Bio-mechanics has become a big buzz word in the horse world. Understanding 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
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 more so with a 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.
The short-term and long-term benefit of working with the Point of Balance is helping the horse to efficiently utilize its frame and muscles, especially with the extra weight of the rider, and promotes healthy long-term physical development of the horse overall. Long-term misuse of a horse’s body used improperly (imbalance) influenced by the rider can cause a myriad of issues starting with soreness, joint issues and even lameness. As riders we need to become not only knowledgeable about this concept, but also understand how to effect changes in balance while riding horses. Working with a moving, point of intersection in a three dimensional body is highly effective and can help a horse overcome long-standing physical and emotional issues.
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 moving over gravity, or the overall posture adopted by the horse. The ideal function of each body will vary only slightly as all horses share the same essential anatomy. The horse’s structure tells us that the horizontal plane of the body should travel parallel over gravity, the lateral plane should be straight, equal and level and the vertical plane has only minimal but very critical shifts upward in relationship to gravity. The Point of Balance for a horse in motion ideally would stabilize in the center of the barrel, between the four legs and directly under the rider’s seat – this is a much different location from the static center of mass which is located closer to the horse’s shoulders.
Implications for horse/rider:
The important point here is how the “Point of Balance” should “ideally” shift from the center of mass area near the shoulder to the center of the barrel, under the rider during motion. A small shift in the Point of Balance alters the alignment and stability of all three planes of the body, bringing the entire body into balance.
The rider can help the horse effect this shift in the Point of Balance directly by learning to sense where the horse currently carries its center. As riders we can also affect the planes directly as another way to shift the center. We can work with internal straightness (left/right plane) by maintaining a straight line of force through the horse’s midline. We can affect speed and impulsion (front/back plane) by equalizing whoa and go. We improve engagement and flex the spine upward (up/down plane) by maintaining stability in the lateral and horizontal planes and inviting a portion of the forward force to become upward force. Working with the three planes and axis point of a three dimensional body allows the horse to discover unique bio-mechanical efficiency in their own way. Too much focus on specific body parts in the horse or specific aids tends to leave horses “crooked” and/or “front-loaded”.
The Point of Balance and three planes of the body is a different way to think about balance but it keeps the whole horse in mind during work and allows the unique expression of balance to be found in every body.