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Posts Tagged ‘biomechanics’

Did you know your knees can obstruct your horse’s ability to go forward? It’s weird to think about—but true! Your seat bones and feet  play a role, as well, but they are secondary to the knees.

You can use this easy test with an exercise ball to identify bad habits that may explain why your horse does (or doesn’t) respond to you in certain ways.

“The exercise ball has no brain and only does what you do,” explains biomechanics expert Wendy Murdoch in her bestselling 40 5-MINUTE JUMPING FIXES. “The ball’s movement is created by the student—intentional or otherwise. Therefore, the ball illuminates habits, offers explanations as to why the horse responds as he does, and provides an environment in which to learn new patterns. It also allows both the instructor and the student an opportunity to sort out problems before attempting to resolve them on the horse.”

1. Start by sitting in the full seat position on the ball. If necessary, place a marker to the side to see which direction the ball is rolling. To begin, individually isolate the movements of your pelvis, knees, and ankles, then combine them to determine which has the greatest influence on the direction the ball rolls. At first, you may think your ball is not reacting as it should. But the ball doesn’t lie. Have someone watch you (or work in front of a mirror) to discover what you are doing so that you can control the ball and explore the various combinations accurately.

2. When you maintain a 90-degree angle at the back of the knee without making the knees rigid, you will find that hollowing your back rolls the ball slightly back, while rounding rolls it slightly forward.

3. Beginning from a 90-degree angle at the back of the knees, straighten your knees and the ball will roll back; bend them again and it will roll forward.

4. Now lift the front of your feet and press on the floor with your heels. The ball will roll back. Lift your heels, leaving the front of your feet on the ground, and the ball may stay in place or roll forward, depending on how much you bend your knees.

5. You can override the effect of your pelvis and feet by straightening or bending your knees. Round your lower back, lift your toes, and let your knees bend: the ball rolls forward. Straighten your knees: it will roll back. Hollow your lower back, lift your heels, and bend your knees: the ball rolls forward. Straighten your knees: it rolls back.

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Note that when you straighten your knees with your feet in the stirrups, you are bracing against your horse’s forward movement regardless of whether your lower back is hollowed, rounded, or flat, and whether your foot position is heels down or toes down.

For more exercises that illuminate riding position habits in interesting ways, check out 40 5-MINUTE JUMPING FIXES by Wendy Murdoch, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information.

 

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont. 

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To the uneducated eye, posting the trot is just a series of silly looking, seemingly purposeless, up-down movements. But riders understand what it takes to make rising and sitting to the two-beat rhythm of the horse’s diagonal gait complement rather than hinder his movement.

“The skilled rider uses rising trot to get the tension in the horse’s fascial net in sync with her own,” writes biomechanics pioneer Mary Wanless in her newest book THE NEW ANATOMY OF HORSE AND RIDER CONNECTION, “so together they get in rhythm and ‘play the right note.’”

Here’s how Wanless helps us understand how this dynamic works:

“Imagine two people sitting opposite each other and playing a game of catch with a tennis ball. Each throw involves bouncing the ball once. This is a cooperative game, with its own distinct rhythm, in which neither person is trying to catch the other one out. ‘Bounce, catch’ mirrors ‘sit, rise’, and our analogy is essentially describing the exchange of force and energy between horse and rider.

“Imagine the human game in full swing – until one person cleverly substitutes a bean-bag for the tennis ball. When this barely bounces, it marks the end of the game! Or perhaps one person suddenly substitutes a ‘boingy’ ball, and the game immediately speeds up as the ball travels faster.

“The skilled rider maintains the equivalent of a tennis ball game, even when the horse would rather throw bean-bags or ‘boingy’ balls. It is as if the rider says, ‘Sorry horse, but whatever you attempt to throw me, I am throwing back a tennis ball,’ maintaining this resolve and technique until such time as the horse takes a deep sigh and agrees to throw tennis balls!

“Whilst some heavy horses have wonderful ‘boing,’ most ‘bean-bag’ horses are from the heavier breeds. They trot as if their legs were stuck in porridge, since the recoil energy in their tendons and ligaments – and the force transmission along their respective lines of pull – is not enough to enable them to ‘ping’ off the ground. Iberian horses can be like this too, and any horse with a ‘soggy’ fascial net will be heavy on the ground and lack the spring of elastic recoil.

“Most riders fall into the trap of throwing a bean-bag back to this kind of horse: they land heavily in the saddle and press down into it. This is incredibly instinctive, and is encouraged by phrases like ‘sit deep and drive the horse forward,’ but a heavy landing will inevitably deaden your horse. The game then becomes a vicious circle as the ‘bean-bag’ tendencies of each partner amplify those of the other. Understandably, most riders soon start to feel like a desperate, disgruntled, and thoroughly jangled bean-bag! The only answer lies in landing lightly and quickly – in a trampoline-like way – thus encouraging the horse to be lighter and quicker on the ground. The rider may also need to kick, and to tap with a whip, but she must not throw bean-bags or she will get bean-bags back.

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Pausing at the top of the rise can help you counter the “boingy” horse.

“In contrast, ‘uptight’ Thoroughbreds throw ‘boingy’ balls. The rider who gets ‘boinged’ out of the saddle by the horse’s ‘boinginess’, loses control of the tempo, and the game speeds up unless she can make a momentary pause on each landing (without becoming soggy like a bean-bag). This keeps the horse’s feet on the ground for a fraction of a second longer. If the rider can also make a pause at the top of the rise (when the other diagonal pair of legs are in mid-stance) this again will act to keep the horse’s feet on the ground for longer. This slows the horse’s tempo, and changes how his fascial net rebounds from the ground. He has no choice but to throw tennis balls back to the rider.”

For more insight into how the rider’s fascia works, how the horse’s fascia works, and ways we can influence how they work together, check out THE NEW ANATOMY OF HORSE AND RIDER CONNECTION, available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small company based on a farm in rural Vermont. 

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The rider’s trunk and extremities interact and depend on each other. For example, hands and arms depend on shoulder position, which depends on the shoulder girdle, which depends on the position of the spinal column (in particular, the thoracic spine). All of this interconnectedness means that the common instruction heard in riding rings round the world, “Shoulders back!” is detrimental to correct and supple rider position—in fact, it leads to stiffness and tension.

“If you simply take the shoulders back without changing the position of the trunk,” explains Susanne von Dietze in her classic bestseller BALANCE IN MOVEMENT, “you exert a lot of energy and become cramped up in the process. It is a position you would not endure for long on a voluntary basis. Instead, start to straighten from the pelvis. The thorax is lifted automatically upward and forward; it is like pushing the thorax under the shoulder girdle. The building blocks of the upper body are then aligned once more and the shoulder girdle can be carried without any muscular effort.”

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“There are a few very beneficial stretching exercise for the shoulder girdle,” von Dietze goes on. “One of the ailments of our civilized society—poor posture—especially when sitting, often causes the shoulder girdle to slide forward. In the long term this means severe tension in the area of the back of the neck, since the shoulder girdle is suspended there on the muscles of the neck instead of resting on the thorax. As a result the muscles in the front chest area shorten.”

Here is one exercise von Dietze recommends to stretch the often shortened musculature in the front of the body and open the thorax for better and more effective riding position:

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1  Stand with your back close to your horse’s side.

2  Bend your arms at the elbows and try to open them to the sides, touching your horse’s body with your lower arms.

3  Then try to stretch your arms out to full length, and if your horse allows it, lean your back gently against his side. This stretches your thoracic spine, expands your front chest muscles, and opens your thoracic cavity and breathing.

 

You can begin to understand more common riding mistakes and find ways to fix them in BALANCE IN MOVEMENT, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small company based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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Look at this image. Can you spot the differences between the horse on the left and the horse on the right?

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Which one is a horse that is bending correctly?

If you guessed the horse on the right is bending correctly, you were right!

The horse on the left shows how in an incorrectly bent horse, the vertebral column kinks to the inside in front of the horse’s shoulder. This gives the illusion of bend to the inexperienced eye.

“Never bend the neck more than you can bend the trunk of the horse,” says Dr. med. vet. Gerd Heuschmann in his book COLLECTION OR CONTORTION? “All additional important elements of bend derive from this maxim. Only a neck that ‘grows with stability out of the shoulder’ and is stabilized by the muscles in front of the shoulder can contribute its important part to the correct bend of the trunk. If a horse has an unstable, loose, ‘wobbly neck’ in front of the withers, he can’t be ridden in the proper balance, nor can he bend, straighten, or collect. Only well-developed pushing power helps the horse’s neck become stable on its axis…. To this end, it is explicitly required to regularly ride transitions from working trot to medium trot in the horse’s first year under saddle. On the other hand, suppleness of the inside trunk and the inside hind leg leads to the development of carrying power and correct bend of the neck. Said another way, the initial bending work and the required stability of the neck promote flexibility of the hindquarters. The neck must be seen as a stable component of the body that is securely attached to the horse’s trunk. Bend runs linearly and evenly through the whole trunk from the poll to the sacrum.”

COLLECTION OR CONTORTION? is available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information or to download a free chapter.

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Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small company based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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40-5-Min-Jump-Fix-300Popular clinician and biomechanics expert Wendy Murdoch has a way with words…and body parts. In 40 5-MINUTE JUMPING FIXES, the second book in her bestselling 5-Minute Fixes Series, she talks booty happiness—that is, the “Smiley Butt” vs. “Frowny Butt” phenomenon.

“There is an anatomical limit as to how much space the rider’s seat can offer to the horse’s back,” says Murdoch. “I developed the terms ‘smiley butt’ and ‘frowny butt’ to illustrate two of these positions: the former when the femurs are in a neutral position, and the latter when they are in external rotation.”

The femur (the bone of the thigh) has a wide range of movement because of the hip joint’s ball and socket design. External rotation is when the ball rotates in the socket so the legs turn outward (and internal rotation the opposite—ie, pinching with the knees), but there is only one position where the femur distributes the rider’s weight over the greatest surface area along the horse’s back and around the rib cage—and that is neutral.

“For the most width across the seat, the greater trochanters [the tops of the femurs] must be the farthest distance away from each other,” explains Murdoch. “This occurs when the thighs are neutral between internal and external rotation. The pelvis (via the hip sockets) moves around the ball without restriction. When viewed from the back, the bone shape of the greater trochanters and seat bones across the seat of a skeleton looks to me like a smile.

 

The skeleton folded into jumping position and viewed from behind. The shape of a smile is formed when the femurs are in neutral.

The skeleton folded into jumping position and viewed from behind with the femurs in neutral: “Smiley Butt.”

 

“When the femurs are externally rotated (knees out) seat width is decreased at the back, reducing the amount of space for the horse’s back underneath the rider. This position also limits the movement of the pelvis. As the greater trochanters rotate back and come closer together, the bones look like a frown on the skeleton when viewed from the back.”

 

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The same skeleton shown with the femurs externally rotated: “Frowny Butt.”

 

So remember the Booty Happy Test, riders. Because if your backside is smiling, you and your horse probably are, too.

 

Wendy Murdoch’s 40 5-MINUTE JUMPING FIXES is available at the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE to download a free sample chapter.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of horse books and DVDs for 30 years, is a small company based on a farm in rural Vermont.

 

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The major muscles of locomotion in the horse.

A basic understanding of how the horse’s muscles create movement is essential to riders and trainers as they seek answers to training issues, and it also allows them to play an active part in keeping the horse pain-free and performing well by including bodywork in their regular care regimen.

In THE DRESSAGE HORSE OPTIMIZED WITH THE MASTERSON METHOD Jim Masterson and Coralie Hughes teamed up with Grand Prix dressage rider Betsy Steiner and creator of the Anatomy in Motion VISIBLE HORSE and VISIBLE RIDER Susan Harris to provide a practical level of baseline biomechanics knowledge to support solutions to dressage training problems. Susan Harris painted the primary muscles involved in the work of the dressage horse on an equine accomplice, and hundreds of photographs capture their activity as the horse was then ridden through various movements.

“Muscles can’t push, they can only ‘pull’ (contract) or ‘not pull’ (relax),” says dressage rider and Masterson Method practitioner Coralie Hughes in the book. “Relaxation is as important as contraction—or strength—in the muscle….Tension that inhibits the muscle from being able to fully relax or contract reduces range of motion of the joint with the resultant impact on performance. Furthermore, a muscle that is tight is putting unnatural tension on its tendon, which can actually torque the skeleton. Prolonged unnatural tension can potentially cause tendon and joint damage in the feet and legs.”

For more on the specific biomechanics of the dressage horse, as well as dozens of Masterson Method techniques to relieve tension in the muscles, ease discomfort, and improve the horse’s performance overall, check out THE DRESSAGE HORSE OPTIMIZED, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION

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Yes, you read that right: dynamic buttocks are the secret to moving fluidly with your horse, whatever your riding discipline. “Sitting on a horse is never rigid (static),” write sports physiologist Eckart Meyners, Head of the German Riding School Hannes Muller, and St. George magazine editor Kerstin Niemann in their book RIDER+HORSE=1. “It is always dynamic.”

You can break through the stereotypical static sitting pattern with these two exercises from RIDER+HORSE=1, intended to improve sacroiliac joint and pelvic mobility in the rider.

 

You can mobilize your pelvis by lifting and lowering your buttocks on each side of the saddle---riding is never static, it is always dynamic!

You can mobilize your pelvis by lifting and lowering your buttocks on each side of the saddle—riding is never static, it is always dynamic!

 

1  While sitting on your horse, slide one buttock down the side and out of the saddle, then gently lift and lower this side of the body 8 to 12 times. Repeat on the other side. You will feel this exercise pleasantly reorganize your entire body structure when you again sit centered in the saddle.

2  Again sitting on your horse, imagine you are sitting on the face of a clock: when you lower your pelvis to the right, you are sitting on three o’clock, and when you lower it to the left, you are sitting on nine o’clock. Lower your pelvis to three o’clock only several times, then nine o’clock only, and then combine them in one fluid motion. Vary the pace of your movements and do not strain.

 

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You can find more exercises to improve your balance and aids, and identify and respond to the motion sequences of the horse in RIDER+HORSE=1, available from the TSB online bookstore where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE TO ORDER

 

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of horse books and DVDs, is a small, privately owned company based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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