Saturday, January 22, 2011

Listen to the horse, they have all the answers.

I may have mentioned, once or twice, that the bulk of my business at CedarCreek is with re hab horses.  Animals that have been started elsewhere and may or may not have had some sort of career in the show pen.  They come here to my farm because I will take the time to unwind the issues and rebuild the athlete.  My program follows the outline of the 3 F's.

When a horse comes here I have my farrier balance the Feet.  I work with Peter Van Dyke. An amazing farrier who I am pretty sure I couldn't help half the horses with out.  Together, Peter and I decide if proper flooring and flat shoeing will be enough or if we need to shake things up and really make a change.  My favorite change is to add wedges to the hind feet. This lifts the heel, closes the angles in the limb and changes the force on the foot so the heel can grow.  I do this when the toes have been allowed to grow too long and the heels have dropped.  In these cases, the majority of them, the horse is restricted from balanced forward movement because the foot gets in the way and they jam into the ground toe first.  I look at it like wearing flippers and trying to walk forward.  Think about it.  They tell you to walk into the water backwards in flippers, don't they?

Once the feet are balanced I check the Fit of the saddle.  When a saddle does not fit the shape of the back correctly the horse will drop away from the pressure, hollow their back and shift their shoulders. they adopt a very crooked way of going to compensate for their restriction over the back.  I usually find that this crooked way of going leads to the first rib being in spasm as well as the psoas muscle in the lumbar area.  Once I have addressed the glaring issues of crookedness and taken the body out of spasm, I begin the slow process of physical therapy to maintain lift in the shoulders, engagement of the hind end and overall straightness.

The one thing I haven't mentioned yet is Food.  I feed a simple diet of organic dry land grass hay and Dynamite vitamins.  Clean simple food helps keep the body strong and the mind focused.  I'll top dress with supplements like Vetra Calm.  It's high in magnesium and helps the muscles relax.  I also find that horses who have been in pain have digestive issues like ulcers so I feed Miracle Clay to coat the tummy and alleviate pain.  Vitamins can take up to a month or longer to have an effect on the body so the first 30 days in the program are the most intense.

Now, here is Max.  My clean slate baby, or so I thought.  Max is healthy and had been very well taken care of.  He's had nothing done as far as training other than being handled going in and out of the pasture and being held for the vet and farrier.  The very basics.  Perfect.  However, I have noticed a few things with regards to Max's posture that made me take a step back and do my usual "re hab once over".

The first thing I noticed was that Max's hind feet had started to drop at the heel and the toe was a bit pointy... Like a flipper.  His hip and hock angles were really open and it looked like he was doing some pulling from his front end because his neck had a small muscular development on the underside.  My farrier quickly addressed the issue of Max's toes but drew my attention to the fact that Max's right hind was slightly collapsed medially and Peter mentioned that I would want to encourage Max to weight the limb in such a way while moving that would allow the foot to re balance.

This fact weighed on my mind.  The collapse was not farrier caused, it came from somewhere in Max's body.  His posture was making his foot grow unblanced.  "As above, so below".  Now, I had addressed the issue pertaining to the over development on the underside of the neck by taking off Max's toes and closing the hip and hock angles.  This allowed Max to re position his weight to his haunch. I also released the spasm in his first rib on both sides, most likely caused by pulling himself from his front end.  Max started looking totally different,. He lifted at his wither, lowered his head and had lots of push from behind.

Still I noticed an imbalance in his movement from behind side to side and Peter's words came to mind.  How do I get Max to move in such a way as to encourage weight on the lateral wall of his right hind hoof? There is only one foot involved in the imbalance so I focused on the right hind limb and it came to me. Max was out in his hock.  The difference was slight but he was different side to side in the hind end.  Nothing glaring and if I hadn't been looking for it I would have totally missed it and gone forward with conditioning, hoping the work would sort things out.  Max's calcaneus (point of the hock) was shifted laterally causing him to overweight the medial aspect of is right hind hoof.  This is an easy fix.  I just popped the joint back into alignment.

Max's hock is still aligned. Yay... Some of his compensatory issues from the hock were presenting so I spent about 20 minutes in his stall going over him.  It is amazing to me to see and experience this body work and alignment in such a young body.  Max knows what he needs and when.  He has started getting pushy about showing me his "spots".  He is always right.  He knows where it needs help. Today I straightened his hips, released his girth ribs and decompressed his felocks in front.  All things he showed me. Thanks Max.  Good boy.


  1. I want to state here that Max is perfect. I went into this adventure with him knowing the path I wanted to follow. Starting him slowly and having him in his body. The things I am seeing and "fixing" most people would miss. He is not lame. He is not uncomfortable. He is a horse and just like the rest of us, he has imbalances. I want to address those before conditioning the body or even getting on him...He is friendly and happy and so willing to work with me. Loves the Maximus

  2. Very interesting read, Sarah. Cant wait to follow along as Max progresses. Sounds like he points to his spots like Milo does, but Im assuming with less aggression. :)