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Behavior or Biomechanics?

Some horses are labeled or

categorized as having a higher “ fight or flight” reaction. In all of the flight responses, the legs lose their smooth rhythm and become rigid and prance. This feels unsettling and dangerous to the rider. Are we creating a stressful world for our horses to be in?

“ There is a big price that is often paid for this and it is called conflict behavior. Conflict behavior includes flight response behaviors (i.e. fast ones) such as shying, bolting, bucking, rearing and leaping. It also accompanies associated health and welfare issues that include worsening colic attacks, immune suppression, hormonal changes and poor and ‘stringy’ body condition. Conflict behavior arises from the stress that occurs due to losses, from the horse’s viewpoint, of predictability and controllability of its behavioral world. The horse is trying to run away from the stressful situation.” -Andrew Mclean

The horse's mind does take over, alertness is raised and the mind is tuned out.“learned helplessness” is described as a horse that is forced into a state where it becomes completely stressed and has to surrender its will. Feeling totally helpless, the horse may begin to behave in an unpredictable manner. It is almost impossible to bring a horse back from this high stress and adrenaline moment. “ Choosing to “desensitize” the horse with random objects can create even more anxiety

Overstimulate the system in order to cause it to shut down and no longer over-react in their environment. But does that actually cure the problem or simply distract us from the real issue? -Erika Franz

I have been training horses on the Mountain trails for most of my life, I use Principles of Dressage that allow the horse to feel focused on the rider, if the horse feels comfortable and balanced, then trust and harmony is developed. There are no desensitization methods that can prepare the horse for large herds of Elk, Jumping out of nowhere deer, or territorial Moose or Bear. This mind, body trust needs to be developed by addressing each horses response to discomfort, whether mentally or physically. This will never be the same approach for all horses, except for finding the root cause of behavior issues. By conforming the horse's natural instincts to how We demand them to behave won’t work. Successful Training occurs by putting ourselves in an understanding, patient way of creating a relaxed and trustworthy experience for the horse. Many riders continue to use restraint systems and devices that don’t allow the horse to find a way out. Or, techniques such as the “yank and crank” method—holding the reins tight while spurring hard into the sides—can be conflicting and confusing. “The horse can’t behave in a way that causes the pain to cease,” - Hayley Randle, PhD, of Charles Stuart University’s School of Animal and Veterinary Science, in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, Australia

Why are we riding our horses this way? Dressage training is a major misconception for horses. Head and neck placement becomes a major focus without thought for the entire body, mainly the spine.

The biomechanics of the vertebral column, although very complex, are of vital importance because they form the basis of all body movement”. (Leo Jeffcott, Natural rigidity of the horse’s back bone, 1980).

All trainers and riders should have an understanding of the horse’s back muscles as well as mental processing.

“The biomechanics of the vertebral column forms the basis of all body movements and when the thoracolumbar spine is not functioning in proper line, there are inevitably repercussions on the kinematics of the hind and front limbs.” - Jean Luc Cornille

An awareness of the horse's behavior was critical for proper training, as noted in this Author’s book published in 1922 “ Equitation “

Have we failed to continue and preserve this importance?

“Breaking in, for the young horse, involves acquaintance with the trainer, so that it will come to him and follow him without fear or anxiety, accept the bridle without reluctance, stand quietly for mounting and dismounting, walk, trot, and gallop under the rider's weight without nervous tension, turn to either side by the rein, stop and stand still. That these movements should all be done perfectly, is not, however, so important as that the horse should be docile and quiet.” -Henry Lucien de Bussigny


This mind - body connection makes it tough to keep the energetic, anxious horse focused. Focus results in a safe, trusting, experience for both Horse and Rider.

Tellington Training and the bodywork “TTouch, affect the animal’s nervous system and engage the brain in a particular way, the fight/flight response can be overcome and animals THINK instead of REACT”

“Sore backs are a very common and often overlooked problem in the performance horse. The soreness may be caused by a primary back problem or it may be secondary to an underlying lameness issue, faulty or ill-fitting tack or even inadequate schooling. It must be emphasized that the most common presenting complaint in horses with a back problem is poor performance rather than overt signs of pain in the region.” Excerpt The horse Magazine

“It’s not hard to understand why back pain or anything that interferes with a horse’s back will interfere with its movement, any contraction in the (back) muscles causes ventral (toward the abdomen) flexion of the spine, which makes it impossible for the horse to engage its hind end and meet its athletic potential.” - Tracy Turner, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVS,

Addressing back muscle imbalance is an important part of ” listening to your horse ” Massage and chiropractic will only have positive results if the horse physique is being re educated in motion. Equine surgeon Bruce Bladon points out that a colleague in Sweden who has operated on a lot of kissing spines cases has more recently had excellent results — without surgery — with horses sent to a rider experienced in equine rehabilitation and re-schooling. -From Horse and Hound UK

A clear understanding of the horse's physiology should be every trainer and rider’s priority in every discipline.

*Thoracolumbar pain Poor performance, lack of suppleness, resentment of prolonged exercise *Sacroiliac Joint Disease Unwillingness to perform certain movements, loss of impulsion, stiffness, worse under saddle than on the lunge. Musculoskeletal pathologies are a common problem in equine athletes. Lame horses reduce the load-bearing responsibilities of the painful limb by adapting the movement pattern with the goal of transferring vertical force from the lame limb to the compensating limbs -

Hilary M. Clayton

Thorough Medical exams in horses expliciting poor behavior should be priority. Focusing on what the problem seems to be will overshadow the root cause. Labeling horses as dumb or sluggish and thinking the best approach is spurs and harsher methods is going to create bigger problems. Horses do need to learn respect and obedience but always rule out what may be causing the behavior before preparing a training regime. Horses are fragile, and sensitive beings tolerant of our determination to domineer over their mental and physical nature. Experience is nothing without knowledge.

Before and after:

This horse could not gain weight no matter what and how much was fed to him. His anxieties of being ridden made him unpredictable to ride safely. After a thorough Medical exam, His back muscle abnormality was addressed and He began to feel confident and comfortable in His world. This is creates an unexplainable bond between horse and rider.

“The first aim of academic equitation is to restore to the mounted horse the gracefulness of attitudes and movement which he possessed when he was free, but which becomes marred by the weight and interference of the rider.” -Decarpentry

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