This week I am going back to see a horse that has been getting rubbish scores at his dressage tests ever since his owner bought him.
The main reason for this is that he was so tight over his back that he could not engage his quarters correctly. After three sessions with me his owner was finally able to get his quarters working correctly and was beginning to get better scores in her tests. She was very happy – and so was her trainer. Unfortunately the next thing I hear from her is that her horse appears to be broken.
She sent me many text messages explaining his symptoms and asking for an emergency appointment. From what I could make out he had done too much too soon using his new engaged, outline.
It turned out that the trainer, on discovering that he could now work correctly, had asked him to work hard for 40 minutes! So, of course, this would have broken him.
When muscles have been out of use for a long time and become engaged correctly, it takes an equal (if not longer) time for them to build up the strength required to sustain a correct contact for an extended period.
This is not the first time I have seen this problem. It’s all too easy to think that, once I (or another therapist) have corrected an issue and the horse appears to be able to work in the new improved outline, then the horse can do this for a long time straight away. But it cannot. The muscles they are now using to work correctly have not worked properly for ages: they will have atrophied (shrivelled) and one overlong training session could be enough to damage them. So it’s going to take a lot of work to get these muscles working to their optimal performance again. The best way to progress is to take it easy. Five minutes engaged, then another five working long and low.
So tomorrow I will be going back see this horse to fix the issues – again! He WAS getting on top of his game prior to this latest ‘over-training’ injury. NOW his back is once again tight as a drum and his SI joints are stuck again from overuse. I can fix this but right now it feels like we’re playing a game of Snakes and Ladders.
Horses have big hind ends for a reason: the back end is for propulsion. They need to engage their quarters correctly to maintain biomechanical efficiency. The front of the horse is for steering. When the two work in harmony the horse is working properly, smoothly and comfortably. Part of my job is to get the two working in harmony.
I will write about remedial training programmes in more detail in my next book!