Sunday, March 11, 2012

Dancing With My Horse's Backside

Think two-step meets a shopping cart.

I am describing my attempts to get Harley to roll his backend under as demonstrated in the very nice video posted at It's Quarters for Me.  Horse yoga.  I read this interesting post and watched the very clear how-to video and thought "I could probably stand to do some stretch work with Harley".  Every time I see my teacher, she immediately starts working his shoulders and neck.  My friend at the barn does all kinds of stretches with her horse.  Even the barn owner does the occasional carrot stretch with his trail horse.  I think that I have fallen behind the ball.

I am going to start with what Harley is good at.  He is really good at the belly lifts.  He can lift his back so high that it looks kinda unnatural.  I think this is a benefit of being rather rectangular in shape.  He has a long back and loin and they have an impressive range of motion.  Of course this does not mean that he stands with his back up all the time.  He doesn't.  He lifts it under saddle, but I should take the time to breathe with him and do a few sets on each side.  Nice and easy with a long exhale, like I am doing yoga, too.

You know what?  It was fun.

Harley is also good at carrot stretches.  I wouldn't say that he can go all the way to the stifle, as that would take some dedicated practice, but he can wrap his long body around like a bow.  A friend once nicknamed him "Gumby Horse", because he reached for the carrot she rested near his hip on the first try.  This makes it really easy for him to bend under saddle.  Too easy.  I spend more time reminding him to be straight then actively bending him.  Another benefit and challenge of being long-bodied.

The front leg stretches are an excellent addition to our new routine.  After a couple sessions, he has figured out how to extend his front leg without stepping down onto the stretched leg.  He seems to have already gained some range of motion and is finding it easier to straighten his knee.  Harley absolutely LOVES this exercise.  He lifts his foot up for me and nearly does the exercise by himself.  I just support at the pastern and lower his leg forward.  He actively licks and chews and sometimes nuzzles my back.  We are so keeping that one in our box of tricks!

The tail pull got a mixed review.  I thought that he was pulling against the resistance that I was providing, until he rested a hind leg, sighed, and looked back at me like, "Are you going to hang down there all day or can we get saddled up already?"  Do I not weigh enough to create meaningful traction?  Harley seemed pretty "blah" about that one, but I will give it a couple more tries.

Then came the dance (Well, actually I tried to do the exercises in the same order as the video, but this was the funny one.)  I found the spot described in the video on either side of his tail.  My hands were resting on his hindquarters about seven inches or so below the top of his tail.  I tried gently pressing his muscles and watched his hips to see if he started to tuck his butt.  FAIL.

Harley felt the pressure on his backside and immediately tried to interpret what I wanted.  He sauntered to the left.  He sauntered to the right.  He tried stepping forward.  He tried stepping back, but did not want to step on me and then would side-step again.  I tried to stay behind him (Normally, I would say, "Do not stand behind a horse!") as he side-steped which caused him to step forward or side-step the other way.  I followed, trying to apply pressure on either side of his tail and trying to watch his hips.  Unfortunately, I am too short to see over his croup, so I could not really tell if he was doing anything other than shifting around.  A couple times, I think that he might have started to tuck his pelvis, but I really could not see clearly.  At some point I realized that what I was doing probably looked dangerous or completely ridiculous or both.  I decided to call it quits and try another day.  Our waltz was created by what I thought was gentle pressure.  It seemed like Harley moved as soon as I applied any pressure at all.  If I applied no pressure, he did nothing.  If I applied stronger pressure, he just danced more.

I think that this yoga stretch could be very beneficial for him.  The practitioner in the video suggested that if your horse cannot do a stretch, then that is probably the one that he needs to do.  Okay.  I will try again, but how do I explain this one to Harley?


  1. I worked on these yoga stretches with Val too. :)

    Feeling cautious about bringing Val all the way to his stifle in the carrot stretch. He has always been able to reach the back of his barrel easily. And we too have a little noodle neck, staying straight issue. I'm on the fence about that one.

    When we first tried the cat scratch / butt tuck, Val would kind of collapse a hip and step to the side at first. I just brought him back, and made sure to be exactly even with the pressure on both sides of the tail. If you watch the flank, what you can see from behind, it will flex when he tucks. I think there is also a component of core tightening to this stretch as well.

    I would love any suggestions you have about the belly lift. I'm not sure I understood where exactly to apply pressure from that video...

    Happy stretching :)

    1. Thanks for the feedback. I will try again and use your advice to try and communicate with Mr. Harley.

      I press along the "seam" of the belly. Sometimes you might have to really up the pressure until the horse's back moves up a little. Reward immediately and repeat. Harley got that one right away. It is easier toward the rear of the ribcage and quite challenging the closer you get to the withers. Another technique is to scratch or tickle with your fingers to encourage your horse to tighten his tummy muscles. Good Luck!

  2. The stretches sound like a good idea. I watched the video too and think it would be a great addition to add to Dusty and Blue's repertoire (and the other members of the herd too.) Haven't tried them yet but I'm sure there will be some fails and some progress when I do. Guess it's hit and miss until you find the correct spots.

    1. You will have to try them and let me know of any tips for success.

  3. Mine won't do that pelvis tuck either, Coriander reacted the exact same way Harley did. I think he's really tight in that area- when I try to do TTouch circles around his loins the skin sort of "catches." Maybe he needs to relax those muscles a little more before he can tuck and lift?

    1. Oh good. At least, we are not the only ones. His flexibility seems really good behind the saddle and he belly lifts like a champ, so I am kind of confused. He can do haunches-in, renvers, and half-pass, so he does not seem tight to me. He has a much longer loin than the horse in the video. I tend to think of short-coupled backs as being tight. It's probably me and my technique. We will see!


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