What does your horses posture tell you?

I was just having a scroll through my photos last night and stumbled across the top photo that I took of Elmo (my horse) in September of this year. I took the photo at the time as I felt there was something off with him. He wasn't 'lame' he was just tripping more in his ridden work and despite my best efforts at the time his posture was starting to change in a bad way, he's only 6. He kept adopting this camped under posture (this photo is not just a one off, I do have others) and I was getting increasingly concerned. So what do you see? And what does this mean?

In the first photo he looks uncomfortable, even to the untrained eye. He looks to be holding tension, mainly around his shoulders, neck and lower back and in his facial expression. His chest is slumped forward. His front feet toes are too long and his heels are underruning. So what does that mean?Because the toes are long and hooves are flattening and looking like flippers, they are creating a greater angle at the fetlock and putting too much strain down the tendons of the leg and shoulders which is visible in the photo. The broken back hoof pastern axis (HPA), meaning the hoof isnt in line with the pastern as it should be, will also be putting undue stress on the deep digital flexor tendon and therefore affect the navicular and coffin bone. This misalignment is what can cause changes in the joints of the distal limb, tendon problems, inflammation within the hoof and muscluar problems higher up in the body.*

Same story with his back legs, hes adapted his posture to try and get his HPA more aligned but in doing so is putting unnecessary strain down his back legs, which would put strain on the suspensory ligaments, hamstrings and SI and cause misalignment in the fetlocks, hocks & stifles. Again if left would possibly lead to things like PSD, hock & stifle OA and SI issues. On palpation I had noticed he was getting sore in the base of his neck, triceps and through his lumbars & hamstrings.

Now look at the second image, a more comfortable horse. His pasterns are at the same angle as his hoof on all 4 feet. He's stood square. He has visibly less tension. His posture looks stronger, his chest is no longer slumped forward and his face looks softer. He now has zero palpable soreness.

So what did I do?
1. We addressed the feet. We removed the shoes and gradually over the last 3 months have brought his toes and heels back to give him better alignment & balance. I also believe he had a degree of heel pain caused by open heel steel shoes so removing them addressed that too, allowing him to move more comfortably and allowing him to relax through his shoulders and neck. Most people would be told to pad or wedge the feet in this instance, this proves that it is possible to re-establish balance with good foot trimming.
2. I stopped riding him for a while. I couldn't unsee the strain on his body so i decided to stop riding him until we could get him more comfortable. I felt like he was a ticking time bomb for an injury. It also gave him time to become accustomed to being shoeless, which surprisingly didn't take long at all! It gave his body time to adjust to the new angles of his feet.
3. We did lots of groundwork. I used the Balance through movement method amongst other things to build up strength through his thoraic sling and core. So even though I wasn't sat on him he did the equivalent of a half hour pilates session most days.
4. He had physio to address the changes I was feeling in his muscles.

And the result? The bottom photo. This is a work in progress, he'll improve further I image but I was pretty astounded by the change in just 3 months. He's schooling the best he ever has, hes using himself better, hes more consistent in the contact, he no longer trips, he's more collected, he's happy.
Remember Elmo is only 6 and these changes we're already starting to affect him.

So what am I trying to say?
1. No foot, no horse. Never a truer word spoken. These feet were done religiously every 6 weeks so its not that they had been left to overgrow, but this is something to consider when you're letting your horses go well over their trim cycle, what damage are you causing to the rest of the body? If the feet are wrong, the rest of the body is wrong.
2. Groundwork is the holy grail. Balance and strength starts from the ground. If they can't carry themselves, how the hell are they going to carry themselves and an (unbalanced) rider.
3.Sometimes we need to stand back and look at the bigger picture. What is their posture telling us? These changes are gradual, I'm a physio and it took me a while to work it out, now it's glaringly obvious! Take photos, look for changes.
4.It's ok to seize what you're doing with your horse for a few months. Dont let chasing a qualifier take precedence over your horse's health. Take a step back, address issues properly don't just patch them up or work through them. Allow the horse to heal and as a result you will have a stronger healthier horse, who hopefully will spend less days on box rest and at the vets and more time enjoying the things you do together! This doesn't mean you can't do anything with them, you can work them most days, just maybe not 'working' how you're used to. Spend time on the ground, build a bond, watch them move and you'll have so many happy times to come!
*He was shod every 6 weeks. Fronts had been on 2 years, back 1 year. Top photo was taken 4 weeks in to the last trim cycle.
*Please note this not an anti shoe post, it was my choice to remove his shoes and I'm happy with the outcome. It allowed us to address the feet weekly instead of 6 weekly and gradually change the angles. It may be possible to achieve the same with shoeing.