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  • Writer's pictureKristie Cotton

Helping or Hindering…

I recently attended a clinic that I was really looking forward to. I could not wait to learn what the clinician had to teach and how each horse and rider could be improved. My eagerness quickly turned to dismay when a participant could not get her horse to stand still so she could get on. The horse actually bashed her in the head trying to escape entering the Dressage arena.  This was an upper level Dressage horse which means he had a lot of experience in an arena. The rider was also a popular trainer, not attending a problem horse clinic, more an improve your Dressage tests clinic. Finally, the rider was on and then it took 3 or 4 people to lead the horse in. He was not scared, he was resisting…

At what point can we tell the difference between behavior issues or pain issues ?


Reactions are initiated by physical pain-refusal to go forward, refusal to enter the dressage arena. Muscular pain can be acute with no physical signs or obvious issues. Physical pain can also alter mental processing. The horse will attempt to protect himself with refusal to move forward, continuous spooking, and then most horses just perform as their natural defense mechanisms bring a stoic state of mind.  Humans in pain are easily annoyed and irritable. physical pain changes perceptions and reactions, also influencing your thinking, emotions and reactions as well.- Excerpts by Jean Luc Cornille

Horses will choose the path of least resistance, which also means that one of their main goals is comfort. Horses, just like humans will compensate proper body alignment to avoid pain.  Long term muscle compensation leads to improper muscle development, behavior issues, and lameness.


This saddle leaning left is due to improper back muscles, extra saddle padding fixes rider tilt, not tilting saddle or physique.

When I first re educate horses with abnormal muscle, movement, etc. It may appear as though I am creating more pain, resistance, and unwanted behavior. This does not last long.  Re creating abnormal muscle is like peeling layers of an onion. First may be signs of behavior with no lameness. This is due to re addressing coordination, muscle memory, and thought processing. Then as we look closer, there is abnormal kinematics of movement. Beginning to address the abnormal gait/ limb movement may reveal a slight lameness until root cause is recognized.


It is clear to see the abnormal kinematics with this horse. There is no diagonal movement of front and rear legs. The front left is barely leaving the ground as the right hind is stepping forward.

This re educating is a form of physical therapy. Anyone that has had to unlearn their protective muscling or improve overall body alignment understands. It is harder to correct and easier to continue in the way our body feels comfortable, ” protected ” although we are in pain.

It takes more than loving your horse, reading his second by second facial expressions,  desiring awards, and recognition.  Whatever the latest gimmick, is what everyone is willing to try. Take a step back and think about what you want from owning a horse. Create comfort not only in their habitat but also in their daily training. Seek knowledge of how their biomechanics properly function, not just their body language. Horses and riders should represent beauty. This comes from supple, straight, balanced, and light whether in an arena or relaxed on the trail.

“Thoughts dress differently as knowledge evolves” – Jean Luc Cornille


One of my favorite trainers-Pedro Torres

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