Over the next few articles my goal is to show you the changes you can make to your horse’s conformation and carriage by using Connected Groundwork and Connected Riding techniques.
In December 2005 I bought an 11yo 16hh Standardbred gelding called Hunter. I’m not sure of his past history, except that for the previous 1-2 years he had been trekked. He has a kind, sweet nature, and was an ideal starter horse for my novice husband. He was ridden on our farm all summer, moving cows and generally exploring, and the 2 of them got on fine. Ian then fell for another horse (!) and Hunter became my project. This month we are going to look at Hunter’s conformation when he first came to us, and in future articles we’ll see his improvements.
We found that when ridden Hunter tended to hold his head extremely high, and his legs seemed to windmill around in every direction. The clues to all of this are in his body shape at that time. The dip in front of his withers tells us he tends to go head high, with tension in his neck, base of neck, and shoulders. The slightly bulging braciocephalicus (the muscle on the underside of his neck) confirms this posture. His neck generally is quite weak; no real topline to speak of. His back is also under-developed, a sign that his tendency is to hollow and disconnect his hind legs rather than engaging and lifting his back. His hind quarters are quite pointed, rather than being more rounded and muscular.
Now, some of you might be saying ‘But that’s typical Standardbred conformation – nothing you can do about that!’ Well, I hope to prove different!
From March – mid July 06 Hunter wasn’t ridden or worked, at which point I took him over and started some Connected Groundwork exercises with him.
I started by showing him how to release the tension from his neck, head and shoulders…
… and lots of S walking to help him release right through his body, stretch his topline and start stepping under with his inside hind. He was particularly stuck / stiff on his right side.
I did several sessions of just groundwork, as I could feel how stiff and unbalanced he had become. When I did then ride him he still felt like a motorbike on any corners, so the next challenge was to re educate how he carried himself with someone on board.
By October 06, having ridden him about 6 times, his outline was already less angular and he was getting more ‘connected’.
Next time we’ll look at his progress since then.