For rider and educator it is important to have a basic understanding of the anatomy and biomechanics of the horse. This enables us to understand the principles behind different training methods and exercises.
Biomechanical knowledge shows us that the classical education of the horse follows the natural abilities of its body. It allows us to understand that every classic gymnastic exercise has its own purpose and place in creating a logical training framework to improve balance, flexibility and strength in every horse.
The following drawings show a basic explanation of the biomechanical workings through the basic exercises in our education system. They do not go into detail of wrong, or wrongly executed, exercises. During my clinics and training I go further into biomechanics, explaining the working of the spine, biomechanics in collection and aids of the rider.
The first exercise the horse learns in classical education is the, always returning, search forward down: We teach the horse to lower its head; stretching into the soft contact of the hand of the rider; this then allows for a stretching and lifting or carrying along the complete top line of the back.
The upper contraction system
This lowering of the head, stretching the neck into the forward down brings the nuchal ligament in traction, the spinous processes of the first 15 thoracic vertebrae are inclined backwards. The spinous processes of the remaining thoracic and lumbar vertebrae are inclined forward, in the opposite direction. The Nuchal and Supraspinous (neck and long back ligament) on one side and the big croup and thigh muscles on the other side, (which are attached to the spinous processes) follow the system of opposing forces along the back of the horse.
The lower contraction system
When the hind leg is coming forward the croup and seat bone muscles as well as the abdominal muscles are creating the lower contraction system, which, together with the upper contraction system, creates the ‘lifting’ of the back.
Starting on the lunge and with the work in hand, the horse is asked to stretch forward-down on a soft inside bending into the lunging circle. This is the first gymnastic exercise of straightness training.
The horse finds its center by first training the inside hind leg to step under the point of balance: thus creating a habit of the horse to carry from behind. It carries its back, lengthens the upper frame creating freedom of the shoulder.
The balanced horse
The horse is correctly stretching into the forward down over the complete topline of its body (lifting the back). It is moving in a natural balance; carrying from the hind legs over the back; freeing the front and shoulder. It has a soft bending into the circle it’s worked on, bringing the hind legs forward under the point of balance, not pushing further or stronger backwards. Then it can carry through the body without losing its natural balance.
Too big a push will create either a falling over the outside shoulder or onto the inside front leg (or worse into the riders hand), since the energy from too big a push from behind has to be released somewhere else.
The soft bending goes through the entire body of the horse. The big stretch is created from the outside side of the head all the way to the tail. The shortening from the inside side of the head to tail
The outside jaw is opened up, slightly in front of the inside jaw, the head is pointed into the direction of the bending without tilting in any way. The shoulders and hips of the horse are following the bending. The outside shoulder is slightly further forward than the inside shoulder, the inside hip is slightly in front of the outside hip, the tail falls softly towards the inside of the bending.
There is a natural balance between the bending and the forward down, there should not be more bending than the movement we want to create requires.