Horse Bio-mechanics & Horse/Rider Balance

Triathletes are able to push their bodies to extreme limits through proper conditioning and efficient body mechanics

Bio-mechanics has become a big buzz word in the horse world. Bio-mechanics entails looking at the natural structure of the body in order to better understand how it should ideally function. Humans have been using this research for many years to help athletes in every sport, but riders and horse trainers are only beginning to tap into the current research.

Dr. Scofield’s work has to do with bio-mechanics and horse balance. He took the simple and classical Form-Function Principle and made it a tangible tool for horse-trainers, riders, judges and, most importantly, horses. He has used this tool in helping horse professionals to understand, why horse balance is so important. I had the pleasure of spending several months studying with Dr. Scofield.

Gavin Scofield D.O. is a registered Osteopath who graduated from the European School of Osteopathy and has run a full time international equine practice for 19 years. He sees over one hundred horses each week, making it one of the busiest practices of its type in the World. For the last 6 years Gavin has been the official Osteopath for the British Endurance team.

Dr Scofield describes the concept of “Point of Balance” below. That is followed by “practical implications” for the horse/rider, which is the thrust of my work as a professional horse trainer.


The Point of Balance as an Axis Point in the Body

The horse’s body organizes around a “Point of Balance” (often this axis point is referred to as the center of gravity). It is important to note that the center of gravity refers to the center of a static mass (stationary body) and does not take into account the dynamic weight shifts and changes in force that affect the Point of Balance. For a body (horse) in motion the Point of Balance is a moving point

Center Of Gravity Of Stationary Horse. This shifts as a result of movement of head and neck and affects of the rider

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Ideally, the body adapts, adjusts and organizes around a steady, still and equalized Point of Balance with an appropriate amount of weight distributed through the correct structures in the body during all phases of movement. An unstable or dislocated Point of Balance in the center will reverberate into the outer extremities with unbalanced weight distribution and therefore an unbalanced posture. Sustaining an optimal Point of Balance is the challenge of (horse) training and what needs to be addressed as a priority. Freedom of movement, efficiency and athletic strength can occur only when movement and function are appropriate to the structure and form.


Implications for horse/rider: This “Point of Balance” can move as the horse moves (with or without the rider) and moreso in horse/rider combination. It becomes the rider’s responsibility to make the small adjustments necessary to keep both horse and rider organized around a steady, stable Point of Balance.

Tail shows struggle with balance. The rider is responsible for making the small adjustments that encourage horse to find balance during motion

The short-term and long-term benefit of this approach is helping the horse to efficiently utilize its frame and muscles, given the extra weight of the rider, and promotes healthy long-term physical development of the horse overall. Long-term loading of a horse improperly (imbalance) by the rider can cause a myriad of issues starting with soreness, joint issues and even lameness. The thrust of my work as a professional horse trainer is in helping riders to become not only knowledgeable about this concept, but helping them to understand how to effect and respond to the these changes in balance, while riding their horses. My work especially with rescue-horses, has shown how effective it can be in helping the horse overcome long-standing physical and emotional issues, caused by long-term imbalances.


Planes of Balance in the Horse’s Body

These invisible planes and the Point of Balance are observable through the functional relationship of the skeleton and muscles or by observing the weight distribution through the legs. The ideal function of each body will vary according to its natural structure or form. The horse’s structure tells us that the skeleton and muscles of the hindquarter have the greatest weight bearing capacity. For a horse to balance, a greater proportion of body weight should be equally distributed between the two hind legs compared to a lower amount of body weight equally distributed between the two front legs. The Point of Balance for a horse in motion ideally would stabilize in the center of the barrel, between the legs – a much different location from the static center of gravity which is the center of mass located closer to the horse’s shoulders.


Implications for horse/rider:

Figure-1

The important point here is how the “Point of Balance” should “ideally” shift from point-1 to point-2 for a horse in motion (shown in Figure-1), allowing the horse to carry more weight on its hindquarters, off-setting the weight and mass of the neck and head by balancing more on the rear legs.

Weight and position of rider changes horse center of gravity

The rider can help the horse effect this “shift” first through straightness (left/right plane), then increasing impulsion (front/back plane) and engagement (up/down plane) of its hindquarters, allowing the horse to utilize itself biomechanically in a more efficient and more effective way; this as opposed to a “crooked” and/or “front-loaded” horse which in the long-run will likely suffer physically and psychologically by not being able to  use its body in the most efficient way.

Comments

3 Responses to “Horse Bio-mechanics & Horse/Rider Balance”
  1. freesoft says:

    Thank you..really informative!!

  2. Felipe says:

    The quick answer is if you can teach soeomne to be a good rider, a true rider, equitation will follow naturally. My long-winded answer is this: : )Equitation in its truest form is really proper riding. You are correct that for many in today’s showring it is just sitting there looking pretty. The top riders, however, are able to really ride while looking pretty at the same time.This comes from a basic understanding of the whys and hows. Why does a saddle seat rider carry their hands higher then a hunt rider? What is the effect on the horse when combined with the right bit for that horse and correct rein usage? How is this achieved?How does the riders seat really become a source of control over the horse, much more so then the hands/reins, when properly engaged?If you as an instructor understand the basics, the fundamentals of riding, in fact of horsemanship, you will find it much easier to communicate these ideals to your students.Position and posture in the saddle affect balance of both horse and rider, when a rider moves around the horse has to compensate in its actions to accomodate the rider. This can not only be distracting for the horse but can also throw the horse off balance.My biggest pet peeve and the one thing I really try to send home with my students is this: Every time your hand/arm moves you move the reins. Every time the reins move the bit is engaged/moved. The movement of the bit, whether intentional or accidental, is sending a message to the horse that it should be doing something differently then what it is currently doing. If the cue is not clear it confuses the horse, done enough times this will frustrate and maybe even upset the horse.I tell them to put their index finger crosswise in their mouth, resting against the corners of their lips. Then to push back on the finger, putting pressure on those corners. It is uncomfortable, even in this controlled situation. This gives them a tangible understanding of what it might be like for the horse when a metal bit is pressed against their bars or banging around in their mouth. This, combined with lots of work on balance, can really help to prevent a rider from being heavy handed, unsteady and popping the horse, or relying too much on the reins to stop a horse. I guess my point, however long-winded, is to teach not only how but why. Horsemanship is not the sloppy, arm flailing, butt bouncing way of the cowboys in the old movies, nor is it the sit still and look pretty way of too many young riders dreaming of top equitation ribbons. It is, however, somewhere in the middle. In thinking about it, many of the top, national level equitation riders of the last several years are still in the horse business, many as professionals now. This is because, I imagine, they learned how to be horsemen/women and became invested personally in the craft.

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Equine Imbalance

...."Many problems (of the horse) can be caused by unbalanced patterns of tension in the body"........
....."Uneven tension will often result in uneven body use, difficulty carrying a saddle and rider, stiffness generally 'through the back' or the body as a whole, behavioural problems etc..... " Gavin Scofield D.O.
Founder of Equine Postural Training &
Official Osteopath for the British Endurance team

Acknowledgements

Photos Contributed by:
Jim McCleary - McCleary Photography
Christianne Gentile - True by Christianne
Sarah Wengernuk - Essence Photography

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