Dianne Jenkins - creator of JENT
Dianne’s own story and personal mission…
“During almost 30 years at Blackwood Park, a large number of horses were in our care for many consecutive years and some for their whole life. I bred, started and competed my own horses – so I knew them very well. I also agisted, instructed and developed many horses belonging to others which provided a broad base of ‘subjects’ to learn from. When observing so many horses over several years I found it interesting, though also unsettling, how many horses incrementally lost their competitive ‘edge’ for little apparent reason. Injuries or illnesses had not occurred, they just slowly became flat and less enthusiastic about work. Some started avoiding being caught, becoming resistant or ‘jacking up’ when competing at higher levels. Others continued to try hard, but it was easy to tell they really didn’t want to work. At times, sudden changes in temperament and willingness occurred,when a horse had been previously congenial and obliging. These changes were always labeled as age related issues or the early stages of ‘arthritis’.
I noted in all the horses incremental, small changes in posture and gait which increasingly appeared to cause difficulty for the horses to maintain their natural form, evenness and flexibility. It became apparent in the majority, that when worked on hard ground or when asked to increase and maintain bend and collection, more signs of unevenness, agitation and sometimes distress appeared. This inevitably led to doubt as to their soundness, although they could not have been described as ‘lame’. In fact most of the horses passed Vet checks with flying colours. When worked on more giving ground, in straighter lines or when jumping, they showed better overall movement, but changed often dramatically, in their willingness when it came to circle work and collection. Postural and movement inefficiencies appeared with deceptive subtlety as training progressed – the neck and stride shortening, expansive movement becoming guarded and stiffness appearing throughout the body. The ‘stressy’ ones also tended to short bouts of diarrhea and colics and a reluctance to travel. And the stoic ones carried on just minimising their stride, getting on with the job.
These are the assessable changes that we often regard as ‘training issues’ and sub-clinical lameness, or the term most horse owners use, ‘not quite right’.
Paddock rest made a difference, but only until bending and disciplined work were reintroduced. Our own early training encouraged us to label these issues as ‘bridle lameness’ and ‘cold backs’ to be ‘worked through’. And because everyone had these difficulties, to accept them because they were so common was the norm, but most of these horses didn’t show up much pain resentment on full flexion of joints.
As a trainer, I learned to work with and around these issues, learned how to get the best out of the horses by managing each as required. But on reflection I was actually coercively persuading them to work under saddle and just gave them no choice in the matter.
When faced with these signs of suspected degenerative ‘wear and tear’, and the only pathway being the inevitable process of supplements, medications and radiographs, it just didn’t cut it with me in more. I just decided I would not accept it any longer. There had to be another reason for, another cause of the discomforts. These horses should have just been reaching their prime, not a premature old age!
I began a determined search to find solutions to these problems that I could clearly see were preventing horses from reaching their true potential. My focus changed from competition to horse health, to see if I could improve all aspects of horse care within a holistic system; to eliminate every possibility and discover the reasons for these negative changes. I studied, introduced and maintained a high standard of hoof balance, nutrition, saddle fit, riding and training methods, modern dentistry and veterinary intervention to rule out joint issues and included appropriate conditioning and fitness training.
I studied equine anatomy, physiology and biomechanics in order to comprehend more, but found all of this knowledge actually emphasised the movement limitations I was seeing, rather than explaining the reasons for them. I devoted a great deal of time experimenting with horses of different breeds and temperaments and learned to provide environmental and social stability for them. I realised then that exploring the reasons for these behaviours was my way forward.
And then there were all the rescue horses that found their way to Blackwood: the dispossessed and the damaged, the traumatised, misunderstood and depressed; the outraged and the brutalised. Rehabilitating difficult horses became quite a passion for a number of years. It was very rewarding.
Our reputation as a horse rehabilitation centre grew as the horses in our care improved, some quite dramatically in their general health and endurance and competition levels. They ‘looked’ magnificent and they all tried so hard…. yet still there were subtle signs of unexpected fatigue, intermittent unevenness and often quiet distress. There was still something I was missing. Something the horses were trying to express. Even the really confident ones had times when they just couldn’t manage and stopped connecting. We just gave them a rest, but it wasn’t the answer.
About this time I was fortunate to meet an extraordinary Vet from Melbourne, Dr Geoff Hazard. I learned to check for skeletal and muscular symmetry and ‘feel’ horses all over for changes in temperature and areas tender to palpation. I learned NOT to disregard slight changes I felt were significant or accept anything as ‘normal’, just because nobody had the answers to why these issues were occurring. I also acquired the services of an equine chiropractor, Rob Alexander whose work made encouraging differences to the movement and temperament of my horses. Rob introduced me to soft tissue therapy.
With close observation and regular note taking I realised that negative changes in a horses’ demeanour, sudden resistances in training or general underperformance were predicated by the horse being involved in an incident of some kind. Often, quite common situations had occurred such as paddock nonsense, springing a tight shoe, being cast in a stable or having a leg caught in a fence, slipping over in the truck or in muddy conditions, or even pecking heavily on landing after a jump. Incidents we took little notice of unless there were obvious wounds or lameness.
I began to pay more attention and observed that the horses became more uncomfortable in themselves after any of these incidents occured and were quick to resent palpation in surprisingly similar anatomical locations, even after all usual signs of muscular tenderness and bruising had passed. Patterns of negative reflex responses in certain parts of the body became familiar, and as time went on signs of slow deterioration in overall well being could be observed. I have since learned that localised and compensatory muscular soreness develops from the antalgic (pain avoiding) postures adopted when the subcutaneous fascial trains become distorted rather than from bruising or direct insult to the muscles themselves.
These subtle tissue insults in the fascia do not recede with rest, harder work or time. Instead they stay acutely tender to palpation for a few weeks when the body, as in all species, stops reacting and normalises the issue, becoming what we term chronic. Over time, the dehydrated twisted fascial tissue becomes thick and fibrous and adhesions are laid down to immobilise and thus protect the area of chronic inflammation. These palpable areas of restricted fascial tissue cause predictable patterns of compensatory muscular and joint stiffness, reduced range of motion and eventually muscular asymmetry.
I decided to devote my life to the study of these patterns, and to intervene and develop a therapeutic system that restores healthy fascial tissue and freedom of movement.”
“I concluded, and the research data supports, that the temperament or emotional state of horses is primarily connected to their physical discomforts rather than their lack of enthusiasm or wish to avoid work”.
“This conclusion changed the course of my career and life path completely. At last I had found the common denominator, the missing link and the primary cause of why even sound and healthy horses don’t always want to comply. The many issues regarded as normal, could no longer be put down to unknown unsoundness, behavioural, training, or clashes in temperament with humans.
Of course all these instances can occur as well and need to be addressed, but nearly every horse I palpated had at least one or two of these subtle tissue injuries.
As I developed techniques to locate, evaluate and correct these issues, the evidence mounted. When manual corrections were made, and unimpeded movement was restored, the horses were able to ‘flow’, moving freely again after just a couple of weeks. The resistances fell away and the horses were again happy and compliant.
To add to that the horses began to initiate communication with us on a level I had never thought was possible. It got so I could watch a horse move, see some subtle gait restrictions and go exactly to the source of the locations where these common distortions could be found and corrected. You can imagine my surprise and satisfaction when the horse would respond with thankful agreement!!
These patterns are predictable and all too common. Horses that have had difficulty with bend or flexion one way, or became sore when asked to work through a resistance – just didn’t any more!!
Since then I have travelled the world, working with wonderful Vets and other renowned bodywork practitioners, but found they were all unaware of the discoveries I was making. These fascial distorted areas accumulate with on-going incidents and cannot be located easily with ultrasound and not at all with radiographs (which is why we now employ Infrared Thermography, which does).
To me now, the patterns and the implications are clear. The pathway of detection, correction, rehabilitation and progression back into full work again is a duplicative and teachable system. It took 13 years to develop this system I have called JENT (Jenkins Equine Neurophysiologic Therapy).
I am now ready to teach it to others.
I developed a motto that encapsulates what JENT does, it is ‘Ride the Difference’, as the difference is profound and easy to feel for the rider. Aware horse people just can’t miss it; often the immediate changes in temperament are astounding.
All JENTed Horses, some quick – some slow, assume their real character and become more mentally, emotionally and physically dynamic and robust.
The temperament changes are the most humbling and rewarding to observe. Of course it challenges us to change towards them as well. This can be hard to take for some.
Horses behave so gratefully to me after the assistance this work gives them. They lick and chew and almost always turn their heads around and place their nose in my hands as if to say thanks”.
“My mission in life is to bring awareness to horse lovers that there is something more horses attempt to communicate to us, that they need help with, and once eliminated enhance their quality of life, well-being and performance”.