Ian Francis is a legend amongst Australian horseman and is often described as the best horseman in the world. He has trained more horses and received more awards in more events than any other horseman this country has ever seen.

I audited at one of Ian Francis’s cutting clinics in Melbourne in 2011, (Australia) and these are some of the notes that I took during the day… I am sure you will find them useful. Thanks to Ian for allowing me to share the following tips when cutting training with your horse:

Bring attention to the Cow
Go with the cow, stop with the Cow and then put the horse’s eye on the Cow.
Synchronise with the Cow’s front feet…Rock back and wait for the Cow
NEVER pass a Cow- be behind the Cow’s eye – teach the horse to rate –this relates to Campdraft in taking a cow in a circle.
Start dead centre to the Cow- head to head
Stop – press off- rock back and turn – this refers to a horse that leans in at a cow
Make them most comfortable in the high pressure areas
Body straight – with nose into the Cow (two eyes)
Have the horse on its back end, and hold nose through the turn (180 degrees)
Things happen because we cause it, or allow it to happen
Correct hip if bulged out on the stop
Turn into and then AWAY from the Cow when quitting
Ride to the cow to create motion- then reposition – parallel
If you get a ‘fugly’ turn- forget the Cow and keep turning until balanced and correct
The horse needs roundness through the turns to contain collection in preparation for the departure.
*Form to function* (1.)
*Never Half Pass to your cow to close the gap – ¼ turn and walk directly to the Cow**
Position has three references: the herd, the Cow, the horse
Always go WITH the Cow – setup with the Cow – everything should be cow related
Don’t let the horse quit his Cow. . .
“The brain is behind the Eyes” – (Ian was telling a guy to make his horse look at a cow, as the horse was looking away ) – he can’t work something he can’t see
If the horse turns away from the Cow- step up to the Cow and make him focus on the Cow
*Get off next to the Cow when he is in a GOOD position (“Yep! That is where I want you to be”)
Convince the Cow that the ‘door is closed’. . .
Don’t be sending them to places where they don’t need to go…
Come with the Cow, don’t try and outdo the Cow…
“Don’t be Trigger Happy”…
** Slow and steady in the turns and then speed up**
The other thing that Ian told a lot of riders to watch – were their hands. Too many people overused their hands (pulling and tight fists on reins) and he often had to remind them to use their legs more than their hands and let the horse go and do his job.

Kerryn (Equine Remedial Services)

1. “FORM TO FUNCTION doesn’t mean it is just the horse’s responsibility to get into the correct shape, the responsibility also rests on our shoulders. Just as important as it is for the horse to have his body properly aligned, so is it for you. For example, if the horse is traveling to the left, we need our body to be shaped and focused to the left as well. If our body position is not in alignment with the horses, we are going to inhibit him. Our focus, where we want the horse to travel, is just as important. Horses don’t have crystal balls; they can’t guess where we’re going to go. The more correct our body position is and the better we focus on where we want to go, it makes things more obvious and less obscure for the horse.” -Ian Francis

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Many articles have recently emerged that are absolutely painful to read regarding the biomechanics of the horse.

So, I found the truth from an absolute master and genius in the biomechanical function of the horse – Jean Luc Cornille – Maître (Master) from the Cadre Noir de Saumur

As Jean Luc has said “It is hard to believe that such false information can be perpetuated at the 21st Century”.

And like my motto says: “Soundness is the key to Success” – so if you want this success you will listen to what my friend and mentor has to say re the horse’s biomechanical function.

Jean Luc has achieved incredible successes in his riding career -much more than any of us could ever hope to attain. So, I am so grateful that he took the time to sit down and pen these answers to my questions. 



Question: Jean Luc are the front legs of a horse designed to support weight?


The forelegs are very well designed to support the weight and they produce in fact more suspension than the hind legs. During normal locomotion, the forelegs produce 57% of the vertical impulse, while the hind legs only 45%. “In horses, and most other mammalian quadrupeds, 57% of the vertical impulse is applied through the thoracic limbs, and only 43% through the hind limbs.” (H. W. Merkens, H. C. Schamhardt,G. J. van Osch, A. J. van den Bogert, 1993).


Question: How do you create balance in the horse? Previous thinking was that you had to ‘shift the weight backwards’


Balance is not created shifting the weight backward increasing the load on the hind legs. At the level of the hind legs, balance is created increasing the decelerating phase and therefore increasing the duration of the stance and not by increasing the weight. “It should be borne in mind that the weight of the rider will raise two- or three-fold during locomotion and also that more energy is required by a mounted horse and this energy must be obtained by increasing the stance phase so as to recover more energy during the swing.” (J. L. Morales, DVM, PhD, 1998)


Question: There are a lot of riders out there Jean Luc who still believe that the neck stretches could you please explain why this is incorrect, and what is the main function of the nuchal ligament.


The neck does not stretch. The upper neck muscles resist attraction of gravity that is pulling the neck down. -The tension of the nuchal ligament does not activate the upper neck muscles. It is exactly the opposite the main function of the nuchal ligament as it comes under tension is helping the upper neck muscles in the task of carrying the head and neck. At the walk, the nuchal ligament reduces the work of the upper neck muscles by 55%. At the trot and canter between 32 to 36%. This is explained in the study, Morphology, Histochemistry, and Function of Epaxial Cervical Musculature in the Horse (Equus caballus) K.S. Gellman, J.E.A. Bertram and J.W. Hermanson. JOURNAL OF MORPHOLOGY 251:182–194 (2002)


Question: Do the upper neck muscles lift the withers?


The upper neck muscles do not lift the withers. The nuchal ligament create a rotation named “verticalization of the dorsal spine” which can fool uneducated riders giving the feeling of a lift but in fact such rotation shifts the weight over the forelegs. This is explained in the study, (Jean Marie Denoix, DVM. PhD, Spinal Biomechanics and Functional Anatomy, 1999)


Question: Jean Luc do you believe that the back muscles in the horse are designed to dictate locomotion in horses?


Back muscles do not create locomotion via release or relaxation. The main function of the back muscles is at the contrary protecting the thoracolumbar column from a range of motion that could exceed the thoracolumbar spine possible range of motion. This was explained in 1979. “Electromyographic studies and movements data presented above strongly suggest that the primary function of the back muscles during walking is to control the stiffening of the back rather that to create movement.” (Hans Carlson, Halbertsma J. and Zomlefer, M. 1979, Control of the trunk during walking in the cat. Acta physiol. Scand. 105, 251-253)


Question: Is there any relation between the ribcage and rotation of the pelvis?


There is no relation between the so call lift of the ribcages and the dorso-ventral rotation of the pelvis.


Question: Most people have believed that the hind legs take on more of the weight during collection – is this correct?


The hind legs do not absorb more weight during collection; they increase the duration of their support phase. “It should be borne in mind that the weight of the rider will raise two- or three-fold during locomotion and also that more energy is required by a mounted horse and this energy must be obtained by increasing the stance phase so as to recover more energy during the swing.” (J. L. Morales, DVM, PhD, 1998)


Question: Do the front limbs propel the horse’s body forward?


The forelegs do not propel the body forward but instead, they create and upward force. This was explained in 1977 by James R. Rooney. “Biomechanics of lameness in horses.”


Question: Should the rider move his body ‘with’ the horse?


Since the main function of the back muscles is protecting the thoracolumbar spine from an amplitude of movement that exceed its possible range of motion, large motion of the rider back stimulates protective reflex contraction of the back muscles.


Question: Can the lower neck muscles lower the neck?


The lower neck muscles are not powerful enough to lower the neck. The brachiocephalicus can assist the flexion of the neck and participate to the forward movement of the limbs. This was explained by James Rooney, 1976. How these muscles could prevent the horse from toppling over is a mystery according to some of these current circulating theories. The lower neck muscles and upper neck muscles are not necessary antagonists. The horse can lower the neck and move the foreleg forward and therefore both upper neck muscles and brachiocephalicus, which is a lower neck muscle contraction.

According to some theories, when the lower neck muscles move the leg forward or flex the neck, the upper neck muscles relax. If that was true, the head would fall down at the limit of the nuchal ligaments’ elastic compliance.


The back muscles are set in mirror image direction and are capable of creating horizontal forces, locomotion, and vertical forces, resistance to gravity. If they were not working even in a horse standing still, the horse thoracolumbar spine would collapse.


Thank you Jean Luc,

Kerryn 10/10/2013