Fizz Marshall’s therapy blog: the power of tails

  • Sometimes the simplest, most available tools are those which make the greatest contribution to a successful rehabilitation.

    For instance, the tail is a something that we often use to create resistance or to influence how a horse moves. The tail itself has vertebral components and muscular attachments and thus can be used to help a horse’s straightness, or to encourage lumbosacral flexion (the movement pattern of the part of the spine that allows a horse to ‘sit’ when ridden).

    For example, ‘tail pulls’ are a technique often undertaken by therapists to stretch longissiumus dorsi and the gluteal muscles (respectively, the long muscle of the equine back, and the major muscle group of the hind quarters), and can also be used to elicit mass muscle contraction to release spasm.

    A vet may use sideways tail pulls to test for neurological issues, and likewise it can be employed as a counterbalance to help steady an unstable sedated horse.

    In terms of use during exercise, we may pull the tail to one side whilst working a horse on the treadmill to keep them straight if they hold their quarters one way or another.

    We also tie the tail which can have an equally pronounced effect. Sometimes this will mean tying it between the hind legs, encouraging lumbosacral flexion through resistance, coupled with a proprioceptive effect of the horse feeling the pull under its stomach.

    fizz1The tail can also be really useful in cases of stifle instability or incorrect placement/rotation of a hind leg. One way to deal with this is to divide the tail into two and tie one half to one side of the roller and then other half forward between the hind legs to the roller again (pictured right).

    By doing this you effectively create a splint, stabilising the stance phase of that leg, guiding it straight at it moves forward, and restricting the retraction phase — or backwards movement — of the stride.

    Tying the tail in this way looks really weird when you first see it, and it’s something that you need to use carefully and introduce gradually as it will feel pretty odd for the horse too. Most horses get used to it really quickly and it provides a simple and effective means of providing resistance to counteract or encourage certain movement patterns.

    Spring has sprung

    It has been so nice to see the first signs of spring over the last couple of weeks; lighter mornings and nights, grass growing and the appearance of some sunshine has all been very welcome indeed!

    We’re so lucky to have indoor facilities at Hartpury to work in, particularly over the winter months. It’s a lot easier to keep fresh horses going with the luxury of an indoor school when it’s iced solid or blowing a howling gale outside.

    We’re often working to a time limit in terms of how long a horse can stay for, and so losing days to frozen schools would really disrupt progress. However, after a long winter it’s been great to have had the horses out and about with some very welcome sunshine on their backs over the past few days.

    This week past week has seen Gloucestershire come alive once again with the buzz and excitement of this year’s Cheltenham Festival. It’s one of my favourite weeks of the year, and although I didn’t manage to get there this time, I had live updates coming through during the day courtesy of the wonders of modern technology.

    We did make a bit of time on Friday afternoon for the traditional gathering around the big screen in the equine canteen to watch the Gold Cup with a load of students and some of the equine lecturers.

    While my hopes sat firmly with the flying grey, Smad Place, the story of Coneygree is certainly one befitting of a place on the role of honour of this amazing race. How wonderful for a horse to win who is bred, owned and trained by a family so synonymous with racing, and one which only has 10 horses in training at any one time.

    I guess you can find a fairytale in any horse’s story, but this was a particularly emotive victory by any standard.

    Continued below…

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    Dressage debut

    I decided a couple of weeks ago that it was high time that my lovely ex-racehorse Charlie made his competitive debut proper (pictured below), having only dabbled in a bit of clear round showjumping up until now.

    I decided to compete him at home for his first test and having bought a BD class ticket we threw him in at the deep end and entered him in a novice test last weekend (8 March). He’s been a tricky horse to train and thus far has had a pathological fear of busy warm-ups, which was a strong contributing factor the decision to launch his career in dressage prior to anything else.


    It turned out to be much busier than I expected as there were two arenas running at once rather than the usual one, and so as it happened Charlie had no choice but to face his fear of lots of horses cantering around at the same time!

    One of the things that I love most about horses is that they never fail to surprise you; my worry was that he’d revert to his insecurities, but not a bit of it — he absolutely came alive, he loved it.

    He trotted around there like he’d been doing it his whole life and managed to get through the test with only a hint of sideways ear looking as we trotted past the judge. It sounds ridiculous, but I was so proud of him I could have cried.

    The launch of Retraining of Racehorses (RoR) regional leagues means that we can accumulate points in both affiliated and unaffiliated competition. This is a great initiative and one which I think gives the opportunity for a whole new wave of competitors to enter into ex-racehorse leagues and classes.

    I really hope that RoR continues their great work along these lines, it’s not an easy task but I really do believe their efforts are substantially increasing the career opportunities for thoroughbreds coming out of racing, and thus growing their appeal to a wider catchment of riders.


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