The second day of the seminar, entitled “Í Þagu hestsins” (“For the cause of the horse”), was dedicated to the riding itself. (See also: Part 1) Gerd Heuschmann lectured a special course about the rein lameness, a relatively new idea in veterinary medicine for non-pathologic, but still obviously lame horse. He set the context between false riding, blocking the long back muscle, and lameness of the limbs as a logical consequence of the wrong functioning within the muscle chains (hindquarter, forehand) and showed in short videos his way of bending and forward riding to get horses out of the vicious circle of lameness.
The differences between the two types, back-mover and leg-mover, had not much space in the context, and the discussion based on photos from the Icelandic horse scene was unproductive, due to lack of suitable material.
Nose on the chest, stiff back, running legs: the leg-mover. Source: Gerd Heuschmann.
However, they suited to demonstrate, how a blocked back muscle induces the horse’s chest to fall down and – typical for leg-movers – triggers a reflex of the anterior muscle group. As a result, the forehand lifts higher than it would be physiologically appropriate, a wide-spread phenomenon in all equestrian disciplines. “If your horse is well trained and in balance, you can ride it like this in a tournament. You will not spoil it, as long as you don’t ride like this every day.” Helplessness against judge’s scores and the basis of their judgement, the non-horse-friendly regulations in both FEI and FEIF, was obvious.
Loose back, active hindquarter: the back-mover. Source: Gerd Heuschmann
In the riding arena of Mid-Fossum seven horses were presented, from the age of five onwards to ten years, with varying degrees of training, use, and history.
A unique, simple experiment turned out to be essence of this theory-loaded weekend: Heuschmann asked to replace the saddles and push them just a few centimeters further forward – to a place where according to the opinion of most Icelandic horse riders it should not be, as it restricts the horse’s shoulder. Still many horsemen place the saddle on the loins in order to achieve more hindleg action.
The particular horse was ridden for some minutes with this saddling, then Heuschmann would ask to put the saddle back into the old position.
Short back? A towel might help to relieve the loins. Photo: Dagmar Trodler
The differences in the movement of all horses were impressive, without exception. Everybody could see, how a blocked back muscle stiffens a horse and prevents throughness. Mette Manseth, the first rider on a young mare, stated to have noticed the returning of a negative stiffness immediately, after the saddle had been placed into the old position. Some horses started to snort with the new saddling, all of them found their balance much easier, showed a better rhythm in the different gaits and less problems with the contact on the bit.
Where a horse’s back was too short to shift the saddle, Heuschmann recommended a Woilach http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woilach. As it was not available, he took two folded towels to relieve the rear edge of the saddle. The effect was amazing: the movements of the short-backed gelding in tölt and trot appeared easier and less tensed up.
“If you take away the pressure from the loin, problems will disappear.” stressed Heuschmann and explained again the interaction of both muscle chains on hindquarters and forehand / neck area, which are affected by the rider’s softly driving legs on the abdominal muscle.
Saddle-fitting was discussed constructively. Einar Öder Magnússon, former trainer of the national rider’s team, was desolate about that most saddles were too tight, a fact which would encourage riders to place the saddle more backwards. Anatomy tells that the horse is not able to swing with its back and lift the rider.
A saddle in the loins blocks the whole back. Photo: Dagmar Trodler
The audience was very satisfied with the content of the two days. Saturday’s skepticism on too much facts about warmbloods disappeared with the practical experience. Riding instructor Þórarinn Eymundsson from the horse school in Hólar, said he was very satisfied with the course, discovering a lot of it in his work of the recent years. He praised Heuschmanns openness, humor and willingness to talk. And no, in his view, there is not so many differences between breeds. The basis of good training must be the same everywhere.
The senior veterinarian of the Icelandic veterinary authority MAST, Sigurborg Daðadóttir, found the right words in her speech: “Your work is like a snowball, that no one will be able to stop.”
The seminar was only a beginning. A call to watch critically our own actions, to accept humbly that, according to Heuschmann, the main problem often is in the saddle, and not beneath it. A call to be open to try new ways. Sometimes there is just one centimeter between right and wrong.
If veterinarians and trainers would use their knowledge, and above all take the courage to speak clearly against rough riding and poor saddling in their daily work – if they tried the saddle experiment in their own stables – then Sigurborg could be right and the snowball is rolling – for the cause of the horses.
Go back to Part 1