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Developing a better back

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  • Developing a better back

    I have a 5 year old ASB mare. She was trained saddleseat and I am trying to show her huntseat on the ASB circuit. She still needs a high headset, but she doesn't understand how not to hollow out her back. I would like to teach her to use her body properly. What are some exercises I can do with her? I prefer a lot of ground work exercises, but obviously will work on it when riding her too.

  • #2
    Does she long line? if so you can do w/t/c over poles/raised poles with either a pessoa or if you have side reins set at an appropriate "just in front of the vertical" height/length and attach an elasticated tail bandage around the quarters (instead of pessoa). You can also lunge, although I find it a lot easier with the two lines to keep them straight. You want to be doing lots in trot as the moment of suspension/symmetrical footfall pattern really helps to strengthen the core. To counteract extension, you need to strengthen the abdominal muscles, think of it as a "bow and string" where the top of the back is the bow and the abdominals are the sting. When you increase the work of the abs through poles/raised poles/walking slowly through shallow water, the back flexes, stretching out the longissimus dorsi muscle which is what produces the extension in the first place. By systematically working the abs you will also get increased hind limb action and hopefully be building up the right muscles to help her carry herself more through.

    The high headset may not be an issue for her conformation, as it may help her to carry herself underneath herself but if you were to add in a few minutes of long and low but flexed, that helps to stretch out the topline as well as the neck. Don't need to go overboard, just gradually introduce it and see if she will accept it.


    • #3
      In order to develop the musculature you are trying to change, she has to learn to stretch her head down.

      This doesn't mean you have to show her with her head down, but she must learn to stretch it down.

      You want to thjink about working in her in a training level dressage frame, pushing from behind and seeking the contact from the rider. This is also called long and low, it can get pretty low, once your horse figures it out. Play with your aids, ride your whole horse, and her head and back will come right around.

      While she will still have her head up for competition, she will also have her head up because of conformation.

      I am familiar with ASBs, though have never shown them.

      I do want to add, it will take at least 6 months to truly start changing her back muscles, and a solid year before it really really takes effect.


      • #4
        You can ride her and exercise her at home with her head down between her knees, (and working low, over caveletti, and up hills is exactly what she needs) and trust me, when she gets to the show ring, her head will be up high where you want it. It's inevitable actually
        Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans


        • Original Poster

          Thanks everybody.

          I guess my issue is figuring out how to get her head down. She doesn't WANT to do it. Haha. My guess is it's too hard of work. On the lunge or long lines, she won't do it. And under saddle, I am not so sure how to ask. She does long line and I planned on working her in side reins when long lining her to see if it would help, but I'm pretty lost beyond that.

          I know a lot of transitions, pattern work, etc. will help as well.


          • #6
            We has an ASB in for training a coupld of years ago, and we did teach him to use his back and neck properly, rather than the hollwed back, rigid neck frame he came with.

            Lunging in sidereins will help, so can riding in draw reins, to show him where to go, the pessoa type rope systems are very helpful too, use the lowest setting on your surcigle.

            You need to be patient, and keep working at it, you have to change the exisitng muscles, and then develop the new ones.

            I would find a dressage coach, or a h/j coach who really focuses on and understands flatwork, and take some lessons. That way you have eyes on the ground ro tell you when the frame is hedaing in the right direction, and you can isolate what it feels like.


            • #7
              I agree with mrsbradbury. Long and low is the way to go. Teach her to follow your hand and take up the contact as you get out rein. She won't be able to hold it for long, but gradually she will get better and better. Inside leg to outside rein helps because it gets the horse balanced, especially when paired with a spiral-in and spiral-out circle. Lots of circles and serpentines. Trail rides with hill work are also a great way to build up those back muscles (kinda hard to go uphill with their head in the air). I would also ride in a german martingale, gradually increasing how far down it puts her head so she gets the idea without locking her there too quickly.

              Ground work will not be as easy to do because the cues may not quite transfer over to the under saddle work. Longing over poles of varying elevations will help bring up her back, as will longing in vienna side reins so she can have a bit more freedom of movement. You don't want to trap her down to a certain position, this will not teach her how to use her back and will only compound your problems. Also, be sure to watch her back for signs of soreness. The existing muscles are weak and underdeveloped and can be strained very easily.

              I've gone through all of this with an Arab I have. He was trained for Country English Pleasure, but was burned out and sore when I got him. It has taken four years to get him muscled properly, and he is still a work in progress. This is a long road you are starting down; it is hard work to undo breeding and training, much harder than it is to train a horse from scratch. But it is doable and can be quite fun. It also probably won't take you four years, so long as her back is not as damaged as my horse's was.


              • #8
                Originally posted by getupasb View Post
                I guess my issue is figuring out how to get her head down. She doesn't WANT to do it. Haha. My guess is it's too hard of work. On the lunge or long lines, she won't do it. And under saddle, I am not so sure how to ask. She does long line and I planned on working her in side reins when long lining her to see if it would help, but I'm pretty lost beyond that.
                Walk. Walk. Walk. Walk. and be very patient. Expect her to lower inches at a time. It will come.

                You will have the best luck towards the end of a satisfying ride when she is peaceful. Give her a little rein and wait for her to reach out or down for contact. Hold gentle contact. When she raises up again, take up the rein. Hold gentle contact. Give her a little rein and wait for her to reach down for contact. Hold gentle contact.

                Rinse, repeat. Repeat Repeat Repeat.

                Also, longeing or long lining with side reins fastened down at girth level. Loose, not tight.
                Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans