Trilogy Pro Tips With Susanne Hassler - Posture Matters!!

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Just like for us riders, I am a firm believer that our horse's posture is inherent to their ability to perform. There are ways we can help our horses both before and after riding to naturally have the best posture possible. Hopefully the work we do in training enhances and further develops our horse's posture and ability to carry themselves but these tips are useful for our time spent on the ground with our friends. Before tacking up my horse, I ask my horse some simple questions through some gentle chiropractic exercises. These exercises not only enable me to read my horse's flexibility and comfort level before starting work that day, but they also begin the process of helping my horse come into optimal performance readiness.

I begin behind the horse; much like when we ride, we ride from back-to-front! I ask my horse for a gentle sit-up, by either engaging my thumbs or fingers in a scratching type manner against the grain of hair on either side of the tail head, at the top of the hamstring and gluteal muscles. (Others do this exercise by pushing the thumb against the grain of hair on the top of the sacral vertebrae). In response to my aid, my horse lowers his croup and gently lifts his back. It can be helpful to have someone stand in front with the horse, to keep him from walking forward. I ask him to hold this stretch for 3-4 seconds, then release. As long as I am confident that my horse has performed the exercise well, I move on. I can also repeat the exercise if this is a particular weakness for my horse and repetition improves the response.

Next, I move my hands to either side of the tail head and ask my horse for the same response but from one side at a time. This time my aid elicits a curved and arched spine flexion. My horse is lifting his back and getting a lateral stretch all in one. I do this gently and only ask him to hold the stretch for a few seconds. I repeat so that both sides of the back are stretched and lifted.

Next, I move to the side of my horse and run my fingers below on the midline of his belly. Usually about 3-4 inches back from where the girth normally sits, I can get a nice response that again lifts and opens up the back in preparation for work.

Next, I ask my horse to lift and and arch his neck to each point of his shoulder. It should make his neck look pretty, therefore, this stretch is often called "Pretty Neck." It can be taught to your horse by taking a piece of sugar or carrot (though watch your fingers!!!) and standing on the opposite side from which you want your horse to make the stretch. Face your horse, standing on one side and close to his chest or shoulder, and run your hand with the sugar/carrot underneath his neck passing the point of his far shoulder. Then lightly pinch or tickle to create a response for the horse to turn away from you but inwardly to the bend in a dramatic arch which flexes the neck and lifts the base of the neck. Repeat on both sides.

I prefer to do all this before I put the saddle on. At this stage, I normally place the saddle on my horse's back, ensuring the saddle pad is lifted nicely up into the gullet of the saddle. Once the girth is loosely attached, the last pre-ride stretch that I do with my horse is for the front legs.

I lift one front leg and keeping it quite low to begin with, I ask my horse to extend down through his leg in a forward stretching direction. Once that stretch is comfortable, I then pick up the same leg and stretch the leg a bit higher, opening his shoulder up and allowing the leg to extend more forward. This is a super stretch but should be done carefully. If the horse pulls back or resists, work within more gentle boundaries. Always repeat to both sides.

I then head out for a happy, productive ride. Once my work is over, I have one more stretch that I add to the program. Many chiropractors say it is much better to stretch the horse after work with these exercises because the circulation has loosened up the muscle and soft tissue fibers and the stretching can be more effective. So ideally, I repeat all of the above and then, for a grand finale, I do the classic carrot stretch.

My horses are so trained to all this that I am now able to give them an extensive carrot stretch that not only opens up the vertebrae in the neck but also opens the shoulders, stretches the topline, and provides isometric strengthening to each hind leg. First I position my horse so that the outside hind leg to the stretch is slightly behind the inside hind leg. I also ensure that my horse is standing over his hindlegs, not allowing them to be stretched out behind him. I keep my horse on a lead, position his hind end accordingly toward a corner in the stall, and then move myself back to his inside hind leg. I offer the carrot in the direction of his stifle, lowering it if is difficult for him to reach at that height. When done properly the stretch becomes a full body posture that lengthens the neck (usually I hear a few good pops as the vertebrae pop into place), curves the topline in a nice lateral stretch, and places the majority of the weight on the horse's outside hind. It's a terrific stretching and stabilizing exercise that finishes the work out for my horses each day!

Posture, flexibility, and a comfortable body go a long way to making our horses more comfortable when they work for us each day. I hope this tip has been helpful and will give you, too, a happy, flexible, confident horse each day!!

Susanne Hassler – Susanne’s earliest inspiration for the sport came while watching her grandmother compete for Sweden in World Cup and World Championship qualifying events, and her mother, Anita Owen, is an FEI-C judge. Susanne and her husband Scott, are dedicated professionals motivated by their love and passion of dressage and the breeding of sport horses. Debbie Witty says; “Susanne is an extremely knowledgeable horseman that dissects her horses health, soundness and well-being as well as her own riding and how she influences her horses. This makes it a saddle fitters paradise to work with her and her performance horses.”