Pectoral Musculature of the Equine

Anatomy


The pectoral muscle group of the horse is comprised of four separate muscles: transverse pectoral, ascending pectoral, descending pectoral and subclavius. These muscles are commonly categorised into superficial pectoral (transverse and descending), deep pectoral (ascending) and subclavius. The pectoral mm.* function together to adduct the forelimb and suspend the trunk between the two thoracic limbs. Individually, each muscle has their own function.

*mm. = muscle group.

Transverse Pectoral (part of superficial pectoral)

Transverse Pectoral

~ lies deep to the superficial pectoral muscles ~

~ wide and thin structure ~


Origin: Costal cartilages 1-6 and adjacent sternum.

Insertion: Forearm fascia.

Function: Connection between thoracic limb and trunk in addition to adduction, protraction and retraction of the thoracic limb.

Innervation: Cranial and caudal pectoral nerves.

Recognising sensitivity: Resistance to lift through withers (check spine for primary issues), hypertonicity leading to adaptation of a more base narrow posture. Sensitivity can be unilateral, demonstrated through how abduction of the associated forelimb during lateral movements being limited.

Descending Pectoral (part of superficial pectoral)

Descending Pectoral

~ slightly overlaps the cranial edge of the transverse pectoral ~

~ there is a groove between the descending pectoral muscle and brachiocephalic muscle that contains the cephalic vein; this area must avoid pressure ~

Origin: Manubrium of the sternum.

Insertion: Deltoid tuberosity and crest of the humerus.

Function: Connection between thoracic limb and trunk in addition to adduction, protraction and retraction of the thoracic limb.

Innervation: Cranial and caudal pectoral nerves.

Recognising sensitivity: Objection to palpation along the sternum; scapula does not naturally rotate forwards so the thoracic limb is held closer to the midline; tender to palpation; sensitive to girth; hypertonicity (tight cords) or lumpiness in the muscle.

Subclavius

Subclavius muscle

~ a prism structure ~

Origin: Sternum and costal cartilages (1-4)

Insertion: Blends with the supraspinatus muscle and shoulder fascia.

Function: Suspension of the trunk – assists the serratus ventralis when hoof is on the ground. It rotates the thoracic limb in a paramedian plane, leading to the movement of the scapula cranially and humerus caudally.

Innervation: Cranial pectoral nerve.

Ascending Pectoral (aka. deep pectoral)

Ascending Pectoral

~ the largest of the pectoral muscles and the one in contact with the girth ~

~ fan/triangular shaped ~

Origin: Sternum, tunica flava abdominis and distally on ribs 4-9.

Insertion: Major and minor tubercles of the humerus and the tendon of origin of the coracobrachialis muscle.

Function: Suspension of the trunk between the thoracic limbs, forelimb retraction and stabilisation of the glenohumeral joint; reinforces the action of the latissimus dorsi.

Innervation: Cranial and caudal pectoral nerves.

Recognising sensitivity: Rapid jerking of the back upwards with a light to medium palpation; objection and struggle to perform a forelimb protraction stretch; shortening of stride; poor synchronicity; decreased stamina; shortening of cranial phase of step cycle; placement of the limb medially during the weight bearing phase of step cycle; check latissimus dorsi and saddle fit.


Problems


Problems associated with the pectoral mm. begin to arise when any of the muscles in the group lose the ability to work effectively and correctly. This may be a result of injury, compensatory locomotive patterns, sensitivity, hypertonic muscle state to name a few. 

Dysfunction of the pectoral mm. will impede their functionality. Therefore, protraction, retraction, dorsal and ventral excursion will be limited. Suspension and shock absorbing capabilities associated with the trunk are limited; the trunk can lower, preventing engagement during locomotion… especially with the additional weight of the rider. Decreased shock-absorbing and suspension functionalities can cause chronic and destructive effects to the forelimbs ie. arthritic changes.

Abscesses of the Pectoral Muscles 

Causes of pectoral mm. dysfunction


Incorrect Equitation

  1. Horse is ridden “upside down” – hollowed back, contracted epaxial musculature, disengaged hypaxial musculature, head and neck position is contracted and behind the vertical or above the bit.
  2. Trunk is encouraged into a lower position between the thoracic limbs.
  3. Poor epaxial engagement (hollowing & tightening) and restricted head position/nose poking out prevent raising of the trunk back to a neutral position.
  4. Strain on the lumbosacral junction can lead to the development of secondary dysfunction, initially presenting as poor hindlimb engagement.
  5. This sequence is P A T H O L O G I C A L – the development of a disease.

FURTHER READING: What the Topline says about Horse and Rider, Manolo Mendez 

Poor Saddle Fit/Quality/Positioning…

  1. Poor placement of the saddle on the horse — the girth does not sit in the natural girth groove, saddle positioned too far forward over the scapula.

Poor Girth

  1. The length of the girth — a girth of incorrect length can cause pressure points.
  2. The width of the girth — a girth that is too narrow can place increasing amounts of pressure on a concentrated area, eventually having a negative effect on ascending pectoral muscle health and thus functionality.

~ does the horse object to the girth being tightened? Saddling up? ~

Discipline

  1. Disciplines that involve forelimb loading exercises (ie. jumping, high speed locomotion over varying terrains, barrel racing) can place additional stress on the pectoral mm.
  2. Horses at particular risk in this instance are those that are overexerted and/or underconditioned.

An Overlooked Primary Issue

  1. Pectoral mm. dysfunction may occur as a result of a primary issue; making pectoral muscle injury secondary and compensatory.
  2. Distal limb/C7-T1 pathology can lead to tension of the pectoral mm, for example.

Treatment of the pectoral mm.

Equinology – Targeting the Pectoral Muscles

Petrissage Massage Techniques (video embedded below)


A video of a horse being treated with pectoral, trapezius and triceps muscular soreness.

Conditioning the pectoral mm.


Incline and decline work — decline work utilises the pectoral mm. as brakes; can also be replicated in transitions.

Hill work – limited to walk and trot to begin with to have maximal effectiveness.

Isometric exercises

Shifting the weight gently from forelimbs to hindlimbs…

Varying terrains and surfaces for proprioceptive mechanism activation and thus neuromuscular feedback.

Pole work

Lateral exercises

Hydrotherapy treadmill

References:

Wyche, S. (2016) The Horse’s Muscles in Motion

Budras, K. (2012) Anatomy of the Horse

Pattillo, D. (online) Targetting the Pectoral Muscles: Part One

The Equine Iliopsoas Muscle

Following my attendance to an insightful and thought-provoking lecture and demonstration by Tom Beech (The Osteopathic Vet), Ricky Gache (Farrier) and Mandy Miller (Olympus Saddlery Ltd) at Lomond Classical Equestrian Centre… this weeks muscle focus will orientate around the Iliopsoas muscle group of the horse. This blog post will also touch on “The Psoas Theory” which is a train of thought that injury to the Iliopsoas muscle group is far more common than we think, and injury can be responsible for the primary cause of secondary pain and poor performance seen in modern day equines.

Anatomy

The Iliopsoas muscle group is comprised of the Psoas Major and the Iliacus muscle.

Psoas Major

Origin:

  • Transverse processes of the lumbar vertebrae
  • Ventral surface of the proximal ends (underside of the top) of the last two ribs.

Insertion:

  • Lesser trochanter of the femur. It is here where it fuses with the Iliacus.

Innervation:

  • Local intercostal; lumbar nerve (ventral branch); lumbar plexus.

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Iliacus

Origin:

  • Sacroiliac surface of the ilium
  • Wing of sacrum
  • Sacroiliac ligament
  • Psoas minor tendon

Insertion:

  • Lesser trochanter of the femur. It is here where it fuses with the Psoas Major.

Innervation (same as that of Psoas Major):

  • Local intercostal; lumbar nerve (ventral branch); lumbar plexus.

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General Function

Both the Iliacus and Psoas Major that make up the Iliopsoas have the same muscular function.

  • Hindlimb protraction
  • Outward rotation of the hindlimb
  • Hip (coxofemoral) joint flexion
  • Stabiliser of vertebral column when the hindlimb is in a fixed position.

The Iliopsoas muscle group connects the trunk to the hindquarters, enabling hindlimb muscle engagement whilst maintaining correct posture. As is easily determined by noting the function of the Iliopsoas, correct and healthy function is required for efficient hindlimb protraction.

Problems

The Iliopsoas is particularly vulnerable to strain due to its anatomical positioning and function. Therefore, the likelihood of a force being applied beyond the muscles capabilities is increased.

Pre-disposing Factors to Injury

  • Inadequate warm-up
  • Existence of a previous injury to the muscle or associated structures
  • Fatigued muscles.
  • Loss of balance – ie. poor surfaces
    • This particularly places a lot of stress on the muscle insertion at the lesser trochanter of the femur.
  • Muscular tension/hypertonicity
  • Head and neck in a deep and round position
  • Serious fall
  • Becoming cast

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Whilst the injury may have occurred in the Iliopsoas muscle group, a direct negative effect on the function of the Psoas Minor muscle may occur.

Injury can occur unilaterally or bilaterally.

Clinical Signs

In a case where there is an injury to a muscle, it would be expected to see lameness… locomotive signs of discomfort and pain. However, the Iliopsoas muscle group can be injured without causing apparent lameness. Instead, more subtle signs may be evident.

  • Loss of muscle tone to Iliopsoas muscle group
    • This leads to the horse adjusting his movement = compensatory locomotive patterns.
  • “Hip drop” on the side of injury as hindlimb flexion is limited.
  • Unlevel points of tuber coxae when assessed statically.
    • The Iliopsoas muscle group influences the position of the pelvis.
  • Over-compensation of the uninjured hindlimb or diagonal pair.
    • Demonstrated by the uninjured hindlimb taking a wider and larger step, increased tarsal flexion, increased MCP joint “sinking” indicating increased weight-bearing
  • Tail carried to the uninjured side.
  • In ridden work, the rider may feel:
    • an uncomfortable twisting motion instead of impulsion
    • resistance to specific movements that encourage hindlimb muscle engagement ie. collection.
    • inability to track up or “step under”
    • … this can cause the horse to stiffen the back, and increase the weight bearing load onto the forelimbs.

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A DIAGRAM DEMONSTRATING THE HYPAXIAL AND ILIOPSOAS ACTIVATION REQUIRED FOR COLLECTION (Sustainable Dressage)

Acute clinical signs can then develop into chronic problems.

  • Increased muscle tension/hypertonicity of uninjured side and surrounding hip (coxofemoral) joint.
    • Eventually muscular tension will be mirrored in the shoulder and neck area. Palpable in the brachiocephalic, pectorals and deltoid.
    • If left long enough, this muscular tension can progress to the point of causing lameness.
    • Muscular tension can then have a knock on effect on the poll and jaw area.
    • This can be attempted to be solved superficially by the use of training aids such as side reins to improve the head and neck position. This can often lead to worsening of current problems, or developing of new ones.
  • Atrophy of middle gluteal and hamstrings muscle group.
    • Atrophy to the superficial gluteal and proximal bicep femoris on the side of injury may occur due to lack of elasticity of the Iliopsoas prevents full hinblimb retraction.
      • This may present by the horse being uncomfortable for the farrier.
  • Engagement of the hindquarters becomes increasingly difficult due to muscular atrophy and tension caused by distorted neuromuscular feedback. Consequently, core (hypaxial) muscle engagement is difficult reducing the horses ability to work naturally in self carriage.
  • Under saddle, the horse may tilt their head slightly and over-flex on one rein… whilst feeling stiff and unbalanced on the other.

The Link between Iliopsoas Pain and Back Sensitivity

Sensitivity located over the lumbar portion of the spine and behind the saddle can potentially be associated with Iliopsoas discomfort.

The Link between Iliopsoas Discomfort, Diet and Kidneys

In close contact with the Iliopsoas muscle group are the kidneys. As the kidneys hold a lot of toxins, the Iliopsoas muscles can act as a “biological dustbin”. Preservatives in feed will increase the amount of toxins in the body, for example, increasing the amount of waste products to be broken down by the kidneys.

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FEMALE KIDNEY POSITIONING

The Link between Hormones and Iliopsoas Sensitivity

The ovaries of a horse sit just behind the last rib. When a mare is in season, she may be particularly sensitive over this area of skin. The Iliopsoas muscle is also located in this area, and may become hypertonic (harder/increased tone) or contain excess fluid (oedema) when in season.

The nerves that determine whether a horse develops ovaries or testicles when they are an embryo are the same. With this in mind, the process of gelding a horse involves the cutting of a neuromuscular bundle. This can mean that branches of nerves that come from the same area of nerves that innervate the ovaries in a mare can be damaged. Hence, a gelding can also become sensitive in the same area that a mare would during her seasons.

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MALE KIDNEY POSITIONING

A Vicious Circle

When muscles do not function correctly, additional strain on associated tendons, ligaments and joints will undoubtedly occur.

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Prehabilitation – the art of prevention

In order to prevent injury and consequent dysfunction of the Iliopsoas muscle, methods of prehabilitation can be implemented:

  • Gymnastic exercises
  • Eliminate restrictions
    • Poor fitting tack
    • Poor hoof conformation and care
    • Unbalanced rider
    • Poor warm-up

Rehabilitation

  • Ensure the horse has been checked by an equine dentist or qualified dental technician to allow for correct alignment of the TMJ – this can have a direct effect on the pelvis.
  • Foot balance is essential as this will have a direct impact on posture and strain on the spine.

As the Iliopsoas muscle group is a very deep muscle, it cannot be directly palpated. Therefore, massage directly on to the muscle is not a feasible option. Instead, the muscle has to be released actively by the horse themselves. An example of a method used to release this muscle is the Masterson Method, whereby the practitioner learns to engage the horse in a series of exercises that can release tension deep inside the body. Additionally, massage of the surrounding superficial muscles can have a secondary effect of Iliopsoas relaxation.

WHY TO TREAT THE ILIOPSOAS?

ILIOPSOAS MUSCLE RELEASE TECHNIQUE

ILIOPSOAS MUSCLE RELEASE TECHNIQUE AND EXPLANATION

ILIOPSOAS MUSCLE STRETCH

Varying Opinions in Rehabilitation Methods

The simplistic concept of releasing a muscle in order to promote physical and mental wellbeing for the animal is commonly accepted. However, there is a belief that by releasing muscles that hold tension we are hampering the capacity of the tendons to store adequate elastic potential energy for efficient locomotion. This belief is derived from observing and treating the animal from a locomotive perspective, rather than a muscular one. This is overviewed in the diagram below.

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References:

Horse Wellness Blog – What Lies Beneath the Rider’s Seat: The Horse’s Psoas Muscle!

Abi Lewis Equine Therapy – The Psoas Theory

Lecture by Tom Beech (The Osteopathic Vet)

Budras, K., Sack, W., Rock, S. (2012) Anatomy of the Horse

Persevering through physical illness

As Invisible Disabilities Awareness Week (14th – 20th October) comes to a close, I thought it apt to speak about my unprecedented life events in 2018. For a long time I have “um’ed and ah’ed” as to whether sharing my experiences with my health would be a good thing to do. Yet, if this blog post is able to help anyone else that is in a similar position to me… then it is worthwhile. Behind the content, what I do not show are the stacks of pain medication, hours spent recovering, emotional hardship and injections…

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Reggie and I having a cuddle.

Let’s start at the beginning. After happily completing the first year of my BSc (Hons) Veterinary Physiotherapy degree with a first class honours, I completed my summer holidays feeling motivated to embark on the second year of my degree. As I enrolled in early September, my motivation to study was somewhat flattened by excessive tiredness, muscle pain and impaired cognitive function. Convincing myself that such symptoms were due to poor fitness, I started a weekend job as a stable groom on a small livery yard near home. I would be up at the crack of dawn to work, ride Reggie, go back to work to put the horses to bed… before finally arriving back home at gone 7pm in the depths of autumn and winter. I would be physically exhausted, but continued to ignore this feeling as I’d get up at 4am on the Monday morning to drive back to University for lectures. Writing assignments, studying, attending lectures and even eating gradually became tougher. I would take a nap at 6pm, only to wake up the next morning and still feel completely drained. Brushing my symptoms off as something less than serious, I pushed through to the Christmas holidays.

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Early mornings at work.

I had never experienced anything like this before, so I put it down to the increasing academic demands that second year studies brought. I used the Christmas holidays to recuperate myself, catch up on reading and writing assignments. I spent Christmas Day evening printing out muscle revision cards and placing them in individual plastic wallets in my best efforts to memorise information.

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I returned back to University in early January, my body still telling me something was amiss. Looking back, I should have listened and rested. A few weeks into the new term, my muscle pain got worse and was soon accompanied by a burning sensation in the joints of my toes. At first I blamed the freezing cold weather, trying to block out the pain as best as I could to continue attending practical sessions and lectures. As you can predict, ignoring the pain did not solve the problem; with the burning spreading from my toes to my whole foot and lower leg within weeks. The pain can only be described as submerging your legs in hot sand, with random yet consistent electric shock pains. Not wanting to admit to the excruciating discomfort I was in, I continued with my stable job and riding whilst attempting to walk normally. I was in such an irritable mood and my mother soon picked up that something was wrong. I broke down into tears as I explained everything, and the realisation dawned that I needed medical attention.

I was examined on multiple occasions… doctors baffled as much as I was at the rapid and unexpected development of my symptoms. As the weeks moved on, the pain was uncontrollable and affected my ability to walk. The pain continued to spread to my hands and arms; I left my stable job and my riding took a hit. It makes me emotional to admit to this, as to rewind back to the summer holidays where I was working at a competition stables five days a week as well as having a mare on loan… my physical ability and health had taken a plummet. Nevertheless, I was determined to complete this second year of study to the best of my ability. In the midst of assignments, presentations, practical exams and revision I attended hospital referrals and started on pain medication. The cause and diagnosis of my neurological pain was still a mystery. But as well as being in pain, I was completely drained. I was advised that the medication I was on could make me drowsy, but I was so desperate for any form of pain relief I was willing to take the chance. I spent the next few months either sleeping, or wanting to sleep and being unable to keep my eyes open. I’d fall asleep in between lectures, at my laptop, reading a textbook, whilst my food was in the oven… you name it. It reached the stage where it was counterproductive to my learning, and I had to make the decision to come off that medication and try something else.

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A conversation I will always remember is with one of my lectures. We were speaking about my current circumstances and how I was managing with my assignment when she suggested I start a social media profile to keep track of my progress. She recognised I was being hard on myself, and explained how it would be a good way to log my achievements as something for me to look back on. A little hesitant, I created my Instagram profile and named it Vet Physio Phyle. “Phyle” being an Ancient Greek word for tribe, I wished to inspire others with snippets of veterinary information. I noticed there was a significant amount of veterinary medicine profiles, but a distinctive lack of veterinary physiotherapy profiles. Before I had started my degree, there was very little information out there about the newly developed course and so I hoped my Instagram profile would provide a useful insight for others.

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As exam season approached and I was still being transferred from hospital to hospital for testing and scans, the over-achiever part of me began to realise that I just had to do the best I could in the situation I had to pass the year. Looking back, the months are all blurred. Alongside studying, I struggled emotionally. I will never forget this one appointment when I went to have one of my three a week vitamin B12 injections. For anyone that has not had them, they use a long and thick needle to inject directly into the muscle. The pain was insane, and I remember crying in front of the nurses being completely overwhelmed by the pain of the injection and everything else going on that I had been holding in. And that is when my Instagram account became my saving grace. It motivated me to keep studying and providing content for my followers even when times were difficult.

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A trip to Hammersmith Hospital.

I completed my assignments, practical and written exams the best I could, thinking it would barely be enough for a pass as my ability to memorise information and walk still remained limited. Rather disappointed in myself, I looked back on my second year and wished I could have performed better as even now I still struggle to come to terms with how a change in physical health can have such a resounding impact on life. With this in mind, when my examination results came through I was speechless. By some magic of a miracle I had managed to pull first class marks out of the bag, completing my second year with only a few percentage marks less than what I had achieved during my first year of study. For those interested in my riding, I took away my stirrups and developed my core… determined to continue riding Reggie and going out to competitions to prevent muscular atrophy and preserve my mental health. I also took my level of matchy matchy obsession to a whole new level… oops.

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Reggie and I.

Where my social media profile motivated me to keep on pushing through my studies, it was my friends, family, boyfriend, handsome cat Louis, caring horse Reggie, fleece bedsheets and candles that provided a network of support and comfort.

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My pride and joy, Louis.

I wanted to write this blog post to not only share my journey thus far, but also to reach out to those who are studying through hardship – physically or mentally. I wish to remind those who believe that they are not doing well enough to take a breath, and look at how far you have come and how much you have achieved. Although I wish more than anything that I hadn’t been dealt with a physical illness, it has been an awakening reality to make me rethink my workaholic attitude. Unfortunately, life happens… and when you are presented with a hurdle your response has to be “how high?” to keep pushing through.

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I am currently taking a year away from University to recuperate and recover as much as I can. But my passion for veterinary physiotherapy still persists, as I continue to study, attend CPD events and learn new therapeutic techniques. Until I can resume my studies, this is what I shall do. I love hearing feedback and everyones stories, so please drop me a message or share this blog post if you could relate in anyway or just want to share my story with others. For those reading this blog post who are all going through their own private battles, here are a few take-away messages:

You are enough as you are.

Try your best in your current situation.

Take time to rest when you need it.

It is okay not to be okay.

It is all possible, even when you think it is not… trust me.

The Art of Long-lining

The inspiration for the writing of this blog post came from my recent attendance to a long-lining class held by Moorcroft Racehorse Welfare Centre. Having previously studied and witnessed long-lining (alongside disagreeing with the practice of lunging), I thought it best to learn the art of long-lining from some of the most educated people in the field of rehabilitation.

Definition

Long-lining involves working the horse from the ground with two lines, or reins, attached to either side of the horse. Whilst its use is diminished in modern horsemanship, advocates of classical equitation value the practice of long-lining greatly. This can be appreciated through the Spanish Riding School of Vienna, who has been training and breeding horses for over 450 years.

LINK: Appreciating and Evaluating the Performances of the Spanish Riding School of Vienna.

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Benefits of Long-lining

  • Allows for the influence of inside and outside contact. This has a therapeutic benefit, as influencing both sides equally develops symmetry.
  • Allows for the praising release of contact, providing an elastic connection.
  • Flexible – long-lining can be done whilst walking at a safe distance behind your horse or also on a circle for faster gaits; with the outside line wrapped behind the quarters of the horse, whilst you are positioned in the middle of the circle.
  • Long-lining enables the contact to be influenced by a person, without the presence of a rider on the horses back. This is beneficial as it allows for an insight into how the horse moves and behaves without the weight of a rider. Additionally, the visual perspective of long-lining allows for the analysis of specific attributes of movement. For example, the amount of over-track, individual joint range of motion, pelvic movement and rotation, weaker rein…
  • A simple and clear way to introduce lateral movements to your horse before asking for them under saddle.
  • Allows for easier engagement and thus development of epaxial (back) muscles such as longissimus dorsi.
  • A clear perspective to test efficacy of energy and voice communication aids.
  • Identify weaknesses that could be causing trouble under saddle.
  • A gentle, accurate rehabilitation method

Debates over the Position of the Outside Lunge Line

When long-lining a horse on a circle, there are two positions in which the outside lunge line can be placed, see Figure 1 and 2 below.

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Figure 1: The position of the outside long-line is across the shoulder of the horse.

 

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Figure 2: The position of the outside long-line is behind the hindquarters of the horse and above the tarsal joint (hock).

 

The position of the outside long-line in Figure 1 is deemed ineffective and counter productive by Andy Marcoux.

  • The theory behind this position is that the handler can contain the horse between the lines, improving the degree of control.
  • However, the outside rein lacks a steady contact in this configuration as when the hindlimbs are protracted and retracted in movement, the outside line is activated and released. With an ever changing outside line pressure, it becomes a difficult task for the horse to maintain a steady contact and balance.

Andy Marcoux has a preference for the outside line to cross over the shoulder of the horse, as shown in Figure 2.

  • This accurately simulates the rein position that occurs during ridden exercise. This is beneficial as lessons learnt during long-lining sessions are more easily transferred to ridden exercise.
  • The rein contact is less affected by the movement of the horse.

 

Long-lining Exercises

TIP: Work your horse on one rein for 3-5 laps, and then switch. This routine ensures that you exercise your horse on both sides equally, avoiding dependency on one rein (Andy Marcoux).

Transitions; Figures of Eight; Serpentines; Lateral work…

 

My Experience at Moorcroft Racehorse Welfare Centre

My morning at MRWC brought a number of concepts to light. Mary Frances, the centre manager, provided a conscientious insight into what is required to rehabilitate racing thoroughbreds. I had the pleasure of long-reining a variety of horses, starting with a horse that had commenced his re-training approximately six months ago and finishing with a horse that had been re-trained over the period of three years. It was fascinating to see and feel the differences in the two horses, and appreciate the amount of correct training, nutrition and compassionate care required to build these horses back up.

The negative implications of racing was a poignant thought that could not be dismissed. In my conversations with Mary, I was provided with a first-hand experience of what detrimental musculoskeletal effects racing can have. Damage to the suspensory ligaments and the development of overriding dorsal spinous processes (kissing spines) were a few of the conditions that have been rehabilitated. With this in mind, as I watched the beautifully supple and relaxed ex-racing thoroughbreds walk around the arena… their noses nearly brushing the ground as they walked… I reflected upon the journey that these horses had been through to arrive at this point. When discussing this with Mary, she wisely remarked, “there is no rush”. When the horses come fresh off the track, the only thing they know is to hollow their backs, raise their heads and run as fast as they can. Everything they have ever learnt has to then be reversed during the re-training process. Mary continued on to explain how when the horses first arrive, they have their heads in the air like a giraffe, and they slowly learn to relax and stretch over their backs to lower their heads. For this reason, all of the ex-racers start their time at Moorcroft with long-lining. For some horses, the transition from racer to riding horse comes naturally whilst others find the process more challenging. Therefore, it is important to remember that time is plentiful; gradually building upon your horses basic foundations and developing them over time is far more beneficial than skipping steps or rushing through training. The principles around Moorcroft’s training approach evidently orientates around focusing on the process, and not the outcome.

“The Ever Decreasing Circle”

One of the most poignant lessons I learnt during my time at MRWC was how Mary warned of the ever-decreasing 20 meter circle. This highlights how movement on a 20 meter circle is subject to gradually spiralling inwards, making the circle smaller and smaller and increasing the torsion on joints. This can be musculoskeletally destructive, so Mary recommended keeping the circle as large as possible to avoid this.

The Importance of Long-lining in Re-training

Long-lining holds a vital role in the retraining of racehorses. Mary emphasised that prior to their arrival at the rehabilitation centre, racehorses have not felt the riders legs or stirrups irons wrap around the sides of their trunk and onto their skin. During racing, the jockey is perched on the top of the horse in comparison to the elongated leg position in dressage disciplines. Mary explained how the use of the longlines help to accustom the horse to the movement of stirrup irons along their flanks and new riding aids.

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Guest Blog: “The Buzz about the Fuzz”

Written by Fran McNicol, this guest blog post zooms into a crucial biological component that can be argued to lack attention – fascia.

The Importance of Fascia

I started noticing the buzz about the fuzz a year or so ago. The “fuzz” is fascia, a form of connective tissue which importance is generally overlooked.

When we bought Rocky – our fancy warmblood – we bought a young horse with international standard genes. We had to have him gelded, and we were told to make sure we got some massage done on the gelding scar to preserve his fabulous movement.

Fascia is the stringy substance in between the muscles in your chicken breast, or the marbling in your steak. It keeps muscles separate so they can slide over each other and work independently. In surgery fascia is critical. It provides planes of anatomical cleavage that determine where incisions should occur. Interestingly, French surgeons appreciate the importance of fascia. They refer to fascia as “cheveux d’anges”, also known as angel hair… illustrating the delicate little tendrils visible when biological tissues are separated. If a tissue is disrupted by injury, it is partly the fascia that stabilises that injury, by thickening into a scar. Hence, it is important to keep optimum mobility throughout life, and especially following injury.

VIDEO: The Importance of Fascia and Stretching

Myofascial Release Therapy (MRT)

Barbara Dreyer-Rowland was the first person I saw demonstrate the art of MRT. The subtlety and gentleness of the movements struck me first; simply a gentle finger pressure on acupressure and meridian points. There is a theoretical belief that acupuncture actually works along fascial lines, not along the pre-determined paths of blood vessels, nerves or lymphatics. Had it not been for my horse’s dramatic reaction, I would not have known there was any treatment going on…

Not Fran’s horse Cal, but another equally emotive horse.

My horse Cal is very demonstrative; in between manoeuvres he stretched, adjusted, licked and chewed. As the treatment progressed, his eyes softened and slowly blinked. His posture also improved, which had a positive influence on our gymnastic schooling exercises.

The Importance of Correct Schooling for Maintaining Fascial Health

In a perfect world, correct schooling work in itself should be therapeutic. We all feel that our horses generally have a hollow side and a longer side. If we strengthen to equalise to the shorter hollow side we end up with stiff and equally contracted horses. However, if we reverse the contraction of the short, stiff side to the length of the relaxed side of the body and then strengthen… we build strength upon suppleness. This enables the power to come through from the hindquarters without blockage. A basic knowledge of gymnastic schooling is lacking in current training regimens. In the rush for progress and prizes, an understanding and desire to take time to build the horse up into an athlete prior to increasing physical demands is largely lost. Hence my search for an understanding instructor to allow me and my horse to progress in a correct and harmonious manner.

A Biological Entity

The hyoid and tongue apparatus of the horse is connected to the shoulder and tarsal joint by an uninterrupted fascial sheet that varies in its thickness. With this in mind, action of the bit that constricts the tongue and hyoid will consequently and adversely effect hindlimb movement (Hands Healing Horses). This biological theory is the foundation for the Roller argument that is a hot topic of discussion.

VIDEO: The Synergy between Fascial Sheets and Equine Locomotion

Rider Health

The mostly sedentary lifestyles of humans can serve to hinder our ability to ride at our best. We get told we need a strong core to baron the movement, but actually it is a stillness in motion we need to seek, not a stiff brace.

Open and flexible hip sockets, a nice flat back with good tone of our core and spinal musculature, the line from armpit to hipbones… these factors all come together to produce a correct and effective position. It is common to have over developed or hypertonic back and shoulders accompanying weak abdominal muscles. Strengthening contracted abdominal muscles will only increase the dysfunction – we need to open up the hip flexors before we can engage our ‘core’ to get the balance required between front and back lines. I found a human physiotherapist to help with this, whom also had a specific focus on MRT. After six months of breaking down the “fuzz”, I can now access front and back trunk muscles as required, and even use my hand or leg without the other joining in, and mostly without bracing or stiffness. This is progress indeed.

In all…

So, quite rightly, there is a lot of buzz about the fuzz. Is your fuzz soft and pliable, or tough and stringy?

And how about your horse? Does his skin move smoothly over soft muscles or can you see stripes or striations in the muscle? Have you inadvertently strengthened a stiffness? Does he pound the ground or float softly?

Supple horses with soft pliable fuzz and efficient energy transfer have a decreased risk of injury and prolonged health… isn’t that what we all desire for our dream four-legged partners?

 

About the Author

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Fran and beautiful Cal

My name is Fran and I work as a consultant at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital, specialising in colorectal cancer surgery. Nelipot Cottage is a pseudonym for a novel equestrian set up, based on barefoot and holistic herd living, on the outskirts of Delamere Forest. My blog is about our barefoot herd, our adventures, experiments, experiences and learning. I hope that sharing our stories will bring new friends, kindred spirits, shared knowledge and lots of positive energy into our lives. We are learning to keep the sports horse holistically: healthy hooves, healthy bodies and healthy minds.

We also offer short stay B&B accommodation if you would like to bring your horses to stay and enjoy our wonderful off-road hacking. You could even become a part of our story!

Website: www.nelipotcottage.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/nelipotcottage/ 

Twitter: @franmcnicolUW

Instagram: @NelipotCottage