Crookedness, Tightness, and What To Do About It

Over the last couple of months, Madigan has been crooked- like, really crooked. His haunches would be on an entirely different track than his shoulders, especially at the canter. It was difficult to straighten him out at the canter, too. If I tried to move his shoulders, he would attempt a flying change. Whether or not he got the change, he would canter smaller and more crookedly until it felt like he was cantering in place halfway through a pirouette.

My trainer had fewer issues with him than I did, so I contacted my favorite human bodyworker and asked her to help me. She’s a certified athletic trainer I’ve known for years- she taught yoga and Essentrics at a studio Johnny and I attended before the pandemic. While she isn’t a horse person, she has an excellent understanding of biomechanics and human anatomy, and has made it a point to educate herself about equestrian sport because she treats a handful of riders.

She immediately pointed out my problems: my knees, pelvis, and shoulders all point in different directions. Some of it is due to natural asymmetry everyone has. Some of it is due to plantar fasciitis in my left foot. I left her office an hour later with an improved range of motion in my now-seriously sore left shoulder, a list of exercises, and a follow up appointment four weeks later.

Addressing my own problems definitely improved my riding, but it didn’t fully solve Madigan’s issues. He was straighter and less weird at the canter, but he still struggled to push through and out. Without impulsion and thrust, his gaits are pretty lackluster, which is a big problem in the young horse tests and a slightly less big problem in regular tests. I attributed this to a couple of things: he’s naturally sort of lazy and he seemed to have gone through another little growth spurt recently (out instead of up, thankfully). My trainer and I kept encouraging him to move forward and out, long and low.

Yesterday, he saw the chiropractor. She saw him several months ago and found no real issues. I expected the same at this visit, so I was surprised when she told me his hip flexors were very tight.

“Does he have trouble pushing from behind?” Why yes, yes he does!

When she explained where the horse’s hip flexors are and what role they serve in providing power and collection, Madigan’s penchant for on-the-spot canter and struggles with medium gaits made sense. Because his hip flexors are tight, it’s easier and more comfortable for him to tuck his hindquarters and sit down a little. It’s harder and less comfortable to extend the tight muscle to really push forward and through.

The chiropractor prescribed some pre- and post-ride stretches for him and thought it would be beneficial for him to spend some time standing on the pedestal to stretch before riding. She recommended we continue our long-and-low work under saddle, too. In addition to the stretches and the stretchy work, I’d like to get him on our trainer’s Theraplate once a week and over cavalletti regularly. He’s scared of the Theraplate and clunks through cavalletti, so those may not be as helpful as I hope they will be.

I’m eager to see if he improves over the next few weeks. Madigan will be six this year, and he finally feels and looks like an adult rather than a gangly baby. He’s laid-back, charming, and makes dressage feel easy and fun. I want him to feel his best so we can continue to learn and grow together. And, you know, go to some horse shows!