WHOPPA! & NOW I’M in Germany! Being a very lucky rider driving around Oldenburg this week with my horsey fam and looking for a new superstar. When trying many different horses here (honestly, LOVE my job!) made me think of something important when producing an athlete:
Different muscles serve different purposes in the horse’s body. First of all we have the top line and the under neck. The under neck is the horse’s life insurance, that they use when having to run fast from a lion to survive in the wild. But using the under neck leaves the horse with tensions, stress and makes them feel stiff. So that’s why we want to use the top line in dressage. The top line muscles goes all the way from the top of the neck over the back and all the way to the hind hocks. The top line engages its whole body and using those muscles makes the horse supple and happy as they release well being endorphins, which makes the horse feel great.
Then, within the top line we have two different muscles groups. We have the large locomotive muscles, the horse’s “gymnastic” muscles, or large, exterior muscles that are suited for locomotion and flashy movement. These muscles are responsible for making sure that the horse covers ground to move from one place to another, to go forward with enough impulsion, but they are not effective at communicating with the nervous system to establish new muscle patterns, or muscle memory.
So we also need to make sure to use the smaller muscles, the muscles that are close to the horse’s spine and core, as this is the muscles that support’s the locomotive muscles with oxygen and energy. Those muscles are targeted by riding at slower speeds, referencing the slow warm-up jog advocated by Alois Podhajsky of the Spanish Riding School (every rider should read his book) and doing lots of calm transitions. This “pony trot” allows the horse to move around easily, flexing his joints and swinging through his spine, before more impulsion is added.
So kind reminder to all; do not spend too much time trying to drill the big, flashy gaits as this repetition solely produces rigidity, and makes your horse dull. Bee sure to strengthen both the locomotive muscles and the smaller core muscles. That’s how you shape an enthusiastic athlete.