Guide dogs always make me smile – don’t you?  Not the fact that they are needed, but that they are so happy to have a role, to help their people.  I was walking down the aisle in a big shopping mall a couple of days ago, and there was a lady in a wheelchair with a medical alert dog trotting alongside her wheelchair.  The first thing that caught my eye was the wag, wag, waging tail – that little Lab was just the happiest dog ever, jogging along, proud of her job.  And, the second thing was, as I was right behind them, the way she was having to throw her back legs out to the side, really twisting her spine, to avoid the back wheel of the chair while keeping her nose where it was meant to be, close to her handler’s hand.  I did wonder if it was hip dysplasia, but she looked a young dog, if it was dysplasia, it was affecting her early, and would it be financially viable to train up a medical dog if she hadn’t passed her x-rays?  I don’t think so, I do think it was her defence against being run over by the wheelchair.  So, we are breeding a type of dog, largely because of their temperament, but breeding in hip issues, and then we are giving them a job – which they love and which I fully appreciate they are needed for – which furthers those hip problems. Talk about a man-made issue. Topiary for dogs?


The wind blowing across from the ocean in Cape Town has shaped these trees
The wind blowing across from the ocean in Cape Town has shaped these trees

I remember, years ago, seeing an April Fool’s day joke, about buying a glass bottle with a live kitten in it, and the kitten would grow the size, and not ever leave the bottle.  Obviously, it was a joke (in bad taste) and wouldn’t have happened, but are we doing the same thing in other ways?

I’m battling with my knees at the moment –  nothing new there, I always have had knee issues, and had several surgeries many years ago.  Recently, I was talking to someone who was saying that their child (I really can’t remember who it was), was swimming breast stroke in swim club, and was battling with their knees.  She went on to say that a large proportion of the big name, Olympic breast stroke swimmers went on to have knee surgery after they retired, and she was debating stopping those breast stroke lessons.  The slightly sideways action of a frog kick when you are swimming breast stroke puts a sideways tilt on your knee joints, and how much damage does this cause?  My response was to turn this on its head – I was born with dodgy knees, all of the ligaments are too long.  It wasn’t injury or trauma, it was hereditary.  So, do breast stroke swimmers develop bad knees, or, do people with lax, dislocating and odd knees find the rotation so easy, that it is the weakness it’s self that enables them to swim so fast?  I’m sure if they are noticing that these swimmers are ending up having surgery, they will also be looking into the answer to my question, in fact I should probably Google it, but I’m sitting in a coffee shop with no Wi-Fi.  (What do you call home?  Where your laptop connects to Wi-Fi without asking…  I have very many homes, but clearly not this coffee shop).

Tomato vines are trained in their sunny garden in Tuscany
Tomato vines are trained in their sunny garden in Tuscany

Well, then, what about riders?  I was told years ago that I was the right shape to be a rider – tall, but with most of my height in my long legs, with a slightly shorter body than leg. Vertically challenged people do have more issues with riding at times, but I’m not convinced that long riders have it easy.  So then, we are looking for a riding type.  But, in the same way that the Labrador Dog had to twist out of the wheelchair’s way, and the way the swimmer twists their knees, does riding do a topiary job on people?  Often, yes.

(OK, now I am totally side tracked, but if I am the ideal rider type, why do I battle to find saddles that fit me?  My height is in my thigh, there is a long length from hip to knee, and do you have any idea how difficult it is to find a saddle where I can sit in the middle, with jumping length stirrups and not have my knee hanging off the front of the knee roll?)

How often have you heard certain comments being shouted across arenas?  Grow tall; lift your chest; pull back your shoulders; be elegant; don’t slouch; push your chest out.  And, what do these instructions do?  They create overly tall, contorted, hollow backed riders who are hyper extending their lumber spine, and so creating all those riders who complain about lower back pain.  There are a huge number of riders who end up having back surgery, as there are the numbers of swimmers having knee surgery.  Should we be accepting this?  No, I don’t think so.

Rider’s should be sitting straight, but, in the way that a martial artist stands straight. You don’t see a kick boxer slumped, round shouldered like a couch potato, but equally you don’t see them extending their spine, hollowing their back and sticking their chest out.  We wouldn’t allow kittens to grow up in a glass bottle, but are we allowing a set, mentally cloned “ideal shape” to dictate how we look when we are sitting on a horse?  Should we be paying more attention to how we sit on our horses? Oh yes.

Helping Jack to find a good shape – asking him to lengthen his topline, shorten his under line and carry himself in better balance.
Helping Jack to find a good shape – asking him to lengthen his topline, shorten his under line and carry himself in better balance.

Should I even go here, with this next comment?  I think I will…  What about what we are doing to our horses?  Are we creating something good, neutral or bad for our horses?  Dressage, meaning training, should be a good gymnastic training for a horse.  It was to take a raw, un-educated horse and make a war machine out of him, trained and educated to be where ever his rider needed him to be in battle, gymnastic and lively enough to get into position and strong enough to maintain it.  The horses who have been trained classically are still sound and working well into their twenties.  The work is strengthening and enabling.  Sadly, many horses now are being “trained” using short cuts and gadgets, which puts them in positions rather like the Guide Dog I was watching at the beginning.  She was a happy dog, glad to be with her person and doing the job to the best of her ability.  And so, you can’t always say that a happy animal isn’t coming to any harm, can you? A horse may be happily tootling along, doing what his owner asks because they are nice to him and he has a good work ethic, wants to please.  But is it necessarily improving his body just because he is doing it willingly?  Not necessarily.   He shouldn’t dislike good work, far from it, but equally, just because he doesn’t mind isn’t a sign that it’s a good thing.

And, as I sit here, hunched over my laptop at a coffee table, I can feel my neck creak and crack.  And, I look up to stretch my neck out, and I see people all around the coffee shop, leaning forward and crouching over their phones, tablets and computers, and it does make me think, how much are we creating a human issue just as bad? Surely the very fact that so many of us are holding tension and pain in our necks and shoulders from putting ourselves into a “rolkur” position, and complaining about the pain it produces, we should be more aware of the pain we are inflicting upon our horses?

What positions are causing pain and discomfort in your day to day life?


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