Please be paient reading my hypothesis, I'm afraid it is a little long.

As most of you know by now I have MS with extensive neurological damage, both in my brain and my spinal cord. I have MRI pictures to prove it.

Over the past two years I have been reading a lot of equestrian posts on-line. I have been puzzled how the tenor of equestrian discussion has deteriorated from the already rather nasty and bitchy level that prevailed when I started riding seriously 40 years ago.

I have also been puzzled at some of the physical problems that dressage riders report, especially sudden, persistent and unexplained vertigo and sciatica, both of which involve neuronal tissues.

Then recently I was reading on another blog how a dressage rider was not able to ride for months. When she finally got to ride again, fearing having to retrain her horse, she got the best ride ever from her horse. Another dressage rider reported the same thing happening to her after a six week forced break from riding, a perfect ride.

Suddenly I had this idea. Could all three things be related?

I know that before I learned I had MS I was rather like a lot of these posters mentally, especially with my reactions to discussions of cherished beliefs. I also used to have the same dramatic improvements happen after breaks from riding, when I resumed riding the problems I had with my horse would unexplainably temporarily disappear.

Am I picking up a "picture" of neurological damage?

My tentative hypothesis is that extended periods of the sitting trot MAY be causing micro-damage of the spinal cord &/or brain, and that doing extended periods of sitting trot EVERY DAY prevents the healing of this damage. I am also starting to believe that much of the modern "non-classical" dressage is partly a desperate attempt by the riders' bodies to prevent further damage to the nervous system by altering the way the horses move.

Could the long breaks from riding that those two dressage riders had allowed the micro-damage to their nervous systems to heal, resulting in those perfect rides?

I have asked three horsewomen about this, one dressage, one hunt seat, and one western. None of them dismissed this idea. We all want to what other riders think about this.

Please, be polite in your disagreements.

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It's an interesting hypothesis. You'll note that Stubben has now changed it's saddles to essentially lighten contact in the area between the seat bones due to pressure related issues that some people encounter. I note that I got rid of lots of back and knee issues when I switched from the hunter/jumpers to dressage, but I still do most of my trotting in the rising trot. I have to think about it and consciously sit, troublesome in tests!

I'd tend towards believing that a break refreshes the mind as well as the body. That translates into renewed joy in the riding and perhaps a different perspective on the ride, than what might have been previously. Exact same ride might have produced less enthusiasm if it happened in the regular course of work.

Personally, I've never really had to take much time off (other than 6 weeks that someone was in remedial training for some serious bucking/kicking issues). But, I've found more joy in my riding as I have moved along, not less. I feel like a better person every time I leave the barn.

Will be interesting to see what ensues from this topic.
Hi, Jackie:

I think you might be onto something, and not just from the rider's point of view...I think that long periods of sitting trot are likely detrimental to both horse and rider! I know that the top Europeans with whom I've trained do not do extended periods of sitting trot - they utilize rising trot a lot, and they make many, many transitions between gaits.

From a personal point of view I'd say that my experience has been rather more like Mags' - I think my horses and I benefit from occasional breaks, and we all come back to work refreshed mentally and physically. I am very fortunate, in that my horses spend their days in small groups in large pastures, so that even if I'm out of the tack for whatever reason (clinics are a big reason) they don't lose fitness, either mentally or physically. I nearly always feel better leaving the barn every day.

Eckart Meyners has done some sterling work around riding mechanics and postures, and I've found his theories, in the main, to be very prove-able in general practice. The very North American predilection for riding long periods of sitting trot with stirrups which are often as much as 3 holes too long probably adds to the problem.

I grew up on a working cattle ranch, and we spend hours at a time (10 and 12 hour days were normal) in the saddle, and almost all of that time was in either walk (cows mostly don't move very fast) or rising trot - almost never in sitting trot. It would have been far too tiring for both riders and horses.
Hi, again, Jackie:

I just thought of something else, a propos of Mags' comments. Long distance cyclists often experience loss of sensation and bladder control as a result of the saddle pressure which they endure on a daily basis. My husband is a long time Ironman competitor, and I can tell you that cyclists discuss this problem, along with saddle design, often.

Additionally, the spines of long time motorcyclists show evidence of very clearly defined bony changes. While the neurological changes are harder to evaluate, I suspect they occur as well.
One of the thoughts that sprang up when I was thinking of this.
The ruling class of horse warriors, both western and eastern, probably had to ride on trotting horses. I know in Europe, before the posting trot was invented, that for well-off private people gaited horses were the way to go, only poorer people or warriors rode trotting horses. Since most of the gaited horses needed extra training to develope their gait, I imagine they were more expensive to buy.
So, the horse warriors had to do the trot. Since they did not have the posting trot yet when their horses trotted the rider had to sit it out. Could this be a partial reason for the boneheadedness, stupidity, cruelty, willingness to waste treasure in wars, and general irrascability that the old ruling classes were famous for? Of course there are other causes of brain/spinal cord damage in a warrior's life, and many other ways to get repeated concussions (daily arms practice.)
I am beginning to wonder if we should have as a requirement for higher office that the candidates do not have a history of repeated concussions (no football, soccer, etc.), and, if that happened if we would get better, saner governments.
I am also worried about the effects of a lot of sitting trot on the horse's backs.
That's interesting. Personally I've never had a problem and always enjoyed sitting trot more than rising but I think I'm in the minority. I'm one of those oddities born with a very supple lower back. Even after breaking my back I still find sitting comfy. I have often seen people struggling to sit and stay with the horse, it looks very uncomfortable to both horse and rider and I can see how this could be damaging. I've never had the sensation of my horse going better after I haven't ridden, it's usually the other way around for me, but I think you could be on to something.

I think there is plenty of anectdotal evidence of your theory, maybe even some studies somewhere. Having screwed up a few nerves in my lifetime, I would say any repetitive and certainly  impact type sport is going to damage  nerves in the long run. Years ago my legs had weird symptoms from a carefully progressive running program, I eventually tried cutting back , I tried just walking, I still had lingering problems. More recently a year ago my arms went pretty non functional, the doctor was mumbling about MS by this time, but was no actual help. The cause was shoveling and bucking bales (pretty unavoidable if you care for a horse, or live in Canada and shovel snow). I am happy to report I have most of the use of my arms back after a year of physio. Except that my old hip and leg problems were aggravated by riding. I am really being as careful as possible every day to prevent the whole thing regressing this time around. According to the physiotherapist (one of the best in my area, has prevented people going under the knife), what happens is as muscles and tendons fatigue from overuse, poor conditioning, or microtears, they often spasm and squeeze nerves, as one cause for nerve malfunction. Also muscles and tendons are what keep your joints and spine correctly aligned. If they are weak or overworked, the nerves, which are usually somewhere near joints are under pressure and can be temporarily or permanently damaged. In my case even the blood circulation was being affected, which of course messes up the muscles and nerves too. Moral of the story, if you are not really well conditioned before you get in the saddle, you are risking problems. A rising trot where possible, unless your horse is being very kind and gentle that day, would certainly be a help. I also now use a dense foam cover on my saddle to reduce the impact on my body, because I do like to sit the trot sometimes, and hopefully will add some benefit for my horse. But I have a slightly more stuffed dressage saddle in the hope of helping him as well. My old approach of ignoring pain and just pushing ahead regardless is out the window, because pain is a signal from your body that you need to condition that body part better. Just stretches and a little warm up (or taking time off) is not enough, riding uses every part of your body, so you have to strengthen everything, especially in those breaks from riding. Also body builders and football players know that you don't overwork the same muscles on consecutive days, you have to alternate working and resting when building strength to give the muscle time to grow and recover properly before you increase demand if you want to avoid injury.

Bugger the people, what about the horses!! If your doing so much sit trot that your damaging your back what's happening to the horses back??

I think most horses make all of their back muscles tense, which makes the rider bounce even worse and you have two unhappy creatures, horse and rider.

Whoever invented the posting trot was an unsung genius.  I do wish we knew his name.

Hi Jackie :)

This is my first response to anything on Barnmice and I'm so excited that it's related to something I feel very strongly about... crosstraining!

I do agree that you are onto something: that repetitive motion --particularly repetition with impact-- may have adverse effects upon the structures involved. It is seen across the board in every sport that exists; runners with stress fractures or plantar fascitis;  baseball players with rotator cuff problems; wrist injuries in weight lifters... the list goes on and on. And let's not forget the horses! Jumpers with splints, dressage horses with suspensory damage, fractures in running horses, kissing spines in schooling horses... again, the list is endless.

Which is why it's so important to cross train.

As riders --of any and all disciplines-- we can benefit from sports and activities like yoga, weight training, and hiking. As a body builder, I have always been taught to work muscle groups hard enough to promote growth, while providing adequate (and necessary!) rest. Never work the same muscles to failure on consecutive days, and remember that it is after a work out that the body is repairing and rebuilding. So of course, if you and your horse perform the same movements/exercises/activities day in and day out, you can pretty much count on an injury sooner or later.

It is SO important to recognize and address the first signs of burn-out. If your horse (or you!) feel just a little "off," there's no shame in readdressing your intention for that particular ride. A dressage horse who must walk up and down hills is still conditioning and toning his hindquarters, without taxing his body in the same repetitive motion as trotting endlessly in circles of varying sizes and degrees of collection/extension. The rider who can hammer out the Pilates 100 with 5 lb dumb bells in her hands is still strengthening her core without the repetitive crunch! of gravity pulling her down into her tack.

Variety and rest are the keys to maintaining a healthy fit body, I believe that 100%. Thanks for bringing up such a marvelous topic, Jackie :) No doubt you've discovered you've hit a bit of a nerve for me! 

Thank you  Sharise for your comments.  You bring up many important points to consider!

And Allan, I finally learned the mobilization of my pelvis by trying to keep my seat bones exactly in the same place in the saddle, one front, up and "out", the other back, down and "in", it makes me more tired but it really reduces the bang, bang, bang.  Of course the bang never goes completely away when the horse gets suspension, it just gets reduced, so I limit the amount of the sitting trot I do.

Remember when we were young everyone told us to practice, practice, practice?  Somehow they never told us about the damage we were doing to our bodies, damage that can bring a lot of pain in our more mature years.  All work and no play can do a lot of harm.

It is the old man's humble opinion that the sitting trot is done wrong by the majority of riders and thus they are causing damage to their body.

The current standard for sitting trot has the pelvis rising and falling into the saddle while at the same time inducing forward and backward motion to the plevis.......the is done with the pelvis as one piece.

The hips of the rider should move forward and backward independent of eachother in sync with the hips of the horse, ie., rider's left hip with horse's left hip.  This removes the negative motions currently being shown as the acceptable standard for sitting trot.

Excellent point Mr Buck! I have been trying to teach my students that when a horse trots, it is more close to a jogger running than a kangaroo hopping, so ride it accordingly. ... this usually gets very animated and somewhat ridiculous during lessons... the kids get a good laugh out of me hippity-hopping around the arena- but it sure gets the point across :)


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