The modern day image of dressage is to produce a horse that moves in a collected and rounded outline, performing intricate movements with accuracy and precision. Sometimes in order to reduce training times this image is produced by using equipment or 'gadgets', used to bring the horse's head down, to give the required head carriage. However, some of these horses will become over-bent at the poll giving a head position behind the vertical. By setting his head in this position it will result in tight muscles in the poll and upper neck, which extend down to the lower neck and shoulders. Consequently, stiffness in the shoulders will develop, causing a restriction in the movement of the forelimbs. This is compounded by the fact that a lot of dressage horses are not encouraged to perform enough work "long and low" to stretch through the topline muscles before bringing them into their collected outline.
In addition, the corners around the dressage arena can be very tight for the larger horses, particularly coming down the centreline, encouraging them to fall in. This causes subsequent stiffness to develop in the neck, shoulders and behind the saddle, from having to balance their own weight with the rider. This can also extend into tension developing in the tail region, which is also used to help balance the horse around corners, and is exacerbated by soft ground such as grass surfaces compared with the all-weather surfaces now more widely used.
In the early stages of training McTimoney chiropractic would be helpful if the horse finds difficulty working in straight lines; not striking off on the correct lead leg at canter, or is having problems undertaking lateral work. Advanced dressage movements such as canter pirouettes; will increase the engagement of the hindquarters and so put more strain onto the lumbar region - chiropractic will help reduce this.
It is also common to find that a pelvic problem which develops from the horse not working evenly behind, will cause an effect in the diagonally opposite shoulder and poll. In addition, the introduction of lateral work will cause the shoulders to begin to develop and may lead to the saddle becoming too narrow at the withers. Consequently, with the additional weight of the rider, the saddle will become tilted backwards and cause tension to build up in the Lumbar region, directly behind it.
It is therefore essential that a reputable saddler regularly checks the saddle, and the panel stuffing altered as the horse develops his topline in response to the work being given.
The dressage saddle is generally flatter than for other disciplines and has a larger weight-bearing surface in contact with the horse's back, which will make the weight distribution of the rider more comfortable for the horse. However, an unbalanced rider with a dropped shoulder or collapsed hip will cause the horse to become stiff or unlevel itself over time, in an effort to compensate for his rider. It is therefore essential that both horse and rider are checked at the same time, to prevent problems in the horse recurring.
In addition to the range of musculo-skeletal problems they develop, dressage horses are prone to suffer joint rather than tendon problems, especially in the hindleg joints and hocks, as the horse is asked for increased engagement. Dressage horses will benefit greatly from regular treatment by a McTimoney chiropractor during training to keep the body equally balanced as the muscles develop.
As the horse is asked for more advanced movements in dressage, tension and crookedness can develop so it is essential to keep the horse regularly checked by a chiropractor (probably every three to six months) Also, with advanced movements the horse will tighten in the area behind the saddle to compensate for stresses in the hocks and fetlocks of the hindlegs. It is essential to start and finish sessions "long and low" to stretch the muscles of the topline, and allow correct warming up and cooling down of the muscles. McTimoney chiropractic for both horse and rider will allow them both to perform to their full potential.