CASE STUDY: MOTION PROBLEM, CAUSE AND SOLUTION
All horses move the same, no matter what discipline. Dressage, jumping, reining, racing, trail riding, all require the horse to bend, flex, extend, and rotate. Each discipline may emphasize one movement more than another which creates more stress and muscle tightness in specific areas of the horses body as a result of that discipline.
Problem: Heavy in right rein with difficulty bending to the left
It was a foggy morning at the race track, when I met up with a very disappointed jockey. She shook her head in disbelief when she reviewed her race on a 5yo filly the day before. “She is bred to the nine’s she said. She has the speed, the stamina and the courage to go the distance and win every time out, but she hasn’t done any better than third.” I asked if she runs out of steam, and fatigues. She said ”No, she has a hard time bending to the left and leans in my right rein making it harder for her to go left on the turns. Because she doesn’t bend well to the left, she pulls on my right rein causing her to move to the outside of the track, go wide on the turns, essentially covering more ground.” Bottom line: The filly had to work harder, covering more ground, resulting in a third place or less.
1. When I assessed the filly, I felt a very tight muscle with a large spasm in her right poll. Tightness in the right poll prevents the filly from easily bending to the left, which is why the jockey feels her leaning and pulling on the right rein. She could bend her head to the left when asked, but not that well, and could not really sustain the motion.
2. I learned that the filly was put on the hot walker only going to the left for 45 min each day. A hot walker is a mechanical piece of equipment that is used to cool down or warm up the muscles in a horse, as well as exercise them at the walk in a very small circle. The horse's head is tied to a long arm or chain attached from the hot walker to the side of the halter in the direction of the circle the horse is traveling . In this case the hot walker was attached to the left side of the filly’s halter when she was traveling to the left. This motion and exercise is similar to lunging a horse at the walk except, it uses a mechanical device instead of a person on the end of a lunge line. For our filly, this exercise caused the outside of the body, in this case the right side, to stretch to go to the left on the small circle. By stretching to the left on the circle, the muscles on the right side of the poll became tight, one of the causes of the filly’s right poll tightness.
3. I also observed that the horses in the shed row where the filly was stabled were eating their hay in a net hung up on the outside of their stall doors. The filly shared her hay with the horse to her left. This required the filly to again, stretch the right side of her neck to reach to the left, creating tightness in the right poll muscles. Between the hot walker and the hay position, it looked like a lot of repetitive motion and stretching could be the cause of the problem.
1. I worked on the filly’s poll using the three techniques of the Wilson Meagher Method™ of sportsmassage and the muscle released and loosened fairly easily. I taught the trainer one of the techniques I use, called compressions. (see DVD page on web site www.sportsmassageinc.com to order DVD: A Course in Equine Sportsmassage) I showed him how to use the compressions on the poll in order to maintain muscle pliability and ease of motion.
2. I suggested when the filly was exercised on the hot walker that they change direction and include walking to the right as well as the left.
3. I also suggested the filly have her hay hung in front of her, or placed on the ground, so that she did not have to stretch her neck to the left, making her poll on the right tight.
In this case, identifying, understanding, and eliminating the cause of the problem, would, in my opinion produce a long-term solution. The Wilson Meagher Method of Equine Sportsmassage allowed the muscle to loosen which resulted in the filly not having to lean and pull on the jockey’s right rein. Eliminating the pull on the right rein stopped her from drifting to the outside, thus allowing her to cover less ground. The jockey’s initial impression about the filly’s talent was restored when she finished a strong second in their next race and won the following race!
Two years later: The filly, named Aly, after her father Alydar, became a top amateur show jumper.