Recently, while scheduling a few clinics, I found myself explaining the absolute importance of a horse’s posture to their overall health, physical and mental. Unfortunately many horse owners and caregivers do not recognize poor posture in a horse—or have a reference point of good horse posture. Why?
I believe Thomas Paine explained why when he said, “A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right.” Now I don’t believe one of our most outspoken founding fathers was talking about a horse’s posture when he imparted that wisdom, but it sure fits, and might explain why posture is so overlooked, or misunderstood in horse care.
I happen to subscribe to the understanding that poor posture in a horse can be, and is one of the most powerful detriments to not only a horse’s health, but also its comfort, contentment, mobility and longevity ... That’s why I write the blog posts I do, and wrote my book “It’s for the Horses: An advocate’s musings about their needs, spirit, gifts and care,” and it’s why I began to offer clinics—to help folks realize, recognize and promote the importance of good horse posture.
No matter the discipline you play in, correct horse (and human) posture will lift everything to higher heights. Play, performance and health, physical and mental, will all not only benefit from proper posture, but will excel at more exciting levels of accomplishment and fun.
Everything from attitude, awareness, soundness, performance to organ function, digestion and all bodily functions can be, and are affected—positively or negatively by the state of a horse’s posture. Often reoccurring mystery lameness, or temperament swings, gut problems and a host of other nagging issues are directly related to poor posture and body carriage.
What causes poor posture? In most cases—We do. Much of what we do to and with our horses can cause subtle, or not-so-subtle deterioration of a horse’s posture. Many things can and will contribute either positively or negatively such as, hoof care, diet, housing, saddle fit, discipline we pursue, our own posture (or lack of), dental care and a host of other interactions. But in most cases it is we humans who effect equine posture.
How can we recognize correct posture? When we look at our horse standing relaxed on level ground we should see a picture of a relaxed neck, soft eyes and back, and legs
supporting all four corners straightly not on an angle ... In motion our horse should carry herself softly, not rush, crowd or stumble—those are not signs of “discipline” rather they are clear signs of poor posture, and a horse trying her best to both avoid pain and maintain balance.
How can we help our horses achieve proper posture and body carriage? “Proper hoof care” is paramount, and our Coffee Clutch and Facebook friends know I believe that starts with going barefoot—but even barefoot horses can have toes too long that make correct posture impossible—that simple fact can, and will, set up a cascade to impact the likelihood of achieving, maintaining, or preventing correct posture. “Housing,” horses must not live in stalls, they need to, and want to, move about at will. “Diet,” horses thrive on an all forage diet. “Dental care” like hoof care impacts, everything. “The things we do.” Many activities we pursue with our horses have goals, or perceived goals, that not only chip away at a horse’s ability to carry proper posture—but sadly too often Demand their posture be ruined for a certain look or performance.... We can help overcome some of that that with exercises that help create proper posture, and I highly recommend every horse caregiver learn them. They can easily be part of anyone’s management routine.
Exercises for your horse. Having had the honor and privilege of working for a number of years rehabilitating Tennessee Walking Horses with my mentor Diane Sept, a Senior Certified Connected Riding® Instructor, I learned from her, and the horses, many things. Among them the techniques of Peggy Cummings’Connected Riding and Groundwork® and Linda Tellington-Jones’ Tellington TTouch®. They are the foundation for everything in my clinic ... And can be the foundations for helping your horse gain or regain proper posture... I recommend Peggy's and Linda's books and clinics.
One of the most important easy to do exercises is the “Rock Back.” Many horses carry themselves on their forehand, which begins to create a host of problems. This little exercise will help a lot (but don’t stop there, learn more exercises). .... Standing in front of your horse, very gently touch her shoulder point and say, “Rock Back.” We are looking for only a shift in posture and weight off the forehand, not a step back. If she steps back, start over. Watch for the slightest move, at first it may just be her pectoral muscle moving. Stop asking as soon as you see the slightest movement or change. You may need two inches of rock back to get her correct and off her forehand, and you may need to get it an eighth of an inch at a time. (see photo) (Excerpt from, "It's for the Horses.")
|Kessy and I demonstrate the "Rock Back" - Her weight has clearly shifted to her hind end-she is relaxed, and soft|
Gitty Up, Dutch Henry
P.S. You can find my book “It’s for the Horses: An advocate’s musings about their needs, spirit, gifts and care,” at www.itsforthehorses.com
P.S.S. To ask about my clinics to help your horse achieve proper posture and body carriage email me firstname.lastname@example.org