Summer Reading: Dr. Gerd Heuschmann’s ‘Collection or Contortion?’

Dr. Gerd Heuschmann is a master rider, equine orthopedics specialist and renowned author. His latest book, “Collection or Contortion? Exposing the Miconceptions and Exploring the Truths of Horse Positioning and Bend” was released this year by Trafalgar Square Books and critically examines the concepts of flexion and bend. He will be touring and lecturing around the country this fall. More information on his public appearances can be found at the bottom of this post.

Ten years ago, Gerd Heuschmann, DVM rocked the equestrian world with his international bestseller “Tug of War,” a searing indictment of modern training and riding techniques that are sometimes used to the detriment of the horse.

Dr. Heuschmann trained as a Bereiter (master rider) in Germany before qualifying for veterinary study at Munich University. There he specialized in equine orthopedics for two years before accepting a post as the head of the breeding department at the German FN, which he eventually left to start his own practice in Warendorf.

He has been an active member of the ‘hyperflexion’ (previously referred to as Rollkur) debate, weighing in at the 2005 USDF National Symposium and the 2006 FEI Veterinary and Dressage Committees’ Workshop. He said that hyperflexion not only fails to develop the proper musculature for upper-level dressage, but the exaggerated flexion can also restrict the horse’s airway.

Collection or Contortion?

As seen is these illustrations, the incorrectly bent horse (left) has an unstable neck. The second Illustration shows a correctly bent horse, with the neck properly supported and stabilized by the muscles in front of each shoulder. Illustration by Susanne Retsch-Amschler from Collection or Contortion? courtesy of Trafalgar Square Books.

In 2017 Dr. Heuschmann released a follow-up book: “Collection or Contortion? Exposing the Misconceptions and Exploring the Truths of Horse Positioning and Bend.” This is a critical examination of two concepts—flexion and bend—that are necessary to understand in absolute terms when the goal is to achieve collection on horseback.

He cites the many masters of classical dressage who wrote essays and even entire books about flexion at the horse’s poll and longitudinal bend of the horse’s body. Dr. Heuschmann strives to fuse the often complex classic literature with the results of his own studies as an expert in equine anatomy and biomechanics.

He meticulously describes various movements used, their desired effects, and the truth behind the rider’s role in each. In addition, he unveils his recommendations for dealing with the horse’s “natural crookedness” and “false bend,” providing basic guidelines for schooling that ensure correct gymnasticization with the end-goal of a more athletic, collected horse and happier, healthier horses in the long run.

In the case of false bend, he explains the neck is never to be “bent” more than the trunk (body) of the horse. The vertebral column kinked to the inside in front of the shoulder only gives the illusion of a correct bend.

“If a horse has an unstable, loose, or wobbly neck in front of the withers, he cannot be ridden in the proper balance, nor can he bend, straighten, or collect,” Dr. Heuschmann explains. “Only a neck that grows with stability out of the shoulder and is stabilized by the muscles in front of the shoulder can contribute to the correct bend of the trunk.”

Furthermore, “Flexion at the poll is an absolute prerequisite for developing correct bend of the trunk. Without flexion, there is no bend!”
The effect of the rider’s inside leg, that encourages the horse’s hind leg (on the same side) to step under, is what ultimately creates the flexibility of the poll in the same direction (bend of the poll and flexion at the poll).

Other Works By Dr. Heuschmann

In these illustrations, the horse on the right is hollow and less elastic to the right. This horse will tent to fall over the outside shoulder and avoid bringing the inside hind leg underneath its torso, over their center of gravity. Illustration by Susan Harris from Balancing Act courtesy of Trafalgar Square Books.

Within the text of his 2011 book “Balancing Act,” Dr. Heuschmann explores a multitude of topics, with this overarching message: “A training philosophy that diametrically opposes one of two partners can never lead to harmony. Imagine a dance pair where the leader wants to force harmony and suppleness using muscular strength against his partner and, when necessary, devices to force an unnatural position.”

In a chapter about straightness, Dr. Heuschmann explores the causes and remedies for “natural crookedness.” Each horse is naturally better going in one direction or the other similar to humans being either right or left-handed. A horse that is hollow to the right, for instance, has musculature that is less elastic on the hollow side. These hollow horses tend to fall over the outside shoulder and resist or avoid bringing the inside hind leg underneath their torso, over their center of gravity.

Dr. Heuschmann also explains horizontal balance and vertical balance, and how there cannot be one without the other. With horizontal balance, the horse moves rhythmically (rhythm), swinging (suppleness) and with consistent contact with the rider’s reins (contact). Only then does the horse develop vertical symmetry, allowing himself be straightened and flexes and bends equally in both directions. He accepts diagonal aids, loses resistance (stiffness) in the trunk, poll and haunches and stays attuned to the rider’s supple seat aids so that the quality of the balance steadily improves.

Dr. Heuschmann’s provocative and ground-breaking DVD, “If Horses Could Speak,” takes a step further into the examination of the horse’s “riding experience” to see just how specific kinds of movement and posture impact the horse’s skeleton and musculature. Through the magic of 3D animation, viewers are shown how the horse’s limbs, muscles, and ligaments interact at various gaits. In addition, live-action examples of riding, both good and bad, demonstrate the effect human beings have on their equine partners.

“If Horses Could Speak” includes interviews with professional riders, veterinarians, and academics who specialize in the study of the horse’s anatomy and how riders can best work with it, rather than against it.

Dr. Heuschmann Live

In addition to his published works, Dr. Heuschmann hosts educational lectures teaching the anatomy and mechanics of the horse which is useful for riders of all disciplines. He paints the skeleton, tendons, ligaments, and muscles on a horse and then explains in detail how they work and how easily they can be damaged. The demo horse is then shown at the walk, the trot, and the canter.

Everyone wants a balanced horse whether you are a jumper, reiner, trail rider, dressage rider or eventer. “My ideas are to bring back the classical approach to training, this is built on the horse’s nature (instincts), not human interference,” Dr. Heuschmann said. “We have the training scale, we still discuss suppleness, but in riding, training and competition, we often see the opposite. What I do is not new, but it is a renewal of the Classical approach.

“The first step is to convince people in their minds and their hearts that there is a different ideology to horse training,” he continues. “Riding is an art, and art needs education. Training takes many decades to learn. There is no quick fix. The well-being of the horse comes first. It takes years and years to become a horseman! Only then you can start to examine the back, the mouth, the mind, of the horse.”

Dr. Heuschmann will be appearing Oct 21-23, 2017 in Florida, where he will present his Equine BioMechanics Lecture and Demonstrations. His USA Tour (FL, CO, NC, WA) is proudly sponsored by Omega Fields (makers of Omega HorseShine and other fine products), Schleese Custom Saddlery and Photonic Health of Ocala. Please contact Andrea Haller for further information. [email protected] Dr. Heuschmann’s books and dvd’s can be ordered directly from the publisher at: