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Are Horses Athletes

author
James Smith
• Monday, 09 November, 2020
• 13 min read

This relationship is unique, and it affects both the culture of the sport and our identity as athletes. Yet in theory, many would also acknowledge that to be successful, we must nurture both sides of the partnership equally.

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Contents

If we don’t see ourselves as an important element of the partnership, we won’t invest in ourselves by looking after our bodies and our minds with the same care and attention we give our horses. Because of this, equestrians often end up mentally and emotionally exhausted by their sport, which directly impacts performance ability.

At the end of the day, if we are mentally, emotionally, and physically burned-out, we cannot be the rider and partner our horse deserves to have. If we are not clear-headed, grounded, and fully in the present moment, the risk of making bad decisions skyrockets, with obvious negative consequences for our performance.

Because we set the tone for these interactions, the ability to understand and regulate our own emotions is a key mental skill for equestrian athletes. Our state of mind controls all these skills: emotional regulation, focus, being grounded, being present, and much more.

Unfortunately, this type of thinking results in so many equestrians struggling to progress in their riding or feeling a lack of control over their improvement and success. As an athlete, I have personally experienced the way an exhausted mind can sabotage even our finest efforts.

Despite the best training and preparation, it can be incredibly challenging succeeding when your mind is tired, depleted, anxious, and full of self-doubt. As a coach, I have seen the frustration of clients when their hard work does not produce results in the ring because of anxiety and low confidence.

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As a mental performance consultant, I have come to understand the power and inevitable influence that our state of mind has on our success. With poor mental preparation, we can be thrown off course by the smallest of bumps in the road.

Emotional stability (fewer up and downs) Quick recovery Ability to turn setbacks into opportunities Maximizing effort in training More consistent results Consistent aids, empathetic riding Stronger relationships with our horses Even this small change will start to influence how you perceive yourself and begin to affect your choices around self-care.

Before mounting, center yourself by taking five deep, slow breaths and focus on what you want to accomplish during your ride. When you hit a setback, frame the struggle within the bigger picture of our progress.

Adding “yet” is a small but powerful way to shift our brain from wallowing to problem-solving. There is always a way to excel in the things we find difficult if we are willing to work hard.

If we can learn to manage our emotional reactions, and increase our adaptability in challenging situations, we will recover faster from setbacks, spend less time spinning in anxiety and self-doubt, and enhance the quality of all of our time spent with our horses. It’s time to shift our way of thinking and embrace your identity as an equestrian athlete.

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More equal focus on both athletes in this partnership will result in greater success and well-being for ourselves and our horses. This article was originally published in the Summer 2020 issue of Canadian Horse Journal.

One thing that I feel is often overlooked by riders when working or training horses is this: they are athletes too, and should be treated and respected as such. They crank their necks straight into the bridle, and spur them up into their hands without any warm up or warning of any kind.

Athletes are highly respected for a number of reasons, but one of the most obvious is the physical demand of their daily training regimes and their dedication to working hard towards achieving their goals. However, they are also in training, and they are also developing their muscles and adapting their mind sets to the tasks we are laying out before them.

But I bet you will discover that if you give them time, and ask them the question instead of just telling them what to do, the response you receive will be much more accepting and willing. Too many times do I see riders get on their horses and step right into their project for the day, or whatever exercise they had in mind for that ride.

Or do you walk for 5 to 10 minutes to let your muscles relax and heart rate come back down? These same sort of rituals needs to be practiced when riding horses, especially when working on something new or particularly strenuous.

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The most common place I see riders not allowing their horses to have a proper warm-up and cool down is in the winter time. However, they need extra warm-up time during that first walk to loosen up their cold, stiff muscles.

I've done a whole ride in the walk on a horse in the winter before, and still managed to get a bit of a sweat from them. Your horse may not be sweating due to the cold temperatures and their lack of hair, but if their flanks are heaving in and out from their heavy breathing maybe give them a bit more of a cool down than what you think is necessary.

How can I expect a horse to perform its best for me when I am not providing them with the resources and the proper preparedness to accomplish what I am asking of them? And yet, riders do it all the time and wonder why their horses object and swish their tails and pin their ears when they ask them to do something.

It may not look pretty, but after a few minutes their muscles will feel relaxed and I bet you they will be more willing to accept your contact and move better underneath you and through your aids if you do it. Square Pegs And Round Holes -- Feb. 23, 2019, 11:27 a.m. Having A Controlled Variable -- Jan. 19, 2019, 10:19 a.m. Training Takes Time -- Dec. 30, 2018, 4:49 p.m. Equitation Isn't Just For Show -- Oct. 28, 2018, 10:44 a.m.

Related Posts The Evolution Of Our Sport Training Update: Casper Doing What's Best For The Horse Among animals, horses are remarkably adapted to thrive in a wide variety of climates and environments, including some of the more extreme places on Earth.

horse riders athletes athlete
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The horses have lived on the island off the coast of Nova Scotia since the mid-1700s, when storms shipwrecked European boats there. Amidst the harsh Atlantic climate, eating copious sand and tough grasses, these horses are doing just fine with a population of over 500 living on the roughly 50-kilometre-long island.

This adaptation from forest life to open grassland living set the foundation for the remarkable athleticism horses have today. In addition to its crucial role in the immune system, the spleen stores extra red blood cells.

In times of exertion, thin muscles within the spleen contract to squeeze these cells out into blood vessels and into circulation. The additional red blood cells give an oxygen boost to muscles so horses can run further and faster.

Horses have a unique structure called the guttural pouches in their throat area, which are essentially large air pockets that arise from the Eustachian tubes. But a horse at a full gallop will generate excessive body heat and it is at these speeds that the hot blood may damage the brain.

The same features that make them capable of high speeds have probably contributed to their propensity for rupture of major blood vessels, hemorrhage in the lungs and atrial fibrillation, a condition where the electrical signal in the heart misfires so it cannot beat properly. This incredible lower leg structure is supported by a complex system of tendons, ligaments and small bones.

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Dr. Jamie Rothenberger, DVD, Meets, PhD, DA CVP, is a veterinarian who practices pathology and is an assistant professor at the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. What we can understand, in addition, is that a biomechanically correct walk and its variations are an extraordinary tool for developing the whole horse as an athlete.

Half-halts are specific combinations of rider position and weight to encourage development of strength plus range of motion in a calm frame of mind. Figure 1: Horse and rider are presented in an extended trot with level balance.

Black circles indicate approximate centers of mass (COM), which should remain conjoined for half halts. Ventral serrate muscles are available to the rider’s lower leg (calf muscles) to maintain the horse “on the forward aids,” the seat controls the hind quarters while the reins-to-hands receive the results of combined aids.

Undue pressure on the reins will choke the horse if the poll is brought too low or the face comes well behind the vertical. If the horse cannot understand, its confidence will be limited, and possibly a lesson will be mentally tagged with tension, a problem that could crop up every time an exercise is asked.

The longer a leg works in support from toe-down to toe-off, the more balance and muscle effort is required. In this process, you will discover the reason horses prefer to take quicker steps rather than slower: it is less demanding of energy.

horse racing boy classic race horses thoroughbred athletes ankle
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This TIMING diagram shows both symmetrical (walking, trotting) and asymmetrical gaits (canter, gallops). Black outlines show the realm of basic dressage gaits: walk, trot, canter.

Note that each gait is represented by a computer model at the mid-point of its unique diagonal pair. Forward “speed” is not a characteristic of passage or giraffe, where the tempo is close to 52 strides/min and the cadence or marked timing of the gait is NOT suspension, but the “grand gesture” of the swing phase (see far left portion of swing curve) WHILE A DIAGONAL PAIR IS GROUNDED.

All six transitions need balance, coordination and strength and will contribute powerfully to these qualities if performed with accurate timing and preparation. For every transition, the horse must solve two factors: a velocity change or “gap” and limb phases or positions in the “old” and “next” gait.

There are some special features of collected canters that we will not discuss here, as they would require an entire article on this gait. These diagonal pairs are time-dependent (tempo-dependent) and MAKE IT POSSIBLE TO PERFORM FLUENT, LEVEL, PROMPT TRANSITIONS.

Suspension is longest in extended trot and canter, diminishing as the tempo decreases. Because of spine structure, the vertebral surfaces connect in a manner that allows some axial rotation with lateral bend.

athlete biggest earth horses
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Direct experimental measurements of bending in the rib cage have been performed in detail. Advanced bending includes smaller circles (down to 6 meters diameter) and pirouettes in walk, giraffe and canter.

Briefly, I include some images of my Aztec mare with a rein connection that is satisfactory or too strong. An optimal connection through horse and rider not only enables correct athletic progress, it avoids false collection (contracted gaits).

Contracted, tense horses over time lose elasticity of movement and may even become “bridle lame.” This type of disability is caused by a rider and is not only difficult to correct, but eventually leads to injury. At this point I should mention that all tack should be well-adjusted, with the saddle placed so it does not interfere with the shoulder blade.

Horses are clever at moving their tongues in various ways, including withdrawing them from the bit or slipping them over it. “Crank caves sons” seen on bridles are often an indication that some factor of saddle fit, bit architecture or a driving seat are the real problem.

We will assume that in the process of working long and low and in ordinary postures, the contact and its connection through the whole body is comfortably functional (it does not have to be perfect). Long and low work stretches all muscles and is proof of relaxation in mind and body.

athlete equine healthy create horse
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Time spent with long and low in walk and trot will help refresh work on two or three tracks. Lateral work is strenuous and you should try to keep the horse refreshed with frequent intervals of forward riding, especially with a swinging back in the long/low exercise in walk or trot.

Take photos of your horse during its development to document changes that may be hard to spot during movement. Pure gaits and transitions among them add coordination to the efforts of good movement.

As we discussed earlier, technical aspects of half halts for transitions are the topic of another article. Careful attention to tempo will prepare a horse for fluent changes of gait.

It is important for riders to realize that asking for changes of any sort requires that the horse be “set up” in a way that tells it what will happen next. They also help release the serrated (forehand, trunk) and hind quarters (hamstring group) portions of the “sleep locks” or stay apparatus the horse uses to nap while standing.

Walking quarter pirouettes are particularly useful because they engage each hind leg with a significant duty factor minus concussion of landing from suspension while helping the forehand become supple as front legs cross on the outside of a corner. Changing length of stride from long and low to a lateral exercise as well as stretch of the whole body promotes muscular development in terms of strength and elasticity.

athlete horse deviantart
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It deserves its own section to help readers understand its history and place in a “dressage school” strategy. The earliest I find it mentioned is by a French contemporary of La Guarnieri, Duty DE Clam.

Riding DE Clam’s exercise is often tricky for riders not accustomed to absolute control of position. Advanced lateral exercises such as leg yield on a circle or half pass deserve their own article.

The biggest blow to the purists came more than a quarter of a century ago when Sports Illustrated named Secretariat its “Athlete of the Year” in 1973 for becoming the first thoroughbred since Citation in 1948 to win America's Triple Crown. The most recent argument against the stance of the purists, however, was delivered in the last Preakness Stakes at historic Public Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland.

How can anyone who watched the race and saw Fleet Alex stumble to his knees when interfered with by another horse on the far turn, then recover and regain his poise to go on to win the middle jewel of the Triple Crown in convincing fashion believe that race horses aren't athletes ? Their innate desire to avoid danger and injury is overruled by the intense competitive spirit which burns within them, the same as it is with human athletes.

Fleet Alex had every reason to stop trying after he nearly fell while in full racing stride and the stretch run imminent. The gallant thoroughbred's young jockey, 26-year-old Jeremy Rose, was at the mercy of his mount's keen athleticism and agility for those fleeting seconds of near disaster.

horse elite horses
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Which bring us to another point: Jockeys, in spite of their diminutive physical stature, are every bit the athletes that professional team sports players and Olympians are. Jockeys are highly skilled, supremely coordinated and deceptively strong bundles of sinew and muscle with minds capable of executing ever-changing plans of strategy and making split-second decisions.

Bear in mind that when Fleet Alex went to his knees, Rose had only his instincts and his supreme sense of balance upon which to rely. Horse and jockey complement one another, seemingly becoming a single entity as their respective motions blend to create fluid energy with one goal in mind: Winning the race.

Whereas a majority of their human counterparts are allowed to compete with prescription medications of varying degrees in their systems, equine athletes enjoy no such luxury. If you would like to use this article on your website, please contact Casino City Press, the exclusive web syndication outlet for the Frank College Network.

He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent.

He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent.

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