As part of my new series “A Prescription For Parelli“ we will discuss games and exercises taught within the Parelli Natural Horsemanship program that can be used to target specific imbalances in the equine body. In this segment we will cover backing with the head down as an on-line ground exercises that will help with improving vertical spinal mobility. Vertical flexion (or collection as it is most often referred to) is when a horse is at its most athletic and balanced. It is a thing of beauty to watch.
It is also one of the most elusive and sought after things in the horse world. Horse owners and trainers struggle with achieving vertical flexion in their horses, buying gadgets that promise to force the correct frame, or drilling the horse with boring exercises for hours on end.
Horses are creatures of habit, just like people, and they learn to move in certain ways that are not necessarily ideal but simply become “comfortable” as part of their every day lives. Just as a human might slouch in a chair, so the horse becomes lazy in its posture. They also like challenges and games that will engage their mind and provide them with a purpose.
If you will incorporate some very simple games into your daily play sessions with your horse, you can help them overcome some of this muscle memory without drilling. They will slowly learn there is a more comfortable way to move and begin to incorporate the new muscle memory into their everyday movements, as well as becoming more mentally engaged and connected with you.
By teaching your horse to back with its head down, you encourage it to lift and round its back, engaging and strengthening the core abdominal muscles used in collection. When you first teach this to your horse, it may be quite difficult for them to do. Many horses have a hard time backing with a lowered head and will back with head high in the air and a very hollow back which is actually much harder on them physically not to mention uncomfortable.
Start out by asking for just a few steps on a level surface, gradually building the amount of distance you ask for.
As they get better at it and begin to strengthen the proper muscles, you can add more challenges like backing over a log or other obstacle and backing up hills. Adding obstacles while backing is a very good exercise for horses that are very straight in the hind legs. It encourages them to tuck their hind end (pelvis) and flex the stifle and hock joints. This in turn allows them to engage the shock-absorption properties of their back legs. Horses with very straight hind legs are prone to hock and stifle problems. Improving vertical flexion is a great preventative exercise if you have a horse with this type of conformation.
In the video segment below, 4-Star Parelli Natural Horsemanship Senior Instructor Christi Rains demonstrates how to teach your horse to back with its head down on-line with her young National Show Horse “Sonny”. Christi has been a Parelli Natural Horsemanship Instructor since 1997 and offers natural horsemanship clinics at her ranch on the Brazos River near Glen Rose, Texas.
Lisa Carter is a Certified Equine Massage Therapist (CEMT), with multiple certifications from several different equine bodywork schools. She incorporates her knowledge and experience with Parelli Natural Horsemanship, equine bodywork and as a veterinary technician to provide her clients with the resources they need to make informed decisions for their horses. She encourages and facilitates network building between equine health care professionals, working together to find the best combination of therapies to meet the needs of the “whole horse”.
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