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  • Writer's pictureKyra Fraser

Understanding Equine Biomechanics: The Key to Improved Performance


Young woman and horse in silhouette in front of barn door.


For over a decade, I've been fascinated with the science of biomechanicsthe analysis of movement to minimize the risk of injury and improve performance. Equine biomechanics studies the mechanics of a horse's body, focusing on how muscles and gravity interact with the skeletal structure to create movement. This knowledge is critical for us to understand as trainers and riders because it offers insights for training approaches that can reduce the risk of injury, improve balance, comfort and connection, and lead to enhanced performance in any discipline.


The Basics of Equine Biomechanics

Biomechanics studies the forces exerted by muscles and gravity on the skeletal structure. Instead of focusing on the physics of movement, equine biomechanics emphasizes understanding the muscular actions that produce movement, including the gaits of the horse and how development programs can affect movement positively or negatively (1).


Stride Analysis in Equine Locomotion

A stride in equine gait analysis is a complete cycle of limb motion, from one footfall to the next of the same limb. This analysis splits into two phases: the stance phase (hoof contact with the ground) and the swing phase (hoof off the ground). These phases provide a detailed understanding of the horse's gait, allowing for the identification of efficient movement patterns and areas for improvement (2).


Addressing Natural Crookedness

Just as humans tend to be right or left-handed, horses show a preference for one side, leading to natural crookedness or carrying themselves with a hollow side and false bend. This can affect how a horse carries weight or moves in a straight line. Training should initially focus on achieving suppleness and a swinging back before attempting to correct crookedness through targeted exercises like shoulder-fore work (3).


Applying Biomechanics in Training

Understanding the principles of equine biomechanics can significantly influence training techniques. For instance, achieving 'Losgelassenheit,' a state of relaxation and suppleness in the horse, is foundational. It ensures that the horse's back is swinging, indicating the absence of tension and a readiness for further training tasks aimed at straightness, impulsion, or collection (3).


Biomechanical Measurement Techniques

With technological advancements, we can now measure equine locomotion through kinematic (movement geometry) and kinetic (forces producing movement) analyses. These detailed analyses offer a comprehensive view of how various body parts move in space and the forces behind these movements, providing valuable insights for training and rehabilitation (2).


Integrating Biomechanics Into Your Training and Riding

Integrating biomechanical principles into your training opens the door to refined, effective training methods. By understanding the scientific underpinnings of horse movement, riders can enhance performance, address individual biomechanical variations, and ultimately foster a harmonious partnership with their horse. Through application of biomechanics, modern training approaches complement traditional methods, offering a pathway to achieving peak performance in a manner that respects the natural capabilities and well-being of the horse.


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