Refering to the results of Sharon May-Davis´s research – she found pathological changes in 100% of the dissected ridden horses’ elbow joints – I´d like to show the difference between a biomechanically functional body and one that’s more or less in the state of failure induced by a habit of working in an unadeqate posture, not directing the strength where it is needed to do the job without failure.
Introducing Load Bearing Syndrome
What I´ve been working at since Autumn 2011 is what we call, in German, ’Trageerschöpfung’. We can translate this into English as Load Bearing Syndrome.
I stumbled over this issue while reading ’Illusion Pferdeosteopathie’, written by Tanja Richter in 2010. Suddenly, I had a picture of what was going wrong in horse education and riding lessons, and why things did not work... So many symptoms all contributed to the same issue: the physical, psychic and emotional incompetence of a horse to carry a rider.
It became very clear to me that it was not enough to teach people what Load Bearing Syndrome is and what it is caused by. I had to discover instead what really enabled a horse to carry a rider instead of obediently enduring his presence on its back.
What are the signs and symptoms of Load Bearing Syndrome?
Any combination of the following:
- Stumbling, especially downhill
- Difficulty with fitting saddles
- Lameness, with nothing abnormal detected
- Advanced sternum
- Often swaybacked
- Awkward movements in unknown situations
- Pacing instead of walking
- Several diseases of the locomotor system
- Musculoskeletal disorders
- Clumsiness and lack of balance
- Defiance spookiness, hysteria, panic, shying...
- Phlegm, and many other less obvious symptoms ...
The greatest issue with Load Bearing Syndrome
A major problem is that horses are always responsive to the concept of locomotion that humans have in mind and will adapt to to the inner video of other horses as well as to the ones of humans – and to our imagination and strong intention.
As soon as the trainer or rider is assured about how things have to work, the horse will follow as far as its health allows. Most horses even accept dolorous training methods or knot their neck for impressive effect, because humans ask them to and because they believe it has to be like this.
I do not mean that the methods are forceful or curel, as it can be achieved just as easily with light aids and love.
The issue is that we are so used to seeing Load Bearing Syndrome that most people can no longer see what´s going wrong. Another problem is that nearly every training method, every style, offers the possibility to cause it.
That is why I´m so pleased to read Sharon May-Davis’s documented information concerning osteoarthritis of the humeroradial joint, which demonstrates an obvious pathological change in the elbow joints of 100% of the dissected ridden and driven horses.
As dissections are objective, we are not dealing with beliefs and dogmas about training. I am not referring to a ’master’ or a certain method. I just offer ’missing links’ to make things clearer.
We are able now to see a worldwide problem in horse training, and, throwing together our knowledge and insights, we might change something. In responding to this, we have to recognize the trap of habits and customs, and do our bit by improving our inner videos. For this, we need further information about biomechanis and fascia.
Where fascia comes in
Before looking at biomechanics, I´ll give a short summary of what fascia is and does – most of this information is published online by Dr. Robert Schleipp and Thomas Myers.
The common idea of fascia is that it’s the tissue that keeps the body together and that can be doctored in several ways and for several reasons. That´s correct but it is not my point.
Fascia can also be seen as an organ – the biggest one mammals have – with its own sense. I´d like to call it the fourth brain (the other three are mind, heart and guts, each with its own electromagnetic field).
If one removes everything else from a body – bones, muscles, and organs – instead of a big heap of single tendons, sinews and conjunctive tissue parts, a sort of suit will be left, with every part connected to the whole. The features of this tissue suit are very interesting and the knowledge may change our view of locomotion and physical exercise.
What does the fascia do?
The answer is that fascia does many things:
- It chains groups of muscles and joints
- It is flexible in all directions
- It strengthens by constant training, gaining flexibility at the same time
- It connects muscles with their antagonists (the partner muscles that work in the opposite direction)
- It is a resilient, kinetic-energy storing and releasing system
- It does a greater part of the work than muscles in elastic motion
- It is easy to train and able to renew itself in six to 24 months
- It likes to be trained in different way to muscles
- Its training impulses generate new connections
And in what ways is fascia an organ?
Good question! Here’s why:
- It is a body perception organ able to orientate itself in space (ie, it is proprioceptive) as well as in its environment.
- It likes pictures: Moving „lightfeetet like an elf/pixie“ or „noiseless like a ninja“ are well working pictures
- It is demanding – if some motion and input is missing, the result is sensomotoric amnesia, and the tissue reorganises itself in purposeless, felt-like cross connections.
- It blinds out steady motion and foreseeable stimuli. What does this mean? It ignores boring repetitions of stimuli
- „The healthy fascia body combines two important qualities: It is resilient, strong, and tough, on the other hand it has maximum elasticity. This allows easy flowing joint agility in every direction and many variations in a great number of angles – life long.“ (Quote from: terra rosa e-magazine 7/2011)
The connection with biomechanics
To make it short, I´ll explain how the horse should respond to the weight of the rider.
The foreleg (including shoulder blade and the trunk-lifting thoracic muscle and fascia-sling) has to act like a coil spring, rebounding the thorax during the first half of the stance phase. It helps to look at the thoracic muscle and fascia-sling as a very strong, weight-answering structure which gets stronger through work.
But only by the work it is made for: to throw back the weight in the very first moment of ground contact, which means backward-upwards, because the leg has not yet reached the vertical position. In this excentric movement, the joints of the forehand do all work in angles that “make them strong“.
The forehoof of a horse that acts in this way shows it in its form, as specified in the old books about hoof care: its angle is narrower than that of the hindhoof, purely because it works in another part of the stance phase.
If the horse does not work like this, it tries to pull the weight forward with the foreleg in the second half of the stance phase. At this point, all the joints, and not only the elbow, are at the most awkward angle. To a horse like this, a steeper hoof might be a relief, but this way of hoofcare masks the problem instead of solving it.
Back to the proper (excentric) working foreleg. It waits for the power of the proper working hindleg, which loads the fascia tissue during the first half of the stance phase (while the foreleg covers the distance to the ground). The fascia is able to store kinetic energy, which it does until it releases this energy in the second half of the stance phase in order to shove the weight forward.
This does not harm a strong forehand! The strong forehand is able to make the hindquarter work uphill, even if the way leads downhill. I´ve been told it is recommendable to switch off the sound of the following video. Let´s ignore the propaganda.
Additionally, this strengthens the hindquarters, letting them do the work they are constructed for, instead of folding them beneath a weak forehand in order to relieve it.
Where Load Bearing Syndrome comes in
My analysis is, that the change of the working phases within the stance phases of fore- and hind leg is caused by the wrong human idea of how to control the power of the hind (while the horses main problem is, how to carry the weight).
Usually, a horse is lunged until it accepts a rider on its back. That is not enough time for a horse to learn how to move reasonably under its own weight, never mind under the additional weight of a more (or less) balanced rider.
In considering Load Bearing Syndrome, I realized that all the different approaches to horse education teach the horse to neutralize the power in its hind in order to control it. Some do it with force, some with academic exercise sequences, while others ask the horse to control itself – all with the same result. The horses are not able to use their bodies with all parts working together and supporting each other.
So what is the solution?
Horses need a strong forehand as well as a strong hindquarter, and they have to learn how to let these parts work together in harmony and for maximum capacity. It is always the combination of the hinds shoving and the forehands lifting the horse has to work with. As soon as the forehand has to pull the weight and the hind tries to bear it, something is badly wrong.
What to do? If you really want my advice: Discharge sidereins, sharp bits, curbs, spurs and your old inner pictures. Try to understand biomechanics and the fascia as an organ. Try to feel it like a horse. Find new inner pictures and never think, you´ve finally got it. See to it that you and the horse have fun on your new way.
The picture on the left side shows roughly, how the forelimb should work, in order to protect the joints. You ask where the energy of the ground contact goes to? The fascia of the thoracic muscle - and fascia sling – stores and releases it, while the leg directs the weight off the ground – with little bending of the elbow joint, shoulder joint and fetlock joint.
On the next picture on the right you can see what happens if the forelimb tries to pull the weight forward: the angles of elbow joint and shoulder joint become narrower, that´s where these joints get arthritis from.
The last picture on the left shows the worst case. Maybe the horse has a sagging fetlock anyway, but this is also a common sight in dressage competitions and in academic riding, where the reins stop the locomotion on the deepest point of the fetlock, while the body moves forward.
„Fesselringbandsyndrom“ is the common consequence, an inflammation of the tendons around the fetlock, very common for dressage horses, because in strong trott the forefoot stays on the ground while all other feet are allready in the air. I´m sure you have seen pictures like this? I did not find the english expression anywhere.
Recognising this issue was the beginning of a long journey for me, studying biomechanics, collecting knowledge I never thought I would ever need, getting rid of my own ignorance, stepping on the feet of many riders, trying to understand the needs of the horses I was lunging (I was no longer riding). I presented workshops and lectures, as my growing knowledge led to the insight that we can no longer depend on the horse’s obedience and compliance. I´m still on my way ... maybe some of you will join me ...