Dres­sage Health

how study­ing biome­chan­ics en­hances your train­ing

Dressage Today - - Content - By Scott An­der­son, DVM

What sets apart the horse who has amaz­ing ex­pres­sion in his work from oth­ers? If you were to ask an en­gi­neer or some­one who stud­ies move­ment, he or she would use biome­chan­ics to an­a­lyze the ques­tion. Biome­chan­ics is the study of the forces that af­fect move­ment of the body. It ex­am­ines how mus­cles, bones, ten­dons and lig­a­ments op­er­ate to­gether for a horse to walk, pas­sage or per­form lat­eral move­ments.

Dif­fer­ent anatom­i­cal struc­tures work in syn­chrony. The bones are the sup­port struc­ture. They are rigid and pro­vide a frame­work. The joints’ anatomy dic­tates their de­gree of mo­bil­ity (range of mo­tion). Lig­a­ments are the con­nec­tions be­tween bones, fre­quently in­volv­ing joints. They are strong and flex­i­ble, al­low­ing for dis­tinct move­ment of a joint while pro­vid­ing sta­bil­ity. The mus­cles serve to pro­pel the horse and to sta­bi­lize. For ev­ery mus­cle that moves a joint in one di­rec­tion, there is typ­i­cally a coun­ter­ing mus­cle that can pull the joint in the other di­rec­tion. When the op­pos­ing mus­cles work in uni­son, both fir­ing in bal­ance, they sta­bi­lize joints. This equi­lib­rium keeps the legs rigid when weight- bear­ing, the back from break­ing and the head el­e­vated and in mo­tion with the horse’s move­ment.

The study of biome­chan­ics pro­vides the ba­sis for un­der­stand­ing mul­ti­ple facets of dres­sage, such as how neck po­si­tion af­fects the fore­hand, back and hindquar­ters. It ex­plains why it takes time for young horses to de­velop the strength to travel up­hill with self-car­riage and with an ex­tended fore­hand. It also re­in­forces the im­por­tance of proper rider core strength and po­si­tion to sup­port the horse. It is nec­es­sary in com­pre­hend­ing how in­juries and re­sult­ing pain can pre­vent horses from pro­gress­ing and per­form­ing.

Biome­chan­ics ex­plains how rid­ing with the neck low­ered af­fects the en­tire length of the horse. This po­si­tion pro­duces trac­tion through the lig­a­ments and mus­cles of the to­pline, of the neck and back, caus­ing the back to flex, or round. It moves the cen­ter of grav­ity for­ward with more weight dis­trib­uted to the fore­hand, thus strength­en­ing the mus­cles sus­pend­ing the tho­rax. With the back flex­ing, the workload of the ab­dom­i­nal mus­cles in­creases. The ad­van­tages of in­cor­po­rat­ing ex­er­cises in a low­ered neck po­si­tion in­clude strength­en­ing the ar­eas men­tioned above.

An un­der­stand­ing of biome­chan­ics can fa­cil­i­tate rid­ing and train­ing. Re­search has shown that the mus­cles in­volved with sus­pend­ing the tho­rax within the shoul­der blades af­fect the horse’s abil­ity to move in an up­hill car­riage with a pro­tracted fore­hand stride. These “sling mus­cles” raise the withers within the shoul­der blades as they be­come stronger. The sling mus­cles con­sist of the pec­toral mus­cles in the chest area and the ser­ra­tus ven­tralis mus­cles be­tween

the rib cage and the scapula. Strength and train­ing of these mus­cles lifts the front. As the front end raises, the hind end can sit and ac­cept more weight to pro­pel the horse.

Work­ing in an up­hill car­riage or with the neck low­ered can have pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive ef­fects on a horse’s body de­pend­ing on the na­ture of his biome­chan­ics. The con­struc­tive ef­fects of work done cor­rectly and pro­gres­sively are strength­en­ing of the tar­get ar­eas and the horse learn­ing to carry him­self. Train­ing with the head low­ered could po­ten­tially stress an ex­ist­ing front leg prob­lem by shift­ing the cen­ter of bal­ance for­ward. By the same to­ken, it can be a help­ful po­si­tion in strength­en­ing a horse with kiss­ing spines (im­ping­ing dor­sal spinous pro­cesses). An up­hill po­si­tion may not be ob­tain­able for a horse with sacroil­iac or hind-limb dis­com­fort.

In the case of a horse who ex­hibits some kind of phys­i­cal dis­com­fort dur­ing train­ing, a vet­eri­nar­ian fre­quently cor­re­lates his or her di­ag­no­sis of a spe­cific area of sore­ness to what a rider is feel­ing or a sign the horse is show­ing. An ex­am­ple would be lower neck pain on the right pre­vent­ing a horse from bend­ing to the right or not pick­ing up the right lead. Horses can have mul­ti­ple ar­eas of sore­ness. Biome­chan­ics is key in un­der­stand­ing what prob­lems are caus­ing the signs the horse is ex­hibit­ing.

Biome­chan­ics en­com­passes most as­pects of rid­ing and train­ing. It is the sci­ence be­hind how a sad­dle in­ter­acts with the horse’s back, how a horse com­pen­sates for an un­bal­anced rider, what a rider feels with a lame­ness and more. It is not a ne­ces­sity for a rider to com­pre­hend all as­pects of biome­chan­ics of the horse, although it does en­hance the un­der­stand­ing of train­ing and rid­ing.

Re­sources for Study­ing Biome­chan­ics

Biome­chan­ics can be ap­proached from a su­per­fi­cial level to an in-depth study. The In­ter­net is al­ways a source with both valid and less-than-re­li­able in­for­ma­tion. Dr. Hi­lary Clay­ton has been one of the great­est sources of re­search and lit­er­a­ture per­tain­ing to equine biome­chan­ics. She ap­pears on­line in videos and ar­ti­cles and has pa­pers avail­able on many biome­chan­ics top­ics.

For more com­pre­hen­sive stud­ies there are books on equine biome­chan­ics. Biome­chan­ics and Phys­i­cal Train­ing of the Horse by Jean-Marie Denoix is writ­ten for the rider/trainer with an over­view of anatomy, biome­chan­ics and anal­y­sis of spe­cific rid­ing ex­er­cises. The Dy­namic Horse by Dr. Hi­lary Clay­ton thor­oughly cov­ers the sci­ence of biome­chan­ics.

BiOMe­chaN­icS iS the Study Of the fORceS that af­fect MOve­MeNt Of the bOdy. It ex­aM­iNeS hOw MuS­cleS, bONeS, teN­dONS aNd lig­a­MeNtS OP­eR­ate tO­getheR fOR a hORSe tO walk, PaS­Sage OR PeR­fORM lat­eRal MOve­MeNtS.

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