What is meant when we speak in terms of horse biomechanics? How is it important in the riding and training of the horse? If our intention when riding is to increase the athletic ability of the horse and therefore his ridability, then some basic knowledge of how the mechanics of a horse’s locomotion works, is important.
“By biomechanics we mean the way that muscles move bones to produce and sustain various forms of action: as regards the horse, mainly locomotion: as regards the rider, mainly position and giving of aids.”
Hans von Blixen-Fenecke
Horse Biomechanics – Practical applications
An understanding of some basic biomechanics can:
- Help us with the timing and correct use of the aids.
- help us to create balance in motion as a rider.
- help us understand how to increase the physical development of the horse.
- help us to formulate a methodology for our riding and practice sessions.
- help us create harmony between horse and rider.
The study of biomechanics, as it pertains to the horse and rider is quite extensive. For our purposes we will discuss some of the basics . We will divide the basics into 4 parts:
- The mechanics of the horse’s body.
- The gaits of the horse.
- The mechanics of the movements.
- The influence of the rider on the biomechanics or locomotion of the horse.
The Mechanics of the Horse’s Body
The horse’s body is made up of:
- The skeleton
- The bones
- The muscles
- The ligaments
The part of the body that we can have the most influence on are the muscles. This can be positive influence or negative influence or no influence at all.
Positive influence allows the muscles to strengthen and gain tone to help the horse balance with a rider, work harmoniously with the rider, and in general enjoy his work. Negative influence will create pain and tension in the muscles and make the work of the horse difficult and unsatisfying.
Muscles work on the horse’s movement by making the bones come closer together (flexion) on either side of the joint or by making the bones get further apart (extend) on either side of the joint.Muscles strengthen and grow in size when they are made to flex and relax or flex and extend. A muscle that is in constant contraction due to tension or misuse does not grow or strengthen.
Stronger muscles allow for more precision of movement and thus more grace of movement. The ability to flex increases balance and weight bearing capacity of the limbs.
The horse’s muscular development is dependent on a system of exercises. By exercises we mean a systematic flexing and relaxing of the muscles that move the skeleton (to a small degree) and the bones( to a larger degree). You can compare positive, negative and none existent influence on the muscles to the body building exercises in the human body.
A body trainer can go a long way to help you acquire muscle tone and stronger muscles. You could work by yourself twice as hard and never acquire any muscle tone or worse yet do some damage to your muscles that would express itself in the form of pain.
One of the most important parts of the horse’s body that we hope to influence in a positive way are the back muscles. The horse needs to strengthen these and tone them in order to carry our weight and balance himself.
The Gaits of the Horse
The four gaits of the horse are the walk, trot, canter and gallop. In competitive dressage the walk, trot and canter are described as follows.
The walk is a marching gait in which the footfalls of the horse’s feet follow one another in “four time”. These four beats are well marked and maintained in all work at the walk. The four types of walk are:
a. Collected walk.
b. Medium walk.
c. Extended Walk.
d. Free Walk.
The Trot is a gait of “two time” on alternate diagonal legs (near left fore and right hind legand vice versa) separated by a moment of suspension. The 4 types of trot are:
a. Collected Trot.
b. Working Trot.
c. Medium Trot.
d. Extended Trot.
The Canter is a gait of “three time”, where at canter to the right, for instance, the footfallsfollow one another as follows: left hind, left diagonal (simultaneously left fore and right hind),right fore, followed by a movement of suspension with all four feet in the air before the nextstride begins. The 4 types of canter are:
a. Collected Canter.
b. Working Canter.
c. Medium Canter.
d. Extended Canter.
The Mechanics of the Horse movements
By “movements” we refer to the gymnastic exercises that would improve our horse’s physical development, strength, balance, gaits and ridabilitly.These movements are:
- The circle
- The transitions
- The leg yield
- The Halt
- The Rein back
- Stretching the frame
- Shoulder in
- Turn on the Haunches
- Counter Canter
- Half Pass
- Simple change of Lead
- Flying Change of lead
- Pirouette at Walk
- Pirouette at Canter
Biomechanics helps us to understand the positioning of the parts of the horse’s body in order to perform these exercises correctly. It gives us an understanding of what the horse can and cannot do with his skeleton, bones and muscles. It also gives us a technique for developing the horse’s physique with the proper use of these movements.
The influence of the rider on the biomechanics or locomotion of the horse
The addition of a rider on the horse’s back adds the factor of balance into the equation. The horse must learn to be balanced in order to accomplish the movements, AND to balance with the additional weight of the rider.
The position of the rider is a key element in the horse’s ability to “balance”. The correct use of the seat and aids is the key element in teaching the horse to “be” balanced in order to accomplish the movements.