Saturday, 18 April 2009

Dr Gerd Heuschmann Clinic - Day 2 - Ridden


First of all Id like to say, these are MY notes, MY observations made form MY experience. By virtue of being there, the demo riders obviously want to learn and improve and help their horses and I was very grateful for these people to allow themselves to be scrutinised. I am not perfect, I don’t pretend to be – a lot of the faults I noted are faults of MY OWN! I hope my observations do not come over as criticism as it is not intended or inferred .

Each rider told us a bit about their horses, warmed up, showed 3 basic gaits whilst Gerd observed. Gerd then rode each horse to assess how he could help and then put the rider back on with some instruction.

1. Henry – 7yr old event horse, competes at pre-novice level. Problems with inconsistent contact, snatching at bit, keeping head and neck still.
Rider was very nervous!! As would I be!! Horse was quite green and to start was quite inattentive to the rider. The rider obviously felt under pressure and looked quite tense and was doing a bit of ‘nagging’ with the hands to try and encourage an outline.

He started with asking for a regular rhythm in walk, then he asked the horse to step over laterally with the hind leg, very giravolta style, as he activated the hind leg he then raised his inside hand to create some lateral flexion of the poll to the inside. As soon as the horse relaxed its jaw and began to chew the bit, he gave the rein for the horse to stretch into and walked forwards into the stretch. He kept repeating this pattern on each rein until the horse was using its hind leg properly, was relaxed in through the back and soft in the poll and mouth. He then did the same process in trot.
The horse’s contact improved dramatically and it was a very nice soft picture. Gerd takes a ‘half seat’ in the trot to try and free up the back – he says he realises it looks ‘gay’ but it works lol!!!

Gerd asks the rider to relax the seat and inside thighs as the ‘gripping’ is making the horse rush out of his natural rhythm. He then asks the rider to raise her hands only – NEVER PULL BACK! He gets her doing similar exercises as he did – Shoulder in on a circle to activate the hind legs, raise inside rein for lateral flexion, as soon as the jaw relaxes allow the horse to move straight and stretch into the rein. THINK ABOUT HIND LEGS! Don’t worry where the head is, Turn the rear wheel and it work the front wheel.

My observations – Rider needed to keep a better bend in the elbows as she kept straightening her arms, which then didn’t help the softness of the contact. Kept giving away the outside rein and had real problems in not using a backward rein esp. inside rein! I know she was finding it very frustrating – I felt her pain! I think she would have benefited from putting her stirrups up a hole as I think she was loosing her balance slightly in trot, particularly when asked to give the rein forwards………

There were definite improvements by the end of the lesson. Gerd was very insistent on NO BACKWARDS ACTION ON THE REIN – which was good. While it is hard to change ingrained habits, I was pleased that the rider could feel a difference (for the better) by the end and that Gerd took her right back to basics rather than papering cracks.

2. Puzzle – A 16.2 IDXWarmblood Gelding at elementary level. Problems with curling back to the hand and wants to improve self carriage / engagement.

A very harmonious pair who work nicely together. She clearly adored her horse and they just seemed to have a really nice genuine connection.

He did the same exercises – Lateral steps for 5-6 steps, inside flexion until the jaw relaxed and walked straight into a stretched rein. Gerd stressed, RHYTHM first, always, before you do anything else. The horse found it difficult to make the last bit of stretch from poll to nose – this was interesting as Antsje also finds this hard. Gerd encouraged his by raising his hands up and forwards each time the horse curled back BTV.

Shoulder in FROM THE SEAT! Activate the hind leg, turn the rear wheel. Mobilise the jaw, a relaxed jaw is another key that unlocks the back. A lathering mouth is a sign of a relaxed back. At least every 5 minutes let the horse stretch on a long rein. The muscles shouldn’t be allowed to get tense. Work the horse like a concertina – bring together and allow to stretch.
Gerd got the rider to slow the trot – calm the trot down, slow the rhythm, bring the horse into balance, activate the hind leg. Now allow the horse to stretch forwards into the bridle keeping the SAME SLOW RHYTHM. RHYTHM IS FIRST.
NEVER sit to a stiff back, the back must be free before you can take it. Overbending – correct by raising hands up and forwards. Work on a circle is important to activate the inside hind.

My Observations – The rider had a nice upper body position and was well balanced. The contact could have been more sustaining at times, and the straightening of the outside arm allowed the outside contact to be given away. My favourite pair!!

3. Cadbury – 10 yr old mare competing at Inter 1 level. Would like to improve engagement and self carriage.

Beautiful little mare! Very stiff on right rein. Quite a tense horse and everything is very rushed – rider hanging on for grim death lol! Trot is quite choppy and rhythm is irregular. Horse is very crooked esp for such a high level! Genuinely surprised! (Im na├»ve!)

Noseband and flash loosened. Same exercises – lateral steps / flexion / stretch. Mare picks it up VERY quickly and paces transform. Gerd works on slowing the Rhythm with the seat and at times using both hands raised if the horse is not ‘on the seat’ Trot work really improves as the rushing stops and the back starts to work and swing. Same is done in the canter and the mare is allowed to stretch down in the canter to help supple and release the back muscles. He also lets the mare have a little Pipe Opener down the long side to free her up some more. She struggles to maintain the canter on the right rein due to her crookedness.

Shoulder in from the seat – more value in lateral movements when carried out with a long neck. Give the contact with a friendly hand. ‘MIND TO THE GROUND’ Rider to relax, stay calm. Rider has a VERY defensive position – everything about her is backwards – rider needs to be FORWARDS, needs to be forwards with the horse, but the horse is to wait ‘on the seat’
You can see the tension in the riders forearms! It is a MOUTH not a piece of WOOD!
Relax your seat, sit like you are the most beautiful lady in the world! I take your swing, You take my swing – Find the Balance. WE HAVE TIME!!! Take your time, slow the movements, BREATHE!!!!
Sit as close to the withers as possible – rider is too close to back of saddle.

My Observations – this was interesting! Rider was very tense and stiff – the Mare responded by RUSHING! Rider got tenser and stiffer – Mare responded by RUSHING!!! Was very enlightening. You need to take that leap of faith and GIVE the reins. Holding a horse winds them up and destroys the paces. There WAS improvement in the end. Rider found it VERY hard not to hang on the reins. Independent rein use also seems alien – give inside, and the outside rein goes too! Reminder of the importance of a poised but relaxed posture – from a taught fraught perfectionist, how I sympathised with this lady!

4. PONY – didn’t catch name! A last minute squeeze in by Sven Kold who is treating the horse. Been investigated for possible kissing spines – unsoundness issues. Ridden by a very sensitive young teenage girl.

The warm up was done in a coffee break. Pony was ridden round the perimeter of school on a short contact with head ‘set’ for a good 10 mints no stretching.
Pony was took through its paces for Gerd – pony unlevel and rhythm was inconsistent esp at trot and canter.
Gerd said he would ride in walk – he gave the pony a pat and the poor thing just flinched! Wouldn’t let his ears be touched and was obviously so sore all over – in fact, he seemd to take advantage that someone was listening to him and looked proper pissed off.

Noseband loosened and flash removed. Rode the same exercises. On the right rein the pony could barely move when asked to step laterally, he nearly toppled over he was pivoting so heavily on his shoulder. Gerd, took him on the other rein, worked him a bit on this, then changed back onto right rein – there was a definite loosening up and the pony started to step over and stretch into the rein. After about 10 minutes the walk just transformed and became long and swinging, with a lengthened neck. Gerd then touched his ears and pony didn’t bother at all!! Obviously he had managed to release some of the tension in the poll area from the stretching.

Gerd was obviously quite bothered about the condition of the little pony and started off quite tough on the rider I thought. Not nasty or intimidating, but I think he really wanted to make a point about the contact. He was quite sharp whenever the rider used a backwards hand. But the rider was actually a nice light little rider, and soon she and the pony were going around looking a completely different picture.

My Observations – This lesson had me feeling quite emotional. The difference in the pony from start to finish was incredible. He came in looking sour, tight and sore and left looking softer mentally and physically. I feel SO ANGRY about the state of general instruction that such a young child can be riding in such a damaging way! She LOVED her pony and said she didn’t want to give up on him, and I bet she would be mortified if she thought she had contributed to his problems. I really really hope that both pony and rider get the right help.

5. Solo – Anglo Arab gelding – allrounder doing endurance, le trec, RC activites and working at elementary level.

Ridden in a Dr Cooks bitless bridle. Horse was very nice and sensitive and had a lovely natural suspension in trot. He is conformationaly challenged being long backed and a straight hind leg. In canter the leg stayed almost straight, the croup raised and almost bunnyhopped along!

First time riding in a bitless bridle!! Again – same exercises as before to activate hind leg and release the back. There was improvement made, esp in the canter – but still seemed not quite right on the left. The leg didn’t seem to come through quite right somehow and the croup was definitely higher to this side in canter than to the right.

Ran through the same exercises with the rider as before. Gerd was not sure about the canter to the left and Sven to take a look at the differences on both reins. In the end, the rider was advised to get a cautionary examination of the horse.

RE: Bitless – Gerd said that he found the horse very sensitive and responsive to the bitless bridle but one thing he DID miss was the ability to mobilise the horse’s jaw by using a bit. The bit mobilises the horses jaw and makes the horse chew and relaxes its poll. The first entrance into a relaxed poll is chewing.

6. Don Proviano – 6 yr old gelding competed at Nationals in 2008 and now working at elementary.

Lovely horse with very nice natural rhythm. The paces were not quite correct though as he had a short hindleg action which didn’t step through completely but hovered and snapped back to the ground with quite a thump.

Noseband and flash loosened. Same exercises. Find the rhythm / lateral steps / inside flexion / straight into stretch. Horse found it a bit alien to stretch at first!! He was also wanting to plough forwards rather than take a slower rhythm. Once he started to understand the concept, the stride became looser and longer – and what do you know! The hind leg action stopped the hovering and he began to step through properly resulting in a much quieter footfall.

Become more lazy in your seat, make your seat more relaxed, slow the rhythm by your lazy seat. Take the inside hind out of your seat, SI in position on a circle.
Aim for self carriage – the horse can carry his own head!! Give him a friendly contact – don’t HOLD with the reins. RAISE hands – NEVER a backward hand. Taking the hands backwards stiffens the back, a stiff back looses the hind legs. Turn the rear wheel, activate the hind leg and BRING the HORSE to the BIT! To round the horse, raise the inside hand. Form your horse out of a lazy seat – inside flexion for a chewing mouth for a relaxed poll.

My observations – A strong ‘proffesional’ rider who made a real improvement by the end. The difference in the hind leg stepping under once the contact had softened was wonderful! No more hovering, and the footfall was much lighter.

7. Welfonprinz – 17.2hh Gelding working at elementary level.

For saying such a big horse, the horse reacts the most to Gerd’s weight lol!! Same exercises!!

Canter is good for the trot in this horse – keep the energy from the canter into the trot. Carry your hands softly in front. Always organise your horse from behind to front. Downward stretch in canter is great for strengthening the back – 2 wheels turn to the maximum so back is stretched to the maximum.

8. Freddie Fox – 12yr old gelding eventing to intermediate level. Find it difficult to step through with his hinds.

Quite a long backed horse with a gangly conformation! Horse put through hi paces and handed over to Gerd!

Horse taken through the same exercises as before. As the horse began to stretch forwards and release the back, he suddenly didn’t look that gangly anymore! His neck took on a much nicer shape – possibly because he was using the muscles correctly? Gerd was having fun with this horse I think!!

Again, same kind of rider issues with overuse of inside hand. RAISE the hands – NEVER BACKWARDS with the hands. Once the horse has found its rhythm THEN you can start to influence the hind legs and ask for flexion – RHYTHM FIRST!
Rider seems more balanced in canter than trot – they get some very nice work in canter. Transitions between trot and canter in a stretch position is wonderful for strengthening the back.

9. Caribbean – or ‘bean’ cos she’s full of beans lol!!! Working towards PSG – wants to work on soft through the neck and more engagement. Same rider as Cadbury. Horse is half sister.

Horse is stiff on right rein – same as other horse! Rider is again very defensive in position, very strong contact and the mares response is to RUSH! Mare was also very spooky and ‘wound up tight’

Gerd tried to mount from the ground, but Mare was NOT happy about this and chucked in a few bucks knocking Gerd over and managing to escape!! After catching her up, Gerd mounted from a step and began to work her just the same as the rest. He let her stand and look at any ‘monsters’ she believed she could see, and within 10 minutes she had calmed right down and began to listen and respond to Gerd. Again, he kept slowing the rhythm THEN activating the hind leg, asking for flexion and then a stretch. Clever mare picked it up very quickly and her paces just came alive. She is a very nice horse when moving correctly.
Gerd was aksed – how would you hack this horse out? He replied – Id open the door!!! Hahahahaha!
Gerd said to the lady – This is NOT your horse! This is a completely new horse – it is a shire horse!!! Ride your horse like it is a calm horse and she will be calm. The rider tried very hard to relax, but it must be hard under these conditions! At times the mare was getting wound up bit Gerd managed to dissolve it before it became a problem. Take the Horse to the Bit – not the Bit to the Horse! The horse wants to GO! Give the feeling YOU want to go but the horse stays with your seat! DON’T react to what the horse reacts to – CALM DOWN – MIND TO THE GROUND. Your body gives the rhythm NOT the reins!!


Well, it seems the two most important concepts for me are missing in everyday training! One, teach the horse to move away from pressure! Two. Inside leg to Outside hand!!! Every rider overused the inside rein and gave away the outside rein – and most riders couldn’t use both reins independently. If they gave one, they had to give both! It’s a bugbear of mine as it took me a LONG time to understand this properly and yet its SO important! I also was amazed that horses at higher levels of training did not possess the building blocks of the training scale such as relaxation and rhythm!

The conference was a brilliant experience and I have learned a lot! And although Im sure the ‘stiff lady’ came under a bit of criticism, I have to say I learned the most from her! I am always just a step away from falling down this trap myself, trying too hard, being too stiff, having a horse that ‘runs’ from this feeling and instead of relaxing you get more stiff and start hanging! It isn’t pretty! So it was just fascinating to watch just how horses react with Gerd and with their rider.

It really all is about the seat and rider balance – we cannot HOPE to influence our horse, until we can influence ourself! To improve your horse, you MUST improve yourself!

It was a fascinating weekend, to be able to understand how correct riding positively influences a horse yet bad riding ends up breaking a horse down is very enlightening! At times I felt sad and angry how we damage our horses by our ignorance and how people pay good money for trainers to teach them all the wrong stuff! Yet, I came away inspired and with renewed enthusiasm and could not wait to get back to ride my horse!!

If you haven’t already, buy his book or DVD – he really is worth listening too.

Heuschmann Clinic - Day One - Dr. Sven Kold

Dr. KOLD – How to Approach the minimally lame / multi-limb lame horse

Dr Kolds lectures were designed or vets / therapists dealing with lameness issues on a regular and diagnosing level. Some of it was a little technical for me (DOH!) but it was still very interesting to listen to and he was obviously a very knowledgeable person within his field.

Questions to ask yourself:
Is he lame or cant he do it? OR Is he NOT lame and WONT do it?
Is he lame in so many limbs that lameness becomes invisible (bilateral symmetry)
Is he lame or just not living up to expectations
Is there a real problem – needs a diagnoses

Reasons horses do not perform:
Breathing difficulties
Sore feet
Core Lesions

When carrying out a diagnoses BE COMMITTED! Continue until completed. Investigations take time / money. Good facilities are need to investiage – a variety of different surfaces and different riders. Good professional riders acan mask / correct early symptoms by their riding.

Vets / Therapisits must possess knowledge of different equine sports – this is aquired by observing a large number of ‘normal’ horses and getting a base line or getting ‘your eye in’

Ability to recognise lack of athletiscm / suitable temperament / co-ordination / balance under a rider. Pick the best horse for the job. You will have more problems trying to make a dressage star from an unsuitable mount due to its body not being designed for the job. Be honest about YOUR capabilities as a rider and about whether you horse can physically DO what you are asking it too long term. Give your horse the best chance right from the start by being honest about the partnership.

Balance and power are AQUIRED and NOT available in a young horse.

Flexion tests should NOT be read as a stand alone test – only as part of the whole investigation. Often time, more information is gained by DOING the flexion than from the trot up. Flex lower joints FIRST then move higher. Also watch the horse inwalk – Stringhalt / shivering are easier tosee at the walk.

SYMPTOMS often reflect the OCCUPATION!

Racehorse ‘hanging’ Jumpers ‘hurdling’ Dressage ‘evasions’ etc

Look for changes in lathering / bit acceptance / audible changes in rhythm stride / teeth grinding / grunting / change in outline / rider inability to sit

Lack of lathering indicates a LOCKED BACK

The coffin joint is the most common reason of lameness in performance horses.

XRAYS are only static pictures of dynamic processes in the past. In otherwords, do not relyheavily on x-rays alone. They are only a small piece of information to solve the puzzle.

Can operate by removing fragments / Joint Lavage (washing / flossing joint) / Joint support (farriery) / Joint Rehab (correct training)

Data must be documented for reference points and measuring success and negative reponses.


Restricting effect of back pain.

I principle (!!!) dressage horses ‘shouldn’t’ have back pain as they SHOULD be working over the back in optimum balance!

In reality dressage esp at higher levels often fatigues the back and leads to injury through incorrect OR / AND overtraining.

Many horses believed to have a sore back have primary problems with Multi Limb Lameness. Lunge assessment first and look at the back from overhead and behind to check for asymmetries in muscle development.

T15 – T16 is a high statistical area of impinging spines
T12 – T16 is a high statistical area of Supraspinus Ligament tears

Kissing spines MAY be as a result of soft tissue damage in the spine area. In acute cases there is enlargement of the Supraspinus ligament – in chronic cases the ligament is atrophied.

We were shown some very interesting (and horrific) slides of back wear and tear including kissing spines, which is Dr. Kolds field of work. He also showed us some post op pictures of vertebrae that has been operated on to remove the ‘cap’ of vertebrae and hence release the pressure in the impinging spinal processes.

He also talked us through his rehab routine which he said was very traditional!! And made no apologies for it! He explained that it was a wasted of time operating on a horse if the owners then put it in the field and it either did nothing and got fat and stiff or honed about and did even more damage! So he advocated box rest and regular hand walking to start. He then advocated the use of the pessoa for the next satge of rehab which was for exercising and strengthening the back. He showed some video clips which caused a bit of discussion!! The clips did show a horse in a slightly overbent position – certainly more than what is optimum in MY opinion but I also didn’t think it was ROLKUR as some slightly hysterical comments were made lol!

I think Dr Kold felt a little uncomfortable showing the clips after Gerds lecture – but I am glad he did – and I was also glad that he might review the positioning in future and was also glad he was big enough to say that he is continually learning.
Dr Kold explained that not a lot of people knew how to lunge correctly and he is correct! I do have to say, my opinion that day was the pessoa at that setting, whilst not IDEAL, was better than a horse running around hollow backed on the end of a lunge line after a kissing spines op! But – like I say, just my own opinion.

I very much enjoyed both lectures although I feel Dr Heuschmann’s lecture was probably more suited to the audience in terms of content! I went away feeling stimulated but also a little sad that we seem to cause such a LOT of damage to our horses through ignorance and even worse through our desire to win at all costs.
I think its inevitable that SOME damage will be caused by riding our horses regardless of how conscientious we are, but I do think with good HORSEMANSHIP it is not detrimental to our horses longterm and they are able to function with a high level of life worth

Gerd Heushmann Clinic - Day one

Well, what can I say!! I had a BRILLIANT weekend – so very glad I went and I have come away inspired and with new enthusiasm which has been very much needed of late!

The first day was a lecture day with Dr. Gerd Heuschmann and Dr Sven Kold an equine orthopaedic specialist.

They did two lectures each but I think it will read better if I write up each persons lecture as a whole!

Gerd Heuschmann – Functional Anatomy.

During his time carrying out veterinary examinations of lame horses he came across horses that he just couldn’t find any real satisfactory reasons for its lameness. He began to ask to see the horses ridden and also RIDE them himself! What he began to find out in almost all cases is that the horses backs were blocked causing disruptions in the flow of normal muscles functions and this lead to the abnormality in gaits. He found that often, if he could get the horses to release the back, then the lameness would disappear!
Conclusion – faulty riding / faulty saddles / poor farriery were ultimately leading to lameness issues in horses.

Functional Anatmony – The horses anatomy determines its way of training. Or in otherwords you CANNOT work against the horses bio-mechanical way of working WITHOUT destroying it.
25-30% of training is physical – the rest is mental. Mental tension in a horse causes all kinds of tensions in the body.
Horsemanship is “FEELING” the horse. If the rider is relaxed, the HORSE is relaxed.

All of this only works if your SEAT is NEAR PERFECT!!!!! A lifetimes work is your SEAT!!!!

A horse is born to run and not carry. That is why a horse requires systematic training to be able to carry weight (a human) in a way that its body can cope with.
We must remember that training should always be progressive and RELATIVE to each particular horse that you are working with. There ARE rules of thumb, but a good HORSEPERSON is able to assess each horse individually and understand what that horse requires to help it carry a person.
Rules of thumb for early training:
3 year old = 3 sessions per week
4 year old = 4 sessions per week
5 year old = 5 sessions per week

2 days recovery in young horses to allow muscles to recuperate and not become sore. Sore muscles = tense muscles. Working tense muscles = damage!

How can a horse carry weight?? We must encourage the horse to develop a ‘BRIDGE CONSTRUCTION’ with its back so it will be strong enough to take the weight of a rider without damaging its own body.


1 Long Back Muscle – Longissimus Dorsi
The most misunderstood muscle!!! This muscle is unilateral in walk/trot and nearly bilateral in canter.
You cannot SIT to a tense back, if you struggle with sitting trot, then it is most likely that the back is tense. Normally contact issues are a result of a stiff back – so if your horse does not take a steady soft contact, then it is likely that the back is tense. With a relaxed back muscle, the whole body works freely and the neck can stretch and the hind legs can step under. With a relaxed back, the gaits will be pure and free. With tense muscles the system becomes disrupted and the gaits are affected. We can then see such faults as lateral walk, loss of rhythm and bridle lameness.


The walk is the weakest gait when it comes to the muscles system and therefore breaks first. A fault in the walk gait is a good indicator of a tense back.
Saddles that do not fit properly press on the spine and therefore block the back.

2. Topline System

The topline system is linked to haunches by the back muscle. The topline is connected from poll to tail. The raising of the forehand is RELATIVE to the strength of the BACK. The horse has to ‘grow up’ gradually – the raising of the forehand CANNOT be forced. It is a natural progression as the horse becomes stronger and advanced in its training. If you force it, you break it! Signs of a forced outline are a broken neckline at the horses weakest point between 2nd and 3rd vertebrae.
In the military, young horses / horses in training were known as ‘remounts’ and spent 2yrs in basic training which involved – XC, Jumping, Hacking – ALL to encourage the horse to think FORWARDS with a long neck. WHY? Because after 2 yrs of this kind of exercise they KNEW they would have the back!!! The best kind of exercise for the topline is stretching from poll to tail, so forward work in a nice stretched or novice outline is imperative for building the required strength in the back.

The neck position is RELATIVE to the SUPPLENESS of the BACK and the ability to FLEX the HAUNCHES

3. Back Fascia

The fascial system generally supports, stabilizes, and cushions. It also is responsible for movement. Muscle tissue is actually connective tissue strands with attached biochemicals that produce fiber shortening (muscle contraction). The back fascia is like a connective web over the horses back.
There are two wheels in a horse. The front wheel is the front legs / neck and rotates anticlockwise. The rear wheel is the haunches and rotates clockwise. The back fascia is able to stretch and contract like elastic as the body moves which helps supports the horses system. When the horses back is blocked this fascia becomes tense and looses the elastic nature. In a stiff back, you very often have stiff hamstrings and the hind legs can no longer step under properly.

The more TENSION in the BACK, the more you LOOSE the HIND LEG.

A word on HyperFlexion:

The ‘theory’ for hyperflexion is bio mechanically it works by STRETCHING the topline from poll to tail and raises the back. And in all fairness – this is EXACTLY what it does!! BUT!............................
What it also does is OVERSTRETCH the system. The neck is put in an extreme stretch and although this does raise the back, the fascia and muscles are then unable to work in their elastic motion of stretch / contract as the limbs move.
So if we imagine we place our hands together and put an elastic band over the two, if we clap our hands, the elastic band stretches and contracts as our hands move in and out. This is like the normal action of the topline muscle chains. If we then tighten the elastic band so it is at full stretch and THEN try and clap our hands – what happens? Well, for one we cant move our hands so easily or as far apart. And secondly, the elastic will start to split under the pressure.
So same for the horse! One, you will loose the free natural paces of the horse as the limb action is inhibited and you will also start to overstretch and damage the muscles and fascia.
The hyperflexion people say that it works by the use of a triangle system involving the shoulders / back / abdominals and the neck is purely for gymnastics!! But this only works when the horse is standing still. When the horse moves, the dynamic system can only work by the abdominals pulling the hind legs under, then in the moment of suspension there is no weight on the back. When the hind leg lands, the abs must relax, the rider sits on the back and the neck comes FORWARDS. So the neck is needed in the process of the horse moving!!

Finally hyperflexion is not only physically harmful for horses but mentally too. Physical and mental tension causes muscles tension, so we increase the problem tenfold!


We were shown a selection of photos showing the following examples of BACK and LEG movers to understand abnormalities in gaits.

In trot, the hind canon and front fore arm should be parallel. The energy created by the hindleg moves through a relaxed and supple back and comes THROUGH the body in EQUAL PROPORTIONS. This way of going = a BACK MOVER

Absoloute Elevation – too high a neck postion for the back to handle will result in a stiff back and a broken diagonal trot.

EXTREME examples = compressed neck / high quarters / hind legs trailing and unable to move!! = LEG MOVERS

A LEG MOVER should NEVER win a prize even if the test was technically perfect!!! PURITY OF THE PACES MUST TAKE PRECEDENCE!

Dear Rider, Only ride competition trot if you have stupid judges or stupid buyers! And even then, not too often or you will RUIN your horse!!

A word on passage:
Connection between pushing and forward power. The down and up is from sinking haunches and this gives the cadence and slow swinging movement.
In a leg mover, the cadence is coming from the moving leg HALTING / HOVERING in the air!! NO LOWERING of haunches and stiff back – no parallel diagonal.

In trot, some competition horses are MADE to use their hind legs even though their backs are too stiff, to give the impression of the horse stepping through correctly. How can we tell it is a LEG MOVER? The DIAGONALISATION is LOST!! Photo’s showed one foot on the ground in TROT!

Signs from gaits of inadequate suppleness of back:
Lateral Walk
Broken Diagonal
One foot on ground in trot
4 Beat canter
Tail showing negative tension

2nd part of Lecture:

Talked about the two moving circles again. The importance of the relaxed back connecting the front circle and rear circle.

There is a CONNECTION between a lathering mouth and a SOFT POLL.

If the neck is down and the hind leg is STEPPING UNDER, tehn the horse is NOT on the forehand.


The stifle is lost in absolute elevation and in hyperflexion. We were shown a computer generated animation of a horse going from normal position to absolute elevation back to normal and then to hyperflexion. It was left on a loop as Gerd talked and it was fascinating to watch how it altered the stifle in the two extremes of positioning. Now, I could see the trailing of hind legs in videos of rolkur etc, but though it was due to the horse not being able to go forwards, but biomechanicaly, it locks OUT the stifle in this position!! Fascinating!


3 major joints of the haunches – Hip joint / Stifle joint / Hock.

It is hard work for the extensor muscles to weight carry i.e flex haunches. A very good way to strengthen these muscles is to……………………….RIDE FORWARDS!!!! In other words, same as the ‘campaign school’ or ‘Remount phase’ get your horses out hacking, cross country up and down hills etc.

Another ‘key’ discovered was the watching the French / Portuguese method of ‘correction work’ which was carried by using lateral work in walk. Gerd went and experimented with this, and has had great success!! Something about turning the hind wheel, i.e activating the hind leg, starts something in the front wheel – the stretch into the bridle!!

The topline muscles are used to resist the hand – THE MORE YOU PULL – THE MORE YOU LOOSE THE HIND LEGS AND STIFFEN THE BACK!

There are two ways of flexing the poll – vertically and laterally. Lateral flexion (to the side) is VERY important to relax the muscle system. If you overbend and narrow the neck you are loading the poll and therefore you stiffen the back.
On the occipital bone which very basically speaking connects the poll to the vertebrae, there are two long processes called the ‘paracondylar processes of occipital bone’ which when the horse is overbent can lock against the Hyoid bone! Which in laymans terms mean – THE HORSE CANNOT FLEX LATERALLY WHEN OVERBENT!!!

The nose HAS to be just in front of the vertical!


When Gerd found there were no conclusive tests for lameness on a particular horse he asked the rider to present the horse under saddle. THE LAMENESS INCREASED!! So Gerd rode the horse, and it felt like riding a PLANK OF WOOD! The mouth was like metal and he couldn’t bend the horse and EVERY joint was stiff!

BRIDLE LAMENESS EXISTS!! Horses can be sound but UNSOUND with a rider. Some horses stay unsound WITHOUT a rider when enough damage is done.

Lunge in halter:
Lameness will change with change of rein – indicating stiffness / tension of back hindering use of hind leg

Counter flexion on a circle – again misuse of hind leg

Long duration of disunited canter

Under Rider:
Lameness increases!!!!
Extremer expression of natural crookedness
Lazy or ‘running’ horses
Loss of impulsion compared to lunge
Difficulties with contact
General stiffness
Resistance right up to rearing

Easy to confuse with classic lameness – systematic lameness exam should still be carried out to exclude other causes of lameness.