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An Audience with Gerd Heuschmann

Saturday 11th September at Vale View Equestrian Centre.

HIO Gerd Heuschmann Clinic =Following the success of the Horses Inside Out Conference at the Unicorn Trust in 2009 and by popular request, Horses Inside Out managed to persuade Dr Gerd Heuschmann to present a follow up Seminar for us, this time in Leicestershire.

It was a fascinating day, with theory in the morning and 4 beautiful ridden and 1 lunged horse in the afternoon.

The importance of Biomechanics.
Although this subject can be learnt from books, to put it into practise we need to understand the psychological and behavioural aspects of horses - in short we need to think like a horse. We also need to be excellent horsemen with a sensitive seat. The stiller you sit the more you feel. If you are feeling annoyed or upset, concentration is lost and you cannot have a good seat. Emotions therefore must be under control! Horses are pack animals who in the pecking order respect their leader. As the rider you must be a benevolent despot, happy, relaxed, friendly, kind, forgiving and positive. To attain these qualities requires a strong confident character. Without these qualities insecurities will translate to tension. This is why they say riding is so character building!

HIO Gerd Heuschmann Clinic =Physiology of Musculature.
Increased use or a change in the way muscles are used leads microtrauma with the release of lactic acid within the tissues. If we throw 100 hay bales into a barn, our muscles will be sore the next day. This helps to explain why our horses, particularly when they are young, will work well one day but less freely the next. We, as trainers, need to respect this. Each training session stimulates remodelling of muscle fibre which can sometimes be painful. If we do not recognise this it can result in physical and mental damage.

The Spine.
The spine is a bridge construction which suspends the abdomen –approximately one third of a horse’s weight and supports the weight of the rider.

The most important structures involved in supporting the back are the neck and associated ligaments. The anatomy and biomechanics of this are clearly explained by Gillian Higgins in her demonstrations, Book and DVD.

The two circular systems that together can help to raise the back are, keeping the head and neck forwards and down and engagement of the hind end.

HIO Gerd Heuschmann CLinic =Initially, we can affect the head and neck more easily than the hind end. During his first year as a riding horse he needs to learn a new balance with the head and neck forward and free.  Only when a good contact has been established and he has accepted the rider do we start to affect the head and neck. As the horse progresses,  the importance of the hind end and the seat increases and can be influenced more and the significance of the positioning of the head and neck reduces.

The Longissimus Dorsi, the Long Back Muscle is the main movement muscle of the back. If these are braced to carry the rider, the back will stiffen and they can no longer contribute efficiently to movement. This will affect the gait.

The more advanced horses become in their work the more positive tension is necessary in the long back muscle. This is different from being braced. When braced, the horse becomes a leg mover rather than a back mover. Movements become over-exaggerated and it is hard to sit to the trot. The only thing to do when this happens is to go back a step, relax the back and then reconnect.

Symptoms of tension in the muscles of the back:-

  1. Lateral walk (walk is the first thing to reflect tension in the back)
  2. Loss of rhythm in trot and canter
  3. Loss of rhythm in higher collection movements (half pass, piaffe & passage)
  4. Bridle lameness. This is something not really recognised or taught within vet schools.
  5. Loss of shoulder movement as the humerus bone is held back by the Latissimus Dorsi which connects into the back fascia.
  6. Stifle held back in a more extended position by back the hamstrings which connect in to the back fascia.
  7. Parallel association of the fore radius and hind cannon bone is broken.

In a horse with a relaxed back – positive tension - cadence comes from the flexion in the haunches created during the stance phase – the joints flex, the body goes down then ‘springs’ up and in trot. There is also 100% parallel association between hind cannon and fore radius in the swing phase.

In horses with a ‘braced’ back, the “cadence” develops out of a braced back comes from a pause in mid air. When the back becomes braced the hind leg cannot step well under the body as it is held back by tight hamstring muscles, which pull the stifle backwards. There is reduced flexion in the hip, stifle and hock and the lack of ‘sink and spring’ in the stance phase is compensated for by greater extension in the fetlock. This increases the strain in the suspensory ligaments which may be a cause for hind limb suspensory desmitis.

In the afternoon Gerd worked with four very different horse.

  • Friday, a 22 year old very supple welsh cob x tb ridden by Isobel Prestiwch
  • Krack-de Niro a rising 6 Danish warmblood beautiful big moving dressage horse ridden by Gemma Cheney. 
  • Fortune’s Way, a 15 yr old 17hh gelding working towards PSG and ridden by Nikki Herbert.
  • Masterpiece, a 10 year old 16.2hh gelding ridden by Rob Lovatt – a horse with such presence and muscle that Gerd mistook him for a Stallion!

Gerd used 3 simple exercises to try and make a difference with these horses:-

Gerd Heuschmann for HIO1. Lateral Work in a Slow walk

1.Helps to bring the back up.
2. Encourages the horse to drop onto the bit – with no contact.
3. Encourages chewing.

The walk must be slow out of a soft seat with no force. The more existing tension, the slower the walk. In a young horse this lateral work should be a simple leg yield; in the more advanced horse, shoulder in and travers can be used.

Gerd Heuschmann HIO ClinicQ.     What is the difference between the Shoulder in and the leg yield lessons for the horse?

Gerd Heuschmann CLinic HIOA.     Shoulder in is a collecting lesson achieved only when the back is soft allowing flexion develop in the   haunches. Leg yield should be used in a younger or weaker horse.

Q.      How early would you start lateral work with a young horse?
A.     Old school of training  in the 2nd half of the first year or as soon as the horse is searching for a contact. 

2. Poll Movement – lateral flexion.

Poll muscles system comprise of those attached to the skull- atlas and axis. They are short and strong. An inability to release the outside results in stiffness and an inability to bend to the inside. In order to get the flexion at the poll the horse must chew. If you have a tight noseband he is unable to chew and softness in the poll required for bending / flexion - which is required to train the inside hind leg is unattainable.

Gerd Heuschmann HIOHIO Gerd Heuschmann CLinicGerd demonstrated the tower rein (holding the reins upside down so they come in between your thumb and first finger and out underneath your little finger) This is an old techniques that prevents you pulling down and back. Also has been shown if you want your horse to be round – raise your hand, wait a moment and he will come round.

A high hand rounds the poll a deep hand stretches the neck.
As the horse takes the rein the back under you starts to relax. This can be felt. Gerd believes that the tower rein is something all riders should try. Once the chewing mouth and soft poll are achieved the bit /elbow line – position can be employed. With no resistance the elbow – wrist – bit line should not be broken. If you do have resistance – do not pull back – just break the line with your inside hand – Raise your hand. Gerd usually recommends breaking the line with the inside rein because the outside rein is the leading rein, it needs to be consistent and still. Whereas the inside rein helps control the flexion and the chewing, it helps to stimulate suppleness.

3.   Rhythm

HIO Gerd Heuschamnn CLinic =This is the first thing to look for in trot. FEI’s definition of rhythm is that one stride is exactly like another. However Gerd thinks that speed is a very important thing.  The Rhythm in Gerd’s eyes is a speed in which you and your horse are comfortable – it sows the seed of harmony and enables you both to relax. This ‘comfort zone enables you to find a softer seat where, with a soft back you can achieve both true suspension and true collection.  

Gerd riding FridayQ         What about the lazy horse? If you let lazy horses go in their own comfort zone / own rhythm, they would never work !

A      In Gerds opinion, horses either rush or are unwilling to move forwards and appear lazy. Either can be the result of a stiff back and both are evasions. If you can remove the cause the symptoms will disappear.


The day gave everyone food for thought! It is always interesting but not easy to put theory  into practice and, having explained his ideas this is exactly what Gerd attempted to do. Also not easy in front of a large critical audience! The principals of the exercises demonstrated in the afternoon were simple and I think many of us will be thinking about, and trying some of Gerd’s techniques over the next few weeks. A huge thank you must go to Gerd, the horses and riders, and to Vale View for hosting such a large number of guests.


Gerd and GillianDr. Gerd Heuschmann, vet, dressage rider, trainer and author of 'Tug of War' Classical versus Modern, and Dr. Svend Kold, specialist in Equine Orthopaedic Surgery at Willesley Equine Clinic addressed the questions 'Why the horse's conformation decides his training; How to approach the minimally lame, multilimb lame horse; Bridle lameness - how incorrect training can mimic lameness, and, the restricting effect of back pain for full performance;

The topics, each of which are relevant to all equestrian discipline were examined from the differing perspectives of control through training without the use of restrictive practices and training aids and, how lameness and back pain can be diagnosed and treated using drugs or surgical intervention.

Gerd riding Cadbury

Svend Kold and Chloe HunterOn the second day Dr Heuschmann, using a variety of horses and riders competing in a variety of disciplines from novice to advanced levels, held the audience spell bound as he demonstrated improvements in back movement by using the forward and down head and neck position and suppling exercises to create flexion at the poll and lateral movements. A particularly dramatic improvement was seen in a dressage pony with a particularly fixed back, presented by Dr Kold and ridden by a 13 year old girl. It was concluded that many horses display poor performance as a result of stiffness in the back. Reassuringly, Dr Heuschmann not only provided a theoretical solution to the problem but also convincingly demonstrated how to improve performance.Ellen Bercher -nolan on Welfenprinz

Facilities and catering arrangements (wonderful home made soup!) were excellent.

Both Gerd and Svend are very keen to repeat the experience. It is just a case of finding dates and a venue. Watch this space!


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