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  • Writer's pictureKristie Cotton

Importance of bend

I love helping horses find a comfortable way to carry themselves and their rider. I have been working with horses for quite some time and studying what can be considered “correct” vs. “incorrect.”

What I have found as a familiar “misconception” is the horse's understanding of bending.

When horses are inverted during most of their schooling, they find it very difficult to change that muscle memory to correct bending. The horse can become very upset when asked to bend, especially in the direction that has developed abnormal back muscle due to moving crooked..”inverted”

There’s confusion, upset and muscle protection upset ... how can we know the difference, or is it both? The horse's muscles are a very complex system that all work together as a circle of effect. Why would we try to simplify such a complex system by shortening the inside side rein, using draw reins, or bending the neck without any regard to the entire body of the horse? Demanding the horse to perform what we ask when they may not understand how to coordinate their body is not contributing to harmony and quiet dialogue. Just because we relay a certain “aid” that is supposed to work doesn’t mean the horse automatically understands.

“The ideal Dressage horse, which moves forward with minimum effort producing maximum efficiency of impulsion on a straight line, is developed through the means of frequent bending.” -Charles De Kunffy

Correct bending from poll to tail will engage the hindquarters,the inside hind will engage further under the body, creating a lighter forehand, lifting of the back as well as a slight rotation of the spine in the direction of bend. The horse becomes supple,strengthened and balanced,bringing emotional and physical confidence when carrying a rider.

If your horse is having issues with bending through the rib cage;

using the tactics of in hand training can help them understand the task, without the interference of a rider.

If it is not resolved under saddle, you need to incorporate your veterinarian, as well as a qualified saddle fitter, that is open to listening to the horse's opinion and response. Seek the knowledge of a trainer that believes biomechanics is more than just a word, it’s welfare to the horse.

While lameness and sore backs among ridden horses are common, they are probably largely avoidable (Denoix and Pailloux 1997). A horse appropriately conditioned and trained to carry riders correctly, is likely to avoid many of the injuries that may otherwise be sustained. This underlines the need for more education of owners in appropriate musculoskeletal and behavioral conditioning (McGreevy 2004) as well as equine biomechanics (Denoix and Pailloux 1997).


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