Connected Horsemanship
            at Valkyrie Ranch

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Articles & Case Studies

The purpose of this blog will be to record and track variouse case studies involving horses, students, training, etc.  and a place for all of my training articles to be posted. This is soley for educational purposes and is only an expression of my own experiences and ideas.

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Dressage for the Horse

Posted by Lauren on November 18, 2012 at 6:55 PM Comments comments (0)

Dressage for the Horse

            When many people hear the word “dressage” an image of sleek, prancing warmbloods in the Olympics often comes to their minds. There is a misconceived notion that if one wants to participate in the discipline of dressage you need the right kind of horse that has the right breeding and the natural talent for the movements;of course don’t forget all the expensive equipment, tack, outfits, lessons, show premiums and barns that go along with “dressage”. In this limited view the true art and essence of dressage has been lost. In order to fully understand the intentions and purpose of dressage we must look back to its origins. It began with the ancient Greeks training their war horses skillfully and precisely. From this we get the famous work of Xenophon, The Art of Horsemanship, which is the oldest known text related to horse training that we have available today.  This war horse training program evolved throughout Europe which led to the work of the masters such as Newcastle, Pluvinel and Gueriniere and the founding of the great classical riding schools. In all of this the training methods, as they stretched and grew, remained ever true because it was understood that the work of dressage was never a means unto itself. The purpose of dressage was to bring the best out of any horse. A human athlete needs a balanced and intentional work out plan that includes things such as strength training, stretching for flexibility, cardio, etc. in order for their body to be in the best shape possible to avoid injury and participate in their sport. This is the intention of dressage, to create a willing, supple, strong, balanced, collected,obedient, responsive horse.


   Most horse people have become accustomed to the fact that horses are one sided; just like humans are right handed or left handed. Many riders, however, tend to accept this and do their best to just live with it. But you don’t have to work around it; there is something you can do about it! The gymnastics exercises of classical dressage make up a straightness training fitness program to balance your horse both lateral as well as create collection. A horse’s one sidedness means that they are typically in a permanent state of bend to one side. The result is that the muscles on one side of the spine stay stretched while the muscles running down the opposite side of the spine stay contracted. This crookedness means that one hind leg is working harder than the other and the same is true in the front legs, it means that maintaining a bend and circling to one side will be easier than doing the same to the other, one lead will be easier to pick up, and so on. This crookedness leads to many problems both in performance and health.

   But what defines straightness? Is it just walking a line next to a straight fence or is there something more to it? The term ‘straightness on a circle’ comes to mind and it is really not as confusing as it may at first sound. An absolutely straight & balanced horse will be able to be just that…straight through the body. This means that the horse is moving on only two tracks, if the front feet were to draw a straight line exactly where they stepped then the hind legs would also step on those same two lines.

There are a couple ofdifferent ways that you can check this but I will give you two that should be fairly simple for even an untrained eye. The first is to have someone walk the horse as straight as they possibly can directly away from you. Make a mental note of where the left front foot stepped, now where did the left hind footstep? Was it on the same line as the front or was it off a little to either side? Now watch the right front step, where did the hoof print of the right hind end up in comparison to the hoof print of the right front? Was it off a little to the left or right? Or was it directly, perfectly straight on the line? The second exercise you can do (although this one is may be little more subjective if you as a handler do not execute it correctly) is to have your horse back up several steps (at least 10 or 20). Make sure that there are no fences, distractions or obstacles anywhere close to him on either side. Was he able to back in a perfectly straight line? Make sure that you do not muddy the results by inadvertently pressing more to one side or the other. Do this a couple of times and as the handler also try switching to either side of the horse just to make sure that you are not pushing him to one side. Is it difficult or impossible for the horse to back a perfectly straight line? Does he consistently curve to one side or the other? If he tends to curve towards the right as he is backing then the left leg is taking longer steps then the right leg and vice versa. Don’t be surprised; I can guarantee you that all horses are naturally going to be crooked to some degree or another. Now getting back to our ‘straightness on a circle’ concept, the idea is that the horse that is straight should be able to lunge or ride a circle while keeping their foot falls on only two tracks. In this case the topline and spine of the horse is bent to the degree of the circle, but the horse is still able to maintain its straightness bystepping on only two tracks. If the horse is circling to the right then the right front and right hind should both fall on the same inside track. The left front and the left hind should both fall on the outside track. The horse’s feet on one side are both stepping straight onto the same line that line just happens to be going around a circle. There you have it…straightness on a circle. The circle is an often undervalued movement in riding but for many horses and riders it is the most difficult part of the test. A correct and balanced circle is the foundation and glue of a straightness training program. The horse’s inside hind should step directly in line with the inside front, in this case it should not be crossing over the outside hind as many horses do. The horses should also maintain absolute integrity in their bend; it should be through the entire body nose to tail. The horse should be engaging and pushing with both hind and should not fall onto that inside shoulder. If a horse cannot maintaina symmetrical, consistent circle of a specific size (not spiraling in or out) then the horse is not straight and balanced. There is no better example of the saying“the proof is in the pudding” then testing the straightness, balance and coordination of a horse by assessing the quality and consistency of their circle.

Now that we have defined straightness and established some tests and criteria for it, what do you do about it? By following the principles of classical dressage and incorporating the gymnastics exercises into your horses routine you will work to stretch the muscles on the one side of the spine that prefer to contract and to contract and strengthen the muscles on the other side of the spine that prefer to stretch. You will also work to strengthen the weaker of the hind legs and teach the hind legs to engage under the center of balance and put forth equal effort. Exercises such as circles (only precise and correct ones count),shoulder in, haunches in, haunches out and half pass will work to this end.

The benefits of straightness training far out way the work put into it. A horse that moves balanced and straight will develop even muscle tone, be able to carry the weight of a rider more efficiently, will have a decreased risk of injury as well as avoiding many other health and chiropractic problems, increased longevity, and will exhibit far more athletic ability than they may have at first naturally appeared to possess. In most cases the straightness training has better results and moves along quicker if the old muscle patterns and imbalances are changed by a holistic practitioner, craniosacral therapist,chiropractor, massage therapist, TTouch, and/or acupuncture (just to list a few).  A whole horse approach to care and training is the most important aspect to keeping a healthy horse and athlete.The combined effects of straightness training and holistic care and healing can often turn troubled or ordinary horses into extraordinary animals whether they are being used just for fun, for work or for performance.


            In straightness training the gymnastics exercises are used to help balance the work load equally between the hind legs. Once the horse is straight and balanced laterally the next step is increased collection and carriage which means to be ever asking the horse to put more and more weight on the hind end, to step the hind legs further under the center of weight, to engage the abs, lift the back,and lighten the front. The gymnastics exercises are continued, sometimes to a greater degree, all of which ask for more work from one hind leg, then you can progress to the piaffe which asks for greater engagement from both hind legs simultaneously.The fruition of all this work is manifest in the levade which is asking the horse to gracefully put all of their weight onto their two hind legs. There is far more to do with collection then what we have time to cover in this short article so I have only mentioned a few basic concepts; do know though that what was covered in the couple of sentences before this does not intend to give you a full view of all the nuances of collection or the bigger picture. The important thing is to recognize and understand the biomechanics, anatomy and movement of the structure that makes up the front legs and the structure that makes up the hind legs. The horse in the wild is more than happy to allow the front legs to do more than their fair share of weight bearing, but for the purpose of riding, caring weight, performing, etc. the hind legs are far better suited for the job. The hind leg, when used correctly, is anatomically designed like a loaded spring, full of force, strength and power. A horse that understands the need to carry the majority of their own and the rider’s weight on the hind end will be sounder, balanced, healthier, at less chance of injury, stronger, more athletic and more physically capable as a result of the shift in how they move and carry weight.

For the Horse

            A horse that is straight, balanced and collected is better suited, more capable and happier doing any job asked of it whether its owner prefers to walk down the trail, work a ranch or win high point. A horse that is healthy, happy, strong and able to do the work asked of it will have a better quality of life overall.

            Dressage was never meant to be about finding the perfect prospect that will win the blue ribbons; it was never intended to be a means unto itself. The purpose of classical dressage was always for the betterment of the individual horse. The discipline you want to do, the breeding and talents of your horse, you or your horses past experience are all somewhat irrelevant when it comes to whether or not you and your horse can and should incorporate dressage into your training. Whatever your purpose, goals, or discipline classical dressage will transform your horse into something better then you ever imagined it could be. It is not a matter of if your horse is suitable for dressage but of understanding that ultimately dressage is for the horse.


Goldy-Phase 2

Posted by Lauren on November 11, 2012 at 7:55 PM Comments comments (0)

Goldy is doing great! She is enjoying daily turn out and all of her supplements. We will also continue to work on her feet a little at a time. Since she is now sound I will start preparing her for use in lessons for small children.

On Nov 9 I lunged her saddled for the first time. She didn't seem to care at all about the saddle, it was the lunging she wasn't so sure about lol.

Nov 14: Savannah rode Goldy saddled for the first time. They both did great and had a lot of fun just walking around. I think Goldy really likes the attention from the little kids and all the little kids seem drawn to her; their just the right size for each other. :)

On Nov 17 Goldy gave her first lesson. She is so amazing with the little ones! We couldn't ask for a kinder or gentler little babysitter :)

Goldy-Phase 1

Posted by Lauren on November 4, 2012 at 11:55 PM Comments comments (0)

Goldy was switched to a grass only diet on November 1.

On Nov 2, after having been on grass hay for only one day, she had already improved dramatically. The pony who hesitantly, slowly and painfully walked across her stall to get a drink of water the day before was now running, bucking and playing around the turn out. She still had a limp and you could see that she was not entirely comfortable on her front feet but boy did she feel better! Like an entirely different horse; her eyes brightend and she looked happy and enthusiastic.

On Nov 3rd we trimmed her feet. Thomas Barkley will continue to work on correcting and balancing her hooves but we believe it is best to do so as slowly and integratively as possible. He will work on her just a little bit at a time. It would not suprise me if she comes up a little sore for a few days following the trim; but right afterwards she was walking so much better, the limp lessend and she sure did want to move. I could barely keep her still as she was excitedly trying to trot circles around me. From examining her feet Tommy believes that she is only laminitic (not completely foundered) and that there is in fact hope to have her sound within the next couple of weeks or months.

Nov 4th: I took some time on my day off to do a little shopping and investigating for her. Our shopping trip to Sprouts Natural Market in Temecula (one of my favorite places) was extremely successful and more affordable then I had expected. We already had some of the things that I wanted to give her but the stuff that we didn't have a purchased in the bulk herb section of the store in small quantities. For now I am hoping that the amount I got will suffice to heal her and get her to bounce back, after that I plan on just keeping her on a simple maintanance regime to keep it from happening again.

Back at home I mixed up a nice little concoction to start her on; I may adjust it and/or change the dosing as time goes by but the first batch of our herbal remedy consists of:

1/2 tsp Marshmallow powder

1 tsp white willow bark

1 tsp comfrey root

a couple of dried rose hips, crushed

1 tsp uva ursi

1/2 tsp dandelion root powder

the entire contents of 1 tea bag of chamomile

2 garlic tablets, crushed (equal to approximately 2,000 mg)

2 MSM capsules (equal to approximately 2,000 mg)

1 echinacea capsule

2 kelp capsules

1 Vitamin C capsule

These measurements make up one dose. As I said I may adjust it depending on the results and as I continue to do more research but this is the basics that we are starting with. Also remember that I mixed this with a small pony in mind, I would probably double it for a normal sized horse and if I was dealing with a horse prone to allergic reactions or sensitivity I would introduce each new ingredient one at a time.

In addition to this herbal mix I will also be adding flax seed oil, aloe vera juice & 1/2 of a small yam to her daily supplements.

Nov 5th

Goldie got her first dose of the herbal remedy today; she will also be on epsom salt for these first couple of days to help detox. She appears to be completely sound and she ran, bucked and played around the turnout. :)

Nov 6th

Today she got a magnetic massage, acupressure treatment and was wrapped while in her stall. The holistic approach to treatment promotes increased circulation and overall health


Here is a link to watch her trot around, after several days of running and playing she was a little bit more lazy today so I had to help her along:

Nov 7th

She's feeling really good so today we worked on improving her leading.

Analysis, Research and Game Plan

Posted by Lauren on November 4, 2012 at 11:35 PM Comments comments (0)

Analysis: Goldy's known history is extremely limited. She was believed to be foundered but no changes were made to her lifestyle and no attempt had been made to heal her. It was obviouse that she was in intense pain in both front feet and she would avoid walking and moving as much as possible.

Research: When looking for information our priority was to find a natural, holistic solution to help heal her body as a whole. Our first and main source of information came from In addition to this I also read other articles online and especially researched herbal remedies.

Game Plan: The first change that needed to be made was to switch her off of alfalfa and onto an entirely grass hay diet. In addition to the hay we also wanted to provide her with an herbal supplement that would not only help to improve her overall health but also to heal her specific problem. Per our research it was decided that daily turn out would be an important part of the process. Corrective hoof trimming to help balance the hoof, support the structure and take away all unneccesary pressure and discomfort would be the trickiest but essential part of her healing program.

My research found the following herbs to be helpful for her condition:

  • Devils Claw
  • Butchers Broom
  • Garlic
  • Hawthorne
  • Kelp
  • Oregon Grape
  • Slippery Elm
  • Uva Ursi
  • White Willow
  • Yucca
  • Marshmallow
  • Boneset
  • Juniper
  • Rose Hip
  • Chamomile
  • Comfrey
  • Dandelion

This is quit a long list, one which we decided we would need to narrow it down based on what was most commonly and highly recommended, what was believed to be most effective, what was readily available at our local health food store and all the while trying to keep it as affordable as possible.