Advent Jan 5 2024 YouTube 

There are so many compromised horses out there. The sound, strong, balanced, aligned, supple horses are easy to work with. Fixing the broken ones is the test and there are a lot of broken ones that need help. That is a part of my mission – finding ways to help them. I personally own a lot of horses who are very compromised in mind, body and spirit. That is how and why I got them. To learn from them. They are the greatest teachers and Advent is one of them.

Being a bit of a perfectionist, I don’t like to share video footage that is not good enough or showing an exemplary level of balance and biomechanical correctness. However I think it is also important for people to see the process of development.  So I thought I would share little snippet of Advent’s progress with this video and photos. The top pic is him in Oct 2023 and the bottom pic is Jan 2024.

Advent is a racehorse off the track – with very compromised front legs – feet and fetlocks, which cause lots of issues in his upper body (shoulders, neck and thoracic sling) or perhaps and probably more likely, it is the other way around and it started in the body and that affected the feet. However it started, he is / was very compromised. It has been suggested by a couple of body workers that possibly ECVM is at the heart of the issue of why his feet and fetlocks became so out of alignment and unbalanced. I haven’t had his neck x-rayed to check for ECVM, because of expense, because of not knowing a vet that had enough knowledge about ECVM and knew what they are looking for to xray – it seems it is not common knowledge for many vets here in Australia yet,  but mainly, because if I knew that he had such a debilitating condition that most people believe is unfixable and just worsens over time, it could lead my mind into just thinking it’s too hard for him and he can’t do it and there is no point continuing. So instead, I decided I would just listen to him and let him give me the feedback about what he can and can’t do and how far he could rehabilitate and change. He didn’t use to move out very well with his shoulders, had a “piddly little walk” as one bodyworker described it and had a short choppy trot. He looked more like a chunky short quarter horse when I got him rather than the long, loose striding horse which he is now starting to become.

Before I had any awareness of ECVM, I did get his feet and fetlocks x-rayed as he was showing lameness early on. One vet told me after viewing his  fetlock x-rays, don’t waste your time or money with him. Here he was, a 4 year old horse, with crooked misaligned fetlocks, with bony spurs on them and cartilage and joint spaces that were already very thin. But I wasn’t going to give up easily, because I loved this horse’s spirit – his soul. I had been drawn to him so strongly. There had to a be a reason I had to have him. I connected with him from a photo. A photo of a racehorse winning, crossing the finishing line. I am not really into racing or race horses, and I see horse all the time, many of them, people are always trying to give me horses and sending me photos of horses. But there was something about this horse. I was overwhelmed with emotion and could not speak. I actually felt like his spirit was the spirit of one of my best horses ever – “Smoky” (Yarraman). When I first saw him in the flesh I was once again overwhelmed with emotion. I couldn’t speak for about 5 hrs – the whole float trip from Dubbo to Tamworth. It is interesting how and why we connect with certain horses in such deep ways but to me it means they are a soul mate.

I didn’t know he was so compromised before I bought him. I have slowly been rehabilitating him. His progress is much slower than it would be with a horse without damage and possible genetically inherited issues. But I had to try to get him better, and see what we could do together and how far we could go. If one day his physical issues stop him from being a riding horse that will be OK as there will be another purpose for his life and reason he is with me as he will have other lessons to teach me – horses are not just here to be ridden. But, look at Seabiscuit. It’s an amazing movie and true story if you haven’t seen it, of a racehorse with very compromised frontlegs who went on the be a champion. A champion of champions. So who knows what is possible.

How much I learn by rehabbing and working with these broken horses, whether that be horses that are broken in mind, body and or spirit is amazing. It is then so easy to work with horses that don’t have such big issues. Advent has the best personality and tries so hard. One of life’s big characters.

He had nearly 2.5 mths off at the end of last year because I was so busy on the road teaching. He just had minimal groundwork in that time when I was occasionally at home for a few days in between courses, to keep reminding his body how he needed to use it and trimming/reshoeing his feet with composite (plastic) shoes to keep them balanced.  I was only home for 11 days in total between mid – October and my last course, which finished a week before Christmas. It was too much time away from working with my horses, so I am hoping for less time away this year.  However, just doing the little bits I could in those 11 days, was enough to keep the committed groundwork postural development program that I had done earlier in the year, reinforced in his nervous system and his more optimal postural muscles activated. He does live out in a herd of 8 and has plenty of movement over a variety of terrain so that was also important in keeping his body activated. An important takeaway point here is that even when you don’t have much time doing something is better than doing nothing – all the little bits do add up. Also if your horse can have active movement in a paddock lifestyle that is the best.

I had had about 3 weeks of working consistently with him again, where I could start building his strength and posture more when this video was taken. Just every 2nd day – a rotation of arena rides, ground work sessions and some rides or hand walks out in the paddocks or down the road for confidence building and variety.

I am so happy with his progress. It’s so important to have video or photos, to keep track of progress otherwise it is so hard to realise just how much progress we are making. I think videos are the best way to learn and monitor progress.

What I love in this video is how much freer his shoulders are lifting up and forward than they used to be able to and how much longer his front legs are striding out. Also how he can stretch and lengthen the neck much more and hold his balance back over the hindlegs. Ideally I want him to be able to hold his balance back much more than this and that will come. In general he is much more lifted just behind the whither, right under the front of the saddle area. This is the hardest place to get horses to lift and where many horses don’t lift. If they are not lifted here they are not truly engaging in their body correctly. He is soft and developing some suspension.

He still can’t hold this balance for very long as he is still building the strength to be able to hold it, but it is getting easier for him. He is much more “through in the back” (has more energy flowing through his back).

When we are riding the horses with the aim of “self – carriage”, which is what I believe the aim should be, the horses have to be so much stronger. Self – carriage implies exactly as the name suggests – that the horses are carrying themselves rather than being held into a frame via our arms and the reins. They have to use their own muscle strength to carry and lift their front ends because we are not carrying them in any way.

One aspect of optimal biomechanics is that we have a fluid, mobile body and spine. The muscles are elastic. Like when we see a really talented Warmblood moving that is very loose in their movement – catlike and flexible in their spine and muscles. Good movement retains a degree of elasticity even in collection.  A loose spine is a healthy and athletic spine. A lot of western trained or “bridle” horses (as well as dressage horses)  that we see, do not have this elasticity.  So even though a western trained horse may not be being held in via a strong rein contact, if there is a rigid feeling or look in the body, it means they are not operating with optimal biomechanics.

We are looking for a feeling of energy flowing freely and unrestricted through the spine from the hindlegs all the way to the horse’s front end. This is what the dressage term “through in the back” means. The energy is flowing through. Energy is like water flowing through a hose. Tight rigid muscles are like putting a kink in the hose so that the water or energy doesn’t flow. True power and athleticism, as I learnt in martial arts, comes from energy flowing not muscle force, tension and excess contraction.

In regards to helping the horse with posture and balance, my reins are there to help them with straightness and remind them about their balance if they fall too far forward.  They are not “holding” them in a position.

The walk at the end says it all. The quality of how a horse walks at the end of the session is the real feedback. Does the horse choose to stride out, stretch, with a long free stride and have a calm, flat, swinging, but not rushing walk ? Is the horse lifting through their back and whither in the free walk ? He is offering these qualities in the walk at the end.

Helping horses to move with optimal biomechanics is a big part of what Riding with Synchronicity is all about and doing it in a way that feels good to the horse matters to me.  We need a happy, willing horse to achieve optimal biomechanics because the horse needs to be deeply relaxed and mentally engaged (not shut down, robotic or resentfully and resistantly  going through the motions) to achieve this state of being.