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Does Your Horse Struggle to Canter?

Can you relate to any of the statements below?

Does your horse refuse to canter ?

Do they canter great on one rein but not on the other ?

Do they struggle to maintain a lead ?

Do they want to only want to canter on one rein?

Do they disunite behind ?

Do they feel tense and stiff?

Does the canter feel short and choppy ?

No push? Not three beat ?

They are motorbiking around the corners ?

Holding their quarters to one side?

First of all.. well done! If you recognise any of these in your horse, you are right, this is not normal. We all love a free flowing, fluent ground covering canter. Like you are sat on a rocking horse!

NO tension

NO rushing

NO changing or disuniting bend

So, what can YOU do to help your horse's canter?

First of all, we need to understand the FORM and FUNCTION of the canter.

  1. It is completely different to the trot!

  2. The vertebral biomechanics are required to flex and extend through active concentric contractions of the trunk muscles.

  3. Exercises to improve the canter should focus on hindlimb suspension with thoracolumbar flexion and propulsion of the hindlimbs with extension of the thoracolumbar

Which areas of the body make the horse sit down on its haunches?

Let's keep this simple! We all know that our horses are connected and move as one, yet saying that there are 5 main areas of the horse's body that make our horse's "sit on their haunches".

  • Illiopsoas

  • Intervertebral Transverse joints

  • Coxofermal joints

  • Abdominal muscles

  • Lumbosacral joint

From that list above, can you see which joint is not mentioned? A joint that is misunderstood with a lot of emphases on it?!

THE SI JOINT (sacroiliac joint)!

This joint is very often confused and misdiagnosed in relation to the canter. Please ask your therapist/ vet about the 5 areas of the body I have mentioned above, before you have your horse's SI joint injected to "Improve the canter". The SI joints are there for stabilisation, they do not flex and extend (which is one of the major requirements of your horse's canter) and provide a shearing force through your horse's hindquarters.

Does your horse hold their quarters one side? In practice I often come across this body pattern, where horse's hold their quarters to the right creating a hollow through the body to the right and bulged to the left. A lot of these asymmetries are human made because we tend to do things from the same side and or the tack we use on our horses are incorrectly fitted or they are done up from the same side every day. The hollow side is the easy side for your horse and the bulged side is more difficult. It is really hard for a horse to pick up the left lead if their quarters are fixed right.

There are 3 things that your horse could have problems in:

  1. Hind end problem- from the TL junction backwards. This area includes with lumbars, LS, pelvis, hind limbs and sacrum.

  2. Frontend problem (front limb problem).This area includes with CT junction and the thoracic spine (Withers, sternum, ribcage, thoracics, front limbs). This section is responsible for lifting the front limbs. Shoulder girdle injuries in horses is overlooked and misunderstood in performance horses. Damage to this area is inhibited further by tack and rider, which prohibits the scapular range of movement therefore affecting the horses ability to lift the front limbs, which is required to engaged the front limb to canter. Shoulder girdle dysfunction causes more problems in our horses then we think.

  3. Combined hind end and frontend problem. This is a concern because this could be about 85% of the axial skeleton.

If you are resonating with any of the above statements, are are some simple things you can do to help your horse.

  • Take full body images of your horse. Are there any obvious asymmetries? Are the shoulders a pair? If you stand behind your horse and look at their wither region, are there any obvious asymmetries? Is the pelvis symmetrical?

  • Test your horse's range of movement with specific testing exercises. If you are interested please click on the link below.

Take home message:

If you and or your therapist/ vet knows the full body anatomy of your horse and understands that form equals function. Furthermore if he/she listens to you the rider/ owner/ trainer and is making a full assessment of your horse from both a static and dynamic perspective, you will find the answer to your horse's canter problems.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

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