Horse Structure-Function Lecture by Dr. Gavin Scofield, D.O.


Instead of going over my version of the Gavin Scofield clinic, I thought you might enjoy some direct quotes.  Below is a transcript from Gavin’s lecture in Kentucky, October 2009. Enjoy!

We know what correct is don’t we? We have been riding horses for thousands of years, we must know by now how horses are meant to move. Now the answer to that question is no, we do not. Now why is that we do not really know? And I mean that absolutely sincerely. We really don’t have a unified, international agreement on how horses are meant to move, which is a massive problem in the industry. We are all interested in the welfare of the horse. This is in no way a criticism of what people are doing with horses. We just need to stay truly objective and learn what we can about correct movement. I have been seeking continuously what correct is meant to be in order to help people work horses in a healthier manner.

Working with a horse can be and should be of great benefit to both parties. When I say benefit I do not just mean emotional and psychological terms, I mean physically and physiologically of benefit. So if we took the horse that was in the wild and compared it to your horse we should be able to show that your horse is better off in health and function terms than its wild compatriots. This is the crux of riding in the 21st century. The only way you will be able to justify what you are doing is through knowledge. That is why I am sharing with you the scientific knowledge to defend and justify what you are doing and why you are doing it. So that you know in your heart that what you are doing is the best for the animal – it is actually a good thing for the horse.

For a long, long time people did not think along these lines. People did not really think correct was important. Correct depended on what you wanted to do with the horse. Correct was based on the utilitarian purpose of correct for carriage horses, racehorses, or polo horses were all different. This was the mindset. It was genuinely believed for a long time that it was ok to work the horse in a way that suited you provided that the horse would do what you wanted it to do. And that came from the mindset that people wanted the horse to do the job and last as long as possible. But if you were used to the horse only lasting a very short time, then that was the standard to work by. To have horses in their twenties was quite rare, even horses working through their teens was not common. But this is changing. One of my client’s oldest horses is 48, ridden until it was 46. The lady’s attitude was that nothing was unusual about this. Her youngster was 32.

The attitude of riding has changed hugely compared to the utilitarian use of what people did in the past. Most people did not even ask or think about what correct was. Correct was a secondary issue to the horse doing the job it needed to do.

It was very important that I knew or had some understanding of what I could call correct because the whole point of any sort of health care is that the ultimate aim of any treatment is to give the body back to itself. In other words putting the body back in control of all the functions that should be there. This is a huge respect to the fact that, however clever we think we are on the outside, that body, however flawed it might be, however damaged it might be, however diseased it might be, somewhere within it is something that knows what the hell correct is.

And that is how all medicine works, orthodox medicine as well. It is how it all works. Every time you put an antibiotic in you are relying on the fact that the immune system has got function. The antibiotic can come along and help by sticking onto a nasty bacteria and make it more attractive to the white blood cells. But if the body is not doing its bit, then does not matter what you do. The patient has got to get himself better. All you can do is pin up a break, strap it up and hope that the body rejoins the bones and sometimes it does not happen. None of it works if the internal physician; the intelligence of the body; does not recognize normal above abnormal.

As a practitioner you have got to have some idea of what it is you are aiming for. So, there I was coming into equine practice thinking I have got to work out some idea of what is correct.

I spoke with people all over the world, read lots of books, but everyone was saying something slightly different. Same words could mean different things and sometimes people used different words but meant the same thing. But if I cant get a straight answer from the humans, trainers, books, historical views of correct and research papers, then maybe it needs to come from the horse. There is actually precious little about correct and almost all of it is reductionism view, because medicine works that way. But in reality an awful lot of what actually influences the horses movement and function is not pathology or disease. Most of your problems actually have to do with what we call dysfunctions, which has to do with imbalances in the soft tissue tensions, imbalances in overall function. In other words, most symptoms that people go to the doctors for are not gross pathologies but problems with function in origin.

How can I take this a step further? Maybe the answer is with the horses in their natural state. Newborn foals are another one. Surely they must be moving correctly. But they were all moving differently. There was some common ground, but a huge variety of differences. But look at the human. We are all functioning. But are we moving correctly? The question was then, if a load of these horses are mooching around, which is best? What should we try to achieve?

What do we mean by correct anyway? What I am talking about is asking the question, “Is that individual moving in a manner that is allowing them to reach their full potential?” Are they moving at their optimum or are they moving at a fraction of what is possible?

And I have to define what is meant by optimum – moving in a way that is mechanically comfortable, mechanically safe for the horse, and this is critical, moving in a way that mechanically allows every joint, every muscle, every hard and soft tissue to operate to its optimum and in the way it was designed to function.

Nature is quite simple in some ways. Nature adapts to internal and external stresses all the time. What I mean is that those trees are the shape they are because of the forces that have been put on them during growth and development and because of the function they have to carry out. You are the shape you are because of the functions you have to carry out. In nature there is a lovely principle – the shape and size of a structure is determined by the function it has to carry out. On the whole, structure governs functions and functions are determined by structure.

This principle is the crux of everything we are going to talk about. Structure governs function and so therefore function governs structure to some degree.

When you look at a skeleton the shape of the structure is frankly bizarre. They look ridiculous at first glance, an engineer might think, what is that all about?But I tell you what, the body is a hell of a clever piece of engineering. Life is extraordinary. What is even more extraordinary is that every little curve, every little shape, everything you are looking at there is the way it is because of the function it has to carry out. That is what is so bizarre.

Every bone is exactly the right size, exactly the right shape to take the muscles and ligaments that attach to it to allow them to pull and have strength. Instead of having a nice smooth bone, there are prominences in various places. What are they for? They are literally where soft tissues attach and they create lines of pull and force etc. so the size of this prominence is going to be determined by the force exerted on it. This is structure-function at work. You can analyze, you can look at cross sections of bones, and you can work out what sort of work they are meant to do. You can work out what direction forces are meant to fall through that bone. You can work out what direction forces are meant to fall through a joint. You can work out how much range of movement that joint is meant to have. You can work out how much force a ligament is meant to take. You can analyze and work out how what function each structure is meant to carry out – which is simply determined by the structure. This principle is true in all animals, in all aspects of nature. It is all very clever stuff.

This is done in the human health field, but not done so much in the equine industry. I had to go back to the skeleton, the bare bones, back to the structure. Dissecting, analyzing and studying the structure, you can work out how each bone is meant to move, what plane it is meant to move in, how much movement is meant to be there and what you can do is therefore work out what bits of structure were meant to do what jobs. So, that gave me the ultimate answer for correct. It gave me a vision, a picture or a model of how the entire structure was actually meant to move – how much movement was meant to be in that joint, where the weight was meant to be distributed, and that gave the ultimate answer. If you are going to work out what correct is for this structure, the only way to do that is to study the structure in detail. Look at that structure, analyze what each piece is meant to do and then put the jigsaw puzzle together. That was my job, to put it together. This is what finally gave me a truly scientific explanation of what the equine structure is meant to be doing movement wise.

So that structure-function relationship is the key. If you understand that then you are a long way to being able to work out and understand how a horse is supposed to move.




Wing Management

“There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it’s going to be a butterfly” - Buckminster Fuller Cycles of Development ... from Simple to Complex back to Simple Again We all want to advance training from where we are right now. But in order to make deep, internal...

read more

Optimal Balance: A Human-Horse Enrichment Program

“Settled bodies invite other bodies to settle” - Resmaa Menakem A Horse-Human Enrichment Program Training for Optimal Balance is the general name for everything I teach under one umbrella. It is a program of sorts if you want to start at point A and work methodically...

read more

Groundwork Workbook Excerpts

“Not only does talent create its own opportunities, intense desire creates its own talents” - Bruce Lee  Below are the summary pages included in the new, updated and revised version of the Groundwork Workbook. All four workbook in the series are the practical guides...

read more


Submit a Comment

error: Content is protected !!