the arena and took an easy amble around the jump paddock for another ten minutes and then hopped off again.

Copper says Hai! - A Riding Habit

It was a short ride, but it served it’s purpose to get him moving and help me figure out where his leg is at. If I recall correctly I think it took Joey six weeks to fully recover from his tendon lameness when he pulled a muscle above his off-hind fetlock. I did pen him for a week or two because he was initially worse off than Copper, but the whole pacing thing did not assist with the recovery which is why I turned Joey out earlier than I would have liked too.

I think it’s probably easier to rehabilitate this kind of lameness in a stable or a smaller pen than what I have access too, but it can be done. It just takes time, a break, and then careful riding as you come back to avoid anything that could cause the injury to flare up again, such as concussion on hard ground/fast work/circles (which can put excess weight and strain on the injured site).

Of course, I’m not a professional vet, so if you’re ever in doubt, call your veterinarian! This is just my experience with low-level, grade one lameness.*

See ya,


*Grades of Lameness

Grade 1:

    The lameness is not recognizable at the walk, but is evident at the trot.  Usually, with a forelimb lameness, the horse's head drops down when the sound foot lands and raises up to its regular height when the affected side lands.  There may be an asymmetry in the gluteal rise with hind limb lameness.  There also may be an audible difference between the landing of the sound foot versus the lame foot (i.e. the horse lands with less weight on the lame foot).  Grade 1 lameness' are most typical in chronic, nonprogressive diseases.

Grade 2:

    The lameness is barely perceptible in the walk, and very apparent at the trot.   Head movements, although not often visible at the walk, become obvious at the trot, with some head and neck lifting as the lame foot hits the ground.  This is an attempt to reduce the weight bearing on the affected limb. 

Grade 3:

    The lameness is apparent at both the walk and trot.  Head and neck lifting are obvious with the forelimb lameness and with a hind limb lameness, head nodding is apparent when the opposite forelimb hits the ground.

Grade 4:

    With this degree of lameness, the horse will not place the foot completely flat during weight bearing.  They will be reluctant to jog.

Grade 5:

    This is a nonweight-bearing lameness.  This is often associated with fractures, subsolar abscesses, severe tendonitis, and septic arthritis. 

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