What We All Should Know About Horse Biomechanics

Why is horse biomechanics so important

Why Is Understanding Horse Biomechanics Important?

Biomechanics is the understanding of movements of living bodies with the help of physical and mechanical principles. Different bones, ligaments and tendons work together for a horse to perform, walk or trot. In this way, a combination of forces acts on the horse’s various body muscles and play a critical role during horse riding and training. You can comprehend some physical soreness of a horse, lameness, itching spines and gait abnormalities using the basics of horse biomechanics. So, to enhance your horse riding and training faculties, understanding horse biomechanics is fundamental. 

Importance of Horse biomechanics 

There are many reasons to understand horse biomechanics. Let’s have a look at a few of them.

To understand the support system of the horse.

Though well known for strength and endurance, a horse’s support system is fragile. The study of biomechanics highlights the importance of the rider’s position to the horse. An incorrect rider’s position can strain the horse’s back and lead to behavioral changes.

For example, a horse carries 60% of its weight on its forelegs, and when it has a rider on its back, it doubles the load. For this reason, the thoracic sling muscles that hold the horse’s forelegs to its body need to be strong. If the rider sits out of balance, it will negatively impact the behvior and performance of the horse.

Horse biomechanics will also assist in understanding how various injuries and related discomfort can hinder a horse’s performance and progress.

To understand the various facets of equine dressage.

Flexibility, balance, and obedience are essential factors in horse dressage training. The study of equine biomechanics provides the basics for this purpose. It helps you decide how much time a horse requires to develop his strengths. The neck position of an equine affects his forehead, back, and hindquarters. 

To keep the horse comfortable and confident. 

A horse’s back is not made to carry weight. A young horse arches his back when you ride him the first time. The horse will respond by stiffening his back. The position where he tenses his back muscles enables him to carry the weight on his back. However, as a result, the horse’s gait gets badly affected, muscles get stiffer and tenser, and the horse takes small steps making it uncomfortable for the rider.

The horse’s long back muscles are fleshy and have little tendon fibre integration. This muscle structure makes it difficult for undeveloped musculature to function for a long time. Muscles get built up with lactic acid and become sore over time. To avoid such painful experiences for the horse, it’s crucial to observe your horse’s biomechanics. 

Understanding horse biomechanics helps to interpret the clues during riding to make adjustments in training. A rider should also be aware of the carrying capacity of his horse and develop the muscles gradually. 

Biomechanical techniques

We have gone through the importance of understanding horse biomechanics. But how we can evaluate horse biomechanics. Most of the job can be done by keen observation, but that needs extensive experience. Here comes the technology to help us. Some most common techniques used for biomechanical evaluation of a horse are given here. 

Electromyography

Electromyography (EMG) is a diagnostic technique used to assess neuro-muscular functioning. It can reveal muscle dysfunctions, nerve dysfunctions and problems in transmission between nerves and muscles. 

During horse training, EMG can help us understand muscles’ functioning under different types of exercises. An equestrian can evaluate the development of specific muscles after training and workout. EMG can also allow us to locate the area of muscular injury and soreness on the horse’s body.

Video Recording

Videotaping is quite a helpful tool to quantify the movements, stride length and body angles of a horse with respect to time. It is extensively used to evaluate horse performance for dressage training. 

Video analysis is replicate in a judge’s eye. By digitizing the images of a horse, various parameters can be gauged like limb placements, the distance between individual limbs, extension and flexion of joins and many more.

Force Plate

It is a force-sensitive platform used to measure the stress and propulsive force of the hoof on the ground. Force plat is extensively used to evaluate the carrying capacities of each limb of a horse. It can be used to compare the propulsive forces of limbs as the training progresses—also an important tool to detect lameness and sidedness in horses.

Accelerometers

In contrast to the force plate analysis, accelerometers measure the hoof’s strain while touching the surface. Accelerometers are usually attached to the hoof wall to understand the strain on the hoof and concussion bared by a limb.

5 Things to Know About Equine Biomechanics 

  • An easy way to test your horse for biomechanical performance is to compare it with another horse of known ability. Look for the difference in stride length, foot placement and angularity of different joints. 
  • Ignoring horse biomechanics during riding and training can have an adverse effect on the performance of the horse. Even the rider’s biomechanics is also essential to allow a horse to exhibit its full potential. 
  • The position of the horse’s neck and the head has a significant effect on the biomechanics of the whole horse. If the neck is kept unnaturally shortened or the head is kept deep by the rider, it can produce movement faults and health problems.
  • Upward and downward positioning of a horse’s head can be used according to the biomechanics of a horse. A horse with kissing spines and hind-leg lameness can be helped by downward positioning of the head. The downward direction of the head shifts the horse’s center of gravity forward.
  • It is essential to understand that the physical command of a rider directly affects the performance and behavior of a horse. Long-term use of such commands as backward hands can cause severe lameness and stiffness of the back.
Reference & Further Readings
  1. Clayton, Hilary & Hobbs, Sarah. (2017). The role of biomechanical analysis of horse and rider in equitation science. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 10.1016/j.applanim.2017.02.011.
  2. Clayton H. M. (2016). HORSE SPECIES SYMPOSIUM: Biomechanics of the exercising horse. Journal of animal science, 94(10), 4076–4086. https://doi.org/10.2527/jas.2015-9990
  3. https://www.britannica.com/science/biomechanics-science
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