the mechanism that locks the HIND LEG

In the horse the patella (knee cap) ligament has three parts. These ligament parts lift the patella and hook it onto a big knob on the femur. When the stifle (knee) locks, the reciprocal mechanism, which makes the stifle and the hock move together, causes the hock to lock as well and the entire leg is braced



13614976_1127003724033948_148569884973089611_nWhy it is so important to ride the whole horse (making sure that the horse has good posture – straight spine) and not just the front end?

Because everything is connected. . .

“So many people who train things in isolation do it for purely for cosmetic reasons. If you think of it in terms of chains and links you have this massive link with no relationship to the entire chain. Now it produces forces out of sync with the entire chain.”

John Sharkey (may 17th 2016)
Clinical Anatomist, Exercise Physiologist, and European Neuromuscular Therapist

John was talking about humans, but it also applies to our horses, as we all have biotensegrity and functional anatomy. The way some horses are ridden, it is clear that the trainers/riders do not understand this principle. The horses ridden this way, WILL ‘break down’ at some point in their lives. . . so unnecessary, Kerryn




The tail is a very expressive part of the horse.
It can tell us a lot about the horse’s countenance.
As most of us know, it is easy to tell if a horse is in a relaxed state by the state of his tail. It will be swishing gently back and forth if out in the paddock.
Under saddle if the horse is relaxed and feeling good about being ridden, then it gently swings back and forth in time with his rhythm.
If the horse is tight or tense, the tail will be tight and tense.
If there is excessive swishing or wringing, then this may indicate pain or anxiety.
Sometimes, when asking the horse for a movement that he is finding hard to understand, or carry out, then he will swish violently for the time he is finding it hard to perform. Listening carefully to the horse when riding him – you may hear him swish his tail when you ask for example a canter transition to the left, but not on the right canter. If this happens, the horse is telling you that he is struggling in some way or another.
The same in any other movement you ask of the horse, for example, the Half pass may be easier for your horse one way than the other.
Some horse breeds have a naturally higher set tail carriage than other breeds, and carry the tail naturally to one side when moving. For example, the Arab Horse.
However, if a horse always carries his tail to one side, then it usually indicates a problem.
If the tail is used in and up and down motion –this may indicate lameness in the hindlegs, by moving up when the injured leg contacts the ground. It can also mean sometimes that there is a problem in the bladder or reproductive organs.
Once again, as with most horse problems – there is never usually a clear case of – ‘well this is what is wrong with your horse’.
If the horse does carry his tail to one side when ridden, then the following could be the underlying problem:
Rotation in the pelvis
Rotation in the sacrum
Muscle Spasms on the contracted side
Nerve damage on the opposite side.
*** It can also mean that there is a problem in the horse’s hind gut if the tail is continuously carried to the right. ***



The spine and limb kinematics are complicated, with many muscles, ligaments, bones etc. involved in the process of motion. There needs to be correct spinal and pelvic placement for the hind limbs to be able to function normally. To have sound forward motion requires a co ordination between the forward swing of the hindlimb around the hip joint & the up and down movement of the pelvis. When the hind limb moves backwards into the pushing phase- the pelvis returns to a more horizontal position. This requires synchronisation- but the vertebral column has to be functioning properly for all this to happen. It is a complicated co- ordination, so that when a horse is hurt, he will compensate for the parts that are not functioning properly in anyway he can. Kerryn13872979_1142433842490936_3687574782122610861_n


I read a recent research into back pain or lack of back pain in performance horses that were doing well in their area of their chosen sport – dressage and show jumping.
The vets involved in the research chose 35 ‘normal’ high performance horses (dressage and show jumping) over a four-year period.
The conclusion on the research was that “You should not just look at X-rays, or scintigraphy to see if a horse is dysfunctional “
Because 2/3rds of the horses in the group of highly performing horses displayed kissing spines on X rays and scintigraphy. These horses functioned without showing or displaying any symptoms of back pain!
The interesting point of the four-year study showed something remarkable… that if the horse that was displaying no signs of back pain, but was sold to a new rider/ trainer then a high percentage of these horses suddenly started to display symptoms within 2 to 3 months of the new owner.
This caused a lot of trouble with between buyers and sellers of course.
The conclusion was that the horse ‘suddenly’ displayed back pain (due to the kissing spines) because the horse was ridden differently, and incorrectly by the new owner. Different riding, different training techniques caused the problem. It worked for the first rider because the rider was understanding of the horse and chose a better path of training and riding for that particular horse.
So, the vets were saying at the end: “How is the horse now being ridden and trained to bring out this serious problem?” One must come to this conclusion that this is what brought about a change in the horse’s way of moving to cause the onset of the problems.
The horses were then also displaying behavioural problems in all areas of handling and riding…
Over 23 horses out of 35 horses had kissing spines that was undetected and yet were performing with what appeared to be no pain. That is a high number!



It reflects a change in their autonomic nervous system.

… AND it CAN happen following a threat or disturbance of some sort, not just when the horse is in a more relaxed state.

Pain, fear or confusion can turn on the sympathetic system, and when these feelings are lowered the nervous system reverts back to the parasympathetic state. When the horse is in this fearful state, saliva is not produced and the mouth and lips become dry. So, when the disturbance resolves, the licking and chewing commences (a reflexive response) “as a result of returning from a spell of acute stress or pain “

It is ‘relief ‘behaviour

“. . .You asked whether this licking or chewing might mean processing. I have heard trainers comment at this moment that the horse is “chewing on a thought.” It is usually in the context of working a horse by running it around in a round pen or pestering a horse to load into a trailer, then stopping to take a break and saying, “He’s thinkin’ about it”. A break in the pressure often allows the horse to return to parasympathetic, so you see the licking and chewing response as that occurs. It is simply neurochemically mediated responses that do not necessarily reflect any thought processes.”

Once again, it is a ‘state of relief’.

I think with equine therapy, there is a genuine relief of any discomfort the horse may have, if the horse is relaxed during the treatment, and they produce the licking, chewing and yawning etc. Kerryn


Ref: Sue McDonnell, PhD, Certified AAB

Sue M. McDonnell, PhD, is a certified applied animal behaviourist and the founding head of the equine behaviour program at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine. She is also the author of numerous books and articles about horse behaviour and management.

Excerpts from : http://www.thehorse.comtoba-massage



“Remember that self-doubt is as self-centered as self-inflation. Your obligation is to reach as deeply as you can and offer your unique and authentic gifts as bravely and beautifully as you’re able.” –Bill Plotkin


When you recognize that pain — and response to pain — is a universal thing, it helps explain so many things about others, just as it explains so much about yourself. It teaches you forbearance. It teaches you a moderation in your responses to other people’s behavior. It teaches you a sort of understanding. It essentially tells you what everybody needs. You know what everybody needs? You want to put it in a single word?


Everybody needs to be understood.


And out of that comes every form of love.


If someone truly feels that you understand them, an awful lot of neurotic behavior just disappears — disappears on your part, disappears on their part. So if you’re talking about what motivates this world to continue existing as a community, you’ve got to talk about love… And my argument is it comes out of your biology because on some level we understand all of this. We put it into religious forms. It’s almost like an excuse to deny our biology. We put it into pithy, sententious aphorisms, but it’s really coming out of our deepest physiological nature.

Sherwin Nuland (1930–2014) — a remarkable surgeon and Yale clinical professor





Weight bearing is already seen as an important cause of diseases in the horse (e.g. Kissing Spine)

The theory to explain the above fact was that weight bearing by the horse (carrying a rider) extends the horses back, and to compensate for this the horse will alter his angles of movement. That is to say that the horse will over retract (bring behind) the angles of his front legs to compensate.

This makes so much sense if you understand what it means to ‘extend the horses’ back.

I was trying to think of analogy, and came up with the visualisation of a back pack on a person. If the weight is placed incorrectly, to rebalance oneself one bends or leans more forward, with the legs trying to compensate by staying behind. Look at the picture I have included of a person with a back pack… the backs appear to extend (be longer) but that is only because they are compensating for the weight imbalance. One can carry enormous amounts of weight incorrectly in a back pack and have what appears not to be any consequences until many years later, when ‘all of a sudden’ they are complaining of back problems. No different with the horse, he will do his job, but will eventually pay for it in one way or another over time.


In 2005 a study was done on the effects of girth, saddle and weight on the movements of the horse.

The reason for the study was that it was always thought that back pain in the horse was the mainly caused by the saddle, and their objective was to determine not only the effects of the saddle on the horses back, but also the effects of the saddle with weight (i.e. rider at a total of 75kgms of weight, plus saddle) on the movement of the horse.


  1. At walk and trot, there was a significant influence on back kinematics in the ‘saddle with weight’ situation, but not in the other conditions.
  2. Overall extension of the back increased, but the range of movement remained the same.
  3. Limb kinematics changed in the sense that forelimb retraction increased.
  4. At canter, both the ‘saddle with weight’ and ‘saddle only’ conditions had a significant extending effect on the back, but there was no effect on limb kinematics.


  1. As the walk and trot come from symmetrical movement from behind, it just shows how quietly you should sit as a rider without further disturbing the horse’s movement. Balance yourself on your seat bones and no big gestures. Go with the horse, no leaning left or right or trying with your body to balance the horse up for a movement (by putting more weight in the saddle one side or the other). Just think of making a subtle difference with your body.
  2. Going on with the idea of the backpacker leaning forward, one can realise that your own range of movement will not increase, you will just compensate for being out of balance. With this in mind, you can see that balance would be better if the posture was straighter and not long and low (horses all have their own neck postures, but going down below the wither is not helpful for balance- just places more weight on the front end) 57% of the front legs have the vertical force- changing the kinematics automatically by the front end not being able to do its job- i.e. up and then forward.
  3. You can see a lot of pictures and videos where the front limbs of the horse come back too far behind the vertical – in order to be able to push off for the next stride. You can also see this at the halt.
  4. The canter is more of a lateral gait, and so will not be as obviously affected as walk and trot.


“Weight and a saddle induce an overall extension of the back. This may contribute to soft tissue injuries and the KSS (Kissing Spine Syndrome). The data from this study may help in understanding the reaction of the equine back to the challenges imposed by man when using the animal for riding.”

I believe that BALANCE is VERY important in having a sound athlete. HOW WILL YOU KNOW IF YOUR HORSE IS NOT IN BALANCE? He will lean on one side of the bit. He will lean into the circle, he will bulge his shoulder out the other way. He will throw his head up. He will stiffen his neck etc.

It is often thought that all the above moves from the horse are because he is not supple, but it is more likely that he is not in BALANCE.

Balance of the rider is paramount, so as to not disturb the horses balance.



Ref: de Cocq P1, van Weeren PR, Back W.

Equine Vet J. 2005 May;37(3):231.

(Pictures from Google Images)

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