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Seat Bones from the Horse's Side of theSaddle
Seat Bones from the Horse's Side of the Saddle
By Nancy Wesolek-Sterrett
Dressage Department Head, Meredith Manor International Equestrian Centre
When a horse has trouble moving straight or difficulty bending in one direction or another, or the rider cannot circle without pulling on the inside rein, the first thing I think of is not, “What’s wrong with this horse?” I consider that the crookedness may be feedback and immediately check the rider’s position. Is she sitting up straight?
Sitting straight means that the rider is centered over the horse’s center of gravity with equal weight on both seat bones. As well as, the rider’s shoulders directly over the seat bones. This is important because unless a rider can sit this way, she will not be able to subtly modify those seat bone pressures correctly to communicate direction, bend, speed and other information to her horse. When the rider’s seat bones contradict other aids, the horse gets confused, crooked, or offers other feedback that telegraphs the message, “What did you say?”
At the halt, the horse’s spine should be straight from poll to tail. The rider’s nose, chin, breastbone, belly button and spine all align with the horse’s spine. From the side, the rider’s ear, shoulder, hip and heel should align. As the horse begins to move, the rider keeps equal weight on both seat bones to indicate a straight direction of travel. Or she weights and unweights her seat bones in nuanced ways that influence the direction of travel in bends, circles, canter leads, lateral movements, etc. To get a square halt, she needs to put her weight equally on both seat bones again.
If the rider pays attention, the horse broadcasts clear feedback about as to how he feels the weight distribution in her seat bones and what it suggest that he do with his body. Take the example of a crooked rider whose default position puts more weight on her left seat bone than on her right. When going to the left, the horse probably bends and circles correctly. However, when the rider asks the horse to circle right, the horse may drift out to the left, fall in through the right shoulder, or have difficulty picking up the right lead. Ridden continually this way, the horse may develop more muscle on the left side to carry the rider’s crooked weight and become asymmetrical in the pelvis or hips.
Small things can make a huge difference for the horse. I recall one horse whose rider trained him correctly to turn on with the rider’s weight slightly heavier on the inside seat bone. He was sold to a rider who used a ‘spiraling seat’ to turn her horse. While this is very useful seat imagery, the rider misunderstood the full concept and overturned her shoulders, pushing her weight onto her outside seat bone. The horse was confused and the new rider was frustrated. (Sit on a swivel chair and try it.)
If rider sits heavily on the left seat bone, horse may dive to right or may drift to left to get more underneath the rider. The horse may have difficulty getting the right canter lead, refuse to yield from the right leg because the left seat bone is blocking the request. A jumper may run out to the left in front of a jump or drift to the left on landing. Unequal weight may put a lazy horse behind the leg and slow him down. Given confusing signals, a hot horse might get hotter and run from the pressure.
Understanding how to sit with equal weight on both seat bones, understanding how to weight and unweight each seat bone independently of the other, and keeping shoulders aligned with the hips can make many riding problems go away. A very slight shifting of weight onto one seat bone or the other can help the horse give the right answer as he follows the rider’s weight. For example, when the rider starts from the halt sitting straight with equal weight in both seat bones, she can give the horse clear communication when they start circles and eventually lateral work. Later on in the training scale, the rider’s ability to shift slightly from one seat bone to the other while staying straight and centered over the horse’s spine is essential to correct flying changes.
Many riders blame the horse when he goes crooked rather than considering that he may be giving them feedback about their own crookedness. A horse may act out because of a sore back and the rider may blame the saddle instead of realizing that continual riding with her seat bones unequally weighted could be the cause.
The question “Is it me or is it my horse?” can be hard to answer when you ride the same horse all the time. The rider with just one horse will benefit from the help of an instructor or experienced observer who can give them feedback about whether the rider’s crookedness is making the horse crooked or vice versa. Gradually, both horse and rider can develop a feel for ‘straight’ and help each other stay centered. Our students have the opportunity to test their seat skills by riding horses of all sizes, personalities and training levels. They learn a lot from their mounts as they adjust to these differences.
Riders with their own horse might take lessons on other mounts from time to time to help them figure out, “Is it me or is it my horse?”
Certainly a horse with unevenly developed musculature, saddle soreness, teeth issues, or dozens of other major or minor issues may compensate in ways that put the rider crooked in the saddle. Regardless of the cause, however, if the rider matches the horse’s crookedness, it will never go away. The rider that becomes responsible for being ‘straight’ herself, helps her horse feel what ‘straight’ should be so that he can figure out how to get there.
Riders ambitious to get to the next level in their sport sometimes hope that buying a horse that is at or above that level is the way to move up. Once they are in the saddle, however, they find themselves stuck right where they were. Worse yet, the higher level horse they thought would be their ticket to ribbons winds up ‘dumbing down’ its performance to the rider’s lower level. Often, the problem is very basic. The rider has never really learned how to sit truly straight with equal weight on both seat bones.
The seat bones are literally the seat of all communication with the horse. Correctly or incorrectly they are always sending information to the horse. Riders who pay attention to their seat bone messages and the feedback their horse gives about them will become able to truly influence their horse stride by stride. Remember, nothing replaces a correct, independent, influencing seat.
© 2012 Meredith Manor International Equestrian Centre. Nancy Wesolek-Sterrett has earned numerous United States Dressage Federation horse awards including Bronze and Silver Medals on horses she has trained. She competes her horses at Training through FEI levels. As a Certified Riding Instructor she brings over 20 years of experience to her position as Head of the Dressage Department at Meredith Manor International Equestrian Centre (147 Saddle Lane, Waverly, WV 26184; 800-679-2603; www.meredithmanor.com), an ACCET accredited equestrian educational institution.
Equine Motor Neuron Disease
Equine motor neuron disease (EMND) is a spontaneous neurologic disorder that causes degeneration of motor neurons within the spinal cord and brainstem. The disease is not completely understood, but it is believed to be linked to vitamin E deficiency. It is similar to Lou Gehrig's disease in people. It is often a rare disease, however when it does affect horses the result can be devastating.
EMND can effect all horses, but breeds that are predisposed to the disease include Standardbreds, Thoroughbreds, Quarter Horses and Arabs. EMND is seen most often in Quarter Horses, however it is believed that the disease is based more on husbandry than genetics. Older horses are often more effected. EMND is reported most often in the Northeast US due to low vitamin E soil levels, but can be found anywhere where feed is deficient in vitamin E. Signs of EMND include progressive weakness, muscle fasiculations, muscle wasting and weight loss. Horses affected with the disease often lie down for long periods of time. These signs can resemble signs of colic acutely, but the affected horses often continue to have a good appetite. In addition, retinal pigment changes indicative of vitamin E deficiency may be detected on an ophthalmologic examination.
Horses with EMND have low plasma (blood) vitamin E levels. This can be tested by your veterinarian by taking a blood sample and having it analyzed by a laboratory. Other tests can include muscle biopsies and soil/feed analysis. The muscle that is biopsied to diagnose EMND is the sacrocaudalis dorsalis muscle located at the top and to the side of the tail. Muscle biopsies can rule out other diseases that have similar clinical signs such as polysaccharide storage myopathy (PSSM or EPSM) and rhabdomyolysis (Tying-Up). The soil/feed analysis can detect levels of vitamin E and determine if they are adequate.
Treatment for ENMD is often difficult since it is a progressive disease of the muscular and neurological tissues. The basis for treatment consists of vitamin E supplementation and supportive care. Horses deficient in vitamin E should be supplemented with at least 5,000 IU of vitamin E. Clinical signs and vitamin E levels should be monitored regularly in horses diagnosed with EMND. There are varying degrees of success with treatment. Most horses will improve to some degree, some relapse, and few make a complete recovery.
The bases of prevention consists of checking soil/feed vitamin E levels. Horses who's diet includes pasture grazing as opposed to only hay are often at a decreased risk. If you have horses that do not have access to pasture, live in an area deficient in vitamin E, and your hay comes from a region deficient in vitamin E, it is important to have your feed and horses tested. In addition, if your horse will be on prolonged stall rest due to an injury or illness, vitamin E supplementation is recommended. Blood levels of vitamin E can be obtained by having your veterinarian test a blood sample. If horses are located in a deficient area than supplementation of vitamin E is recommended. Vitamin E is not a toxic medication and over supplementation will not cause any harm to the horse.
If you have any further questions regarding vitamin E, EMND, and your horse's vitamin E status or risk of EMND, please contact your veterinarian or one of the veterinarians at New England Equine.
Kimberly Brothwell, DVM
Jacqueline Bartol, DVM, DACVIM
New England Equine Medical and Surgical Center
New Releases from Trafalgar Square Books
Dressage for the Not-So-Perfect Horse, Riding Through the Levels on the Peculiar, Opinionated, Complicated Mounts We All Love
By Janet Foy with Nancy Jones
Tens of thousands of riders pursue the sport of dressage in North America, and the majority do so on a budget and with the horse they already have—or quite simply, the one they can afford. This means riders are facing the challenge of mastering one of the world’s most esteemed equestrian events on horses that may not be bred specifically for the task, or even if they have been, may not be top prospects for any number of reasons.
International dressage judge, clinician, and riding coach Janet Foy has ridden many different horses—different sizes, shapes, colors, and breeds—to the highest levels of dressage competition, and now she has compiled her best tips for training and showing in one highly enjoyable book. Her expertise, good stories and good humor are destined to bring out the best in dressage riders and their “not-so-perfect” horses everywhere.
Nature, Nurture, and Horses, A Journal of Four Dressage Horses in Training--From Birth through the First Year of Training
By Paul Belasik
Follow along as four young horses—Corsana, Kara, Elsa, and Escarpa—leave their babyhood behind and begin their training for future careers as sport horses, well-schooled in the art of classical dressage.
Renowned rider, trainer, author, and equestrian philosopher Paul Belasik shares the daily schedule, weekly events, and his own musings over each horse’s character, physicality, athletic ability, and training as the months and seasons pass. Belasik’s honest and enlightened journal entries give the reader an inside look at training horses according to the classical system he has used for almost 40 years. His style of writing allows the reader to “live” the experiences as he did—in the moment, and without the benefit of hindsight. The result is a true account, both thoughtful and thought provoking, and by turns tender and efficiently practical. .
While many horsemen may have the opportunity to train a young horse in the course of their life, it is only he who both breeds and trains who benefits from working with full and half siblings, horses both closely related and distant. Training horses that share bloodlines, birthplace, and breaking-in techniques enables one to witness the power of nature and the influence of nurture on the eventual result—a “finished” riding horse. Whether that horse is a pleasure to work with and ride, or dull and dispassionate, or worse—a danger to himself and others—is ultimately dependent on the right mixture of nature and nurture, and a sensitive knowledgeable hand to offer lessons in fair and yet effective measures. .
It is this that we witness, in words and photos, in the pages within. Paul Belasik opens his farm and his experience to us all, in the hope that his continuing education in the realm of horsemanship can be our own.
Cribbing and Dental Wear
If you’ve been around the horse world long enough then you are probably familiar with cribbing, an undesirable, compulsory behavior. Though there are varying degrees of the behavior, it generally involves the horse using her front teeth (incisors) to grip onto surfaces such as stall doors, fences, etc and then arching her neck to suck in air. While the practice reportedly causes a release of endorphins to give the horse a feeling of pleasure, it can also be linked to colic, stomach ulcers, and dental wear.
The amount of abnormal dental wear that a cribber possesses is highly variable depending on the surfaces used, aggressiveness of cribbing, and length of time that the horse has been cribbing. However, an experienced equine dentist can almost always identify a cribber just by opening the lips and examining the incisors.
My experience has been that heaviest wear will most often occur on the upper incisors, starting in the center and moving outwards. Depending on the horse’s movements while cribbing, the bottom incisors are also affected, but generally less heavily. Surprisingly, the cheek teeth (premolars/molars) are often hardly affected by cribbing, with the exception of extreme cases when the incisors are worn down to the point they are causing an overbite or underbite. Uneven bites like these will cause the jaw to be misaligned from front to back, and cheek teeth will wear accordingly, but generally these issues are correctable.
In summary, cribbing is not only a nuisance, but an unhealthy habit that should be stopped whenever possible. While it can cause unflattering cosmetic changes to the incisors, it generally does not affect eating habits, and routine dental care can usually resolve any unusual cheek teeth wear that has occurred. Prevention of further cribbing is the best course of action, but this article will not breach that subject.
Michael Marshall, DVM
Century Mills Equestrian Team - National Finals Results
Sarah Baker- 5th Future Beginner Flat Team
Morgan Maher- 7th Future Novice Fences Team
Sarah Baker- 6th Future Beginner Flat Individual
Morgan, Rebekah, Michela, and Sarah all had stellar rides at Nationals! The competition was fierce, but the girls held their own and came home with great ribbons. We had a big crew of supporting teammates and parents, which made the whole trip a ton of fun. Let's do it again next year!
Jean Sheptoff and Ami Des Gemmes win the $25,000 Fieldstone Spring Festival Grand Prix
Congratulations to Jean Sheptoff and Ami Des Gemmes on their win in the $25,000 Fieldstone Spring Festival Grand Prix.
Jean, manager of Newbury Farm in Littleton, MA made her Grand Prix debute two years ago, winning the the $35,000 Fieldstone Summer Showcase Grand Prix on Peaches.