13.06.01: Up and Back

Despite the heat and change in schedule, Nancy and I had a fantastic lesson.
I began the day early in the morning giving Storm a deep scrub. He was really dirty, and still shedding, both of which are not a good combination for a pair of clippers. Once he was scrubbed good, I scraped off the water, and we headed down to hang out and watch for a while as he dried in the sun and ate some grass. I put him in his stall under the fan while we took a break for lunch, and after we finished eating I headed back out armed with the clippers. I didn't have much time, and so I got started shaving him down to the skin. His hair was so thick that it made it look like it snowed on the barn floor. His feathers came off in big clumps almost six inches long! I was hustling, but had to take a break because the clippers got too hot. The fridge cooled them off pretty quickly though. As fast as I was working, I still only managed to get his legs done and half of his belly. So he had a full trace clip on one side, and just his legs on the other side. At least the lines were level...
I hustled to get him tacked up, and hosed his legs down one more time to help him stay a bit cooler than then headed down to the hot arena. Nancy and I used the tiny amount of shade that we had and stuck to it tightly. I began with our usual of working along the fence asking for engagement by tapping the hind leg, and adding resistance to the bit. He was really working hard and thinking about everything and had a number of really good steps, including several where he could take a couple steps in a row before he couldn't support himself. We moved to the shadier side of the arena (though it was dustier over there...) and worked a little longer with the hang walking, though my arm felt like it was about to fall off.
Kirsten demonstrated on Julius the key areas to watch for change to note if the horse is or isn't balanced and the level of strength there. The first place to watch is the tail head - is it moving side to side or up and down. Up and down is the biomechanically correct motion; side to side indicates that the horse is "peg legging" and tilting the hips left to right in order to allow the leg to swing underneath. The up and down motion indicates that the pelvis is rocking forward and backward, which is the correct motion. The second area to watch is the group of muscles inside the triangle formed by the point of the hip, the hip joint, and the stifle joint. This area stretches and "flubs" as Kirsten calls it as the muscle extends are released with the swing of the leg. The stretch and flub should be roughly equal. More stretch than flub shows that the pelvis is tilted and the leg is moving more behind the horse than reaching forward and underneath. These muscles should also be nicely rounded and filled out rather than concave. Just forward of the line where the hair changes direction up the flank are the horse's core muscles. This area should also be nicely filled out and should visibly contract as the horse walks. Across the bottom of the belly are the horse's ab muscles, which should also be active as the horse walks. Both of these muscle groups being inactive tells you that the back is dropped, and the belly isn't being utilized for the horse's forward movement. If the horse isn't wearing a saddle, then the muscles of the back can be observed. They should also be moving, and not tense. Lastly, the horse's neck has two groups of muscles, the lower neck should be loose and not bulging, and the muscles across the horse's topline should be stretched or engaged as the horse moves. All of these little pieces give you a clear picture of how the horse is moving. Horses working on better balance may be better in some areas than others, which is simply an indication of what should be worked on.
Kirsten suggested that I put Storm out on the 12' and walk a circle with him and observe to see what I might be able to notice as he moved. We incidentally started out moving to the left, which is his stronger side. Kirsten helped me to note that the muscles in the triangle of the hip area were concave instead of convex, however, he had a number of other good points about the quality of his muscles and movement in other areas of his body. The muscles behind his saddle were moving so much that they looked like a bowl of jello when they relaxed between stretches. His core and abs were beginning to really work, though his core could use a little more strength. His neck muscling looks good as he moves, though the quality of everything will improve as he strengthens the hind leg. She suggested I change direction to compare, and I was shocked at what I saw when I asked him to go to the right. The difference was dramatic. His right hind stays behind him to a point that he almost appeared to be dragging it or lame in some manner. The lack of muscling in the hip triangle area was even more pronounced than on the left, and everything was moving slightly less than it had when he was going to the left. She suggested that I work with him on the small circle, and simply ask his right hind to step up with each step, reminding it in the same fashion as the hand walking along the fence, that he needs to really step up and load the leg. It was an easy exercise, and one that gave me a really clear visual on the quality of his movement, and how tempo and speed changed that quality. She suggested that working him that way would be easier than working him in hand along the fence, and I could use the fence as a gauge to test how much he had improved as we worked. I was relieved to have an easier exercise that I could do quickly and for short periods of time without requiring anything more than a whip and his halter. It doesn't strain me, and so I can really work at it for a lot longer than the in hand work.
I finally climbed up, and was glad to find that his quality of movement from the previous lesson 2 weeks ago was still there. He was really able to shift his weigh up and back and focus on pushing more from his hind end. It felt really good, and while he did want to trot out of it due to being a little emotional about the freedom he was finding in his shoulders, it wasn't too challenging to ask him to bring himself back down to a walk and rebalance himself. I had the gut feeling that he was trotting as an escape of the movement, rather than building more push, and Kirsten confirmed my suspicion. We continued to work at a walk for the rest of our lesson, and I was thrilled with the results. He really put a lot of effort into trying to find his balance, and we were able to maintain it for several steps here and there, though he still had a tendency to tuck behind the bit.
We began by going to the right, so switching to the left was interesting. I felt his movement smooth out, and he felt more stable, and better able to maintain his balance for more steps at a time. The overall quality of his movement went up, and the effort it took on my part to maintain that quality went down. It was a great feeling knowing that we were striving for that on his right side for equality of movement.
Looking at photos later, Kirsten confirmed that at the moment it was the only way he could really release his shoulders and lift himself up and back onto his hindquarters. Interestingly we also noted in the photos that when he was balanced, the line of his clip was level, but when he was on the forehand, the line sloped downward in the direction of his weight. A subtle but interesting barometer.

Next Page: 13.06.20: Slowly Onward and Upward
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