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Overly rounded back while riding

Hello Franklin:

I bought an Australian Thoroughbred October 2004, retrained him and used him for eventing. At first when I started riding him he would hollow out his back, would not lift / round his back or collect his head, was very downhill and hung on the bit. He was not lame, had no back soreness, and my saddle fit.

I have experience with retraining racehorses and I begin my riding him very slowly and progressively, as their backs are not fit enough to hold prolonged riding or sitting trot (when taken straight off the track). After about 4 months I got him to round his back, lighten in the bit and travel uphill; however, he was too round and now had a problem with getting him to relax his back.

We showed up to Preliminary level (3'7" cross country & stadium and second level dressage) and did very well. He never refused and really loved his job. At one event he showed lameness in his right stifle. I gave him 6 months off and began reconditioning him, when he then showed lameness in other areas (hocks and sacroiliac). His back was so tender to the lightest pressure and hit topline dropped a bit giving him a slight sway. We injected his sacroiliac joint and put him on Methacarbomal (muscle relaxer) and now he has no pain nor a flinch even to hard pressure. His flexions and palpations are negative.

Now that I am riding him again, he travels with his head low to the ground and back overly round. Is his back just weak? If so, what exercises can I do to strengthen the loin area of his back? He seems to flatten / move out and travel great while lunging with side reins. Do you think he is just in an "I'm still injured" mind set, and is trying to manipulate me into thinking he needs more time off? I don't think it is my saddle because I've tried many, plus rode barebare and his "undersaddle" behavior is the same. Let me know if you need anymore information.

Thanks for your time, Alisa

Hello Alisa,

Sorry it has taken so long to respond to your email. I travel extensively and my computer time can be limited these days. First off, your horse is "not trying to manipulate you." However, it would seem that what you are observing is now his habitual way of moving under those circumstances. Horses become habituated to a way of 'going' and being, very quickly. Changing habitual patterns of behavior is very difficult for horses and humans alike. for me, what works best to change habitual movement (behavior) in a horse is to begin to retrain very slowly. Much slower than you would think is neccessary. I tend to even go in slow motion (one-step-at-a-time) a lot. This engages the mind of the horse more than mere movement. I reward a lot (short removal of all pressure of a request) for any effort at compliance. You would be surprised at how quickly a horse can learn specific movement when approached this way. Then that new way of moving becomes habitual.

So, whatever your plan for getting the horse right, slow it down immensely. Forget schooling rigorously for a while. School in slow motion. Your horse will still get exercise, but you will be exercising his mind as well as his body. Ask for a specific head set and move very slowly, keeping that frame. Initially, reward every correct step. If your horse is in anticipation of pain, that may take additional time for him to realize there will be no pain coming.

Good Luck and please keep me posted.

Sincerely, Franklin
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