Hot Topic

This is gonna be a biggie. Fast on the heels of my research regarding the classification of horses as livestock vs companion animals, I find this statement from Nevzorov Haute Ecole School that horseback riding– anytime spent on the back of the horse, is no longer admissible. Here is Alexander Nevzorov’s statement as to why:

“I can openly say for the first time (with sadness, but really frankly) that if we are honest with ourselves and if we have respect for other living beings, if we rely solely on scientifically sound and accurate data, we have to recognize that the anatomy of the horse (no matter who is on horseback: a child, a Haute Ecole master or an athlete) leaves no possibility for riding. There can no riding – no need to fool your head – not for five minutes or ten minutes.

Riding is always a huge problem for the horse’s spine and spinal cord, and the muscles cutaneus scapulobrachialis, and cutaneus maximus – those subcutaneous muscles that take the first blow. I can say that after riding, the restoration of the horse to a relatively normal state of the back, with restored blood flow in some muscles, takes more than a year. I understand that to some extent these unpleasant words will probably turn away many from the school; but for those who come in the hope to achieve an extraordinary relationship with the horse, no, you can not ride anymore.

The sadness is due to the fact that I regret my own name is associated with riding on horseback (despite some unique achievement in this area), and the fact that I, wittingly or unwittingly, have done very much to popularize this extremely disgusting fun. I now regret it, but, as I always say: well, of course, I was not born with the knowledge that I have at the moment. But, alas, I am to get this knowledge and also to work as icebreaker for the whole School, because I am involuntarily leading the way, breaking the terrible ice of errors and delusions.

The school must progress with the teacher; riding is no longer admissible for the students of NHE; not even collected and not even for five minutes, it is senseless to think we can fight for Horse Revolution, and still ride on horseback.”

Nevzorov writes extensively about his reasons in a 4 part series called Tractate on a School Mount: Man on the Back

Each part is found in issues ( Volume 1, 2009 through Volume 4, 2009 of his magazine/Journal  Nevzorove Haute Ecole Equine Anthology

I also found the same series at Horse Conscious.

I’d love to know what you think of about his research and the decisions he’s made as a result.

This is of major interest to me, as you know my main focus is on the question “Does my horse feel good?”  I simply can’t feel good about my relationship with my horse if I think in anyway he’s feeling some sort of discomfort, especially a discomfort I am directly responsible for and have the ability to relieve.

Coincidentally, as a result of communicating with my horses using attraction-based methods, I found my self riding less and less, but enjoying my relationship with them so much more. Their ability to interact with me, much like a service dog, to retrieve, stay, lie down on cue, perform agility became much more interesting to me then riding. The times when I would ride, I would incorporate retrieving under saddle and try to make riding ‘fun’ for them, but my rides rarely lasted over 15-20 minutes. I always thought it was my ADHD kicking in, but it may have been something else……Interesting to note that prior to Nevzorov issuing the statement that he no longer rides, he stated the following in Tractate 4:

“Spatium” is an old School name for the time during which a rider can be on horseback.Our spatium equals 15 minutes. Why?

Because our primary target is not to cause discomfort and pain in the muscles and skin of a horse’s back. That is why the maximum “School” period of being on horseback is exactly 15 minutes. Notably, I stress, that is the utmost maximum.

After 15 minutes under the weight and pressure of rider and saddle, the microtrauma of tissues begin, the compression effect accumulates, and the back of the horse begins to feel light discomfort. Dermal receptors produce an “itchy”(2) feeling.

Under the impact of direct compression, under the weight of the rider and saddle, the “perimysium”, the sheath of connective tissue surrounding muscle fibers, begins primary deformation, accompanied by feelings of discomfort, then these symptoms become more acute. At the end of 20 minutes, they turn into the feeling of dull pain.

He then gives the following suggestion:

In addition, I wouldn’t be as generous as science allows and for different horses I would require different spatiums.

For horses from 4 to 5 years old – this spatium is 5 minutes.

From 5 to 6 – 10 minutes.

From 6 until death – 12-15 minutes.

However, as evidenced by his statement regarding his school, I guess Nevzorov had concluded that any riding is detrimental to the horses’ back.

Alrighty then. Fascinating stuff. I’m still sorting through all the information. Meanwhile it’s my hope that rather than Nevzorov’s research causing lots of controversy it can give rise to new avenues for folks to enjoy their horses (without peer pressure that horses have to be ridden) who for some reason or other cannot ride, in areas such as horse agility. My ultimate hope is that studies like these will serve to increase awareness of the generous nature of the horse and treat them the sensitivity they deserve.



10 thoughts on “Hot Topic

  1. I think we should always make sure the horse is enjoying the training and riding we do. We do not want to do physical or psychological harm to our horses.

    That said, I have known quite a few horses who actually really seem to enjoy being ridden. Especially trail riding, being able to get out and move out and explore the world. (By the same token I’ve met horses who hated being ask to leave the barnyard.)

    I like Alexandra Kurland’s philosophy. She advocates that we train and ride in a way that will make our horses more balanced and flexible, better able to carry our weight and their own weight.

    Horses who move poorly (either ridden or during groundwork) are putting extra stress on their body and joints. We can using positive training to teach our horses to move in a way that will promote a life time of soundness, healthier joints and stronger back muscles.

    I do not have an issue with riding as long as we are being deliberate about how we work the horse and the horse’s attitude toward the work. I do wish people would stop riding their two year olds, though!


    • I completely agree. Here’s the part that has me going “hmmmmmm…”
      This is from Nevzorov’s Tractate 4 where he is addressing the microtrauma to the tissues from compression of the weight of the rider:

      “After 15 minutes under the weight and pressure of rider and saddle, the microtrauma of tissues begin, the compression effect accumulates, and the back of the horse begins to feel light discomfort. Dermal receptors produce an “itchy”(2) feeling.

      Under the impact of direct compression, under the weight of the rider and saddle, the “perimysium”, the sheath of connective tissue surrounding muscle fibers, begins primary deformation, accompanied by feelings of discomfort, then these symptoms become more acute. At the end of 20 minutes, they turn into the feeling of dull pain.

      These figures were determined through research and experiments on the soft back tissues, muscle fascicles, fasciculus muscularis, perimysium, endomysium and epimysium.

      Direct pressure of the weight (rider + a tightened saddle) – in the first 12-15 minutes didn’t cause any tissue deformation. (Which means that it doesn’t cause negative feelings stemming from physiology.)

      After 12-15 minutes the “compression effect” began, myofibrils and perimysium began “yielding to” the pressure, which in terms of physiology translates to “the onset of physiological feelings of discomfort”.

      Why does this happen?

      The issue at hand is that every muscle contains a microvascular system of blood and lymph venules and capillaries that create within a muscle (roughly speaking) its own microcirculation. Compression breaks it down, nourishment of the “fasciculus” fasciculus muscularis reduces or stops – and the “compromised” muscle sounds the alarm through branches of nerve fibers. There is no tragedy yet, no pain yet, neither perimysium nor fasciclulus are damaged, but the muscle is already disgusted. This indignation does not “shout” yet, it is in “grumbling” mode. But this grumbling is already clear, already conscious.

      So we must understand that even with an ideally fitted saddle and an ideal School seat, a strict limit of being astride is 12-15 minutes.”

      I’d love to see the research he did….meanwhile, you’re absolutely correct, the horse is always our guide.


  2. Personally, given that horses are their own beings that deserve to be free of force of any kind, which includes being another animal’s transportation or entertainment, and given that they are not made to carry other animals on their backs despite what we as an egotistical species want and would like to believe, I agree with him. I’m still on the fence about if it’s even possible to ride a horse in a way that truly is humane, because as a theory I haven’t yet been able to test, it may be possible, but as it’s been done, it isn’t. There is no humane way to use force to bend an animal to our will.

    But even if we were to ignore all of that, all of our wants, all of the science, all of the debate about humane versus other types of training, if it were you carrying around someone on your back or shoulders, as would be the case, even if they were kind to you, and even if they didn’t put metal bits in your mouth and use pressure to cause you to respond to them, would you appreciate it?

    Just something to think about. 😉

    • Thank you for your comment. Great thoughts. The thought that’s been on my mind is in my quest to train without pressure, force, pain, intimidation etc, the minute I’m on my horse’s back or cinch up a saddle, the horse experiences pressure. If they can feel a fly on their back, and flinch, what must they feel when I’m up there?

      The big turning point is becoming the fact that on the ground, I can use attraction-based methods where the horse moves towards something that feels good,(without having been made to feel bad first) however when I’m on their back, even when I’ve trained the verbal cues, it still becomes a relationship of negative reinforcement/positive punishment (pressure/release). For me this is starting to feel strangely unsatisfying in contrast to the fulfillment I experience when I relate to them eye-to-eye.

      Definitely things to think about!

  3. I think he has gone “around the bend”, “one brick short of a load”, “a few birds shy of a flock”, “a few clowns short of a circus”, “a few clues short of a solution”, “a few cards short of a deck”, “a few inches short of a yard”. I think you get my meaning. I have had only one horse in my long life that did not like to be ridden. If a horse is ridden with care, love and respect, they love it. This is like telling your child he can not go out to play because he might get hurt or tired, so lets stay inside (where it is safe) and play video games or watch TV and spend “quality time” together. The modern horse has been bred for a thousand + years to be ridden, so pardon the expression but his “new” opinion is Bull#*xt.

    • After reading all his studies I may not be so quick to judge him. His research is extensive and uses progressive, cutting edge equipment. As far as a horse being bred to ridden, I would completely agree if they had a third set of legs supporting their middle back.(Like in the movie Avatar) Until then, like you said, to ride a horse with care, love and respect is definitely the ticket–paying close attention to keeping the nuchal ligament and back muscles strong. Dr. Gerd Heuschman, DVM in his paper Functional Anatomy of the Horse suggests how to train a horse to use his back while being ridden.

      I think we also need to look at what we mean when we say a horse’ likes’ to be ridden. Do they actually like to carry a rider, or is it the attention they receive, before during and after?

      After traveling with my horses to festivals, art shows and other venues where they would paint, so many people would say “That’s great that they can paint, fetch, etc but can they be ridden?” It was as if a horse is only valuable under saddle. I’d love to see more acceptance for folks that choose not to ride. I’ve found that spending more time on the ground with my horses, eye to eye, they are showing me just how fabulously interactive and intelligent they really are. I think, especially with the popularity of clicker training, there may be a whole new discipline emerging in the field of unmounted horsemanship, like horse agility, or scent work, even guide or therapy work….I think it’s exciting. Yet another wonderful side of the horse we’ll get to experience.

      Thanks for your comment!

  4. I do not have a problem with doing both. In fact I always spent a lot of time with my horses. I spent many hours grooming, petting and just talking with them. But the best times were riding to the lake bareback and swimming with the horses on a hot summer day, on their backs or beside them. You could tell they loved all of it, the riding and the swimming..

    • I’ve been wondering the same thing….
      I would think that based on skeletal and muscular structure of a horse’s body that it would be more suited for the physics involved in harness work. Under saddle, unless the horse is truly in self carriage, collected, conditioned physically, the weight bearing effects of the rider can wreak havoc on all sorts of structures from muscles to ligaments joints etc. The weight is downward bearing with little support. In a harness, it seems that the weight bearing aspect is more of a lateral impact supported by the entire skeleton. The horse is doing the pushing ‘against’ the load, rather than the weight of the rider pushing against the support structures of the back. When the horse is at rest in harness, there is no pressure, but under saddle there is always pressure, unless the rider dismounts 🙂

      Great question. I’ll definitely research this one!

  5. Wow. To me, this is a case of an extreme response. I have had horses that have been ridden (and not always thoughtfully, before they came to me) extensively all their lives and not suffered traumatic injury because of it. If this man chooses to live on the extreme side of life and among the fringe element, that is certainly his choice. As for me, I’m an “all things in moderation” kind of girl. I take wonderful care of my horses, giving them the best I have to offer by way of food, care, attention, medical care, shelter, etc., while still letting them be horses. I treat each horse as an individual and care for him/her accordingly. As long as my horses are in good condition and enjoy being ridden, we will happily head off on our trail rides for as long as we are able and I won’t have a single qualm about it.

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