Applying Biomechanics To The Horse Rider 1

Part 1

This is a topic riders, and coaches need to have more knowledge in. Biomechanics is the science of movement, the science of examining the living body, including how muscles, bones, tendons, and ligaments work together to produce movement. The word biomechanics is the study of the structure and function of biological systems such as humans, animals, plants, organs, and cells and describes the application of engineering mechanics to these systems.

A proper understanding of biomechanics is vital to understand the implications of sport’s performance, rehabilitation, and injury prevention, along with sports skills. An understanding of biomechanics in equestrian sports can explain the impact the how the horse and rider can work together.

It is important for riders to understand how their posture and movement patterns affect their application of aids to the horse. stock photo 14431819 riding in the rainThe most common fault is using the reins to balance through. rider competing dressage competition classic estepona malaga province andalusia spain 34936377(Photo on the left). the rider in the photo on the right is balanced and you can see the difference. This poor balance in the rider directly affects the horses' mouth and hence their forward movement. Long-term use of "pulling" can result in muscle imbalance. Sadly the horse is the one in pain, imbalances in both the horse and the rider. 

 The rider will become stiff and sore and the horse may well develop a "bridle lameness" as well as behavioral problems. Humans naturally balance through their hands, so pulling or grabbing for the reins is natural. The horse will pull back to protect himself and use the pull of the reins to balance on as well. This sets up a cycle for both the horse and rider to learn to balance on the bit. This leads to muscle pain, fear, behavior problems, and certainly poor muscle building and unpleasant riding for the future. This cycle needs to be broken.

Muscle Anatomy and Function

The musculature of the horse and rider must be developed slowly over time.

The building of a top line in the horse involves time, exercises, and knowledge. Incorrect training methods will develop muscles but... not the correct muscles for pleasant riding. A horse can carry a rider its entire life with its head high and back arched.

This posture helps the horse protect itself from pain from the rider. The rider who does not train their body specific for riding will not be symmetrical or balanced in the correct movement patterns to ride with their horse.

Signs of pain in a horse


• not going forward

• grinding the teeth

• going against the bit

• sweating

• rearing

• bucking

• resignation

going off food

• aggression against humans or other horses

• muscle twitching/moving the skin on or before contact

• unwillingness to be touched

• moodiness.

The position and length of the horses' neck and the horses' back have a direct biomechanical effect on how the horse moves. A horse with a short back will have more balance than a long-backed horse. The quarters will be more under the horse allowing him the use them for balance and power.

A horse does not carry a rider naturally and if you observe your horse in the paddock he prefers to hold his head high or neutral..not low as we want them to be. This is partly due to their flight and fight protection.

Signs of pain in the rider

  • stiffness and lack of range of movement
  • weakness
  • poor movement patterns
  • asymmetry of movement
  • emotional stress
  • tears
  • inattentive
  • angry
  • blaming your horse

3449626 backache Many of the horse's muscles have a similar action as in a human. The contraction of the abdominal (stomach) muscles, will tilt the pelvis backward in a human, rounding the back. In a horse, contracting the stomach muscles will also round the back.images 28 As the horses' back becomes round his quarters will come under him and his head will lower, (long and low). As a horse arches his back his head will lift. the horse will also lift his head to balance, for example approaching a fence.

The rider must be balanced to allow this movement in their horse. If you examine the same action in humans you can see the same postures are produced. Many humans work in this posture and it becomes their norm. Sitting at a desk, driving for long hours, labor jobs, and many others. Humans tend to become stiff in their back with age.

Two Wells Frank 005 websizeThis biomechanical action is important to understand in your training of both horse and rider. A majority of the spinal and neck muscles only attach and work on the spine and not the limb, again similar to a human. When carrying a rider the horses back will try to compensate for abnormal or one-sided loading of it (e.g. by lameness or rider).

To stay balanced the muscles may well spasm resulting in increased muscle tension and pain. The rider is often the cause of early clinical signs of back problems in the horse without even knowing it. This scenario is equivalent to a human carrying a heavy backpack on one shoulder for long periods of time. 

The different paces involve different movements of the spine and hence different muscle activity. The walk is a four-beat movement mostly under the influence of passive mechanisms. The swinging movement of the head, neck, and limbs moves the spinal joints passively. At the walk, the back does not twist through the thoracolumbar junction as it does in the trot and canter. The trot shows a very stable back with a reduced range of movement. The diagonal movement of the two-beat footfall allows the back to be symmetrical and stable. 

 At the canter, the back is influenced by the three-beat movement and has periods of flexion and extension, which is not evident in the walk or the trot. Muscle activity has a restraining function instead of an initiating function. The diagonal support of the trot and canter sees extension and twisting of the spine in the areas where pathologies are often found. Abdominal muscle strength, as well as hip extensors, are important in stabilizing the back and preventing these injuries. There are clear relationships between back conformation and movement that are likely to be important in diagnosing pain. Continue reading Part 2