Tuesday, August 9, 2011

To Flex or Not To Flex

So after thinking a little more about the video I posted the yesterday and wondering a little about training Starbuck to flex laterally at the neck, I realized that I didn't exactly have an expressible reason for wanting to work on this.  I guess since yoga, pilates and other flexibility exercises make me feel better and have less muscle aches after working out it just seemed like a no-brainer to me that the same would be good for horses.  I also felt like it would be a good way to work on submission, being able to handle her head and getting her ready for work with the bit.

So I started reading a fair amount about flexing online and saw that there’s a little bit of a polemic as to whether flexion is safe, necessary and / or natural for a horse, especially regarding vertical flexion (lateral flexion is bending the neck to the right or left, vertical flexion is bending the neck downwards).  There’s even a practice called Rollkur once used by Olympic dressage riders but which is now banned by the International Federation for Equestrian Sports which basically refers to the use of force (vía harsh bits, double reins and similar mechanisms) to cause a horse to overflex vertically, like in this photo:

I’ve ridden horses who had previously suffered this type of systematic abuse and know that it takes a long time to rehabilitate them to where they are free from pain and at all comfortable being ridden and would definitely never want to cause this type of problem for Starbuck!  To soothe my worries, I found lots of articles and videos which praise lateral flexion techniques as helping horses to stay supple, including from the US Equestrian Team’s horse masseuse (see below).  But what most set my mind at ease were photos like these which show horses doing the exact same kind of movement in the wild when completely relaxed.  So I'm determined to keep working on lateral flexion from the ground and also when I start riding (for example with the one rein stop).  Enjoy the photos!

Resources on Lateral Flexing:
How to get your horse soft and light in the face (part 3) article
Lateral Flexion article
Flex your horse's neck from the Ground article
The Importance of Lateral Flexion with your Horse video
Horse Massage, Improving Lateral Flexion in the Horse: The Masterson Method video

Resources on Rollkur:
The "Rollkur" Debate from EveryRider article
Rollkur article from Wikipedia
Rollkur Explained video

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