by Paul Burdziakowski
Well horses perform well. That is the motto of Stefanie Reinhold, an author, former instructor and certified equine massage practitioner who has a passion for resolving pain and trauma related behavioral and performance issues in sport horses.
Reinhold held a clinic at the Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield, MA, during the 54th annual Equine Affaire where she spoke about the methods that she uses to alleviate stiffness in riding horses.
Reinhold first learned about the needs of performance horses at a young age in Germany where she completed a trainer apprenticeship with an organization known as the German Equestrian Federation. Over the past nine years Reinhold has worked with well over 2,000 different horses both in the United States and Germany ranging from 4-H ponies to champion endurance horses.
Reinhold uses a three-part approach to equine wellness, which she calls the “Path to Performance.” These three parts are release of tension and restriction, creating suppleness and gymnasticizing, which simply means to build maintain the horse’s muscles and self-carriage (posture) to an extent that will allow the animal to stay sound and well while performing the activities asked of it.
Reinhold also uses The Masterson Method to create an able and willing horse. The Masterson Method is a system in which the horse participates in the massage and bodywork process by showing the practitioner where tension has accumulated, how much pressure is needed to release it and when it has been released. Reinhold believes this is a method which anyone can learn to use to improve their horses performance while at the same time opening new levels of communication and trust with the horse.
During the seminar Reinhold went over the four aspects of mobility that most relate to stiffness including flex, reach, bend and tilt. Reinhold says stiffness is relative and can’t be measured besides comparing it to something or to a previous time. She also notes that horses are not born stiff but rather that stiffness comes about over a period of time from various circumstances such as from lack of proper stretching and exercise.
According to Reinhold flex happens at every joint and is the aspect of mobility that most effects stiffness. Reinhold says there is a simple exercise involving lateral movement, which can be administered at the horses head and neck junction. This is done by taking the horses head and placing your asking hand on the bony part of the snout and putting your other hand on his neck where you can feel a vertebrate junction. You can then slowly but firmly flex the horse’s head first to one side and then the other. If the horse is resisting this indicates that there may be a movement habit or some discomfort involved. Another added benefit to this exercise is that it will improve the animal’s steering and reinforce the concept of yielding to pressure. It will also help the horse during the process of leading and tying.
Reinhold said reach most notably happens in the horse’s limbs. In actuality any stiffness in this area isn’t really found in the limb but rather higher up in the horse’s scapula and shoulders says Reinhold. Horse owners can perform another simple exercise to help relieve stiffness in this part of the horse by kneeling in front of the animal and lifting one of its front legs off the ground. You should gently bend the curled leg forward for several seconds while looking for the scapula and shoulder to drop. Repeat this process for the other leg. If the horse refuses to drop the shoulder immediately just be patient and continue to hold the leg forward until it does so.
During her seminar Reinhold noted the horse’s back is the center of movement and that the aspect of bend is most recognizable in this part of the animal. The degree of flexibility is determined by how much bending a horse can produce in the lumbar area. A good method to create more flexibility in your horse according to Reinhold is to stand to one side of the animal’s head, around the shoulder area, while holding a treat. The goal is to have the horse turn its head to one side while remaining in place and taking the treat from your hand.
A horse wellness article that Reinhold wrote on her website reinforces her point at the seminar that the horse’s back is the center of movement. In the article Reinhold noted that an improper fitting saddle is the number one reason for back problems in horses and can lead to all sorts of physical and mental problems in the animal. These problems may include muscle atrophy, shortened stride, sudden shying, spooking and bucking.
The area of the body that a horse most needs to be able to tilt is the pelvis. Reinhold recommends an exercise which creates motion in the most flexible junction of the horse’s back known as the sacrolumbar junction. This is the only spot in your horse’s back that is really flexible.
For this exercise, you will need to use quite a bit of pressure with some horses. Stand behind the horse and find a point midway between the point of hip and the sacrum that is relatively sensitive to the touch. Use your thumbs to initiate a movement reflex in the horse by pushing down firmly, then pulling your thumbs down toward the poverty groove on both sides. The horse should now lift his back, tuck in his abdomen and tilt his pelvis, which is described as a sit-up. If your horse is not that sensitive, use two quarter coins instead of your thumbs. Horse sit-ups strengthen the muscles along the horse’s entire topline as well as the entire abdominal sling and intercostals. Reinhold recommends not performing this exercise more than three times per session and no more than three times a week because this is a reflex point and has the potential to numb if overdone.
In a later seminar Reinhold tied in the techniques learned in the first seminar with the information found in her new book H. DV. 12 German Cavalry Manual: On the Training of Horse and Rider. Reinhold states that most of today’s modern riders are focused on getting the win and fail to give their horse enough freedom or movement. She says since the age of the cavalry has ceased there has not been a reliable institution in place to provide guidance on how to effectively train a horse. Reinhold believes the manual provides a visual representation on proper rhythm, relaxation and contact between horse and rider.
Reinhold always reminds people that any advice that she gives is beneficial based on her own personal opinion. She encourages those who are in doubt about the physical condition of their horse to consult a veterinarian because equine massage is never a substitute for proper veterinary care. For more information on Stefanie Reinhold including her upcoming seminars and additional horse wellness information visit her website at www.reinholdshorsewellness.com .
Simple techniques to eliminate or lessen stiffness in riding horses
by Paul Burdziakowski