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Can we play western?

This is a discussion on Can we play western? within the Western Riding forums, part of the Riding Horses category
  • Cowboys horse with saddle
  • How to get a horse off his forehand

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    05-11-2012, 06:00 PM
  #11
Banned
Quote:
Originally Posted by bsms    
Just my perspective:

Traveling on the forehand is natural to most horses. I don't see a huge reason why that needs to change with a rider.
Let's try this again.

What is bolded in red may be your opinion, but it is not shared by experts in equine biomechanics.
     
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    05-11-2012, 06:57 PM
  #12
Trained
If the horse is designed, by selection, to carry 60% of its weight on the front end, then adding a rider will NOT cause the front end to weigh disproportionately more and thus break down. Not unless the rider is forward of the horse's center of gravity, which is rarely the case. And in a western saddle, it is darn near impossible to get forward of the horse's center of gravity. If you do, it probably won't last long...

A horse will not break down on the front because she is ridden western style. If anything, I'd expect a horse that is used to being heavy on the bit and hard to collect would become LIGHTER on the front and LESS heavy with a bit when ridden western. Pivoting on the rear and making very sharp turns are pretty normal for western riding, and both put weight to the rear.

If the OP's horse has some arthritis in the front, riding western should NOT make it worse. When her horse is walking around a pasture, she is already putting the majority of her weight on the front end. Adding a rider increases total weight carried, but it does not increase the percentage carried by the front end.

Also, when a rider's weight is added, a horse changes its stride to accommodate the increased weight.
"In short, explains Wickler, carrying a load causes a horse to shorten his stride, leave his feet on the ground longer and increase the distance his body travels (the "step length") with each stride. All of these gait adjustments work together to reduce the forces placed on the legs with each step."
How Much Weight Can Your Horse Safely Carry?

It is not necessary to train a horse to use a collected gait to prevent injury to the front legs. They are designed to carry the majority of the weight, the addition of the rider shifts the balance toward the rear, and horses automatically adjust their total movement to minimize their pain - just as we do when we carry a heavy load on our back.
     
    05-11-2012, 07:05 PM
  #13
Banned
I made no mention of tack.

You can discuss this with Dr. Nicholson. I'm sure she would be interested in your research.

She works at Miami University of Ohio.
     
    05-11-2012, 07:16 PM
  #14
Trained
Physics, mildot. If you are behind the horse's center of gravity, you cannot put a greater percentage of weight on the front. If someone pulls on your right arm, it doesn't make your left arm heavier.

And since I couldn't find any quotes from Dr. Nicholson on the Internet, I cannot give a specific response to her since I don't know what she has said.
     
    05-11-2012, 07:22 PM
  #15
Trained
You need some perspective. Western Horseman expect their horses to be balanced, too. You should search for videos of horses like "Rugged Lark", riding many disciplines and moving in a collected frame bridleless. Even some of the best Hollywood actors love to show off their own horses--or buy them later--in their movies. In "Tombstone" Kurt Russell is riding his gelding western but in a collected frame. Next time you watch the LOTR trilogy watch Viggo Mortenson's nicely collected horse.
Gee whiz--am I the ONLY one here who catches the German-trained warmbloods on RFD.tv, when they maintain their frame on a slack rein?!?
Just watched Craig Cameron retraining a rogue and putting him on the bit in the round pen by securing the reins to the saddle between the horse's legs and working same horse on the ground, AGAIN, in a collected frame.
Chris Cox ALWAYS shows off his 3yo's in a collected frame, and he had a show where he took the same horse to a Texas x-country course, maintaining the frame while he jumped him.
IMO, enjoy your horse. If you didn't plan to take him with you he would probably have to be sold with an uncertain future.
     
    05-11-2012, 07:37 PM
  #16
Super Moderator
Eolith,
Maybe, if Kazra has not experienced a curb bit, this might be the time to try it. You could work on training her to neck rein and see what she does with either a Pelham (whichy would give you both curb and straight snaffle) or try something like a junior cow horse with very short shanks. Might be fun.
Eolith likes this.
     
    05-11-2012, 07:40 PM
  #17
Started
Quote:
Originally Posted by bsms    
If the horse is designed, by selection, to carry 60% of its weight on the front end, then adding a rider will NOT cause the front end to weigh disproportionately more and thus break down. Not unless the rider is forward of the horse's center of gravity, which is rarely the case. And in a western saddle, it is darn near impossible to get forward of the horse's center of gravity. If you do, it probably won't last long...
Not sure what tack has to do with much of anything besides the difference in weight between a Western saddle and an English saddle. For my part, every well-fitted, properly placed and adjusted saddle I've ever seen places the rider above the horse's center of gravity, neither forward or back of it, regardless of style or design (caveat -- saddle-seat/park saddles, but I won't throw that into the mix). The only saddles I've ever seen place the rider farther back were very poorly placed, or were in sad need of a breastplate or breastcollar.

Quote:
Originally Posted by bsms    
A horse will not break down on the front because she is ridden western style. If anything, I'd expect a horse that is used to being heavy on the bit and hard to collect would become LIGHTER on the front and LESS heavy with a bit when ridden western. Pivoting on the rear and making very sharp turns are pretty normal for western riding, and both put weight to the rear.
I find, granted through observation and cursory research rather than firsthand experience, that tack almost never changes how heavy/light a horse is on the forehand. A "bigger" bit might intimidate him off the rider's hand at first, but that effect won't last forever. It's good riding, regardless of discipline, not tack style that determines how heavy or light a horse is on his forehand.

Quote:
Originally Posted by bsms    
If the OP's horse has some arthritis in the front, riding western should NOT make it worse. When her horse is walking around a pasture, she is already putting the majority of her weight on the front end. Adding a rider increases total weight carried, but it does not increase the percentage carried by the front end.

Also, when a rider's weight is added, a horse changes its stride to accommodate the increased weight.
"In short, explains Wickler, carrying a load causes a horse to shorten his stride, leave his feet on the ground longer and increase the distance his body travels (the "step length") with each stride. All of these gait adjustments work together to reduce the forces placed on the legs with each step."
How Much Weight Can Your Horse Safely Carry?
As I said before, I rather doubt that the 60/40 distribution is a totally accurate understanding of the situation outside of the case of the horse standing at rest. To move forward at all, the front end must be lightened via the activation of muscles. I'll leave that question aside for now.

I wonder if the idea of "heavy on the forehand" might not be better understood, for the purposes of this discussion, as shorthand for an inverted topline, disengaged hindquarters, and "strung out" posture, rather than as an absolute distribution of weight forward versus back of the center of gravity while the horse is in motion? Someone, please correct me if that conceptualization is just blatantly wrong and floating out in left field...

The portions of the bolded quotations rather confuse me... how can the stride be shortened, yet the distance traveled each stride increase? This seems pretty fundamentally contradictory, however I confess I did not read the entire article (I should theoretically be studying for finals, but there you go... xD ).

Quote:
Originally Posted by bsms    
It is not necessary to train a horse to use a collected gait to prevent injury to the front legs. They are designed to carry the majority of the weight, the addition of the rider shifts the balance toward the rear, and horses automatically adjust their total movement to minimize their pain - just as we do when we carry a heavy load on our back.
We do not automatically adjust ourselves to the burden of added weight, at least, not always in the most biomechanically constructive way. Most everyone knows that heavy weights should be lifted from the knees, but does everybody do that in practice?? And that's after the necessity for such actions have been rationally explained and we (general we) understand the physiological consequences of using such poor body mechanics. We don't have the luxury with horses of explaining rationally why traveling inverted, strung out, disengaged (in short, "heavy on the forehand") is bad for them structurally, therefore correct body mechanics and posture must be encouraged through the aids. It isn't so much about preventing immediate injury to the forelegs as preventing long-term damage to the topline and body overall, forelegs and hind legs included. That, and if the rest of the article quoted above is as contradictory as the quote, I'd question exactly how that "natural good compensation" happens at all. I'll have to read the article when I have more time.

Our horses are athletes, even if they're in comparatively light work -- it's not quite the same as helping Cousin Joe move his big screen tv one time with bad lifting form. That probably won't hurt you in the long run to do it one time. To move big screen tvs (or barbells) all day every day with bad form will. The best way to maximize their long-term comfort and useful life is to encourage proper body mechanics, just as for any other athlete.
     
    05-11-2012, 08:27 PM
  #18
Trained
Lots to reply to...

1 - Few saddles place you directly over the horse's center of gravity. A jump saddle or a racing saddle, ridden in a forward seat, probably would. Almost every other saddle will place you behind the horse's center of gravity.

I pulled this from the Internet for discussion, and I have no idea who the rider is:



At a rest, the horse's center of gravity is roughly at the front top of his boots. With motion, it will move forward. Is his weight forward or aft of the horse's center of gravity?

Aft. And that is good in a western saddle. There is a reason that my western saddle is 27 inches long, but my Aussie saddle is 21 inches long. And there is a reason why the tree extends further back with a western saddle. Western saddles were designed in part for roping. When you rope a steer, and the weight hits the horn, you need all the weight to the rear that you can get - I'm guessing, since I don't work cattle. But all that weight hitting the horn needs SOMETHING for balance...

I can't find my book right now, but Littauer discusses being aft of the horse's CG as adding a safety factor for some things, such as unexpected stops. It also tends to be easier on the rider, again according to Littauer. That would help explain why stock saddles tend to be built that way.

2 - Western riders DO expect their horses to be balanced, but that is NOT the same thing as riding with a collected gait. They definitely need to be able to shift their balance toward the rear, because that is critical in pivoting or fast turns - which is needed for working stock, or barrel racing, or reining, or most any other western competition.

Remember - no race horse ever won the Kentucky Derby by being unbalanced, OR by being collected. Balance does NOT = collection.

3 - Strung out. "I wonder if the idea of "heavy on the forehand" might not be better understood, for the purposes of this discussion, as shorthand for an inverted topline, disengaged hindquarters, and "strung out" posture, rather than as an absolute distribution of weigh..."

In my first post on this thread, I made that distinction. Post #2:

"There is a difference between extended and strung out. My Arabian mare does both. When she gets strung out, I milk the reins a bit with her shoulder movement and shift my weight further back, and she usually responds with smaller steps. If I work at it a little, I can usually get her down to a slow jog, which she is actually very good at."

A horse can get strung out either western or English. In either case, the answer is to gently restrain the front end while keeping the rear end moving, until the rear and front are working together again.

4 - "We do not automatically adjust ourselves to the burden of added weight, at least, not always in the most biomechanically constructive way. Most everyone knows that heavy weights should be lifted from the knees, but does everybody do that in practice?"

The first time you do it, you will often do it wrong. But if you are lifting heavy weights (sacks of grain or dumbbells) very often, you will either learn to do it right or give up due to pain.

I used to own a green, 750 lb Arabian. In riding her out, my 200 lbs of man & tack was a challenge for her. I could feel her adjust her balance, trying to make it work. And we went from very short rides to much longer ones as she got used to it. I also have a 650 lb mustang pony. My 200 lbs of person and tack is a challenge for him, and he adjusts to make it work. I can feel him carrying me differently than my 900 lb mare. But he knows how to do it, and has proven it by galloping as nauseum with me on his back.

5 - "It's good riding, regardless of discipline, not tack style that determines how heavy or light a horse is on his forehand"

Not entirely, in my experience. A horse can get strung out with either tack, but the further aft weight of a western saddle tends to discourage it. When my horses get strung out, shifting my weight to the rear seems to help settle them.

6 - "The portions of the bolded quotations rather confuse me... how can the stride be shortened, yet the distance traveled each stride increase?"

Good question. I do not know. Here is a more complete quote, but it confuses me too. However, please note what percentage of weight is carried on the front or rear, and how that can change without the rider trying to do anything:

"Because a trotting horse looks like he is using his diagonal feet in perfect tandem, it might seem as if the reaction forces would be evenly distributed across the two legs that support him at each phase of the stride. But in fact, there are significant differences in the amount of forces borne by the front and rear legs. On a level surface the forelimbs consistently supported 57 percent of the forces while the hind limbs supported 43 percent. Going uphill, this pattern of distribution shifts, with 52 percent supported by the forelimbs while the hind limbs took on 48 percent. Time of contact also varied. At higher speeds, the two feet were on the ground about the same amount of time, but at slower speeds, the hind limbs tended to spend less time on the ground--an observation that had never been made before in quadrupeds, according to Wickler. For the front limbs, time of contact didn't change significantly whether on the level or on the incline, but the hind limbs tended to be in contact with the ground longer when going uphill.


Gait


To study the biomechanical effects of loads, the Cal State researchers trotted five Arabians at a consistent speed on a treadmill under three different conditions: on the level with no load, on a 10 percent incline with no load, and on the level while carrying a saddle and weights that totaled about 19 percent of their body mass. To record the motion and speed of the horses' foot movements, an accelerometer was attached to the right hind hoof, and the sessions were recorded with a high-speed video camera.

Carrying a load caused the horses to leave their feet on the ground an average of 7.7 percent longer than they did while trotting unburdened. On the level, the addition of a load caused the swing phase of the stride to become 3 percent shorter, but going uphill this phase of stride lasted 6 percent longer.

In short, explains Wickler, carrying a load causes a horse to shorten his stride, leave his feet on the ground longer and increase the distance his body travels (the "step length") with each stride. All of these gait adjustments work together to reduce the forces placed on the legs with each step. "Forces are damaging," says Wickler, "so keeping the foot on the ground reduces peak forces and reduces that potential for injury."
How Much Weight Can Your Horse Safely Carry?
     
    05-11-2012, 08:33 PM
  #19
Trained
Rereading that last quote, maybe what he means is that the legs move a shorter distance (front leg impact to front leg impact), but the hind legs push more so that while the strides are shorter, the distance covered is greater. I'm guessing at that, and not sure it makes sense.

But it seems obvious that how a horse moves is more complex than what we ask for. I have no idea how I could ASK my mare to leave her hind legs in contact with the ground for a greater length of time...
     
    05-12-2012, 03:17 AM
  #20
Started
Wow, I didn't realize that this would become as big a topic as it has... though I'm glad it could become a subject of debate. I am very grateful for the advice and knowledge as well. To be clear, I never intended to imply that western riding does not involve collection or asking the horse to use its hind quarters. I am very aware that the opposite is true. I guess you could say I'm just a little gunshy given Kasja's history about how she will respond to the lower headset.

Before we got her, she was trained very much in the "rolkur" method. Because of this, she has the tendency to lean into the rider's hand. If you aren't constantly correcting her and asking her to support herself and lift her forehand, you'll literally feel as though you as the rider are attempting to support the entire head neck and shoulders of a 1200 lb horse. This is what I meant with the "fighting gravity" comment. The consequences of this include her becoming lame because the extra weight and strain aggravates the arthritis in her front pastern, she gets spookier because she feels off balance, and she begins to stumble over herself.

Quote:
Originally Posted by tinyliny    
Eolith,
Maybe, if Kazra has not experienced a curb bit, this might be the time to try it. You could work on training her to neck rein and see what she does with either a Pelham (whichy would give you both curb and straight snaffle) or try something like a junior cow horse with very short shanks. Might be fun.
Thanks for the input tinyliny. Kasja has advanced enough in her dressage career that we have ridden her in a double bridle, so she is somewhat familiar with the curb action of the weymouth and she does not seem to have too much difficulty with it. I will likely begin this western riding style "testing phase" by riding her in the double bridle a few times and working on using less snaffle and more curb rein. She is very skilled at following the rider's weight and leg cues when it comes to turning and bending, so the neck reining and such should come relatively easily.

The different type of contact is what I'm questioning when it comes to Kasja remaining balanced and collected. With the curb style bit, she will not be able to lean into the rider's hand as much as she has been while riding in a snaffle. But does this mean that she will begin to carry herself a little more (which would be ideal)... or will she "nose dive" without the rider's constant reminders to pick herself up?

I guess there's really only one way to find out: I'll have to give it a shot.
SorrelHorse and bsms like this.
     

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