Biomechanics is the science and study of movement of a living body, systems such as the human, animal, plants, organs and cells and describes the mechanics of these systems. In sports biomechanics, the laws of mechanics are applied in order to gain a greater understanding of athletic performance and to reduce sport injuries. Proper understanding of biomechanics has the greatest implications on: sport’s performance, rehabilitation and injury prevention, along with sport mastery.
If we bear in mind that the horse is an athlete, with huge muscles and we, the riders, are athletes too then, knowing the biomechanics (form both, rider and horse) it is highly relevant because with riding we have two completely different biomechanical systems, each of them with their own normal way of functioning, coming together and influencing each other.
In order to bring about the right biomechanical dynamic of the two systems working together, and being able to have an understanding and connection with the horse, we need not only to understand that of the horse, but crucially that of the rider, for it is us, the riders, who change the dynamic of a body whom it is balanced and harmonious on its own, but when, as I mentioned in other articles, we sit on them, we mostly hinder their way of going.
It is important for riders to understand the physical effect that their aids or simply their weight have on the horse’s body, and realise that incorrect aids (such as backwards use of the hand) can make it impossible for the horse to become supple through the back and able to work correctly and also, that long-term use of such aids can lead to serious lameness and behavioural problems.
The position and length of the horse’s neck, through its many anatomical interconnections with the trunk, has a direct biomechanical effect on the back. If the head is placed unnaturally deep or the neck is unnaturally shortened it, as in the likes of Rollkur and others, it will inevitably lead to movement faults and eventual health problems.
The horse was not designed to be ridden. Consider what happens when a rider gets on a young horse for the first time. It may arch its back into a spasm and buck. When it relaxes, it will drop its back and is in effect carrying the rider on its skeleton, without the help of its back muscles.
The lower brace (the mass of tendons running from the breastbone to the pelvic girdle) plays an important role in this, because as the horse starts to tire, he places the forelimbs farther forward and the hindlimbs farther back. The ligaments of the lower bracing arch are passively tensed and placed under increasing strain, without the muscles actively helping
The horse can carry the rider in such a way for long periods of time, but its ability to move naturally is severely restricted. He moves unsteadily, swaying from side to side as he moves and the rider feels to be sitting in a rocking hollow.
When this position becomes uncomfortable, or even painful for the horse, he will try to stiffen his back. By tensing all the muscles of the back, he is able to carry the weight. The gait however, feels stiff and tense with the horse taking small steps and the rider is unable to sit to the trot. The long back muscle, which is large and fleshy with little tendon fibre integration, is unable to function this way for long. It will soon build up with lactic acid and become painful. So the horse releases the back muscles, drops its back and reverts to the original position and the process is repeated.
Some horses cope with carrying the rider this way for their entire lives. Their back does not swing and is never supple, and they will never perform at a very high level and what is worst, it will also go around in pain. So, for this not to happen, the young horse must learn to raise the back from an active hindquarter and allow the neck to lower. This means the nuchal ligament together with the abdominal muscles will relieve the back muscles so that the rider’s weight can be comfortably carried…etc.
So, guys this is only a little bit of an introduction of why is paramount we all should learn about biomechanics, not only the horse’s ones, the rider’s ones are also very important, because remember, when we ride, it is two of us.
I hope you had enjoyed the reading guys, and hopefully this article will clarify why all the fuss with the biomechanics.
Happy ride… 🙂