Polo Players Edition

NOV 2011

Polo Players' Edition is the official publication of the U.S. Polo Association. Dedicated to the sport of polo, it features player profiles, game strategy, horse care, playing tips, polo club news and tournament results.

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changes of direction and fast stops, similar to departures from the gate, going from standstill to gallop." She adds, "The forces of deceleration on injury are as important as acceleration when your joints experience high-force impact. The extreme is like whiplash in a person in a car accident, you accelerate and then suddenly ... stop." Saddles can also injure the back. Stubbs says, "... There could be pressure damage due to the size of the rider and relative rigidity of the saddle. Such an injury could be caused by the stirrup bar, for example, or saddle shape applying pressure at the withers." The McPhail Center's work on back injury analysis and exercises to improve or ameliorate a condition can help polo ponies by extending their working life. Clayton explains, "We look at the common injuries then work on developing specific physical therapy and rehabilitation exercises to both strengthen the back after injury and prevent re-injury. In an ideal world our exercises would be used in a preventative manner to keep our equine athletes sound. ... "Stability is equally or more important than mobility," says Clayton, "and the exercises we recommend are designed to strengthen the muscles around the spine and create a balance of stability and mobility. The goal of training is to train the muscles to help the ligaments support the back against other forces, such as ... the weight of the rider ... Our exercises train and strengthen these muscles so they can stabilize the horse's back and protect it from over-loading. "The faster the horse goes, the more important it is for the back to be stabilized. We want him to learn to hold and stabilize his back in a more rounded position. In the horse, spinal stability is crucial to prevent and to treat back problems. Both horses and riders need core strength." Stubbs adds, "To prevent more injury it's a good idea to cross train horses to develop dynamic strength. For example, dynamic strength is what allows a gymnast to balance on the rings and lift [her] legs. The gymnast is actually stable, but the movement requires great core strength and stability. That's what we aim at in the exercises we've developed." Once you start examining how the various muscle groups work, you can apply your new knowledge to purchase a horse. For example, look for a horse that turns using it's 38 POLO PLAYERS EDITION Drs. Stubbs and Clayton use stretching exercises to help strengthen neck, back, abdomen and pelvis muscles that control posture and balance. abdominal muscles. Like people, some horses naturally use their abdominal muscles and will have therefore inherent spinal protection. Others don't for a multitude of reasons, such as a past episode of back pain or poor conformation. Horses with back problems are likely not going to play as well as they normally do. Clayton explains, "The thing which all the horses with spinal problems have in common is a lack of performance. This manifests as reduced performance, sometimes behavioral changes, bad attitudes, cringing, or tension in the limbs or back to protect a problem. But the main problem is figuring out where it starts, in a limb injury or in a back injury. If it's a back injury, our exercises may help." The team's simple core strengthening exercises mobilize the intervertebral joints and strengthen the muscles of the neck, back, abdomen and pelvis that control the horse's posture and balance. These exercises have been tested for success in several breeds and disciplines including Quarter Horses, warmbloods, Arabians and crosses. The efficacy of the exercises was proved with a group of eight horses with back problems that were on the equine equivalent of bed rest for three months. Clayton says, "They were treated solely with exercises. The only exercise they did were dynamic mobilization exercises, which is the fancy name for carrot stretches. We used ultrasound scans to measure the size of the muscles at six spinal levels on both the left and right sides, and our exercises produced significant increases in the back muscle size at every level on both the left and right sides. Because this back muscle can stabilize the vertebrae it has a protective effect against the development of arthritis. These findings suggest that by using the exercises regularly we can reduce the risk of a horse developing arthritis in its back." In addition to exercises, there are simple actions taken by a rider that can help like mounting from both sides; using a words and pictures in Activate Your Horse's Core, a book and DVD created by the mounting block or getting a leg up; making sure the saddle has a gullet that clears the horse's spine under the rider's weight; and making sure the edges of the panels don't dig into the shoulder blades, shortening the horse's stride. Don't over tighten the girth, which damages the ligaments underneath the girth and may even cause arthritis at the sternum. These exercises are clearly defined in research team. It takes about five minutes a day to do a series of these exercises. Many of the exercises can be applied before work even on a cold-muscled horse, others are used as part of a warm up, and others in a cool down. The McPhail team continually adds to its exercises and is now testing the use of a piece of tack that stimulates contraction of the horse's core muscles during exercise. They hope to have it on the market this year. COURTESY OF NARELLE STUBBS & HILLARY CLAYTON

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