Horse Science Series- Your Horse’s Movement.
Gait analysis and the basics of horse biomechanics
Understanding the parts of our horse’s body and how they operate, especially regarding your horse’s movement patterns is essential to being able to train or ride a horse.
Sure, anyone can just hop on a horse and cruise around, but it takes careful consideration of equine biomechanics, training processes, and understanding to properly work on the individual pieces of an exercise to build the fundamentals needed to perform advanced maneuvers.
In this series on horse science, we are going to delve into different areas of equine science and learn about specific body parts, what they do, their functions, and so forth.
In this article, we will discuss the horses’ movement patterns and the basics of biomechanics.
Our horses, in all actuality, are truly mechanical marvels.
Once you study a horse’s body and how it operates the way it does, it has a tendency of sucking you in and making you wish you could learn more, and more…and then more after that.
I am going to begin the series by analyzing the gaits of the horse along with describing their patterns.
Understanding and being able to evaluate your horse’s movement is going to be helpful in training but also in the case of needing to use the horse’s movement in diagnostics of lameness or soreness.
More often than not, either a farrier or a vet handles professionally this.
As horse owners and horse lovers, our horses’ best interest is always at heart.
This is one reason that understanding your horse’s movement and how their body should or should not be operating is so important, and could even potentially save your horse from a severe lameness or problem one day.
Natural patterns of the horse’s movement or gait
There are other gaits or patterns of movement that are “mechanical” or trained into a horse. Some examples of these gaits include a rack, pace, and even a job or slow lope.
Within every gait, there are movements that make up the gait. These are called strides. A stride occurs once all 4 feet have completed their pattern of movement.
Asymmetry vs. Symmetry within a horse’s movement
A gait can also be either symmetrical or asymmetrical in nature.
This is determined by the pattern of movement within the limb.
The walk and the trot are symmetrical gaits due to the same limb pattern being basically mirrored or repeated on the opposite side, but a half stride later.
When accessing an asymmetrical gait like the lope, canter, or gallop, the limb pattern is not the same on both sides, which causes it to be asymmetrical.
Within each gait is a stride, and within a stride are two distinct and separate phases.
Phase #1- The Stance
“In the first phase, the hoof is in contact with the ground. The limb is under concussion and compression forces are occurring during phase one of the stride”- Vipsvet.Net
Phase #2- The Swing Phase
“Phase two of the stride is the swing phase or movement of the hoof. As the heel leaves the ground, this is called break over. Then the toe pushes off, called propulsion.”-Vipsvet.Net
Check out an extremely helpful article from Horsesandus.com about the 4-basic gaits (although their article is not basic. It’s a great read, check it out.)
The walk of your horse is a four-beat gait that is symmetrical. When your horse walks, they use their hind end to initiate the propulsion needed to move forward. The front legs move after the hind legs and follow.
Did you know? There is actually a diagonal within the walk, but it can be difficult to see without a slow-motion video.
During the trot, the horse’s legs move in unison, in diagonals. The trot is also a natural gait, and it has a 2-beat rythm to it.
“For example, the right hind moves forward with the left front following and the left hind moves forward with the right front following. The trot has variations to the length of stride and rate of speed.”- Vipsvet.net
The Lope/ canter
Lope is the term used by western riders and canter is the term used by English or hunt seat riders.
The horse’s movement is fairly similar in both, but one is quicker than the other.
There are different variations that can be accomplished by different levels of collection and propulsion from the hind end.
In layman’s terms, you can think of a lope as a restrained form of the canter and the canter a restrained form of a hand-gallop or gallop.
A true lope or canter will always have a 3-beat-gait pattern.
Now that we have covered the basics of gait and your horse’s movement, we are going to advance to the biomechanics of the horse and rider.
“The word biomechanics is the study of the structure and function of biological systems. In sports biomechanics, we apply the laws of mechanics in order to gain a greater understanding of athletic performance and to reduce sport injuries. Biomechanics in sports, can be stated as the muscular, joint and skeletal actions of the body during the execution of a given task, skill and/or technique. Proper understanding of biomechanics has the greatest implications on: sport’s performance, rehabilitation and injury prevention, along with sport mastery.”- Mel Fleming
Many people do not fully grasp the importance of the study of the laws of mechanics in regards to horse riding, training, and showing.
Your horse’s movement is entirely affected by how structurally correct they are, how well conditioned they are, and even our own posture as a rider, along with many other factors.
“What riding horses with correct biomechanics means is that horses will stay sound, be healthy, be athletic, reach their highest potential and enjoy being ridden. When ridden in a biomechanically correct or efficient way, seemingly strenuous activities are relatively effortless. When ridden in a biomechanically inefficient or incorrect way simple tasks are a big effort, they quickly become tiring, uncomfortable even to the point of painful and lead to mental, emotional stress and behavioral problems.”- Mel Fleming
You have probably heard your horse trainer talk a lot about posture. How important it is to your riding and the partnership between you and your horse. This is because good posture and good biomechanics tend to go hand in hand with one another.
This is because when we are in the correct positioning, this also means that our internal organs are aligned properly and able to function with maximum ability and performance.
When our bodies are working properly, we can perform better. The same is true for our horses.
The greatest thing about horses is that no matter what breed or discipline you ride or work with, their skeletal, muscular, joint, and all other structures are going to be just about identical.
This means that the basics of biomechanics are going to be consistent among just about any horse you work with.
The variable that changes among horses is their frame in which they are ridden or worked.
This frame can greatly affect your horse’s movement.
When someone is talking about a horse being in frame or collected, they are generally referring to the engagement of the back and rear end along with weight transfer and redistribution.
Collection can be used to numerous reasons from creating extension or lift all the way to creating the ability to perform maneuvers like flying lead changes for example.
If you haven’t already checked out our article on balance and bend in training and conditioning, you can find it HERE.
To get an idea of how the horse’s body works together to function and perform movement patterns, you need to take a look at the biomechanics of how your horse’s body works.
If you think about your horse’s body functioning biomechanically, like dressagetoday.com states, it gives us an idea of how to better improve our training and riding to help our horses maintain correctness and posture, along with help us diagnose problems before they become major issues.
“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.”- Dressagetoday.com
No matter what you do with your horse or where your goals are set, studying your horse and the techniques you use will further your goals and the progress that you see.
The horse and rider must work together as one in order to create the harmonious and perfected look that is so highly coveted. The first step in creating this harmony is understanding HOW it happens.
In the next horse science article, we are going to cover the horse’s skeletal system, the joints, type, and how they all fit together. Then we will follow that up with the muscular system, ligaments, and everything else, so stay tuned and make sure you sign up for our updates!
Take care and God bless you,
until next time,
Bible verse of the day:
I started a new portion to the weekly articles. I figured I would add in a little bible bite. These are “at random” from dailyverses.net and I thought this one couldn’t have been more true. In fact, we are seeing this ourselves… with our very eyes!
“I will strengthen the house of Judah,
and I will save the house of Joseph.
I will bring them back because I have compassion on them,
and they shall be as though I had not rejected them,
for I am the Lord their God and I will answer them.”
We see God bringing the Jewish people back to their home, even now. They are a nation; they are prospering, and God is protecting them in every turn. God keeps His promises, and we can see it clearly!
If you haven’t accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior, today is the day of salvation.