Monday, June 18, 2012

What 'hairstyle' your horse prefers?

Natalija Aleksandrova

Have you ever thought on the fact that the horse's tail, mane and forelock aren't there only for pleasing the humans eyes? That when we selfishly cut, pull, or fully remove the mane and forelock of our horses, shorten and pull their tails, we are actually removing one of their natural defenses?

The mane is an important factor of the horse's thermoregulation mechanism in a colder time of year. Horses grow a thicker mane before winter, and change it to thinner one before summer, just like they change their summer and winter coat. We can see the naturally thicker and better growing manes and forelocks in the native north horse breeds. Also we see the thicker manes in pony breeds who, due to specifics of the thermoregulation mechanisms (their greater body surface to body weight ratio, "Thermoregulation in horses in a cold time or year", N. Aleksandrova) need a thicker hair layer to keep the internal body temperature in a proper range. In horses with underdeveloped, atrophied neck muscles, indicating problems with blood circulation there, with chronically tensed neck muscles, the mane is especially important in keeping the neck warm in winter.

Throughout a year, the mane helps to insulate the head and the major blood vessels to the brain (Pilliner and Davies, 1996), not allowing the blood to cool down on its way to the brain in winter and preserving it from overheating in summer. This way it helps to keep the temperature in the brain in a narrow range needed for the chemical reactions on the cellular level function properly.

In summer, the mane along with the tail become important instruments in defending against insects. The forelock is extremely important in the summer because it also protects the eyes of the animal against getting infected and sore from flies, dust particles, mold and spores. The longer the tail, the more effective it is in the protection against the insects — more body areas it covers, and especially important it can reach better the underbelly and sheath, which are especially loved by the insects.

On windy, rainy summer and snowy winter days, when horses take the typical protective position standing with their tails to the wind with their heads low, their manes and fetlocks effectively protect their necks, heads, ears and eyes from water, snow and wind. The water and melting snow run down by the long mane and fetlock hair, not getting to the skin and the eyes. Different length of hair in the mane with longer one in the middle of the neck has its role too, making a better protective layer against running water. While the tail serve to protect the animal's rear end — the shorter hairs on the dock fan out deflecting water, snow and wind, helping to keep underbelly and sheaths dry and warm.

It is unnatural for the horse to have her mane to go only on one side of the neck. In wild horses and in properly kept healthy domestic horses, we can see usually the whole mane or parts of it go on both sides of the neck, or it changes its side from moment to moment. It is not only beneficial for the protective reasons, it also shows that neck muscles are developed evenly. In many domestic horses, the mane laying perfectly on one side of the neck isn't only a result of the human's perception of beauty, but also a sign of muscles developed more on one side through unnatural keeping and usage of these animals, when their natural asymmetry turns into unnatural over-developed one.

Stallions usually have naturally thicker manes. When stallions fight they bite each other's necks and their manes act like a sort of armor.

Wild and domestic horses kept naturally can take perfect care of their manes, forelocks and tales by themselves. They may rub against trees or fences, or groom in each other's mane when they feel it is a time to 'touch up' their 'haircuts'. Horses surely know better than we what 'hairstyle' suits them the best.

Photos Berenika Bratny, Zbigniew Wroblewski

Photo © The Cloud Foundation

Photo Helmut Hussman
Pilliner, S., and Z. Davies. 1996. Equine Science, Health and Performance. Blackwell Science, London.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Science Of The Horse-Human Heart Connection

by Berenika Bratny, Wolne Konie

When did it happen for the first time? I don’t remember. Was it this moment, many years ago, when I went for a ride and in the middle of the forest started to sob because of my broken heart and suddenly Dukat stopped, lowered his head and stood there like enchanted. My heart was so broken (I don’t even remember his name now) that I noticed my horse’s reaction after a while.

Or maybe it was some other time, when I went for a walk in the meadows and suddenly Wincek came out of the bushes, approached me and after some time of playing with his tongue (asking me to pat his tongue is his favorite way of spending time with me), when I was tired of it and sat down in the grass, he placed himself very close to me and we snoozed together in the sun. Other horses came and went to the other pasture but he stayed there with me, his chin touching my head and we dreamt a dream of connection.

Or maybe it was when I met Alaska. When she came to me, let me scratch her for a while and then closed her eyes and started to breathe in my face. We stood like that for ages, the time stopped, I forgot everything and just felt blessed and loved. Yes, I think that was the moment I realized that there is something in them that makes me not only feel better on the rational side, but also that they have a strange influence on my perception of the world.

I recall one winter morning, first rays of sun, me standing near the fence and the horses around me taking a nap. Absolute stillness of the air, nothing moves. And I have this strange feeling and suddenly I realize — I feel that everything is the way it should be, everything is just perfect, I am and that is just enough — I’m in love with the world.

I still do it, now quite consciously — I heal myself in their presence. It is like going to a reiki master or some other chinese doctor, or maybe like going to a shaman. I don’t really know how it works, but after such a session I’m completely relaxed, happy and the headache is gone.

I tried to share this experience with others but found it beyond words and beyond my ability to express. And suddenly I stumble upon scientific facts that make my experience explainable! There is some mysterious device to measure heart rate variability called HRV. It reflects heart-brain reactions and is particularly sensitive to changes in emotional states. Positive and negative emotions can easily be distinguished by changes in these heart rhythm patterns. When a negative emotions such as sadness, fear, anger or frustration is experienced, heart rhythms become more erratic and imbalanced (incoherent). Positive emotions such as joy, appreciation and love produce ordered, balanced (coherent), heart rhythm patterns. So finally we can really check who is stressed or relaxed, when and for how long!

They make an experiment. They take a herd of 12 horses, put those mysterious HRV’s on them and check their results after 24 hours. And you know what? “The 24-hour reading provided another note of interest. During the 24-hour recording all the horses demonstrated very consisted HRV patterns, indicative of experiencing positive emotional states unless something fearful or threatening was introduced. Even then once the scary intruder (the Trash truck) left, HRV returned to a coherent pattern within a few minutes (…) Based on HRV research on stress in horses this meant the horses were primarily in a positive emotional state through the 24 hour reading.”

That was the first part. The second were the people who also wore HRV measuring device on them for 24 hours. What was the result? Of course quite the opposite. People experienced stress most of the time.

Here comes the best part. They paired people with horses and measured their HRV in the same time. The result showed that people were able to relax and change their HRV in the presence of the horse. “It appeared that each person synchronized his or her particular HRV frequency cycle to match the horse’s specific frequency cycle.”

So this is why we want their company so much, we feel a strong urge to be around them because, unconsciously, we feel they might help us with as much as our lives. They are our healers. The more stressed we are, the more we seek them. The fact that later most of us is devoured by riding, jumping, competing seems even more sad and cruel now. Cruel both to the horse, but also to the man, who went to the stable to seek help and found violence instead.

There is more. The Hearth Math Institute discovered a method called Heart Lock In. This is a kind of meditation of love as I understand it. By sending feelings of compassion, appreciation and love we influence our heart and brain patterns and we can change our HRV. The participants of the next experiment sat down in a pasture with horses and practiced Heart Lock in. Horses detected those feelings and approached to stay with them. They recognized those feelings as their own. What it means to us is that if we can project feelings of care and love toward a horse, the horse may detect those feelings and, in turn, may share them with us.

It means that horses like to be themselves, they appreciate the world as it is, they know what is really important, they live in the here and now. They love life. Isn’t that a dream of enlightenment? Or maybe the story of horse abuse is really the story of Kain and Abel — the story of jealousy. Maybe we envy them so much that we try to take it away from them? From this perspective the muzzle of the old tired ex-sport horse Dewajtis who lives with my herd is the face of an old Zen sage. We should be grateful when the sage accepts us as his pupils instead of trying to ride him.

There is one more thing. The horses that took part in the experiment “were primarily in a positive state throughout the 24-hour reading. This did not include any riding or human interaction other than normal feeding patterns.” Maybe someone will make a new experiment and check how the HRV of a stabled sport horse looks like. Maybe this way people will understand? When somebody talks about spiritual enlightenment it is easy to ridicule him and not take him for granted. But what if we face scientific facts?

You can read about this experiment in "The Horse-Human Connection, Results of Studies Using Heart Rate Variability" by Ellen Kaye Gehrke, PhD

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Shiny coat — an indicator of good health, good keeping conditions and feeding of the horse?

Natalija Aleksandrova

Is a shiny coat on horses always a sign the horse is healthy inside and out, kept in good living conditions and fed without mistakes? The answer is "no".

Just like in humans, people with all kinds of disorders, including endocrine (metabolic) may still have nice looking hair. The same with horses, the shiny coat is not always a sign of perfect health and good keeping conditions. And non-shiny coat is not always a sign of bad health and bad keeping conditions.

I would like to start with a cool example from my own recent experience of how the human's perception of what is 'healthy' and 'unhealthy' regarding the horses coat can be manipulated through wrong/not enough experience. In my article on the thermoregulation of horses there's this photo:

Coat of an Arabian breed horse on a very cold winter day in Central Europe, where the piloerection mechanism is in use — the hair is raised to increase coat insulation.

After the article was read by participants of a big horse forum (where mostly horse riders participate), the very first feedback I got was a reaction to the photo. One of great surprise and a question "Is this horse ill, or in rehab, or being weaned recently???"

So, the very first thought of a 'regular' horse person upon seeing such a coat was — the horse surely is not o.k... The photo traveled through diaries on that forum, everywhere with the same reaction — 'This is Arabian horse's coat! [shock]'. These people have never had any other experience apart from the using of their poor creatures, who are kept unnaturally and unhealthy in stables, etc... While in the photo, you can see a perfectly healthy and happy Arabian breed horse who is not ridden or used in any other way by a human for years now, only played with, and who is living in species appropriate conditions north of Poland where wintertime can be quite tough. Who grew exactly as much coat as he needed for this winter to feel great, and who was photographed on a brisk winter morning in temperatures of –27 degrees Celsius, when the mechanism of piloerection was in action in his coat. Who in the summer time, looks like this:

Photo © K. Jarczewski

Now I would like to define what is 'healthy, good, correct' for the horse.

Keeping a horse stabled the whole day, or even part of day compromises its welfare. (1) Keeping a horse in conditions which compromise its welfare can in no way be considered 'healthy, good, correct'. It should be obvious that 'healthy, good, correct' for every animal could only be conditions which are proper for that given species in which the animal was designed to live in by nature. Only when kept in such conditions is there a chance for the animal to be healthy physically and mentally.

A human forcing a horse into submission through physical and psychological pressure and pain (join-up, metal bits (9, 10), spurs, whips, etc.) compromises its welfare (1, 2), thus treating a horse using methods which utilize such kinds of techniques, could not be considered 'healthy, good, correct' for the horse.

Using bits damages the horse's health. (10, 11)

Riding itself damages the horse's health. (3)

Competing and training for competitions damages the horse's health. Just like there are no healthy human athletes (those who pay for a win with their own sweat and blood, not that of another living creatures), who suffer many injuries during their life in sport, the same there are no healthy 'horse athletes'. (4)

The horse's digestive system and metabolism only can function correctly when horses natural eating behavior isn't restricted, i.e. when a horse has non-stop free access to food and the possibility to freely move 24 hours a day in a herd. These conditions for the correct digestion and metabolism are never met when a horse is stabled even a part of day. (1, 5, 6, 7)

The common practice of shoeing horses when in the human's care, damages the horses health by blocking/stopping the hoof mechanism and greatly compromising the shock absorption functions of the feet. (8)

Still, many horses who are kept and treated using the above mentioned practices, have shiny coats.

It is just like with the hooves — how often do we see smooth, polished and nice looking hooves on the stabled, many years shoed and badly used horses? The outside horn gives a perfect shiny impression, while on the inside there's a bloody mess, literally.

The hairs of the horses coat and horn of the hooves (as well as humans hair and fingernails) are of the same nature and made of the same material — dead cells the body pushes out. So, just like the hoof horn, the hairs do not have blood vessels, or any other way to be nourished after they are produced. (Btw, just like it is absurd to say 'live sole' when speaking about the solar horn in the hooves, it is absurd when a shampoo ad says something like 'will make your hair alive and shiny after 3 washes' because there's no way hair can be supplied with any topical nutrients, and thus nothing can help them to become 'resurrected').

Shininess of hair is connected to how the hair reflects light. In general the hair looses its ability to shine, when its outer layer (cuticle) gets a mechanical damage and its surface isn't smooth anymore.

Just learn some basic physics, and you can trick your horse into having a super-shiny coat.

When do we have more chances to see a shiny coat on a horse? Usually when a horse has a short summer coat with finer structured hair laying flat to the skin and all in one direction (not erected). Under such conditions, the hair reflects the light the smoothest. Keeping a horse stabled the whole year prolongs the summer season for it. The coat never grows too long, it is usually cleaned and conditioned regularly making the hair lay smooth and it's not allowed to get roughed up from dirt and dust, etc. Regular brushing also stimulates faster coat shedding and growing new hair, so damaged hairs replaced faster by smooth newly grown ones. Rough, course surfaces — ones with many facets — reflect light in many different directions, thus such surfaces aren't look so shiny (compare for example, the chrome Mercedes sign on the front of your Mercedes car and a wool blanket).

Regular brushing intensifies the blood circulation in the skin which stimulates the oil (sebaceous) glands in the skin to secret more oil, which covers each hair in the coat and makes it glossier (or shinier).

Adding oil in feeds may increase the amount of oil secreted by the oil glands in the skin, resulting in an oilier (glossier, or shinier) coat, but feeding oil does not add anything to the horses general health.
The skins oils contain the Omega 9 family of fatty acids. You would need to feed a horse oil containing Omega 9 — as the horse's body itself already produces these acids, so the excess would be secreted as more skin oil.

The blocked metabolism in the hooves (through shoeing, incorrect trimming, not enough movement), which is the case with most stabled horses, may result in more intensive hair growth and shedding, as the hair is of the same nature as the hooves — they are built of outworked proteins — this is the way the body excretes its metabolic wastes. When the metabolism is blocked in the hooves, the skin is overloaded with the need to excrete more outworked proteins in the form of hair horn. So, the hairs may grow stronger, and through faster shedding does not have time for each separate hair to get coarse through the longer use.

Have you ever had a chance to observe on a colder windy summer day, or perhaps also at the end of summer, your horse, who looked perfectly shiny the previous day, suddenly had a 'dull' looking coat? It is just because the mechanism of piloerection got to work (through the follicle muscles action, the hair began standing upright) to make the coat warmer by making the air layer thicker in it. Also each hair is turned different a direction, and perhaps also the hair got some stimulation for sudden growth due to the colder weather — so the coat surface just lost its smoothness through these thermoregulation mechanisms, thus light doesn't bounce smoothly from it anymore and the shininess is gone. The longer the colder weather stays, the longer there's no shiny coat, until the body has adjusted to the cold and the now longer hairs are put flat against the body all in the same direction again.

The same way a longer winter coat with its hairs turned different directions, more dust staying in it and with its longer undercoat has less chance to be super-shiny.

A perfect example of the coat not reflecting the real conditions of metabolism in a horse — a horse with summer eczema. Summer eczema is a direct sign of damaged metabolism. If you have ever had a chance to see a horse with summer eczema, then in many cases you could see a horse with a shiny coat on the most of the body, but they would have either no mane or part of the tail, only bloody wounds instead. There could also be no hair and only wounds on some other parts of the body were they have scratched intensively.

Horse with summer eczema.

Or, for example, what can be often seen in stabled horses, there's a shiny coat full of dandruff underneath, if to look closer. Dandruff points to metabolic problems once more, but the coat still looks shiny.

There of course could be cases when the hair horn that is produced is brittle and thus of course means problems inside the body. As for example, when a rescued horse didn't have enough food before, so there was a general lack of nutrients and not enough to 'feed' the hair production. The same 'not enough material' for good quality hair horn production could be in an ill horse or a horse in big pain, who burns all the protein in its body from over-strained (overworked) muscles and for repairing damage to the internal organs that are more important for life. So, such brittle and non-smooth hair does not reflect light evenly.

This horse is believed to be in a perfect form — shiny, athletic body:

While in reality, these abnormally bulged muscles are a sign of something being very wrong with this horse. Normally the horse's body has a smooth, round surface, where no muscles would have a separated look to them. Even in movement, a horse shouldn't look like an illustration from an anatomical textbook by which you could learn all the body muscles. Abnormally bulged — chronically over-strained and cramped muscles are a sign of pain.

Now, using the shininess of the coat as a measure of health, correctness of keeping conditions and feeding, etc., which of the horses in the photo is healthier, better kept, etc.?

This photo is taken in April, when naturally living horses usually shed the last of their long used coarse hairs winter coat.
Horse on the left: 5 yo mare, never broken under the saddle (never had a man on her back), never used any other way by a man, lives in species appropriate conditions and never shoed. Never brushed, shedding naturally her winter coat.
Horse on the right: 6 yo gelding, kept stabled his whole life, ridden, just de-shoed after many years being shoed; one of his disorders which was visible enough to be noticed by an ordinary horsemen was a regular cough he had during the winter season; this photo was taken right after he was brought to this place from the stable to live in species appropriate conditions. Brushed and cleaned regularly, blanketed in winter while stabled.
By the definition, the mare is healthier and kept in the better conditions.

(Here is some info to get more idea which way hair can be 'smooth' or 'course' with the example of the human's hair


1. Prof Z. Jaworski, Prof T. Jezierski, "Welfare of horses living in nature reserve conditions in Poland".
2. Dr Z. Wroblewski, "The welfare of horses and its transgressions in horse breeding, sport and pleasure riding".
3. M. Vogt, "Harm of riding study".
4. Editors: E.J.L. Soulsby, J.F. Wade, "Proceedings on a workshop on 'Sporting injuries in horses and man: a comparative approach'", 23–25 Sept, 2004, Lexington, USA
5. Lennart Denkhaus "The Importance of Species Appropriate Feeding and Eating Behaviour of Horses".
6. Dr R. Al Jassim, Dr T. McGowan, Prof F. Andrews and Dr C. McGowan "Gastric Ulceration in Horses"
M.J. Murray, E.S. Eichorn, "Effect of intermittent feed deprivation, intermittent feed deprivation with ranitidine administration, and stall confinement with ad libitum access to hay on gastric ulceration in horses."
8. Dr H. Strasser, "Shoeing: A Necessary Evil?".
9. Dr H. Strasser, "Harmful effects of shoeing".
10. Dr R. Cook, "Bit-induced asphyxia in the horse".
11. Dr R. Cook, "Bit-induced pain: a cause of fear, flight, fight and facial neuralgia in the horse".
12. N. Aleksandrova, "Thermoregulation in horses in a cold time of year".

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Life Changing Workshop

by Berenika Bratny, Wolne Konie

My friend went recently to a life changing workshop. She didn’t look for any kind of enlightenment, she just hoped for a relief from everyday tension. The first exercise they did, was to ask yourself one question — “who are you?” The participants talked about their social roles of being a mother or a daughter, a doctor or a teacher, about their likes and dislikes, their backgrounds, their childhood, they talked and talked and talked until they faced the fact that there is nothing else to say. But the question was still there, still unanswered — who are you? It was all a part of the process. They were supposed to face a wall of emptiness and finally a loss of ego. It was painful as she recalls. The hardest part was to get rid of her notion about herself and all the things she identified herself with.

I envied her experience, so I asked myself the same question. Who am I? What are the things so dear to me that I cannot let them go? My image of a horse-whisperer? My vision of my perfect horse? My image of my perfect relationship with my perfect horse?

And then I looked at my horses. Each of them. Do I know them? Who they really are? I know their herd status, I know their likes and dislikes, their favorite plays and places to scratch, their moods, their friends and customs. Or do I?

When somebody comes to visit my herd I take him out to the horses and I talk about them non-stop. I tell him: "This is Reja." She had a hard life full of terrible experiences with people who tried to break her spirit but she never allowed them to. She is a fighter for life, prefers to die than to give up. She is a herd leader, an alpha mare. She never allows any other horse to eat from her pile of hay. She has no friends only one gelding who never leaves her side and with whom she communicates with her teeth and hooves. He is her servant and follower and she is his queen and master. She is a cruel ruler, she cannot take a “no” from anyone. All the horses know she can attack like a shark, without any warning, so everybody keeps an eye on her. Especially when she is in heat. And she is a “feminist” as my neighbor called her once. She hates Amigo — the stallion, with all her heart. Every time he comes close to the fence, she attacks him with bare teeth and you can say it makes an impression upon him, he always moves away from the fence. Once, in wintertime, I had to lead her by the paddock he was on. Suddenly I lost control over the whole situation, she dragged me there to the fence in order to kill him. He stood frozen with shock I suppose as he didn’t dare to move and I had to compose myself in order to persuade her to leave him alone. From that moment on, whenever there is a similar situation and I have to lead her near the fence of his pasture, I have to put a halter on her. This is a dangerous situation. Not for her. For him.

So this is how I see her. This is how everybody sees her after I tell this scary story. And there she comes. Half closed eyes, good mood, offers her hind end for scratching and my visitor jumps away in terror. What’s wrong? Reja is surprised. He is surprised when I start to scratch her buttocks. "Isn’t that dangerous?" — he asks. — "Well it is dangerous not to scratch when she asks for it," — I make a joke but I see him getting nervous. But today Reja is someone else. She is sleepy, needs scratches and a lot of attention, she even wants to go for a little walk with us but sensing the visitor’s fear she walks away disappointed. After a while we see her grooming the youngest mare in the herd, the one at the lowest end of the pecking order. So who is Reja? Do I really know her?

There is also another story of my first horse Dukat who died three years ago. I went to a riding center to buy a saddle there. When I went into the stable the only thing I wanted to do was to get out. It was an old barn built for sheep, so it was dark, low ceiling, no air. And horses everywhere, tied by chains on their necks. Most of them so depressed that did not even raise their head to see who was coming. There was someone alive there though. Dukat grabbed my sleeve and didn't let it go until I asked the owner if he would sell me this horse. I didn’t even know if he was a gelding or mare before I decided he has to go with me. I didn’t know either that he was the tallest horse in the world. I am 160 cm tall, so we looked really funny those years when I used to ride — an ant riding an elephant. We were together many years, lived in one place, then moved to another. His herd expanded year after year and he was the proud ruler of the pastures and meadows. He was always calm, quiet, forgiving and fun loving animal. Always. But during our first years together, when I used to listen to all the “horse people” around and devour all the books on horse psychology and riding he was:
1. too dangerous (because of his size);
2. too fierce (because of his size);
3. too lazy (because of his size);
4. very intelligent;
5. slow thinking;
and so on and so on.

It was all the time the same Dukat but in my mind he had all those qualities because someone suggested it or I used to project my fears on him or I wanted him to be this way. Now, when he is gone, I know that it really didn’t matter how did I label him, he was just himself. Horses are what they are, with no judgement about them. They are a mirror of our hopes, dreams and fears. A mirror of ourselves.

Now I spend my life investigating my horses’ moods and behaviors and I still don’t know them. I had to give up the vision of ideal relationship with Reja. I had to admit she will never love me after all I have done to her in the time I used to ride her. I realized that and, to my surprise, I felt a relief. Her attitude changed, too. Perhaps she doesn’t feel my tension and and the weight of my expectations. Maybe she feels a relief too?

After this life changing workshop experience my friend had a dream — a child was making sandcastles at the seashore. In this dream my friend realizes that she found the answer to the question “who are you?” — she was a sandcastle. Then a wave is taking it away, she feels terrified that she will disappear and after a while she realizes that she is another sandcastle, then another and another and suddenly there is no difference — she is the sandcastle, the sand itself and the water that takes it away at the same time. And then, suddenly she knows — she is everything, she is life itself.

Maybe we and our horses are all the same, just small particles of life, the wave and the see, the sandcastles made from sand on o sunny afternoon? One day Reja is a fierce mare with flaring nostrils, next day she lays in first rays of sun and allows me to sit by her side and breath in the same rhythm as she does. I feel honored. She is just herself, does not fit into any particular description, as descriptions, like all systems are made by humans in order to understand the world. Animals don’t need that. They don’t need to understand the world, they ARE the world, they are the air they breathe and the grass they eat. It’s only us who feel separated from the rest and thus need an explanation to everything. I realized my life with horses is my life changing workshop. I change, they change, our life together changes, or is it just a dream?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Treatise on Natural Asymmetry of horses and aberration in understanding of its evolution and treatment or The unnatural straightening of the horse

by Maksida Vogt,  Acedemia Liberti

Natural Asymmetry by definition, is a slanted propulsion of the hind legs of the horse, by which cause a lateral shift or offset in the front legs. There is assumption that the reason for this is the location of the foal in the womb.
Many different veterinarians have made big efforts to investigate this “phenomenon”. From the bio-mechanical point of view, natural asymmetry should mean one-sided shortening of the longissimus muscle on the hollow side of the back. Through this muscle shortening, the pelvis is pulled forward on the hollow side. Looking from the front or behind the horse will walk and run with a slanted angle to it's body. The muscles of the croup would also be asymmetrically built, so that the horse will push more on this side than it will carry.
There are some incredibly bizarre explanations for this, from trying to explain it from the deep anatomical point of view, to the comparison with a rally or race car in terms of statics and stability in the curve (which also comes from a Dr. vet by the way). The common result of all the investigations on this, are the recommendations and advice on how to “straighten” the horse in the best way. Of course one might wonder why we would never get such advice for dog or cat. They move the same way as the horse. So we come to the point where we have to ask the question, how and why this is happening. How can it be that even the most acknowledged doctors of veterinary medicine give such advice that is to change this creature in a bio-mechanical form? To force this creature with pain into an unnatural form?

To find the explanation we should look back to the old “masters” of the “riding skill”.
To the non dressage interested rider, this sentence should be known as:
“Ride your horse forward and set it up”.

This sentence mirrors the whole aberration in the attempt to understand a horses body and psyche. Steinbrecht makes it unmistakeably clear that he uses horses for riding and that “dressage has the purpose, through systematically organized gymnastic exercises, to enable the muscles of the horse to give the skeleton required direction which is necessary for the duty of riding”. Through this, Steinbrecht is able to see very clearly:
“In his natural state the horse can follow his natural affinity at the shoulder, and through this he gains no damage because he has no external weight to carry, he makes his movements according to his own will and he uses his hind legs according to his need to support forelegs, as they are unrestricted. But when under a rider he has to take on the riders weight, and he not only has to move in different gaits at the will of the rider, but he must also do this in a certain tempo and for as long as rider wishes, so he must be able to do this without damage to his legs, straight and in balance, under the principle that a correct balanced load is easier to carry than one which is out of balance”.

Looking back at that time, Steinbrecht may have deserved respect as a man who wanted to train horses for the use of riding with as little damage as possible caused to the horse. When measured today, with ethical principles, this can never be the case. His whole book illustrates how to handle the horse with the imposition of force, denying these creatures any free will, and using them as a tool for the human. And this is valid for all other “masters” of the “riding skill”. They all followed this principle, which has lead us to present days and the misery of how our horses are treated. Big praise has been spoken about Gueriniere because he defined shoulder-in, which made what easier exactly? Straighten the horse so that horse can optimally go through the corner, that horse can perform one round volte and which ever other artificial movement the rider desires? Does the horse need this? Certainly not.

I find it devastating that the lack of knowledge about the nature of the horse, his psyche, to the biomechanics of his body and even to basic anatomical facts still exists, and is even celebrated!

The only explanation I can find is that people have one priority over all and that is to use the horse. Before anything else, first comes the wish to (mis) use the horse, and then one tries to explain it from the position of health. But this leads down the wrong path because health must always come first, as with us, and so even with the horse. This is what we must concede about every living being, is not it?

It is obvious that the asymmetry in the highly-bred horses that have to endure life in an unnatural position (box, paddocks, small paddocks) is extremely pronounced. This is reflected in the whole body, it can be read in the whole body, from muscles to joints, bones, hooves and organs.
The horse is kept unnatural and used unnatural. This leads to congestion resulting from overexertion and sustained contraction of the muscles, they tense and harden. If this condition lasts too long, it leads to sprains, cramps, muscle fiber tears, etc. Hardened muscles and inflexible tendons do not give enough to provide the necessary possibility of movement to the joint(s).

When horse refuses to move it is gernarally an alarm sign and not insubordination.

With such horses there can be no correct bending, lateral flexion is always forced by the pain of the bit or trauma to the head of the horse. There can be no correct "straightening" because the nature of the horse does not allow it, unless you force the horse with pain into an unnatural straigteness.

The natural asymmetry which the horse could not balance himself because of unnatural keeping and use is also clearly seen in the hooves. They have grow differently, and in many cases one hoof is wide and flat and the other is narrower and steeper. This in turn leads to more tension and unbalance in the body and creates a vicious circle. This is followed by incorrect diagnoses, incorrect treatments and it's all at the expense of the horse. It's downright frightening to determine that the doctors of veterinary medicine, on a regular basis, give advice like the following:

- To exercize shoulder out and shoulder-in (meant to do this with the use of a bit, and this again means to force the horse in an unnatural position through pain).
- To lunge (meant to force the horse using cavassion or halter in unnatural movement)
- Rider should help to straighten the horse from it's back (which probably needs no comment, but again with bit, pain, force and on top of that the weight of the rider on it's back)
- Site gaits (again bit, pain, compulsion)

And then there are a variety of different therapies on how best to straighten the poor horse. Do we really want to straighten our horses by hook or by crook? Should we even be allowed to do this? What is natural asymmetry at all, does it have some justification or is it just a freak of nature?

In nature, everything has its place and reason.
Nature has not provided the horse to come into the world in box stalls, nor even in paddocks or small pastures. Nature has provided for the horse the expanse of the land, and when the mother mare gets up after giving birth, then she should be able to continue on with the moving herd and her foal should be able to do the same. In the foals first hours of life, their bodies are defined and formed. Their hooves are worn evenly and shaped, their bodies are flooded with oxygen and the lungs can fully develop, the abundance of natural movement can optimally develope the bodys symmetry, which of course can never be so unnatural as the horses who are born and kept in captivity. The horse should be able to and would like to look behind and all around him, he needs to see any threat and he may need to see an escape route, the minimal natural asymmetry, which is there and designed by nature, and can never be "straightened". Any attempt to do this, according to current methods, treatments and advice means to force the horse into an unnatural position (usually with the use of bit and/or other violent means of manipulation) and this means damage to the horse's body.

Shall we ride the horses, despite this asymmetry? That can not be healthy?

Rather, the rider must rethink when it comes to riding. It is urgently necessary to understand that no creature, no being is here to satisfy our selfish wishes. We must not harm another being in order to provide ourselves with good feelings. With horses this is especially obvious, the owners swear to love the animal, they buy blankets, pay fees for the keeping, employ different therapists, but all this can not smother the fact that the horse is kept primarily for one reason... to be used. Our own frustration and pain must be recognized, and it must be cured, so that man can feel what he does to the horse. And then, if and when you get something that is much more valuable, the true friendship of the horse, then perhaps the greatest moments of grace arise if the horse will allow, with his own free thought and will, that man gets to sit on his back ... for a moment, which will be worth more than a whole lifetime of enforced riding before it. I wish this experience to every rider.