Saturday, 18 April 2009

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.

1 comment:

Claire said...

oo er missus, you've been typing hard....

glad to see you back on the blogosphere!