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12 Days of Christmas - Day 11: Improve your horse's comfort and performance

Updated: Nov 19, 2022

This series of four online lecture demonstrations takes you on a fascinating journey exploring how equine anatomy and biomechanics can be applied to movement, riding, training and management.

If you're interested in improving the comfort and performance of your horse, understanding more about how horses move and to reduce the risk of injury this series is for you.

What's so great about this online course is that you will have unlimited access to all of this amazing content all from the comfort of your own home from anywhere in the world!

Each episode is full of information, tips and exercises you can add in to your own training programme with your own horse.

Episode 1: The Principles of Movement

gillian higgins horses inside out princip;es of movement lunging painted horse muscles extensor chains

This focuses on the basic anatomy of how the horse moves in walk, trot and canter and how his conformation can affect these gaits.

This is an unridden demo so you can clearly see how the horse moves without a rider on the flat and over jumps.

Did you know.....

The tail is part of your horse's spine and it contains many nerves. There are exercises that you can do with the tail that will influence the rest of his body. Also, how your horse holds his tail can be an indicator of his health.

Episode 2: Adding the Weight of A Rider

gillian higgins horses inside out painted horse skeleton suit rider canter school

As soon as you sit on your horse you compromise his posture and ability to move. You also affect his balance and increase the strain on his joints, tendons and ligaments.

In this lecture demo you’ll understand the importance strengthening your horse’s body in preparation for a rider and boost his performance.

You’ll also learn that by improving your horse’s fitness, posture, strength and suppleness you are future proofing his body. Plus, it focuses on the role of the rider in terms of fitness, balance, posture and riding skills. These are all things we can work on to improve our own health our horse's.

Did you know....

An over tight girth can potentially reduce forelimb protraction (ability to take the leg forward) because the girth is restricting the ascending pectoral muscle (the muscle under your horse belly area that the girth sits on).

Episode 3: The Biomechanics of Dressage vs the Scales of Training

gillian higgins horses inside out painted horse skeleton hamstrings nuchal ligament rider skeleton suit dressage

Known as the stepping stones that many riders live by when training horses - in this third episode we study the scales of training in greater detail.

Rhythm - relaxation is critical to achieve rhythm. However, relaxation doesn't mean a lack of activity or purpose. Here we will look at exercises designed to improve rhythm, focus the mind, relieve tension and relax the topline.

Suppleness refers to suppleness of mind as well as body.

Contact - this should be elastic and responsive yet consistent. The horse should not lean excessively on the rein nor avoid it's pressure. The contact should be even on both the right and left.

Impulsion - only when the first three scales of training are consistently established can impulsion be significantly improved. For example, increased impulsion can affect balance and upset suppleness if the horse isn't strong enough to support it.

On the other hand, a lack of impulsion can be of detriment to the rhythm, suppleness and contact! So all the scales actually affect each other -a little like the anatomy of the horse.

Straightness - this is not all about going in a straight line, it’s also important through turns, circles and lateral work.

A 'straight' horse will bend evenly to the left and right. In the lecture demonstration Dressage Dissected, we look at how the horse moves sideways and the muscles involved in not only creating adduction (taking the leg towards the body) and abduction (taking the leg away from the body) but those involved in lateral stability.

Collection - the pinnacle to the scales of training.

Did you know.....

To get swing through the back you need relaxation and good back posture. You also need lateral flexion in the back. Most lateral flexion is in the middle of the back - right where the rider sits. This is one of the key reasons why good saddle fit is essential.

Episode 4: Jumping from the Anatomical Perspective

gillian higgins horses inside out painted horse skeleton rider suit jumping

Studying the biomechanics of how the horse creates a jump is useful for every single rider because the biomechanical and myofascial connections are much clearer to see.

The horse needs physical strength, focus and a balanced rider to jump successfully. He also needs a good technique, willingness, coordination and the ability to convert forward momentum to upward thrust.

Horses aren't natural jumpers, although in the wild they will jump obstacles that get in their way. This is what makes watching a horse jumping fences so fascinating as you see them using their bodies to an extreme. You also see a greater range of movement and the biomechanical relationships within the body become much more obvious. Those connections still exist when you’re riding your horse on the flat, and in other disciplines they are just more subtle.

Did you know...

When a horse jumps a metre high fence, on landing about two and a half times his body weight goes through the trailing fore limb (the first fore limb to hit the ground). That force has to be absorbed through the structures of the leg and transferred up into the rest of the body. However, it's the structures of the lower limb and the foot that absorb those forces first, so good posture, good balance, good hoof balance are all things that are going to help the horse to stay healthy and fit for jumping.

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