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 Post subject: 3. Back structures and the "stabmo" principle
PostPosted: Fri Feb 21, 2014 12:12 pm 
White Lady
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Joined: Wed Apr 06, 2005 4:18 pm
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Location: Eriksbråten, Skotterud
I am not going to show you a picture of the anatomy of the horse. You may google it if you wish. Nowadays it is very popular to attend clinics with horses that are painted with a skeleton and some muscles in the right places to illustrate where they are and how they work. This is well and good, for I will when I write presume that you already know something of the anatomy of the horse.

Knowing anatomy, however, does not mean you understand biomechanics. To understand that, you must also understand the area of physics that is called mechanics. You know the part with forces, accelleration, Newton and vectors. And movement functions in four dimensions. Difficult? Yes, sure. But as long as we agree that this is more complex than putting names on bones and muscles, we are OK. What you need, however, is an understanding of where the main structures and bones are. So, whenever I mention a part of the body you're not sure where is, please google. You get much better pictures there, and in addition you get a different viewpoint than mine, which is always a good thing.

Let us first look at a horse we know. This is Hugo. He is as many of us know, not very easy to ride over his back, but that is not because his basic anatomy proportions, which are good. I will get back to his problems later, they are also very interesting.


Here Hugo is completely relaxed, even dropping his head a litte. But we observe that his back muscles are filled out, there is no hole where the saddle usually sits, and the neck is placed at the correct place, no hole in front of the withers. We may also observe that the stifle is quite close to the belly. We say that the horse is closed behind. That means that his pelvis and hip area is constructed in such a way that he will be able to carry from behind.

When I use the word "construction" when it comes to biomechanics, I never mean a construction that is unalterable. Bodies are surprisingly able to change. Some changes occur all the time, through all movement, and some are more static, almost like a structure that we move inside. A basic structure that our bodies set up as a constant, so that the functions of movement become less complex. Problem is, the more constants there are, the less choices we have in movement, and the less athletic we become.

In other words, the stiffer we are, and the more faulty basic posture we have, the less we may choose our movement freely. And, if this basic posture has ended up in a wrong way, athletic movement is impossible. That does however not mean that all is lost. Posture can be trained, it just takes longer time.

In my last article I showed you some faults in the human body. Here, I will show you some equine ones.

This horse has stabilisation problems in his back. The back is sagging, we may see that from the way it is hanging down like a jump rope between the shoulders and the pelvis. The hindquarters are also higher than the forehand. But be will look at that as well. Is that an unevitable fact, or just a training fault?

Look at the red arrow and compare it with the picture of Hugo. It is possible to see that the whole neck area is hanging lower down between his shoulders. A very important point to understand is that the shoulders of the horse is not fixed to the rest of the body via joints, only by ligaments and muscles. That means that if the back structures of the horse is carrying the forehand correctly, the horse may be able to lift his whole forehand up between his shoulders, and become more even. This is a habit/training thing, and not a given from birth. It is also possible to train this fault so that it disappears.

Please also note the angles in the hindquarters of the horse. The hip angle is very acute and the stifle (green dot) is almost straight. This conformation makes it almost impossible for the horse to collect and carry from behind.

Orange arrow: Down in the withers. Red arrow: Sternum hanging down between front legs.

Let us study another horse:


This may look similar to the former horse, but the problem is different. This horse has a ewe neck. Like mine. The red line illustrates how the muscles in the neck in combination pulls the neck down. Horses (and humans) with this fault will try to overdepend on these muscles for movement. For breathing, lifting its front legs, propelling its body forwards etc.

It is important to realize that there are no muscles that do a specific work alone. All muscles work together all the time. Some contract, some release, but together they stabilize and move the body. It makes no sense to isolate certain muscles and say that "this muscle moves the front leg" or "these back muscles stabilize the movement". All muscles do. Faults come from a distortion in the way the muscles realign and share their work. Some work too much, some too little. Some "forget" to stabilize when they should, some take over too much work where they should not. Some become too stiff and don't move at all. They become constants, and block the movement in a certain direction.

We may say that both of the two latter horses have got all these faults because they have been trained without back stablilty. And when the back is not stable, the shoulders and hip joints may not move freely as they should. Then the body initiates all kinds of compensary stabilisation work. Muscles start doing work they are not constructed to do. Quadriceps starts to carry and propel movement, even though basically is responsible for stabilisation. The muscles in the lower neck starts to take on more responsibility for moving the front legs. Back and abs muscles sag and wilt. Stability gets lost.

There are two important principles we must understand before we go any further:

1. The diagonal structures of the horse's back.

The horse is born with a structure of ligaments, fascia and muscles in its back and legs which makes sure that it will move in a certain way as soon at it gets up on its four legs after being born by its mother. A foal will trot in a two-time beat, and canter in a three-time. And walk in a four-time. This is programmed into them both by inborn "instincts", but also by these strong structures, that keep the diagonals of the horse together. Left fore connects to right hind, and vice versa.

These structures are strong, and we use then when riding, for instance when riding left leg to right hand, or when stretching the horse on a circle. However, if we ride with the horse behind the bit or over the bit, with a blocked rider hip, and do this over time, we may seriously hamper with these structures. All horses with a sagging back has gotten their back structures stretched and lost their diagonality.

Also horses with a tendency to pace, canter in a four-beat rythm and trot in an "unclean" two-beat rythm, have more or less lost this. That does not mean it is impossible to train those horses correctly, but it will be more difficult and put more responsibility on the rider. The horse will on its own fall back into the faulty rythm unless ridden very correctly for a very long time. Faults like these take long to create and long time to fix.

2. Stabmo.

This is a term I have stolen from Dr Kelly Starrett, Ph.D. in physiotherapy. He states that it is impossible to stabilize the midsection (move over the back) when the shoulders or hips are not mobile, and at the same time, it is impossible for the hips and shoulder to move freely unless the back is stable.

Many people think that a horse that moves over the back is completely loose in its back. That is not true. Moving over the back means a certain stability work on both back and abs muscles. But that will look like the back is swinging. More on that later, when I will write more on how to make the back swing.

The term stabmo comes from the fact that it is not possible to train only back stability or only shoulder or hip mobility when moving. One may stretch shoulders and hips separately, but as long as the back is not stable, they will not be mobile in movement. You NEED both at the same time. I will discuss this also later.

Wanna know more about stabmo? Visit Kelly here:

See you in the next article.

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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