Asymmetry and gymnastic work
Following on from Nic’s blog on asymmetry and the interesting discussion that followed it, I have been pondering. I thought I would set out my fledgling understanding below. I am no an expert, so below is just my musings.
I am crooked, as are most riders. Sometimes more so, sometimes less so. My default crookedness riding is to sit off to the right, and have left seat bone lifted, and left side shortened, my left shoulder dropped. By sitting over to the right, the slope of saddle means I feel level. My left leg and hand are weaker and less dexterous than my right, and my left hand likes to do an unconscious fiddle on the reins (I think in a non productive attempt to compensate for my weaker left side). I also tip forwards and my lower legs swing back. I make consistent progress in improving these issues, but they will I think remain in the background waiting to sneak back in all my riding life. I get to the point where I can correct them all say on a 20 metre circle but add in a more challenging exercise or a riding a test and they sneak back in when I am not concentrating.
In correcting this, I swing backwards and forwards between different extremes. My most recent lesson on Mac, I am over holding right rein and dropping left rein, which is the opposite of my long term issues. Sometimes I work hard to correct one thing for it to swing back the other way.
My default is left seatbone higher left shoulder lower, left side weaker. And with good riding, good exercise and good attention to it I can make progress in being straighter. Any aggressive chiro or osteo work hasn’t been very successful as I just pull to being crooked. It is slowly trying to change the habits and underlying musculature. And understanding that if I stop riding / exercising / working on it / paying attention to it, the crookedness comes back. And if I don’t work on it, the horses I school come to mirror my crookednesses.
Thinking about Remi. He had somewhat reverted to crookedness due to time off and muscle tone dropping away. He has come back into work still with an s-bend that had developed during time off, most likely as a result of compensating for his underlying problems during the year. This manifests as travelling on three tracks with an S bend in his body. Weighting his left front foot heavily, and putting weight on left front shoulder, and avoiding weighting right front foot (the wonky foot). Quarters travelling inwards to the right. Willing to bend right, but less keen to bend or look left. His right front foot has considerable deviation as shown in pictures (previous blog entries). What the underlying cause is and why he has developed his musculature, posture and feet this way isn’t known to any of us. Is it something he needs to go through to balance himself, is the crookedness cause or effect? Is he protecting himself to develop his feet, to recover from past injuries? Is it good or bad crookedness? Is he finding his own balance? The key question has been should we change and what should we leave alone?
On Nic’s advice, Remi has had regular body work with Elaine since coming home from Rockley. I have followed a program of lots of roadwork hacking and careful gymnastic work. And the results have been significant and seem to tell us that bodywork is helping him and that sympathetic realignment and encouraging him to be more balanced is good for him. The changes in Remi’s movement and alignment before and after treatment and exercises are significant (see videos in previous blog entries). His feet have not been trimmed since November 2012.
My understanding is that Elaine gently releasing the muscles that get tight and blocked and spasmed, and using exercises to encourage Remi to move weight from left shoulder to more evenly on both shoulders. And to bend to the left as well as the right. Remi’s snorting and blowing, and the increased movement that he offers when he is better aligned tell us this seems to be the right track.
I don’t know that Remi will ever approach straight, nor that I will ever be a straight rider. I doubt Remi will ever have symmetrical front feet, and suspect he will always have a deviation on his right front foot, and need it to stay sound. I concur with Nic here that asymmetry doesn’t have to be bad. And I think forced symmetry is as bad as forced asymmetry. But I will keep trying to be a more functionally straight rider, and to encourage Remi to be a better balanced more functionally straight horse, because I believe it to be in both of our biomechanical interests.
I like Elaine’s description of:
“Straightening work can help that along with body work but you can't make a pole out of a weeping willow.”
And Elaine’s words:
“Thinking about it, :D, straightening the horse could be better thought of as centring the rib cage between the forelegs, do you agree? The main problem a horse has is that the lack of clavicle means when he leans over a particular leg the entire rib cage shifts to one side and the thoracic sling becomes stretched one side and contracted the other which has knock on effects throughout the horse, so if we just think of centring the rib cage/sternum (even though the rib cage may not be symmetrical) we have a better description of what we are after ... maybe. Balanced feet are the beginning of that process - I didn't say symmetrical”.
That fits with what I think I am aiming for with Remi.
The key I think is to gently encourage, and unlock and support muscles to release, and to observe if the changes you are making are causing better movement, better ripples of muscles across the horse’s back, better ability to stretch down, snort, and release and better length of stride. If you know what you are looking for then you know whether working to straighten the horse is helping him.
Am impressed if anyone read all the way to the end of my musings! I welcome a discussion. I don't think there are many absolutes in this area. All views very welcome.