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 Post subject: 5. Back swing and why is back stabilisation important?
PostPosted: Sun Feb 23, 2014 10:27 am 
White Lady
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Joined: Wed Apr 06, 2005 4:18 pm
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Location: Eriksbråten, Skotterud
Back swing or back stabilisation. The magical term nobody can explain.

In all my years of riding, I have heard the term "back swing" mentioned so many times, but very few can explain what they mean. After finding out more about it, I have also found that very few people can do it. Even though they talk a lot about it. And even though it is not so difficult.

The difficult part, though, is doing the thing while you ask the horse to do something else as well.

Why do we need back swing?

The back is the bridge connecting the forehand and the hindquarters. In order to get the hindquarters to carry more weight, the back must be able to take over some of the load. It is easy to understand this when looking at a levade picture. If the back was lax, the forehand would just fall down, no matter how strong the hindquarters were.

Problem is, this carrying activity needs to take place for each step when the horse moves. So, the back needs to stabilize in a swinging pattern, in order to lift the forehand for each step.

This means that the back must be able to move in this swinging but stabilized way without the rider or the saddle blocking the stability of the back. For the rider, this feels like the saddle is swinging. In walk like a cradle back and forth forwards, in trot and canter like circles forwards.

The seat bones of the rider MUST move like this when riding straight forwards in trot, or the horse will not be able to stabilize his back properly. This can easily be felt if the rider lifts his seat from the saddle for some minutes, lets the horse stretch its neck and find its rythm, and then sits back down, but now feeling how the horse's back really is moving without his seat influencing the back movement. I will write more about how to help the horse stabilize its back again later, when we come to fixing the problem.

If you imagine the horse's back being a stable crane arm, lifing the forehand up for each step, you will see that this arm, illustrated by the red line here, will swing like a straight rod around a center about where the saddle sits. This means that the saddle needs to be able to move. It must swing around its center, lifting the cantle up for each swinging step. It is very educating to watch the saddle on a horse with a free moving back when lunging. The saddle should move rather a lot, tipping up at the back, bobbing happily along. If the saddle moves straight forwards without this tipping activity, we might suspect that the horse is blocking its back movement.

The main reason the horse blocks his back, is the rider's lack of movement in his hip joints. Then the saddle will become blocked in a horizontal position, and the horse needs to "break up" his back stability, most often right behind the saddle (orange point) or in the withers (red dot). If you ask an ostheopat, these are also the areas which most often suffer from blockages in a horse.

In canter, it will in the beginning feel as if the circle of the seat bones is moving the other way. But riding the horse really from behind, one might end up turning the circle.

If you feel that the circle in trot moves the wrong way, you might assume that the horse is not over the back. You may actually just try to turn the circle, that is the best and most sensitive way to make the horse stabilize its back.

Asking the horse to carry with his hingquarters without this back swing will lead to protests or just end up in bent hind legs and no real carriage. That will also make fluent transitions and gait extensions difficult.

More later on how we can get back swing in a horse that has lost it, and how this connects to hip, shoulder and neck flexibility.


Paradox is a pointer telling you to look beyond it. If paradoxes bother you, that betrays your deep desire for absolutes. The relativist treats a paradox merely as interesting, perhaps amusing or even, dreadful thought, educational.

Frank Herbert.

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