August 2019 - Joining The Resistance Movement
Written by by Alice Chan
Friday, 02 August 2019 02:09
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The power of the Equiband system in strengthening your horse’s core and hindquarters.

by Alice Chan

It’s a poorly kept secret that equestrians would rather get a second mortgage or live in their horse trailer, before we would part with our horse(s). Even when we should be counting our pennies, our wallets fly open for anything that promises to improve our equine partner’s life.  That said, there is one piece of equipment I wouldn’t go without: the Equiband resistance training bands created by Dr. Nicole Rombach.

Let me back-up. It’s been two years since I got my first horse and I look back with an indulgent smile on the woman I was back then. I was determined not to be thathorse person. You know, the one who has two or three saddles, a handful of bridles, endless bits, 20 saddle pads, etc, etc. I figured: One saddle, one bridle, two pads.

What more could I need?

“Yeah, right!” I hear you all thinking. Well, yes indeed. I was dead wrong.

Not only do I have all of those additional pieces of equipment, and a number of tools I couldn’t ride without, I’ve also acquired a second horse—for my son, Benjamin Heckman, to event on—so I have all of this in duplicate.

It was this second horse, Roger, a Morgan/TB cross and an accomplished eventer, who led us down a path of first discovering Nicole Rombach and the amazing work she does with horses, and to ultimately using “the bands.”

Roger, before January 2019.

Roger, aged 10, had competed up to Preliminary level and came to us in late October last year after some time off. Once back in training, he showed up for work fretful, a little anxious, not able to stretch freely and certainly out of balance in trot and canter. No uphill movement here.

We came across the team at Equitopia, which focuses on putting horses in optimal body health for work. During an evaluation they pointed out all Roger’s sore areas, lack of muscle tone in key places like his core, back and quads, and the fact that the saddle we’d borrowed was exacerbating things. And I’ll be honest, they scared us a little bit, saying he was on a path to chronic lameness if we didn’t do a deep reset.

Roger, ater five months.

Tough Truths

Owning a performance horse was new for us and having made a decent investment in Roger, it was a little hard to hear Equitopia’s recommendation to work him on the ground for a month to teach him how to re-balance his body and start the process of building the correct muscles. Wanting to do the right thing, we decided to follow their advice.

Our trainer, Bethany Wallace, advised us to meet with a sport horse vet for a baseline evaluation of Roger, so I took him to meet the superb Dr Carrie Schlacter at Circle Oak Equine in Petaluma. Bethany also recommended that we reach out to Nicole Rombach, a seriously qualified equine sports therapist, for an assessment and bodywork.

By unraveling some of the old tensions we were able to prime Roger’s body to be receptive to muscle-building exercises and moving properly. Without this, all the hard work may not have paid off.

Dr Carrie confirmed that the saddles we were using—both dressage and jump—only contributed to Roger’s soreness. In addition, we needed to build his topline, core and quads. The underside of his neck had become over-developed and was so tight he didn’t like it being touched, while he lacked muscling in the top of his neck. His hamstrings were also overly tight, while his quads were almost non-existent.

Nicole did an intense session on Roger, and then taught Benjamin how to do muscle release and activations before exercise and riding, and we started to see results really quickly.

After a month or two of massage, muscle activation, “forward, down and out’ training - which means achieving vertical balance and not asking Roger to get “round,” but instead teaching him how to stay in balance with light contact, Nicole suggested that we start to use the Equiband core band.

Benjamin and Roger at Woodside. Photo: MGO Photography

The Equiband

The system is essentially a high-quality saddle pad with heavy duty “clips,” so you can attach the physical therapy-style rubber band. It sits a few inches behind the girth and acts as a reminder to the horse to contract his core muscles and lift and round his back. In turn, this allows him to move his hind legs more correctly under his body.

If you’ve ever used resistance bands yourself, you’ll know that initially your muscles fatigue quickly, so we only used the band for a short period of time, gradually increasing to a full training session over time.

It’s dramatic to see the improvement in how the horse carries himself from the first use. And over time as the musculature develops, the results become more obvious.

Benjamin Heckman and Nicole Rombach

After about 6-8 weeks, Nicole proposed we add the hindquarter band, which encourages correct movement and enhances proprioception. The position of this band is especially recommended for horses with asymmetrical hind limb movement, poor engagement and poor development of major muscle groups.

We are now six months out from our first assessment with Equitopia and it’s been phenomenal to see Roger’s progress and his relaxation under saddle, as his body has become stronger and more comfortable. We enjoy seeing the inevitable positive impact this has had on his partnership with my son, Benjamin, in their riding and competing.

Like with everything in life, there is no silver bullet, and the hard work and dedication put in by Benjamin to stay tuned in to what is happening with Roger’s body, releasing his sore spots, and keeping an eye on the overall picture has been instrumental to their progress. And, of course, this is a journey and so the work is never done.

If you’re interested in using the bands on your horse, they are available through working with a professional equine health expert, such as Circle Oak, or Nicole Rombach.

The reason for this, is that an initial body assessment is required before using them. Putting them on a sore or lame horse could actually exacerbate the problem.

I’ve since used them on my young horse, Quintessa, to teach her how to move forward in a more straight manner and to use her core and hind limbs correctly. Again, the results have been impressive.

Let’s hear it for the band!

Author Alice Chan is based in Northern California. When she’s not riding or being a show mom to Benjamin, she continues her work as the founder of the Flock Marketing Collective.