Ride Round Clinic



Karen Loshbaugh

1st Annual

Engagement of The Horse's Back & Prevention of Kissing Spine

Reno, Nevada

December 9, 10 & 11 2017

For Riders of All Disciplines


Karen’s career began in the Hunter Jumper disciplines, showing on the A circuit. Today she competes at the FEI Levels in Dressage. She is wife to, and student of, Master Horseman Will Faerber who studied extensively under Nuno Oliveira. 


Karen's mission is to teach Engagement and prevent Kissing Spine. Kissing Spine is a growing epidemic in training barns caused by incorrect, inverted riding and ill-fitting saddles. A internationally respected clinician, Karen brings the vital education needed to trainers and students to help them 1) start young horses correctly, 2) vastly improve the development of engagement in training approaches with adult horses already in training, 3) learn the warning signs of a horse suffering from back pain, and 4) provide proven rehabilitation methods to horses diagnosed with Kissing Spine.  

First and foremost, Karen is empathetic to the needs of the horse. She instills this in her students by motivating them to become more sensative to the warning signs horses are giving when they have back pain or display a bio-mechanical disconnect.  She provides them with viable, long-term, sustainable training solutions. Horses who are suffering back pain are often despondent or fractious but are often mislabel as rude, lazy, just stiff, or unfocused. Eventually many of these horses break down completely, suffering not only the original injury of the back but also secondary injuries in ligaments and tendons in the lower limbs. Karen helps her students see that many horses suffering from back pain or displaying disconnection can be restored and can live normal, prosperous training careers within loving human relationships. 

Karen left her competitive jumping career to teach Engagement and how Engagement is key to developing the topline of the horse to comfortably and athletically carry a rider. She is also a saddle-fit technician and widely popular for her saddle fit evaluations. Her genre of training is Classical Foundation Training. She enjoys bringing joy and clarity to trainers and riders as they learn exactly which pieces of Engagement are lacking and how to empathetically, systematically attain them. Some of those pieces include:

  • Activity
  • Forwardness
  • A Long, Low, Forward Stretch
  • Swing and Looseness
  • Stepping into the Outside Rein 
  • Outside Contact
  • Stretched Up Tall Rider Position
  • Correct Suppling Using the Inside Rein
  • More Relaxation 
  • Pushing of the Hind Legs Up Through the Back and into the Contact 
  • Impulsion 
  • A Wave-like Feeling, A Rolling Ball-like Feeling 
  • Knowing Which Piece to Develop Before Other Pieces

Karen's experienced eye can determine when a horse is round or hollow, whether that be in the stretch, working or collected movements, on the lunge or in work-in-hand. An FEI dressage competitor with years of riding experience and exposure, she realizes that inverted riding commonly occurs when riders become impatient, over-ambitous, or are unclear in their training and make the common mistake of trying to hold their horses up off the forehand by shortening the reins prematurely when the back of the horse isn't fully raised and forming a connection (bridge) between the hind and front end of the horse. Karen realizes that many riders can't feel what they haven't felt and don't know especially when a horses back has come fully up under their seat and has the strength to stay there.  She teaches riders that the shortening of the rein when the horse is still inverted or not strong enough and then pressing or kicking the horse into the contact is not the answer. Doing so actually exacerbates the problems and hollows the horse.  

Karen never minces words about hollow horses. "Horses that are traveling hollow are horses on the forehand," she explains.  She also explains that the tension and pain created by the rider riding against the horse's mouth and bearing down on its hollow back is the beginning of an adversarial relationship not a partnership.  Karen's provides riders with a vision of the joy of true partnership and helps them see what choices they have and can make to avoid incorrect, hollow riding.

Karen's motto is: Never sacrifice the horse’s back.

“The length of the neck of the horse and how low the poll goes is relevant to how the horse feels.  We position the head and neck at the point where the horse can swing through the best and engage the back. If you can keep the exact same feeling of swing and rhythm in the horse when you bring up the poll from the stretch, then he is ready for the working gaits. You can also begin to sit the trot as long as his back hasn’t dropped and his gait doesn’t change. If you never sacrifice the back, you will never go wrong.  And the horse will always tell you when you are sacrificing its back.” — Karen



Only when a horse has been taught to engage deeply from behind and push it’s back up under the rider can it be truly balanced and only at that point will it accept the rider’s aids without tension or resistance, performing on the weight of the reins.”— Karen and husband Will Faerber

“I was seeking a better way. I wanted to feel the harmony and lightness that the Classical Masters talk about. As a trainer myself, I knew I was still missing an important element to my riding. My first clinic with Will Faerber provided that elusive element and brought my riding/training to a completely different dimension and I have been training with him since 2004.  I have learned what iis t takes to bring true artistry to developing a horse, physically and mentally. Developing horses using Classical Foundation Training has resulted in the harmony and lightness I was seeking, regardless if I was jumping, trail riding or schooling dressage.  What a pleasure to work with horses that are (or will become) eager and willing to work, beginning and ending in complete relaxation." — Karen

“It was such a life changing moment when I saw my horse go under an appropriate saddle fitted properly. I discovered how many behavioral and performance issues are caused by improper saddles and saddle fit and at the very least was asking my horse to perform while uncomfortable and restricted, at the very worst starting to do long term damage. How unfair of us to not consider our saddles and how they fit when this is the conduit of communication between you and your horse.  If it hurts who can blame them for not listening and having anxiety about being ridden.  This understanding coupled with the training to become a professional saddle fitter has changed my relationship with my horses and the relaxation, suppleness and lightness is so much easier to achieve.” --Karen



Developing Your Horse's Back: The Biomechanics of Engagement: https://youtu.be/hokqRs9GbrI

Recognizing Engagement: Training Your Eye: https://youtu.be/eIbGiff01xc



Karen begins each horse and rider session asking riders to warm up in the engaged stretch. The engaged stretch, also known as longitudinal flexion with engagement, is critical as it stretches and extends the horses back, loosens up the muscles and initiates a relaxed state in the horse. It also activates and strengthens core muscles providing support to the back, shoulder and neck regions. Since many horses who aren't used to using their back properly, are inexperienced in engaged stretching and need more support "getting there" Karen may suggest riders get their weight off the horses back and try developing the engaged stretch through work-in-hand and or lunging.

Some riders are not used to the suggestion they get off their horses backs and yet correctly executed work-in-hand and lunging is often the key to preparing the horse in many ways for riding. One such benefit to work-in-hand and lunging is that some horses relax more without the weight of the rider. Without complete relaxation, core engagement (to it's fullest) and a raised back (to it's fullest) is impossible to achieve. Another benefit is that riders can learn to feel proper contact and develop a feel for working the horse back to front to create the fluidity and wave like energy that must run through horses bodies.  In this day and age many riders hold their horses up, ride front to back and resort to cranking and spanking which ultimately are the catalysts for hollow traveling and injuries. A third benefit is that without the extra weight of the rider, its easier for a horse who is too weak in the core to lift its back with a rider. Finally, another benefit to work-in-hand is that the horse learns to follow the rider's hand in any direction -- something difficult to learn when distracted by the weaknesses in or errors made by a rider's seat. 

Karen is an expert in helping riders learn how to work a horse in hand and on the lunge and many of her students come to her clinics just to learn how to improve their ground skills. She can see when there's not enough contact or too much and if the feel and timing needs adjustment.  She helps handlers learn body position and how to flow with the horse or use a change of body position to affect a better outcome. She teaches passive resistance contact when she teaches riders how to feel correct contact and suppling of the inside rein.  She enjoys watching riders take their new knowledge and skills into their mounted sessions.  

If a horse and rider pair are able to sustain core engagement and a round back in the stretch Karen will often ask riders to "bring the horse up" to shift the qualities of movement achieved in the engaged stretch to the working gait for further development. If all goes well in the working gait, Karen begins to help riders transfer these desired qualities of movement into collection.

Often there are hurdles in achieving the engaged stretch mounted. Karen helps her students learn what those hurdles are by developing their eye and their feel for what's missing and how it can be improved.  For example, one of the common hurdles that a horse and rider experience when trying to produce an engaged stretch is the need to maintain the activity and pushing power of the hind end deep under its body when it lowers its pole and neck. Many horse and rider pairs lose some degree of hind end activity and pushing power.  Karen once owned a horse that did just this. “Our horse Zoolander was in the same boat as Contigo,” she said about Contigo owned by Allison Brunelli when Contigo was still building strength to maintain the hind end activity and pushing power.  “The moment Zoolander would completely stretch, his hind end quit moving and it has taken months but now he can do a full stretch, engage his topline and stay there.  Be happy when you can get it occassionally, keep trying to see how much he can do and it should improve unless there are other issues that need veterinarian attention.” 

Karen’s experience with the thousands of horses she's worked with brings her to the conclusion that many horses who are starting out in this type of training and many horses with Kissing Spine who are very tight over their backs need a very deep stretch with their nose near the ground and a deep reaching, swinging hind leg with impulsion to loosen their backs for the opportunity to get fully round and fully engaged. The lower they lower their pole, and the more they can stretch their topline during engagement the more it helps to loosen restrictions all along the topline. The lowering of the pole also induces a feeling of relaxation which is necessary to achieve true engagement. “You begin to see progress in relaxation and suppleness when you do (lower the nose nearly to the ground),” she says. However, Karen says not all horses need that low of a stretch with their nose near the ground to get fully engaged. But you have to be able to recognize which ones do and which ones don't. And she can recognize them. “If more people realized how to take one step at a time it would be a much better world for horses.  They are willing to do what we ask but we can’t ask something they aren’t capable of or don’t understand.  This is why it’s so important to have a system.” 

Karen also teaches jumpers how to develop a round bascule. She explains that there is much more to jumping round than just a release of the hand.  It originates from tremendous engagement on the flat by both the horse and the rider. It takes hours of dedication on the ground learning engagement that eventually leads a horse to sit down, push powerfully from the hind end and round a jump rather than pull itself over hollow. Karen can help jumpers how to refrain from jumping ahead or getting lost behind and how to drop their hands on the edge of the neck for an automatic release, as opposed to balancing on the crest.

Karen seeks to create harmonious rapport between riders and their horses to help horses relax and achieve engagement. She is a strong advocate of free-flowing, non-restrained movement without the tightening of the rein and or forcing the head in any particular position so that horses can learn to work freely from back to front and experience the joy in training they deserve.