Saturday, March 10, 2012

Big Breakthrough with Pie!

I got a long text message from the trainer last night, and it's very exciting news.  She and Pie had a major breakthrough.   Pie had been exhibiting two things in her early work with him that I'm familiar with - his forward wasn't really there most of the time, and then he would have moments of extreme spookiness and worry.  Sort of an odd combination of shut-down alternating with loss of emotional control. We suspected that some of this might be related to my accident last June, when Pie was probably pretty scared by my falling off and the fact that I wasn't available to comfort and reassure him afterwards.

It turns out that we were probably right about that - as the trainer has been working with him more consistently and asking him to move more, some interesting things have showed up.  She was working with him on the lunge yesterday - they were working on canter - and after a short time he just wasn't able to do it.  Here's the breakthrough - he wasn't breathing well and therefore didn't have the oxygen to sustain the work.  This would explain the sluggishness and lack of forward - he just didn't have enough air to move well.  Some of you who've been following for a while will remember Horse #8 from the 2009 Mark Rashid clinic - the horse that couldn't breathe.  His story has some similarities with Pie's.

Mark said that horses, like people, carry unresolved tension and worry from traumatic events in their bodies as well as their minds.  And the horse has to move, and move well and vigorously, to dissipate that tension - otherwise it just stays locked in there.  A horse that is tense and worried will not breathe well, which will inhibit the horse's ability to move and therefore the tension is retained.  This issue often shows up at the canter - a horse that isn't breathing properly at the canter just won't be able to keep going.  It's sort of a vicious circle - the horse is tense and therefore can't breathe properly so the horse can't move well enough to dissipate the tension.

A horse that is breathing at the canter should exhale once per stride - the horse's anatomy is set up for this.  A horse that isn't exhaling rhythmically at each stride isn't breathing properly and there's some underlying tension/worry there that needs to be resolved.  Pie's breathing at the canter was irregular - not every stride - so it was natural that he couldn't canter well and got tired easily.  A horse that isn't breathing properly at the canter also won't have a balanced, rhythmic canter - the ragged breathing interferes with this.

The way through this, which Heather did with Pie and I've seen Mark do with other horses, is just to keep the horse cantering.  This requires the horse to "unlock" to breathe properly - the horse, to get enough oxygen, has to start breathing every stride.  Once that starts to happen, the rhythm of the canter together with the breathing allows the horse to move properly and sufficiently to dissipate the tension carried in the body.

These positive effects on the body then can help with the mental tension - in horses body and mind are really one.  The trainer worked through this with Pie in both directions at the canter, and she said that once he started breathing properly his posture and movement completely changed for the better, and that Pie was relaxed and happy when they were done.  She says this is likely to be a big turning point for him - she's pretty excited and so am I!

19 comments:

  1. Holy Cow! I've never hear this before and it is so incredible! It sure makes a lot of sense. You (and the trainer) must be really excited as I bet he makes huge strides after this.

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  2. Very interesting, thanks for sharing. I had a young TB mare once that always cantered extremely fast and out of control. A trainer got on her and cantered and cantered and cantered her until she slowed down and became rhythmic in her strides. After that she was a gem to ride. I wonder if she had a breathing issue too.

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  3. Very interesting. I remember when you wrote about breathing with the canter last year. I love it when they exhale forcefully with each canter stride and I can hear the "vibrato snort" in rhythm with the gait. Pretty.

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  4. Very interesting....and logical! Sweet Pie.

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  5. I love breakthroughs! Tessa has the same combination of lack of forward and spookiness so I'm keen to read future training posts about Pie! It's so exciting all the progress you and all your ponies are making!!

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  6. Awesome! Pie sure seems like (from your detailed descriptions of him) a horse who really cares about people. It sounds like you have a lot of things to look forward to. And, once he works past this--so will he!

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  7. I also think that's very interesting. Makes perfect sense.

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  8. Excellent news. Makes us remember we need to breathe too. A lot of times when I feel my horse tense, I hold my breath and all that does is make the situation worse. It's not easy to control yourself when the horse and you get into sync like that in a negative way.

    Super to hear that your wonderful trainer my well have unlocked Pie's nerves!

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  9. Great breakthrough with Pie. He's such a good horse I'm glad it's all working out for him.

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  10. This was very interesting. I had not heard of this before and it makes perfect sense. I'm so happy Pie had a breakthrough -- he is such a good sweet horse.

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  11. I've experienced the same thing! This was deja vu for me in dealing with my horse's tension. He used to get tense at home where he wouldn't breathe well and I used the canter to help him relax and breathe better, as he was definitely holding his breath at the trot.
    Times away from home were far more tense, and we never got the same kind of relaxation from movement until I rode in a clinic with Jeremy Steinberg. When I got on my horse was tense and ready to blow (and did have a rearing, leaping, hopping moment partway across the arena). I knew all his issues stemmed from tension - and in his case, he completely loses forward. We cantered for about 45 minutes that day - working on getting him straight and working hard. It took that long for him to have to breathe properly to keep going because he's very fit, even with me demanding he use his body properly and not evade the whole ride. Since then I have repeatedly tried to put him in the same kind of situations where he builds tension, and he just hasn't gotten anything like he was then.

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  12. Thank you for this post Kate, this will help me a lot to move on with Cassie. I always knew that Cassie was still holding unresolved trauma, so after reading your post I checked, and Cassie is holding her breath. I just never noticed before. Now I will be able to take a different approach, and hopefully I'll be able to do it right so it will help Cassie to relax just as it did for Pie.

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  13. I have never heard of this either, but it makes complete sense. The body, any body, will do what it needs to do in most cases if you give it a chance. I love that your trainer is so aware, so willing and so competent. Good for all of you, but especially for dear Pie. I LOVE the fact that he was happy when they were done and I also love how your trainer must have rushed to text you the good news. What a positive change! How wonderful. wee are celebrating for you and with you in the hills of western mass.

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  14. Oh rats, I just wrote up a whole link and it vanished. I was just saying that I have never heard of such a thing but that it makes perfect sense--that given a chance and when pushed, Pie's body worked it out. It is a beautiful thing when resolution to a sticky wicket comes along. I love how your trainer is so aware and so willing and so competent. What a rush it must have felt for dear dear Pie to find his air. We are celebrating for and with all of you in the hills of western mass.

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  15. Sounds like a major breakthrough!

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  16. That is very interesting. Thanks for writing it up. I need to check this for myself with Ben.

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  17. Pie has been holding his breathe for months. Amazing. Movement is so important, I'm so glad he's healing his good spirit. Yay Pie!

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