About 50 participants attended a seminar entitled “For the cause of the horse” with Gerd Heuschmann, which was organized last weekend by the Icelandic Agricultural School in Hvanneyri. The seminar was held in memory of the late riding master Reynir Adalsteinsson. It was remarkable that among the participants there was neither sports nor breeding judges, no leaders from the breeding or sports scene and no representatives of the tack industry.
Dr. Gerd Heuschmann and Einar Öder Magnússon, former trainer of the Icelandic national team of riders. Photo: Jens Einarsson.
Dr. Heuschmann is a veterinarian and former professional rider of the German FN. About 15 years ago he started his fight against bad training and riding in the warmbloods scene, especially in dressage. He is the editor of two books and a video, in both he communicates his criticism and ideas in a clear and plausible manner. Among other things, according to a Dutch study from a few years ago 70% of all warmblood sport horses are killed or taken from the sports field before they are eight years old. Gerd questions the responsibility of the judges who praise such costly riding with scores and prizes. He also questions the responsibility of veterinarians who usually remain silent about what is going on.
Old masters are ignored
In his view, the old classical masters are still valid. Their aim had been to build up “a healthy soul in a healthy body”. A hundred years ago a soldier’s life depended on his well-trained horse. There is no reason to skip chapters in horse training. Today, however, money calls the shots. Horses have to participate in sports long before their physical development and training conditions enable them.
Often at the behest of greedy horse owners, trainers and riders force the horse into a false position of the poll, which affects the horse’s health negatively. The forced position of the poll prevents the horse from using his neck as a nature balancing pole. As a consequence it has to brace its long back muscles in order to be able to carry the rider. Thus, any motion and elasticity in the back gets lost.
Freedom for the loins
According to Dr. Heuschmann the rider is not carried by the long muscles of the back. So they should be relaxed and loose. By getting tensed and stiff, the horse shortens the steps of his hindquarters, on expense of its joints. The most common cause for a career end in equine sports is a suspensory ligament damage.
Heuschmann is also of the opinion that a horse will be tense, when the saddle is placed too far back. There shouldn’t be any load in the lumbar region of the long back muscle, since the ‘engine’ of the horse is situated in the hindquarters. Beat faults are often caused by an incorrectly placed saddle, or a saddle that is too long for the particular horse.
Falsely trained horses are first worked without a saddle on the lunge in a circle – like horses after a long break. This is where old training errors will reoccur. Heuschmann demonstrated the video of a six-year-old mare that due to cluelessness of three vets about her lameness was bound for the slaughter. After the fifth time on the lunge the lameness had disappeared. The solution to the problem was simple: the horse had learned to lower its neck. As a result the back could start to swing. And lameness was history.
Examples for touching
In the practical part of the seminar Heuschmann would let the horses speak for themselves. The horses selected by the organizer showed a markable reaction, for better and worse each, according to where the saddle was placed. Horses that went braced and non-balanced in all gaits, showing problems with the contact on the bit, left a much better impression after the saddle was placed more in the front. In some cases, the rear part of the seat had been raised by a folded towel in a way, that it was lifted off from the lumbar region for about 5 to 10 centimeters.
Heuschmann also pointed out that the gullet should not be too tight, as it restricts the mobility of the shoulder. The discussion about length and design of saddles and the need of reviewing saddlefitting in general continued. Heuschmann stressed, that all too often the problem is to be found in the saddle. Remarkable words from a rider!
Leg-mover versus back-mover
Although the horse is blocked in the back by false riding, it is still able to lift the front legs and thus impress judges and spectators. These horses were called “leg-movers” (with strained back) by the old masters. The back-mover on the contrary (a happy horse with a swinging back) should be the goal of any good rider.
“Well-trained horses that get enough time to develop strength and balance under the rider, will live longer and feel better. Besides, it is so much nicer to ride such a horse. An amazing feeling. Even a European warmblood is comfortable to sit, given it is a back-mover. It will take a long time to change people’s perspective. Money and advertising have much power. I am willing to use my life to fight for the cause of the horses, “said Gerd Heuschmann.
Jens Einarsson (former chief editor of Hestablaðið)
Related: For the cause of the horse – part 2