Category Archives: Membership


Dressage in Motion–How we can Help Our Horses and Our Bodies Move Forward

By:  Diana Bicksler

Those of you who were able to attend the CDS EB Chapter Event on May 19th, organized by Board Member & Event Chair Diana Bicksler, at Board Member Connie Dahl’s Three Horse Farms, were treated to informative and sometimes wondrous presentations by our 5 speakers. For CDS EB Chapter members, the event was free, so it was well worth the effort to attend.  We were also treated to a lovely lunch provided at a very low cost by the In the Irons Pony Club.

Here is an overview of some of what you may have missed if you did not attend. The over all theme of the day was for the speakers to address the concept of keeping our horses moving forward, a concept that is all too important in the sport of dressage and can often be misunderstood.  In our sport of dressage, when we ask our horses to go forward, we ultimately mean, please move forward with controlled power, i.e., impulsion. Related to the concept of  HYPERLINK “” \o “Collection (horse)” collection, impulsion helps a horse effectively utilize the power in its hindquarters. To achieve impulsion, a horse is not using speed, but muscular control; the horse exhibits a relaxed spinal column, which allows its hindquarters to come well under its body and “engage” so that they can be used in the most effective manner to move the horse forward at any speed.

Impulsion allows any  HYPERLINK “” \o “Horse gait” horse’s gait to be more elastic and light, and also provides our horses with the power needed to perform complex movements up the levels.

Our speakers did their presentations within their specialty with these concepts in mind—how to help our horses achieve that sometimes elusive concept of “forward,” which as we all know as dressage riders, actually comes from behind.


1.  Presentation by Dr. Wally Palmer, DVM on Equine Chiropractic Care:

Dr. PalmerDr. Palmer, as did all of our speakers, spoke about how chiropractic care for our horses is just one of the many treatments that can help our horses to stay sound or help with injuries and recoveries.

Chiropractic care is a holistic approach to health and performance problems of the horse.  He cautioned that it does not replace traditional veterinary medicine and surgery, but provides an alternative method of care.  Chiropractic adjustments can prove to be invaluable in detecting and treating gait abnormalities and other performance issues in our athletic horses.

Dr. Palmer explained that there are many situations which can cause restricted movement in the spine of a horse– conformation of the horse itself, training and riding equipment (especially the saddle!), ability of the rider, shoeing, trailering your horse, or direct injury and trauma.  Dr. Palmer, who is also a DVM and engages in acupuncture as well, stated that this restriction is referred to as “subluxation.”  When a subluxation occurs, the horse’s spine loses its normal flexibility.  This can result in stiffness which further leads to resistance and hindrance of the forward movement we all desire.  The most common symptom associated with subluxation is pain, and horses in pain will then show changes in posture and gait.  Lameness, stiffness, lack of impulsion or power, difficulty in obtaining or maintaining collection, poor attitude, gait abnormalities, being cold-backed or cinchy, or the presence of muscle atrophy are commonly associated with subluxations. Subluxations may also cause changes in muscle coordination and flexibility that affects the performance ability of the horse.  These symptoms may be lack of coordination in gaits, unusual, perhaps indefinable gait abnormalities which vary from limb to limb, difficulty flexing at the poll, shortened stride stiffness in lateral movements of neck or back, or pulling on one rein.


As Dr. Palmer explained, when the adjustment is given to the horse, it is a small movement—not the typical larger movement that can be done on a human patient who is able to lie down on her/his side for the treatment.  Rather, for the horse, a chiropractic adjustment is a very specific, high velocity, low force, controlled thrust by a hand, which is directed in a specific direction on a specific joint.

2.  Presentation of Equine Acupuncture by Dr. Barbie Wiborg, DVM:

Dr. Barbie WiborgThe event attendees where treated to an actual acupuncture treatment on one of Connie’s (lucky) horses, Sunny.  Sunny had been having some back and lameness issues of late.

In keeping with the comments presented by Dr. Palmer, Dr. Wiborg also agreed that acupuncture was again just one of the many ways that can be utilized to help with the movement of your horse. Acupuncture treats meridians or channels that occur in our bodies and the bodies of other living beings such as our horses. The concept is that the channels can carry life-giving energy to and from every body system.  Interference or interruption in the energy flow can disrupt normal function.

Dr. Wiborg demonstrated that just by using a gentle touch during her examination process, she could reveal, by the horse’s reactions, areas that might be of concern.  The goal would then be to stimulate points along affected channels to reopen “blocked” energy flow and re-establish normal functioning.

While treating Sunny, Dr. Wiborg explained several types of acupuncture commonly used in equine medicine:

1. Needling: Inserting fine, solid, metal needles, leaving them in place while occasionally twirling them, for a total of about 20 to 30 minutes

2. Electroacupuncture: After insertion, needles are connected to an electrical stimulator which delivers electrical impulses to the points for 20 to 30 minutes. Most horses tolerate this quite well, but there are some that won’t accept it.

3. Laser: A painless beam of laser light is used to stimulate acupuncture points. The more powerful the laser, the more effective the treatment.  Dr. Wiborg did use a laser on Sunny as well as the needles.

As time went on during her treatment of Sunny, we saw him begin to relax and lick and chew.  We also were able to physically see that his veins (channels, etc) were more pronounced, almost as if you could see the energy flowing through his body.  At a certain point, the horse will let you know when they are done as they begin to get a bit fidgety.

Both Dr. Wiborg and Dr.Palmer spoke about how chiropractic care and acupuncture  work well together, and at times, can offer you an alternative after conventional treatment has produced less-than-satisfying results.

3.  Presentation of Saddle Fitting and How it Effects the Movement of your Horse by Robyn Dorius, PE

Robin-2Without doubt, our third presenter, Robyn Dorius, of Advanced Equine Bodywork and Saddle Fitting greatly impressed us with her knowledge and demonstration.  In addition to being a former engineer, Robyn is an equine massage therapist as well as a saddle fitter.  She integrated her knowledge of the horse’s musculoskeletal system into how saddle fitting effects the muscles along your horse’s back and throughout their body.  The other speakers definitely agreed that the soreness and lameness we see in our horses, and other symptoms such as neck soreness, tension in the bit area, bucking or refusing to go forward is often caused by a poor saddle fit.

RobinRobyn used colored, water based paint to paint the muscle system of the horse on one of Connie’s barn ponies.  We were able to clearly see the large muscle groups and the systems affected by our saddles.  Saddle fitting is more than just having a nice-looking saddle in your price range. As far as the horse is concerned, a saddle that doesn’t fit correctly can result in sore back muscles, lameness, and a corresponding bad attitude to go with it.

Robyn explained that finding a saddle that fits your horse takes some work. Even though saddle manufacturers make saddletrees in different sizes (wide, medium, and narrow), each horse is an individual and may not fit into a saddle that corresponds to the apparent width of the horse’s back.  Some make saddles more suitable for a thoroughbred, while others make saddles that will better fit a flat-backed horse.

Robyn not only brought examples of the different types of  saddle options  (all different in make and models) she also brought a saddle that was stripped down into pieces so we could examine what a tree looks like alone, what the side panels look like and what the seat parts look like.  It was very eye opening to see how simply focusing on the tree size when you have your saddle worked on, or fit to your horse, is not enough.  The saddle system as a whole has to take into account the special conformation of your horse.

The good news is that with great saddle fitters, you can buy used or off the rack saddles and still have a good custom fit at a dramatically lower cost.

For that reason, when you buy a saddle, take it on a trial basis so you can be sure that it fits. During that trial period, take steps to determine the saddle’s fit and enlist an experienced saddle fitter to help you determine the fit of the saddle. Saddle fitting can be tricky, even for the most experienced riders. Robyn uses a great system of 1) seeing you ride in the saddle; 2) making suggestions where she may or may not see issues; 3) using a system of colored powder and felt cloth to track how a saddle is fitting your horse while you ride again; 4) measuring your horse’s back in multiple locations—all before attempting to flock it.  Once flocked, she can do small adjustments on site after she watches you ride again.  Robyn also provided some great tips on girth issues and bridle issues.

4. Presentation of Equine Massage Therapy and your Horse’s Movement by Kristin Hickey

KristinOur fourth speaker of the day was Kristin Hickey, of Eq. Heavenly Hands, an Equine Massage Therapist.   Equine massage is the therapeutic application of massage techniques developed and used by human athletes, but applied to the horse. It can increase performance level, competitiveness and endurance. Recreational and performance horses often lose training and work time due to muscle, ligament, or tendon strain or injury. Kristin explained to us how massage strokes and techniques can help with muscular fatigue and soreness and render your horse more comfortable when we ask it to work for us.  Kristin gave us tips on finding and using an equine massage therapist that has the training to effectively help our horses.  Such a therapist should first be certified as a human massage therapist and then, become certified as an Equine Body worker.  Proper massage should make your horse more comfortable, relax its muscles, and not render it sore in areas on its body and frame.


5.   Presentation of Biomechanics of the Rider – Riding with a Neutral Spine by Claudia Moose

ClaudiaOur fifth and final speaker, Ms. Claudia Moose, provided us with a wonderful demonstration of how we can find our neutral spine, which in turn, will help us ride in a balanced fashion on our horses.

Claudia (ATC, CSCS, NASM-PES, CPT-PMA) has been in Sports Medicine, fitness and conditioning since 1982. She earned her B.A. Movement and Exercise Science with an emphasis in Sports Medicine (Exercise Science and Athletic Training) at Chapman University. Claudia presently serves as a Balance Body University Faculty member teaching the Anatomy in Three Dimensions course and is Co-Owner of Absolute Center a Reconditioning, Pilates and Yoga Studio located in Lafayette, CA.   She is an avid rider and lives on an equestrian property in the Bay Area.

Claudia demonstrated that before we can move forward we need to know where we are in our bodies.   She explained the concept of a neutral pelvis, both seated & standing.  She also discussed the fascia lines that run throughout our bodies and their relationship to Dressage riding.   As each of our bodies are different, we must strive to find that neutral position that will help us stay balanced on our horse, without impeding its forward movement.

The Superficial Front Line (SFL) and Superficial Back Line (SBL) are continuous lines of muscle and fabric (myofascia) from the top and bottom of the toes, respectively, all the way up the body to the head. In achieving a neutral spine, there should be balance between the SFL and SBL. It implies that the spinal curves, which can be more or less curvy in each individual, are in balance for that person. As Claudia explained, the rules of thumb for diagnosing yourself or others are that the seat bones should point straight down, and the back and front of the torso should have equal length.

She demonstrated an easy way to measure yourself with a rubber exercise band and the help of a friend.   This topic was very informative and could easily be one that a seminar is dedicated to.