The above story was one that we could hear at Stall Granåsa last week when we had the opportunity to listen to French horseman Jean Luc Cornille.
"Tell the horse to follow you and dance. Once you harmonize
your movement the horse would rather stay with you."
Before the clinic I had a really strong stomach flu for a few days so I was not in a very good shape, but I simply couldn't stay away from such an opportunity. Not only was I really tired but Cornille's lovely French accent and amazing knowledge of the horses biomechanics was at times a bit hard to grasp. I did however learn a lot of new things and I am still digesting and trying to make sense of all the new information. As with every clinic I try to listen, take the bits that I think are the most interesting and try to incorporate them into my own training and riding. What I once more understood, this seems to happen at every clinic, is how much there is to learn and why most people that seem to know a lot about horses are not only wise but older. Because really learning and getting to know the horses biomechanics takes years and being able to describe the horse in such scientific detail as Cornell takes a lifetime.
Here are some of the things that I found very interesting from the clinic:
"Lightness is not the bit. Lightness is everywhere."
For the horse:
- The back does not swing in the way that we perceive it to be swinging. Having the back swing largely is false. The job of the back muscles (selkälihakset) is to protect the vertebral column (selkäranka) so that it does not move too much. If e.g. the speed is too fast (speed stiffens the vertebral column), the back muscles lock themselves and the horses back feels hard against the rider. When the back muscles are locked, the weight moves forward and the weight can be felt in the hands as the horse being hard on the bit. (In 1976 Hans Carlson demonstrated that the main function of the back muscles was not to increase the range of movement of the horse's vertebral column, but at the contrary, to protect the vertebral column from movements exceeding the thoracolumbar spine's possible range of motion.)
- All investigations have demonstrated that the horse's thoracolumbar column does not flex longitudinally and laterally as a whole. While greater movements are possible between T9 and mostly T14, and some horses show mobility until T16, the rest of the horse thoracolumbar spine is quite rigid. Movements occur but within the limits of a restricted range of motion.
- You cannot make the vertebral column work by placing the neck. When the vertebral column works, the neck goes in the right place for each horse. Usually the correct alignment is down but not low.
- The mouth is not the problem. It is a censor and tells you that there is a problem and where the problem is. Lightness is not the bit. Lightness is everywhere. In order to use the back the horse needs to be light on the bit. When the horse pushes on the bit he contracts the back.
- In a slower tempo it is easier to perceive the problems and crookedness of the horse and correct them.
- The hindlegs /pelvic muscles are four times stronger than the corresponding forelegs.
- It is not the muscles but tendons that move the horses legs.
- The horse is built to use maximum efficacy with minimun effort / small muscles, long tendons. An extraordinary system of energy saving. The horse overruns every predator. The horse will always look for the best possible solution.
- All horses are assymetrical. If we do not correct the horse, the horse never corrects him/herself. The horse protects the problem.
- Horses usually compensate one thing with another.
- We talk about the hindlegs but the more important part are the forelegs.
- The croup (ristiluu) and shoulder should move up and down in the same time.
- Muscles function on a highly sophisticated level and are controlled by the horses nervous system (imagine dancing with a football player and moving him around with your fingers).
- The horses natural reflexes are not adapted to the job. We are a constant burden on the horses back. The horse needs to learn coordination. We do however deal with a natural reflex (such as stopping at the gate).
- The horses spine moves in three directions.
- The lowering of the neck does not elongate the back muscles. When the neck goes lower the horse stiffens the back. When lowering the neck you increase the weight on the forelegs. Keep the horse long but not low.
- Cornille has been working with pathologists and a pathologist named Rooney observed firsthand the discrepancy between the large mass and power of the back muscles and small mass and limited power of the abdominal muscles. The abdominal muscles do not have the capacity to flex the back muscles. Longitudinal flexion of the horse's thoracolumbar spine is instead, created by the precise coordination of the main back muscles that are situated above the vertebral bodies.
- The nuchal ligament replaces 55 percent or more of the work of the upper neck muscles at the walk. At the trot and canter, the assistance of the nuchal ligament replaces between 32 to 34 percent of the work of the upper neck muscles. As the horse lowers the neck, the tension of the nuchal ligament increases and the work of the upper neck muscles decreases. This is not stretching; it is simply easing the work of the upper neck muscles.
- There is a certain cadence/speed where the athlete works at his/her best (each gate is performed at the same speed). You should bring the horse to its natural cadence. Natural cadence feels effortless. The metabolism functions more efficiently at a certain cadence. Fast walk spends more energy than a slow trot. If the horse goes too slow or too hard they work too hard.
For the rider:
- Since the horses vertebral column movement is minimal a stable seat is essential for the rider and our vertebral column should not move more than the horses. A relaxed and swinging back from the rider will only result in a stiff back in the horse where the muscles that protect the vertebral column lock themselves. We need to synchronise our movement with the horses back.
- Ask the horse to slow down by following your back. Your spine moves less and the horse follows it. If he can feel you walking next to him imagine what he can feel when you are in the saddle (try to reduce the movement of your own vertebral column when moving next to the horse by straightening your back and reducing the movement. You will find that the horse can feel the movement of the human back and reduce his/her own movement).
- The force that the rider feels and receives in the saddle is the force created by the legs, not by the vertebral column.
"You suggest a change to the horse. You do not force it."
Cornilles homepage Science of Motion is definitely worth a visit and here is a great picture series of how shoulder in (avotaivutus) is executed in hand with correct and inverted rotation of the vertebral column.
Here are some of the things that I took with me from the clinic. This is just a scratch on the surface from the few days that Cornille spent in Finland and a whole new world to discover. So many interesting thoughts hence many a fine horseman have spoken about the same things but through scientific research and facts things are easier to show. As Cornille said in the clinic: "Do not reject tradition but further it."
"Work with rather than against the horses intelligence."
See also: More Biomechanics
Good article from one of Cornell's clinics by Lindsay Street.