Phoenix’s Hydrotherapy

I’ve recently been managing, well surviving, Phoenix in winter mode. She’s not as hyped as previous winters, and kept a lid on herself until February. Hopefully by the time she’s twenty she’ll be cool as a cucumber over winter!

Sure, she was a bit fizzy, but a good canter took the edge off. Then, a new horse went into the adjacent field, so Phoenix spent the next couple of days charging at the fence line defending her territory and herd. When I rode her she was super tense and tight over the lumbar area of her back.

So I booked her in with the chiropractor pronto, who found a slight misalignment but mostly tight muscles. About the same time, Phoenix had her first season of the year, and seemed even more sore in her lumbar, which I can only put down to period pains as it’s fairly close to her ovaries. She also had a massage the following week and definitely felt looser in that area afterwards.

Phoenix’s biggest issue when she gets a sore spot is that we then have a mental block about it. For example, this time the tension in her lumbar area caused her to almost wince when asked to bring her right hind slightly further under her body – travers, right canter, leg yield. Which then sends me down a rabbit hole as to whether there’s an underlying issue…

However, after some stretches which showed full range of movement, just moving with caution, and some lunging in just a cavesson proved that there’s nothing physically wrong, just her suspicions that it will hurt, combined with the need to canter in a straight line for several miles to burn off the excess energy. Similar to many kids coming out of lockdown!

Which means that I’m now schooling to loosen up her lumbar, getting it to work correctly, and making her realise that it doesn’t hurt and to relax into her work again. Which she’s starting to do after some canter work. The better weather is also helping and I’m pleased with her work at the end of the last few schooling sessions. They feel progressive again.

While all this has been going on, I had had thoughts about boxing her the five miles to use the water treadmill. Hydrotherapy is a very good workout for their core and my initial plan, to try and keep winter Phoenix in her box next year, is to take her weekly to the treadmill over the worse of the winter months. It’s another form of exercise; when the weather is bad riding is a calorie burning exercise rather than being particularly beneficial to her way of going, so this would take the pressure off me to ride her on wet and windy days, hopefully keep the energy levels in check, and help keep her topline (which unfortunately has deteriorated this last 6 weeks while she’s been tense and reluctant to use her back properly). I felt guilty at the thought of travelling her during lockdown as whilst travelling for hydrotherapy is permitted, Phoenix wasn’t exactly in dire need of it.

Phoenix took to the treadmill happily, walking straight on, although the look in her face when it started and she shot backwards was a picture! It was interesting watching Phoenix’s lumbar muscles begin to work over the course of the treadmill session, starting a little locked but by the end her whole back was swinging nicely.

I’m not expecting a huge transformation in her physique as a result of going on the treadmill. This month of sessions is to help get her using her back again and feeling stronger. In the summer I can work her correctly easily and get her long and low (which is not natural or easy for her, like stretching out a strong spring which likes to be on alert) but now she’s experienced the treadmill she will be ready for the winter, when she comes weekly and hopefully we have a more constructive training programme. As well as the fact we will hopefully be allowed out competing and to blow off steam on the gallops.

Roll on spring!

Conformation Part 4

This post about the horse conformation looks at the horse`s back and barrel.

There is a wide variety of “normal” backs with horses, but ultimately it should be strong, of adequate length and in proportion to the rest of the horse. A horse with a long back is more prone to muscular injuries and can find it harder to track up and connect their hindquarters to their forehand. A short back is more at risk of kissing spines, and the horse may be prone to over reaching or forging.
In addition to the length of the back of the horse you should also look at the shape of it and it`s muscular development. The ideal back has a slight dip behind the wither, along the thoracic vertebrae, rising to the croup; in older horses or those with “sway backs” this dip is pronounced. Think of it like when we arch our backs; the horse`s spine is weaker and it is less able to carry weight. A horse in poor condition may look like it has a sway back due to a lack of muscle. A roach back is when the spine curves up along the thoracic and lumbar vertebrae; these horses struggle to flex and often have stiff gaits.
Sometimes obese horses look like they have stronger, better backs, because the fat gives the illusion of muscle development. Within an obese horse, with a flat broad back, there is often “mutton withers”, which is a poorly defined, flat wither which makes saddle fitting difficult.
The rib cage of the horse should be well sprung; the horse shouldn`t be slab sided, as seen in many Thoroughbreds, as this makes it difficult for the rider to put their leg on and there is less room for the lungs to expand. If the rib cage is too round and well-sprung it can affect the upper arm and shoulder movement, but it does give a lot of room for the lungs to expand. Another conformational point of the ribs and barrel is “herring gutted”. This is when there is a sharp rise from the girth to the stifle, giving the horse a greyhound appearance. This appears in stressed horses, such as three day eventers at the end of the competition, in undernourished horses, and in those who don`t engage their hindquarters or use their abdominal muscles. This affects their stamina, stride length, jumping ability, as well as pre-disposing them to back problems.