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 Post subject: 6. How can stiffnesses in the front block activity behind?
PostPosted: Sun Feb 23, 2014 1:00 pm 
White Lady
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Location: Eriksbråten, Skotterud
To understand how stiff muscles in the neck, shoulder and withers may block the hindleg activity, we must first explore some important principles:

1. The stabmo principle: Back stability and hip/shoulder mobility are dependant on one another. You can't have one without the two others at the same time.

2. The lifting of the withers out of the shoulders.

3. The spine of the neck, and how it can stretch out or sink into the shoulders like in a turtle, and how this interacts with back movement and shoulder mobility.

4. How turnout (mobility) and torque (ability to stabilize) in the hip joint is essential for collection.

1. The stabmo principle

Dr Kelly Starrett has shown that this principle is true for humans. It is impossible to keep the torso and pelvis in a stable position if the hip joints and the shoulders are not flexible and in correct positions at the same time. It is also not possible to move the hip joints and shoulders correctly as long as the midsection (torso and pelvis) are not stabilized.

By stabilized, we mean that this part of the body must not wobble, but hold itself steady, with only a slight, elastic movement. In most people, the wobbling movement in the midsection is about 80% and the movement in the hips are 20% of the total movement of the body. We are constructed for the opposite ratios.

The reasons for this is that modern people sit too much. Our hip joints are placed in a sedentary, middle position, and we learn to neither open our hips enough, or close them enough. So, when we walk, we wobble in our waists instead. Regrettably, these blocked hips block the horse's back when we ride, making the horse's back wobble, and thus the horse's hips start moving less correctly.

In our work with students and our own horses for many years, we have found Dr Starretts principles to be true for horses as well. It is impossible for horses with stiff shoulders to stabilize their backs properly, and it is impossible for horses with unstable backs to move correctly through the hips. Thus: In order to collect the horse, we must first mobilize its shoulders.

2. The lifting of the withers out of the shoulders.

In a horse that has flexible shoulders and a swinging back, the horse will be able to lift its whole torso up, so that the withers lift out of the shoulders. We may observe that the horse becomes higher in the withers, and that his neck is set on at a higher point compared to the shoulder.

The reson why this is possible, is that the horse has no joints connecting the rib cage to the shoulder. There is no collar bone, only ligaments and muscles. We may imagine the rib cage hanging in a hammock of moveable structures. So when the horse starts to bend his hind legs, turn out in his hips and stabilize his back, the withers may be lifted up and out of the shoulders.

This is in fact the phenomenon that lets the horse relieve some weight from the forehand to the hind legs.

3. The spine of the neck, and how it can stretch out or sink into the shoulders like in a turtle, and how this interacts with back movement and shoulder mobility.

If you google and find a picture of the spine of the horse's neck, you will see that it curves. Almost like a swan, right? Inside the neck. So when you look at the live horse, it is impossible to see actually where the spine really is.

Now, this means that the horse is able to tuck its neck quite dramatically into its shoulders. We may see this in some cold blood breeds, that have quite short, thick necks. Also it is obvious in some horses that have been "collected" by pulling on the rein, while the rider wishes the poll to stay the highest point and the nose in front of the vertical. This ends up with a ewe neck, with the muscles on the underside of the neck bulging.

The horse is using its neck for balance. Even when collected, this is an important principle. So we must take care not to tuck the horse's neck in. We must stretch it out.

If the underside of the neck of the horse has this curve, it may indicate that the spine of the neck is stretched as it should. If it bulges the other way or is straight, the neck is not stretched as it should, and the horse cannot stretch over its back, no matter how much it bends its hind legs.

Horses that suffer from a too short neck, or ewe neck, must be helped to stretch its neck before we can ask it to carry over the back. More on this later.

4. How turnout (mobility) and torque (ability to stabilize) in the hip joint is essential for collection.

Just like ballet dancers strive for a correct turnout in the hips, we must do that as well. As riders, because we otherwise will not be able to stretch around the horse and reach far enough down and let our legs follow the horse's side with a sensitive contact, but rattle in the lower leg or pinch the horse with our knees.

The horse must also be able to obtain an outwards rotation in its hips, turning the stifles a little to the outside, the hocks in, and collecting the hind hooves at a more narrow footfall. This makes it possible for the horse to sustain a certain torque through the hip joints, stabilizing with all the variable structures in the area. The muscles and joints of the hindquarters interact in an extremely complex way, and I will not try to explain all the ways the muscles, joints, joint capsules, fascia, ligaments and nervous system is cooperating in different angles. And it will defeat the purpose and make the whole thing more confusing. Suffice it to say that if the horse is able to turn its stifles a little outwards and the hocks a bit inwards when bending all the joints in the hindquarters (hips, stifles, hocks, fetlocks), it may be able to lift the forehand in a more stable way through the hips.

This mobility in the hips are, as we have argued, not possible unless the back is stable, which is not possible unless the shoulders are mobile.

Now, we might fix all these things at the same time. Which a very good rider is perfectly able to do, at least on a horse that hasn't got yoo big problems. But for clarity's sake, we will try to take one pont at a time. And we need to be able to help the horse that has become too stiff or too uncoordinated.

And that will be in the next part.

See ya!

Paradox is a pointer telling you to look beyond it. If paradoxes bother you, that betrays your deep desire for absolutes. The relativist treats a paradox merely as interesting, perhaps amusing or even, dreadful thought, educational.

Frank Herbert.

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