Are You Riding Right? Horse Biomechanics

horse biomechanicsPsoas, Iliopsoas and Horse Biomechanics

In my quest to not only become a better practitioner  but also a better rider, I am constantly engrossed in journeys to expand my knowledge.   Therefore, I feel compelled to share some quotes and notes from my most recent book readings.  The following info is applicable to all horse owners but especially those wanting to better understand the physiology of horse movement and biomechanics.

Usually when vets treat musculoskeletal problems they can only concentrate on resolving the changes that have already taken place in the body.  For example, treating bony changes in the hock and usually the accompanying hock pain.  They usually don’t treat or speculate about the causes that precipitated these changes.   Alternative practitioners and riders should be asking what predisposed this horse to these changes.  What imbalances in the body or the riding has caused this diagnosis.  Sara Wyche states in The Horses Muscles in Motion that “the only way we can ride the horse without causing him permanent damage is by utilizing the way in which he, himself, raises the forehand off the ground: namely by using the muscles of the back and of the hind limbs.”  Sara goes on to say that degenerative changes in the bones of the horses back are a sad reflection of the way we ride.  Personally in my practice, I have found this to be a major reason why most horses suffer from restrictions in their sacrum, pelvis and lumbar regions.  Sometimes it is from past experience and riders but non the less precipitated by humans.

So along this thought pattern, we concern ourselves about the condition of the muscles for they propel the horse forward and are responsible for self carriage, the condition of the ligaments and tendons for they allow the muscles to properly influence the bones, and the bones for they supply the structural foundation.  Especially important is the pelvis for it protects the internal organs and is the powerhouse of the horse, being responsible for attachment of large muscles that transfer movement to the spine and forward.  Therefore, the pelvis, sacrum and their fibrous junction, the sacro iliac joint , is truly the bottom line and one of the most important structures in the ridden equine.

The psoas and iliopsoas are deep muscles which are important in the horses ability to raise the forehand.  The psoas muscle begins inside the ribcage.  “Its origin covers the area of the last three ribs, including part of the diaphragm muscle, and the underside of four of the lumbar vertebrae.  From here it narrows to insert on the medial side of the ilium.  The iliopsoas consists of two parts, one that begins under the lumbar vertebrae and one that begins under the ilium and sacrum.  The two parts unite, and insert on the medial side of the femur.”   (Taken from the Horse Muscles in Motion by Wyche)  The psoas minor and iliopsoas muscles are perhaps the most important muscles in the ridden horse.  The successful transfer of power and impulsion from the hindquarters is dependent upon them.   In addition, the quadriceps femoris which extends the stifle and is linked to the hock aids in the horses ability to collect.    This dynamic interaction of muscles is apparent  in engagement of the hindquarters. For in order for the horse to bring his hocks under his body, the pelvis must be lowered and the lumbar spine stabilized.  This is in large part the responsibility of the psoas minor and iliopsoas muscles.

This brief description is not comprehensive but allows us to start thinking in a biomechanical way (1) how we ride the horse,  (2) how we train them to use themselves and  (3) how we prevent injury by encouraging the proper use of self.    Maybe next time we will cover rider biomechanics .  Until then,


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