Backs, Equine and Human

Wednesday, during my lesson with Debbie, I had to work on Bingo's back and on my back.

When I started my ride on Bingo it was super, super obvious that Bingo's back still did not feel good. Because of this I spent over half of my ride up in two-point since Bingo DID NOT want me sitting down on the center of his back. Two-point was fine, and it did not take much longer than usual to get his back “swinging” properly while I was up in two-point, but during the first 15 minutes whenever I sat down to rest Bingo immediately sucked back, his back stopped “swinging”, and he was not happy at all. So I got back up into two-point and only sat down at the halt, and he gradually improved.

It has been TWO WEEKS since Bingo's trail ride with the dressage student (one of Debbie's friends) and his back is still bothering him. During these two weeks I have been the only person riding him. He hasn't had any beginners on him, he has not been forced to wear another saddle, and all he has done is be out in the pasture 24/7. Bingo has a deep sway in his back, for comparison look at the parentheses in this paragraph, that is just about the curve of Bingo's back between the base of his withers and his very high croup. Since his back is so swayed I keep my weight as far forward in the saddle as possible when I sit down on him so that my weight is over the strongest part of his spine. In fact, when I got my last saddle I specifically bought the Pegasus Butterfly saddle because of its shorter tree because I wanted Bingo to be as comfortable as possible when I rode him. Because the Pegasus Butterfly saddle does not have a normal pommel I can get my seat around an inch further forward than I could in my Crosby Prix de World saddle. Bingo has responded favorably to my new saddle and how I ride in it, and for a while it looked like his back was strengthening (as in the sway was a little less deep.) He even got strong enough to accept my sitting trot (I used the half seat/crotch seat) without inverting for a quarter of the way around the ring!

But during the trail ride Bingo's rider was “scooping” with her seat bones for many minutes to try and bring Bingo's back up, because of something her dressage teacher said about using dressage during competitive trail riding to help the horse. Now, some dressage techniques might help a competitive trail horse learn how to use his body better, but a rider digging their seat bones into a swayed backed horse's back is not one of them! I can still feel the “kink” in Bingo's back where she dug her seat bones into the saddle, and it took me 20 minutes of riding mostly in two-point to get his back feeling good enough so he would consent to me sitting down in the saddle at the walk without sucking back, when usually I have to stay in two-point for 5 minutes at the most before he tells me his back feels good enough for me to sit down.

Before a rider decides that dressage techniques are suitable for every horse no matter the horse's conformation, should remember that the old dressage masters were very specific about the conformation of the horses they trained. All of the old ones I've read (Newcastle, Pluvinel, and Gueriniere) are specific about the conformation of a proper dressage horse, the conformation of a horse that could both stand and benefit from the dressage riding techniques. NONE of them considered a horse with a DEEP sway back as suitable for dressage riding since their techniques had as much chance of harming the horse as they did of helping the horse at all. They also emphasized the necessity of months long physical development of the horse before the horse would be physically able to produce the movement his rider wanted.

By the way, back in the days when Bingo was balking several times each ride, during the balks when none of my other techniques worked I did “drive” with my seat bones, once or twice during the balk, and then I got my seat bones OUT OF THE SADDLE so Bingo could relax his back. I did not have any long lasting harm from those rare occasions (2 or 3 times?), in fact I could get his back “swinging” again in a few minutes and sit back down without him feeling too uncomfortable. Fortunately Bingo stopped balking a few months ago so I have not had to “drive” him with my seat lately.

When Bingo finally consented to me sitting down in the saddle (without sucking back and with his back “swinging”) I went into my usual routine of doing various figures and turns, and whenever his back started bothering him I got back up into two-point until he relaxed his back again. He perked up a little though I still had to use my legs a lot to keep him moving out. After a few minutes I asked Debbie to hand me the Equicube so I could work on my core muscles, she had used it with a male student to get him to feel his core, but she could not remember exactly where she put it. I finally found it sitting on a fence post so I started carrying it in my hands. Since Bingo's back was iffy I scooted my seat bones as far forward as they would go in the saddle before I carried it. Bingo was not too upset about me sitting more centered in the saddle, with my back 90° to his spine, but that may be because my arms got too tired to carry it after a minute or so. After I gave it to Debbie and I rode off she commented that my upper back was noticeably straighter even though I did not have much weight on my seat bones.

Just before the end of my ride I asked Bingo to back up. I got up into two point and asked him to back up and he moved one leg back maybe a quarter inch. I asked him to back up six steps, and each step was really, really tiny. That was fine, I wanted obedience, and he gave me obedience, as much as he could comfortably. I seriously doubt I will ever get Bingo to doing the “greased rails” back ups that Mia gives me now because, while Mia's back is not perfect, it is definitely less swayed than Bingo's! Of course it took me eight years to get Mia's back-up perfect, so maybe I am giving up on Bingo too soon.

The Equicube IS strengthening my core muscles. My back did not hurt at all yesterday, unlike the week before. I hope I will get my arms strong enough so I can carry it for more than a minute so I can get my core muscles stronger faster. I am thrilled that I finally found something that helps me strengthen my core muscles in the saddle, and I am happy that Debbie can use it to help other riders.

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

P.S.  I apologize for the changes in font size.  My word processor does strange things with me nowadays, things it will not let me fix.

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