Biomechanics of a Horse’s Spine in Ridden Work – Part 1

Contributed by Jennifer Postollec.

Jennifer qualified with Distinction in Equine Sport Massage Therapist and confirmed as member of The International Association of Animal Therapists (IAAT) in June 2018.  She is based in the UK.

Horses are not designed to carry us, and a good part of riding must be devoted to helping the horse to use his/her body to optimally achieve balance in movement.
In this article, I want to give you an introduction to the biomechanical analysis of the horse’s back.

Because good riding comes with a good understanding of the biomechanics, I am going to take you through the biomechanics of the horse’s spine in the three gaits.

A horse’s natural locomotion can be misunderstood, which can lead to mistakes with unfortunate consequences on the horse’s physical and mental integrity.

We first need to understand from a biomechanical perspective how horses move in three gaits.

The Walk

The walk is a 4-beat gait with no suspension movement, the horse’s head and neck act as a pendulum from left to right and from bottom to top and vice versa. The walk consists of a long diagonal support interspersed with a short and unstable lateral support. The walk is a gait that results from complex movements of flexion, extensions, lateroflexion and rotation of the spine.

The Trot

The Trot is a 2-beat gait.  Unlike the walk the horse in trot does not show vertical movement of the head and neck!

Trot requires a good back muscle tone to function and, in my opinion, it is the most difficult gait to master!

During the trot it is the movements of rotation and lateroflexion of the thoraco-lumbar bridge which will be largely in use.

Work in trot has several advantages: it increases the ground cover, improves the tempo as well as the muscle and strength the horse.  If also serves to soften the joints, balance the horse and pace the horse.

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