Horse vs Rider – How heavy is too heavy?

Yep, I’ve had requests to do so, and i’m taking a deep breath and opening up this can of worms…

dorado-jumping-2016-1280x640.jpgPhoto Credit: Courtesy Kristen Janicki

This perspective is my own, based on clinical practice observations which tend to be backed up by the findings of a very rudimentary review of recent available literature. For a really thorough literature review, have a look here. This one conducted by Ruth Taylor; BSc (Hons) Equestrian Sports Science of Hartpury College, in 2016 looks into the research available around the topic. It is very well worth a look if you’re interested in the evidence behind the current suggested limits.

I see many horses with back soreness, and unfortunately, rider weight is one factor which does come into it. More so than rider weight though, I have noticed there appears to be a strong correlation between the riders overall fitness (if I’m asking if you do other sports, or any specific fitness work besides riding, that’s why).

 

It’s generally accepted that riders should be somewhere between 10 and 20% of the horses bodyweight. This to me completely fails to take into account that there are heavier riders who are very forgiving of their horse – using their core correctly, keeping in balance with the horses movement and generally not hindering their horse in the goal of staying balanced throughout their work. It also fails to specify that a quite light rider who is very unbalanced, and who is on a horse with a poorly fitted saddle may be far more deleterious to the horses biomechanical wellbeing than the aforementioned heavier rider. It also fails to take into consideration the horses morphology – a stocky well boned, broad loined horse would obviously be more likely to withstand heavier weights and/or less balanced riders before soreness occurs than a fine boned, narrower horse would. Fitness also likely plays a part and a horse who has been properly and gradually conditioned with biomechanically correct work, is likely to hold up to heavier rider weights better than a poorly conditioned horse, working with the topline hollowed, who was pulled out of the paddock and asked to go out for a weekends activity.

My ultimate take therefore is that while it’s important to be mindful of your weight vs your horses weight, it is also important to consider the type of horse you ride in regards to morphology and the work you want to do. Further, if you’re suspicious that you might be slightly underhorsed or your horse is showing signs that this might be a factor I would advise that you consider improving both of your ability to control your bodies through biomechanically sound movement training.

For you that might include an Osteopathic treatment plan, to ensure you can move symmetrically without injuring your self. Then, general fitness work (I personally love a mix of HIIT and light strength work to avoid cutting into my very small windows of available time), but also investing in some really good Pilates classes to learn how to control your core and use your limbs independently without losing that core control the moment you try to move. Remember, core control is about movement and function. If you can’t control it while moving then it’s pretty pointless. Keeping yourself balanced and light over your horses centre of gravity will hugely reduce the impact of any weight ratio imbalance that exists between you and your horse.

For your horse, I would highly recommend ensuring he is able to move symmetrically and remove any existing soreness by having him assessed by a good Animal Biomechanical Medicine practitioner (membership list here of fully qualified and insured Osteopaths, Chiropractors and Vets who’ve studied this stuff at University level). Also be sure that your tack fits. Your saddle needs to fit both of you or it will be an uphill battle to perform in a balanced manner which will reduce this ability to cope if there is an imbalance in regards your weight ratio.  Very importantly –  treat him like an athlete.  Regardless of your chosen discipline, he not only has to go out and perform a bunch of extra movements than he would in the paddock, he has to carry you whilst doing so. Find someone who can teach you what a correct frame looks like, not just one where he is holding his neck all pretty, but one where he is using his core consistently, where he is swinging evenly through the back, where he is stepping evenly from behind and keeping his centre of gravity balanced throughout the work he is doing. Ensuring he is able to do this might involve spending time each day warming him up with correct lunge work (that is, not galloping around full pelt to get the bucks out) preferably including ground work and pole exercises. Again, your ABM professional can help to formulate a plan which incorporates specific exercises which are relevant for your horse specifically. I personally love when people incorporate groundwork into their normal routine as it also means they are getting to routinely look at their horse moving and so pick up on changes in movement which might indicate soreness well before the horse actually throws a lame step.

So there you have it… it’s not a straight forward answer at all, but it is one which we should all be contemplating when choosing our horses and/or managing the ones we already have.

I hope this has helped and if you’re keen to increase the balance and performance you and your horse have when out enjoying your chosen discipline please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

© Samantha Sherrington, Centaurus Osteopathy, 2018.

 

 

 

Birth Trauma in foals – what we can do about it.

Thoracic trauma (rib fractures or costochondral dislocation) in foals is a relatively common side effect of being born quickly, with a relatively deep chest, through a relatively small, hard pelvic ring. A study done in in 1999 in Coolmore Stud in Ireland by D Jean et al discovered a rate of around 1 in 5 foals having rib fractures, and further studies have suggested this might be a conservative estimate due to the lack of sensitivity of radiographic technique in detecting these fractures/costochondral damage. Interestingly, by around 3 days of age, the majority of foals are showing no overt signs of these fractures. Dr Ian Bidstrup has spent many years digging into this problem and correlating some of the typical ongoing issues that appear to be associated with a history of birth trauma, whether actually noted at birth or not. These include:

  • Increased sensitivity around the girth and ribcage
  • Spinal pain especially around the wither and associated dysfunction in this and other regions
  • Pelvic/sacral dysfunction – as the foal exits the birth canal large forces are exerted in an asymmetrical manner on the sacrum and pelvis
  • One sidedness in work
  • Forefoot asymmetry – one big flat foot with low heel and one narrow foot with high heel, or possibly even clubbed foot

In practice this pattern is seen quite commonly, presenting as a typical dipped thoracic and roached lumbar posture which predisposes horses to working in a hollow frame, dropping their sternum in the thoracic sling (by contrast think of a horse in self carriage lifting through the sternum and withers between the shoulder girdle). The following picture from Dr Bidstrup’s Spinalvet website is a perfect example of this posture.
posture_spinalvet

Photo: http://www.spinalvet.com.au/saddles.html

Horses will typically also begin resisting requests for a supple bend in one direction more than another by using their head and neck like a rudder for balance and by cocking or bracing the jaw. This resistance through the front end will also obviously have ramifications for the way the horse uses its back end, and if pelvic/sacral function isn’t as it should be that will compound the problems. I have also noted an anecdotal link to a propensity to gastric ulcers though of course this is often a case of chicken and egg where digestive dysfunction has a deleterious effect on thoracic and lumbar function.

So what can we do about this? Ideally all foals should be assessed and if needed treated within the first week or so of birth. By doing so, much of the asymmetry could be addressed to allow them to grow as evenly as possible with the aim of having a youngster who is as balanced as possible by the time they reach the stage of being backed and starting work. Observing foals to see how inclined they are to always graze with one particular leg forward can give a good idea of how much asymmetry they are carrying.
foal_grazing asymm 2Foal grazing sym

Photos: The Horse.com; Shutterstock.com

When we get to the stage of an established horse we’ll be dealing with more posturally and neurologically ingrained patterns as well as muscle memory and hoof asymmetry. These can take a little longer to unwind and often a few steps back in work schedule are necessary to help give the horse a chance to relearn how to use his body while the dysfunction is being worked on. It is phenomenal to see how quickly a horses patterns can change when given the chance with good Osteopathic treatment combined with some rehabilitative changes to their environment, for example introducing variable feeding positions, good farriery/hoofcare and some exercises on the ground to help translate those postural changes to work under saddle.

pilates horse

NB – Not a recommended Exercise. Photo: Unknown – if anyone knows please let me know as I love it!

By addressing these asymmetries early on, it is possible to hugely minimise the strains on the horses body and legs and give your horse the best chance of long term soundness and performing to the peak of their ability. If you have youngsters you’d like to ensure have the best chance of a sound and successful performance career please do get in touch to see how much difference Osteopathic management can make to their future.

 

Canine Cranial Cruciate Ligament Injuries – Surgery or what??

How Cranial Cruciate Ligament Injuries can be managed when surgery isn’t the first choice.

Ruptures and partial tears to one or both Cranial Cruciate Ligaments (CCL) is a remarkably common injury in our doggy friends.  While certain breeds seem to have significantly more frequency of injury, I see it pop up in a wide variety of breeds, ages and sizes of dogs.

am_bull_acl_2-01

(image: petmd.com)

Traditionally, it has been believed that typically only small dogs, under about 15kg, fare just as well with conservative management as they do with surgical repair options. At significantly less cost also. This belief is based on a study which showed very positive outcomes for the small dogs and not so much resolution of lameness in the bigger dogs. Some practitioners, however, have been questioning the assumptions since.

Dr Narda Robinson DVM is one practitioner who has been quite vocal about the lack of options many pet owners are given when faced with a CCL injury. She has compiled some good evidence here to endeavour to debunk many commonly held beliefs around why surgery should be the primary go-to option for sorting out our dogs dodgy knees.

So, when an owner makes the decision to give the surgical option a miss, at least on a trial basis, what is the conservative option?

  • The first step is to ensure the dog is a healthy weight or slightly underweight to help reduce the loading on the stifle joint. Being overweight is one of the biggest and most manageable risk factors noted to contribute to CCL damage.
  • Next, keeping your dog’s activity controlled. Complete crate rest was once advised however studies have shown it to be not necessary. Rest and avoiding jumping up and down from vehicles, beds etc; minimising risk of slipping on smooth floors, and going for frequent short controlled leash walks is the ideal for 6-8 weeks.
  • Finally, the use of anti-inflammatory or analgesic medication as required.

From an osteopathic perspective it is possible to boost the effects of this conservative management firstly by recognising that it is, in most cases where the lameness has developed gradually and insideously, strongly likely that biomechanical restrictions in the dogs body have contributed to asymmetrical weight bearing through the hind legs and the stifle joint. This asymmetry and dysfunction can be addressed using Osteopathic techniques which are gentle and often pain free. By allowing the dog’s body, especially the lumbar and pelvic regions to function to the best of their ability, it is possible to minimise overloading of individual joints and enhance circulatory and nervous flow to the joints and tissues and hence allow the body to do it’s best healing work.

One of the big risks of CCL damage is that around 50% of dogs will present with damage to the other CCL within 6 months of surgery to repair injury to the first. This suggests two possibilities. Firstly, the obvious one that during recovery, the ‘good’ knee will be taking more than its fair share of workload, and secondly, that there is some underlying biomechanical factors that haven’t been addressed in the first instance which are continuing to throw excess loading into the joints. Whether post-surgery, or opting for the conservative option, it is therefore crucial to ensure the dog’s body is actually able to work symmetrically, as well as to then formulate a thorough rehabilitation plan to help ensure the dog begins to use themselves evenly. This rehab can begin within the first few weeks post-surgery or during the rest period if managing conservatively.

Allied therapies including dietary changes (examples here and here) and nutritional supplementation and herbs, hydrotherapy, acupuncture, laser, orthoses, stem cell therapy and cryotherapy are some of the many that may be useful within the management plan for CCL rehabilitation.

Big-Dog-Limping

(Image: Web-dvm.net)

From a preventative point of view, again it is crucial to ensure dogs are able to use themselves as symmetrically as possible. This can be achieved by osteopathic preventative/maintenance visits from a young age, to thoroughly examine and uncover any dysfunctional regions of the body and remove these restrictions before they begin to significantly alter the way the dog is moving. Ensuring that dogs are given consistent, relatively controlled activity allows them to develop strong and healthy musculoskeletal systems – so avoid the weekend warrior approach of relatively little or no exercise during the week followed by manic ball chasing or frisbee catching at the weekend. Make exercise a big part of your daily routine so your dog has a good baseline level of fitness and strength to help cope with the inevitable extra fun at the weekends or on holidays. Also, make sure nails are kept trimmed regularly, both to avoid slipping risk and also to help avoid changes in limb posture which may occur if the dog is feeling discomfort during activity from overly long nails.

For further advice or consultation, please don’t hesitate to contact me to discuss how Osteopathy can be of use in helping prevent, manage or rehabilitate a CCL injury.

 

 

Hip Flexor for the rider – Part 2

So what exactly are these hip flexors we’ve been speaking of, and why are they so darn important to the horse rider??

The iliopsoas is one of the very important factors in achieving a symmetrical seat. I find if the hip flexors as a group are not working well through a full normal range of motion there will be huge struggles with trying to maintain even and effective seat and leg aids. There will also be knock on effects on the upper body and aids from there also.

As you can see below, they attach to the front of the spine and the inside of the pelvis before running down through the pelvis to attach onto the inner thigh. They act to draw the knee up towards the body, and as such are a muscle group which is in a shortened position whenever we spend time sitting, either at a desk or in a car during out work days. They also play a huge role in stabilising the hip in a slightly flexed position, during many activities throughout the day.  The very act of sitting on a horse puts the hip flexors into a slightly shortened position and, especially when the true core muscles aren’t doing their fair share, as soon as the horse begins to move we begin to use the hip flexors to help keep us upright and stable over the horses centre of gravity. To add to this complex system of controlling the hip and the core, we must consider the role the gluteal muscles (your butt!) play.

When tight, the hip flexors hold the hip joint in a position of slight flexion, and this is where the problems begin. In a neutral standing position this causes the pelvis to tip forwards and the lumbar spine to be pulled into extension (an increased arch in the lower back). This looks like the first mounted position we saw in the picture in Part 1.

HIp flexor 2Lower cross

Tightness in the hip flexors is usually also associated with other predictable muscular imbalances around the hips, pelvis and lower back, the most crucial of which is a weak abdominal core and gluteal muscles and a tight lower back and hamstrings . This pattern is often referred to as Lower Crossed Syndrome and creates for the rider a position of ‘duck butt’, lack of suppleness through the lower back, knees which grip and ride up in front of the centre of gravity and a lower leg and heel which just won’t stay where it belongs.

A strong core is crucial for a riders stability in the saddle, and may be the difference between sticking that awkward jump or unexpected stop or not. It also is crucial for allowing the rider to apply effective seat aids. The sum of these imbalances cause the body to move less freely and with less control than the ideal. Often one side is more restricted than the other and this is where many cases of short-stirrup-itis and dropping your hip or tilting one way originate from.

Hip flexor 1

How does this affect your horse? From the seat alone, if one hip flexor is pulling tighter than the other, a tilt to one side is likely to occur. Looking at the shape of the pelvis in the picture above, you can see that tilting the pelvis to the side (dropping a hip/creasing at the waist) will cause one of your sit bones (ischial tuberosity) to contact the horses back more than the other. Thinking about how sensitive we hope for our horses to be to seat aids, one can instantly see the problems this might cause. The horse who always bends one way or is travelling on three tracks and just can’t seem to straighten no matter how much leg the rider applies, which incidentally feels much stronger one way than the other. The changing  or disuniting canter leads. The inability to easily find or maintain the correct diagonal in trot and the horse who looks that little bit lame on one rein in trot but not the other and no clear diagnosis of true lameness can be found.  These are just a handful of the problems created by unevenly tight hip flexors and the postural ramifications of such. When both are tight we typically see the proverbial “”duck butt” rider posture. The horse typically reacts by hollowing to escape the increased weight through the tree points and falls onto the forehand as the riders centre of gravity is thrown forward of the ideal. The horses back end then merrily trails out behind him, pretty much precluding any chance of hip engaging from behind and lifting the shoulder. His own core blows in the wind, while yours does the same up top.

duck-butt-2(Above picture from this very humorous look at one riders battle with “duck butt”- https://barnbrat7732.wordpress.com/2015/07/15/a-swiftly-tilting-pelvis/).

In part 3 we will start to look at how you can test these muscle groups in yourself and where to start to unwind this pattern so you can begin to address the associated problems in yourself and your horses performance.