Have you ever found yourself in the following situation(s)?
And of course you have been told how to "fix" it:
How has all of that worked for you?
To understand why a horse will or will not bend we first have to review the biomechanics a bit.
First of all – let go of this picture
The horse does not bend evenly throughout his/her spine on the circle – it is biomechanically not possible.
There is only very little bend possible in the thoracic area – between about T9 and T14 – conveniently located between your upper thighs. There are studies that show this clearly. A quite extensive one was done by Jean Marie Denoix in 1999. Except in the thoracic area there is really no bend, just rotation.
Lateral bending is always coupled with transversal rotation.
One rotation is correct, while the other one is incorrect.
What is transversal rotation you ask?
Look at a vertebrae
What is shown as 1 is called the Spinous process, 2 are the transverse processes.
Now let’s looks at the whole back
As you can see the spinous processes are varied in height - they are highest in the wither area, much shorter towards the pelvis and tail.
When a horse bends correctly the rotation happens throughout the spine in such a way that the spinous processes rotate inwards. In other words - imagine those processes like dragon spikes. When you bend your "dragon" to the left - those spikes should fall to the left, when you bend to the right, they turn to the right.
Here is a picture from Mr. Denoix that shows the ever increasing angle of rotation as we are getting closer to the front end of the horse.
If your horse is in correct rotation - your circle and your turns feels easy, perfect, flowing. If you horse is incorrectly rotated you feel like you are sitting to the outside or higher with your inside hip, lower on the outside etc. No it is not your saddle, nor will changing your stirrup length (on one side) help - the only fix it to ride correctly.
The good, the bad ,and the ugly
The good: I have a fix for you
The bad: It will take time and patience
The ugly: If you don't fix it you risk permanent damage to your horse - kissing spine is often a result of incorrect rotation
So how do we fix it?
First of all determine if you have trouble one way or the other. Most horses have a preferential rotation one way and they will choose to rotate that way no matter which direction they go.
Have you have determined the side they do not wish to rotate towards? If it is the right side, go on a circle to the left, the easy one.
Gradually change the bend and flexion in your horse from the inside to the outside, while still on the left circle. Take your time, be careful to not have too strong a contact, keep the poll open (a whole other blog will come soon on this) and feel with your seat.
Did your horse gradually shift you from sitting on the left side to feeling much more centered possibly even slightly to the right? Great - as soon as you feel that - go on a circle to the right.
It will feel great for the first few steps and then whoops you are sitting on the outside again. No problem - go back to the left circle and start all over - take your time, please.
As soon as you feel it - go to the right again. It is possible that your horse holds it for a few steps but then he/she will likely return to preferred rotation, which in our case is left.
Just keep at it. Your horse has the preconceived notion that it can only rotate to the left and it is your job to show through gentle movement therapy that a different way of moving is possible. If you try to do this with force your horse will brace immediately against it and all is for naught.
Allowing your horse to explore a different way to move and coordinate its body takes time and patience.
Enjoy the journey :-)