Side-reins; a logical viewpoint ...

Jean Luc Cornille explains his view of side-reins and why he recommends against their use.

A very logical and well thought out article and I must say I agree with his bio-mechanical reasoning.

Full article below taken from the Science of Motion website:

Whatever his body angle, a chicken controls balance maintaining his head and neck perfectly vertical. Hence, stabilizing the horse head and neck with side reins is a chicken theory. The horse instead, controls balance moving his head and neck.

Recently, we had an interesting discussion on a forum involving the use of side reins. It was about a deadly accident due to the use of the system and side reins proponents get offended affirming their faith in the system. Enthrallingly, not a single side reins’ believer ever addressed the effects of side reins. Their only references were, “everybody does it” or “my trainer uses it.” The statement was then followed by a long anthology of the trainer, like if emphasizing the trainer’s value would prove the validity of side reins.  

It was of course the usual catch phrases, “engaging the hind legs,” “muscling the back”, “ putting the horse on the bit,” etc., but these stereotypes are part of an equestrian language that is repeated over and over without any understanding of the underlining biomechanics factors. Whatever it is about selling alternative bending of the neck, touching the limbs with one or two whips, lowering the neck, or rushing the horse on the forehand, the same phrases as used promising results that never go beyond the rider’s wish. 

Members of the Science of Motion’s  course, (IHTC), opposed pertinent observations, proposing better solutions and it was interesting to see how members of the IHTC were comfortable with the evolution of knowledge, while by contrast, side reins proponents were afraid of new knowledge becoming aggressive when they were technically cornered. It was obvious that while many people use side-reins, very few truly understand or even know how the system effects or more exactly affects the horses’ physique.  My trainer uses them,” might be sufficient for riders who select their training technique based on faith rather than on facts. The problem with all these restrictive systems, side reins, draw reins, shambon, gogue, etc., is that they theorize a reaction omitting a fundamental fact. A horse does not work a muscle imbalance, reflex contraction or morphological flaw, but instead, protects it. Whatever the system applied, a horse deals with neck posture protecting his actual muscles imbalance, weaknesses, morphological flaw or other issue.

It is understandable that marketing strategies theorize effects that may sell their products. It is the rider’s duty to differentiate marketing strategy and reality. There are, for instance, 21 pairs of muscles that can move the horse head. Hence, there are at the least 21 reasons why the horse reaction might not be the one promised by the advertising. The horse can adapt to the restriction of the side reins bending the neck, twisting the neck, lowering the trunk between the shoulder blades, bending or twisting the thoracic spine, arching the thoracic vertebrae and so on. Side reins proponents will tell you that “this is because the side reins are not properly adjusted.” Truly, this is a preposterous form of denial. Such denial was easy to defend when knowledge of the equine physiology was at its infancy. With todays’ knowledge a much better analysis of the horses’ reaction can be made. Here are the reasons why we do not use side reins.     

The combined head and neck segment executes characteristic oscillations at the walk, trot, or canter that are closely linked to the movement patterns of the limbs. The main muscles creating neck movements are the upper neck muscles, the splenius and the semispinalis capitis. The splenius covers the whole length of the neck. The muscle inserts at the level of T3, T5 and is attached at the other end on


Drawing from Michael A Simmons.

the nuchal crest behind the skull. During locomotion, the splenius exhibits bilateral activity during each forelimb stance. At the trot, the head and neck are at their lowest position in the oscillation cycle half way through the support phase of each forelimb. The splenius decelerates the downward oscillation of the head and neck that is pulled down to earth by the attraction of gravity. At impact of each front leg, the splenius contracts, resisting accelerations of gravity that are created by impact forces. At the walk, splenius activation commences before the head reaches its lower position and continue until after the head has begun rising.  When, up and down oscillation of the head and neck are restricted by the use of side reins,  the horse will likely compensate for the restricted oscillation of his neck leaning on the bit. Often, horses use the support of the side reins leaning on the bit instead of coordinating their upper neck muscles.  


(Drawing from Michael A Simmons.

The semispinalis capitis is also inserted on the cranial thoracic vertebrae and ribs and is attached on the crest of the skull. The semispinalis capitis is compartmented. This type of architecture allows a large diversity of movements, rotations, bending, etc.  The muscle does have an internal central tendon that covers two third of the length of the muscle. There are 7 compartments above the central tendon and 6 compartments below the central tendon. Most of the alternative lateral bending and transversal rotations of the neck occurring during locomotion, are created by the semispinalis capitis.  One can easily conceive that any system restricting or modifying the normal cycle of head and neck movements is going to modify limbs kinematics and vertebral column mechanism.  The horse’s adaptation can be beneficial, but also damaging. It is true that some good horses are capable of sustaining suspension, cadence, a round neck and round back while working with side reins, but these horses are exception and truly do not need side reins. Bob Hope joked one day, “A bank is an institution that loans you money if you can prove that you don’t need it.” The same can be said with side reins. If a horse can adapt to the restriction of the side reins and remain functional, the horse does not need side reins.  


Common reactions are illustrated in this picture. The horse’s owner is a member of the Science of Motion IHTC course and, as an experiment; she placed side reins on her horse. The horse adaptation to the restriction of the side reins was very different from the theory promoted by advertising strategies. The horse shortened the neck lowering the trunk between the shoulder blades. He hollowed, arched and contracted the thoracic vertebrae, shifting the forelegs backward underneath himself. The horse became dysfunctional. The side reins were adjusted relatively long. They could have been adjusted slightly longer or slightly shorter and that would not have improved the horse reaction. The horse’s brain adapted to the restriction of the side reins protecting whatever muscle imbalance, morphological flaw or other issue was the horse’s physical situation at this moment.

Due to their more lateral attachment on the proximity of the skull, the spenius muscles are effective for lateral bending. 59% of the muscle’s fibers are slow oxidative fibers implying that postural support is a large part of the splenius’ function. These two peculiarities explain that quite often, horses strongly developed one side of the splenius as an adaptation to the side reins. A horse dealing with natural imbalance between right and left splenius will likely react to the side reins aggravating the already existing muscle imbalance.  The same protective reflex mechanism can of course involve one or both semispinalis capitis creating torsion of the neck.

The horse on the picture restricts his neck afraid of the side reins unsophisticated contact. Many horses at the contrary push heavily on the bit. To do so, the upper compartments of the semispinalis capitis, which is inserted on the crest of the skull, contracts concentrically pulling the upper end of the skull backward and consequently, moving the nose forward. The skull is then pushing backward on the cervical vertebrae hampering forward transmission of the thrust generated by the hind legs through the thoracic and cervical vertebrae and causing quite often a deepening of the cervical vertebrae’s lower curve. Virchow already pointed out in 1915 that the S shape of the cervical remained whatever the neck posture. “In the dorsal direction, the cervical vertebral column can be stretched only so far that the vertebrae are lying in straight line.” Slijper (1946), added to the comment that a further dorsal flexion is chiefly prevented by the ligaments. The combined action of the skull pushing backward on the cervical vertebrae and the thrust generated by the hind legs transmitted forward through the thoracolumbar spine, (blue arrows), will likely deepens the lower loop of  the cervical column, (red arrow and black circles)


 The horse on this picture exhibits deepening of the cervical vertebrae’s lower segment, lowering of the trunk between the forelegs, arching of the thoracic vertebrae and consequently, flattening of the lumbar vertebrae, without pushing on the bit. The horse explains that the same damages are created retracting the neck avoiding the rigid contact of the side reins. Some side reins are built with a rubber ring theoretically designed to avoid rigid contact. Quite often, the horse uses this rubber action to lean heavily on the bit.


The problem with all these systems is that they dismiss the most fundamental principle of sound education. A horse always reacts protecting first any existing muscle imbalance, reflex contraction, morphological flaw, or bad habit.  The rider’s capacity of analysis is the horse’s only chance of success. At the lunge, one cans change the cadence, or the size of the circle but guiding the horse brain toward the most appropriated body coordination demands a conversation that only riding the horse or working in hand the way we profess at the science of motion can achieve. For instance, if the horse travels bending the thoracic spine laterally more to the left than to the right, the horse will adapt to the side reins aggravating such lateral bending. If, as it is often the case, lateral bending is coupled with inverted rotation, the horse may adapt to the side reins increasing the intensity of the inverted rotation shifting the weight on the outside shoulder. Simplistic thinking will suggest changing the direction of the circle but this will not change the asymmetry of the bend or the intensity of the transversal rotation. The horse will turn in the opposite direction falling on the inside shoulder, shifting the croup toward the outside, or other compromise. The concept that placing the neck will makes the horse’s back functions a specific way is as naïve that the theory, “correct aids equal correct movement.” This is complete ignorance of the horse mental processing. The horse first reaction is always protecting his actual body state. If the horse “errors’ are analyzed intelligently, the horse errors inform the rider of the horse’s actual body state and the rider can decide and provide appropriated insights. If at the contrary, the horse’s errors are judges in respect of the side reins’ theoretical effects, the horse will only figure a compromise protecting his fundamental muscle imbalance, morphological flaw, memory, or other issue.

When I was training at the jumping and three day event Olympic center of Fontainebleau in France, an authority in terms of working with side reins showed me how to free jump a horse with side reins. The horse was a great athlete and his reaction to the restriction imposed by the side reins system was flying very high above the jump. The horse had the power to do that and the trainer was delighted explaining that the side reins were producing the athletic work of higher jump without exposing the horse’s legs to the stress of higher jump. What I saw was at the contrary a horse flying very high above a four feet oxer, incapable of properly using his back over the jump. Consequently, the horse landed heavily on the forelegs. What shocked me the most was that as the back was unable to properly work during the fly above the jump, the body posture at the landing was not as vertical as it should. As a result, the hind legs impacted too far back inducing abnormal stress on the hind limbs joints and thoracolumbar structure. The landing of the hind legs was painful to watch.  This is basically the problem. There is a superficial way to look at it and, at this level, the side reins can please one. Once the athletic performance is analyzed for what it truly is, an athletic performance, the side reins are not preparing the horse’s physique for the effort. However, one should not throw the side reins away. They work very well as a leash for the dog.

Jean Luc Cornille 2013

Gift Vouchers

With Christmas fast approaching (there I said it!!!) why not treat your friends and family to a Swann Equine Osteopathy Gift Card

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These can be ordered in any value and can be redeemed for both human and equine treatments.

Please get in touch to order or if you would like more information

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A Barefoot Viewpoint

Every horse is different and has individual needs, however I am a firm believer that the barefoot approach has great benefits to many horses and ponies.

Incorrect foot balance will cause undesirable compensatory patterns higher up, leading to musculoskeletal issues. Please feel free to get in touch to discuss how I may be able to help unwind these patterns in conjunction with your Farrier/Trimmer/vet addressing any hoof imbalance.


Below is an interesting viewpoint from a former Farrier


‘Horse shoes will be obsolete’ – says ex-farrier

Posted on May 23, 2015 by

by Linda Chamberlain

Meet Marc Ferrador. He was a much-respected farrier who had serious doubts about nailing shoes to horses’ hooves and decided to do something about it. Colleagues thought he was crazy when he announced he was turning his back on his trade but amazingly he convinced ninety per cent of his customers to try barefoot riding.


Now he says not only is the metal shoe harmful but so too is the horse’s lifestyle. In this interview, he calls on vets, farriers and riding teachers to bring themselves up to date for the sake of the animal which is suffering because of ‘this lack of evolution’.

Marc, who works in Catalonia, Spain, used to ride and compete. Twelve years after qualifying as a farrier he became a professor of farriery. In that time he worked on the creation of the curriculum and also a handbook for courses approved for the European Federation of Farriers Association. He describes the terrain in Catalonia as ‘special’ – it can be dry and unforgiving, so it’s a challenge to ensure horses are transitioned to barefoot without pain.

Please tell us about the moment you realised the harm shoeing causes.

The change in my professional career does not occur in a specific moment. I was a farrier and teacher for 14 years in the Official School of Farriers in Barcelona and some pupils and clients questioned me about the ‘barefoot movement’ so I started to search for information and people who were trimming nearby.


I wanted to see what happens when horses live barefoot. One of the biggest pillars of my change was to realise that young horses

lose health in their hooves with each shoeing. It makes them change the balance of the load on their hooves and even though every farrier of the world knows this, most of them are still shoeing horses.

It is stupid to be unaware of what a barefoot horse offers and decide to put a nailed-on shoe over his live structures to help him. We need to better understand those hooves (and horses) so that we can support most efficiently their health.

When a shod horse works hard, all his structures are stressed and he falls into a state of chronic disease – mechanical laminitis, infection in the water line, cracks across nails perforations, very stressed soles and stunting the back of the hoof. When a transitioned barefoot horse works hard, his structures are fine and healthy.

When I understood that you can’t help horses by systematically shoeing I looked for new hoof management systems to see how to protect them without a permanent shoe.

I had doubts and questioned my old teachers, as well as the master farriers and vets that I met. But none of them had any doubt about the iron nailed shoe and the horse’s welfare. This inability from the farrier/vet sector to be critical about their own work was the other reason to start my emancipation.

How did you feel knowing that your business had been shoeing?

Once I had information about barefoot horses and the new generation of hoof boots which can protect when needed I was ready to start my ‘transition’ with good arguments to explain my change to my clients. This was in 2009.

I told them that I can better help your horse’s welfare with these techniques because the nailed-on shoe, as well as the horse’s actual lifestyle, are obsolete and harmful.

I was able to transform ninety per cent of my customers to barefoot and have slowly found new clients – thanks to my internet site. Ten per cent left me. I was not angry about this, on the contrary, because they were good clients during the last 14 years and I searched a farrier for them. Some of them changed their mind in the last years and thanks to the good relations between us I started to work with them again. I can’t change everyone’s mind in one shout because I had also needed time to change.

I am proud to say that friend farriers and vets sent me customers who wanted their horses barefoot. I’ve been lucky in that aspect.

Nowadays, I’m very happy and feel fine with my option, because it is stupid to deceive yourself because you are afraid to lose some customers and money. I understand that nobody can change his mind in one day but you never can have a good excuse about not doing your job well.

All these business matters can change with good planning and good work with  people and horses. If you only work with the human part or with the horse part of your business, then sure you will get only a part of the achievement. Working with horses is also working with people. In front of each horse there is a person and if you want to help horses it is essential to treat people with respect.

What reaction did you get from fellow farriers?

There were different reactions. Some said I was crazy, others that I would lose a lot of money with this change. But now I have good customers and a very good reputation.

The other typical comment during that time was that not all horses have such good hooves to go barefoot.

They did not realize that the problem is not in the hooves but the life style of the horses.

Track systems provide a better lifestyle for horses

Some other farriers also said they did not want to explain about how to improve the welfare of their clients’ horses.

I am very lucky to have here, in Catalonia, a group of farriers that trust me after sharing a lot of courses, farriers’ competitions and clinics. So the Catalan farriers usually share with me some doubts and ask me questions without problem and request me information about barefoot. I have always been happy to answer them.

Once I attended a National Congress of Veterinary and Farriers and realised that change is possible but needs to start inside the farriers’ community.

The horse world urgently needs a big change especially in everything related to horse welfare. For that reason we cannot waste time with silly arguments about morality. We need more science, more education and more results and all this can be done if we start transforming part of our existing professional sector.

In Europe, farriers learn in public schools and it is an accessible job, like veterinarians. We must be able to reach these young people to ensure a better future for our horses and not lose more time in a stupid war between different companies certified in barefoot, as the vast majority have no more than a business vocation to help horses.

This change comes by being generous. A young farrier who is well prepared can get in contact with many of the experienced farriers to learn from them without any expense. I’ve enjoyed this generosity and have learnt with the best people.

It is merely a matter of having access to good training, even after the studies. Barefoot professionals often remain closed to any other trimming methods and this is very dangerous as it impoverishes the quality of their work and its results. We are professionals. We are part of the horse’s health and this has a great responsibility, to use all the resources and techniques to help and heal our patients.

Why would you never shoe again?

In fact, I tried it on two occasions, both for rehabilitation issues. One with a horseshoe and the other with synthetic horseshoe extensions for a rescued horse who had severe deep flexor tendon retraction and after the operation, I put the orthopaedic horseshoes on for three months.

My commitment is with the health of my patients. I promise to use correctly all the resources that are on my hands. I understand that it would be irresponsible from my side not to do it.

In fact these are the only two cases in which the best option was the horseshoe, but over the last years I have been able to solve ninety nine per cent without using horseshoes in pathological cases, and in some cases inventing new orthopaedics that are not nailed or perpetual. We need a new orthopaedics catalogue.

In my experience, problems begin with a bad or lack of diagnosis which will lead to a bad solution. Never in history have there been so many well trained and equipped veterinarians as today. So, we can deduce that there is a problem with their attitude.

On a scale of 1-10, how serious a harm is shoeing to the horse?

Except in the one per cent of rehabilitation cases, I would say 10. We live in the 21th Century, with tactile screens, nanotechnology and drones. Is it logical to put an iron piece with nails to ‘protect’ the hoof? Of course, it is not.

The nailed shoe is seriously harmful. Just see how it deforms the soft tissues. But although we do not like to recognize it, the horseshoe has some advantages. It is minimalist compared to boots, it is highly integrated, leaving much open sole and is much cheaper.

Can you understand the reasons for hostility from some farriers towards barefoot?

Yes, of course. Farriers feel their job is at risk. They also feel hostility to those who “trim” horses barefoot rather than to barefoot itself. If you allow me to do the devil’s advocate, some farriers may be right when they say that a lot of people practising barefoot are not well prepared because they learnt in private schools or certifier organisations which demonize farriers and horseshoes instead of having a serious and scientific proposal about how to help the horse and its health, which unfortunately not too many farriers do.

More and more horses are barefoot. Are you surprised how many? Or did you hope more would convert by now?

I am not surprised right now but when I started with barefoot it surprised me that lots of people contacted me through my website in just a few months. Now, it is possible to find a lot of information about it on internet and not to be limited by the knowledge of the farrier or vet. This has allowed barefoot knowledge to spread very fast and to all the world.

But I was disappointed when I heard so much misunderstanding that most of the people had about barefoot horses. Most of them thought it was ideal because it was healthy, cheap and natural! As farriers, I had to fight with many owners who gave priority to their own interest against their horse´s ones. Unfortunately, this attitude is not exclusive to the barefoot world.

In Catalonia, barefoot professionals have to be well prepared because the land is very special and not everybody knows how to convert a horse to barefoot without pain and discomfort. There is a lot to be done, not all is invented. A most scientific vision could be the key to develop much more technique.

And I am sure that the profile of a barefoot horse using a non-permanent protection when he really needs it and to improve the stabling and care systems, is going to be extended and normalized in a decade, and the iron horseshoe nailed as standard will be obsolete.

What do you feel when you see a horse in shoes?

At first, I feel pity. Then I assess how damaged is each structure. I cannot help it. It’s a shame that there are still people who shoe their horses for practical reasons, without thinking how it is affecting the health of their horses, with the support of owners of riding schools and coaches.

The attitude of riding schools and teachers has not been updated and is slowing down the evolution of the horse sector and its well-being. Again, lots of work to do. It is understandable that people who want their horse to be healthier feel aversion towards farriers, vets and riding schools.

What are your 3 top tips for successful transition to barefoot?

The owner has to be aware of what transition means and what is the meaning of having a barefoot horse. It is about the horse, not just about hooves. The horse needs suitable feeding, the right environment and good handling. It is also important to understand that if we take off the horseshoes, the horse and its hoof structures will mark when and what to do.

In the UK there have been prosecutions against barefoot trimmers. Can you picture a day when the boot is on the other foot? That a farrier has to justify shoeing?

I do not know very well the situation in the UK, but I guess it is similar to what happens in France, where there has been a legislative change and only veterinarians and farriers can manage the hooves of horses. Certified training companies are excluded.

Based on my experience, I would say that a person who has made an intensive course of 10 or 15 days, is not ready to do podiatry. Farriers have a long experience in serious cases, technique and different methods of handling difficult horses, physical exhaustion, etc.

We have to appeal to the responsibility if we want barefoot to be extended and make sure we have the best professionals. But we must request the same attitude to formal schools of farriers and veterinarians. Their training curriculum are obsolete and yet it is vital because the health of the horse is suffering from this lack of evolution. If everybody is up to date, there will be little difference between farriers and trimmers. From my point of view, this is the way.

The English vet Bracy Clark believed 200 years ago that shoeing deformed hooves and led to early death. Do you agree?

I totally agree that with horseshoes, the feet are deformed, and it is something known by all farriers in the world. But I could not say how much the lives of horses are reduced. It is risky to say without having a serious study to support it, because there are too many factors that can influence the life of a horse. I have known horses that have lived more than 35 years and some others who have been always barefoot and not reached 25 years.

On the other hand, it is unquestionable that damage is produced by the metal horseshoe in the foot health, in vascular return, in the joints and tendon, proprioceptive, lymphatic, etc …

Horseshoes produce numerous harmful effects, specially for immobility, producing degenerative habituation and damaging soft tissues. I say degenerative habituation because it is used in human health when prolonged immobilization harmfully affects the soft tissues and tendon tone.

What is your vision, your dream, of the future for the domestic horse?

Good locations and a healthy lifestyle. Updating and unification of the most important and basic health criteria and welfare of horses at all academic levels, leaving aside the dogmas and enhancing the scientific view.

Rule out the metal horseshoe nailed as usual and leave it as a possible aid in cases of clinical surgery and in extreme cases of rehabilitation. Exponentially improve protections for hooves with a better design, being more minimalist and having a better cost. Use only trimming systems that are radiologically corroborated.

Change the degree of farrier by podiatry, without the systematic use of horseshoes.  Have serious studies of feral horse populations in the world to give us more accurate information than we have today.  Create greater synergy between society and what is a healthy horse with pedagogy, collaboration and disclosure because we have to reset the old stereotype of horse that is deeply rooted and is doing so much damage.

I also desire that there many more places like this blog, where you can freely express different experiences to help improve the situation of the horse world. Thanks for your interest and your work, Linda. And also, I would like to thank Ainhoa Gomez and Roberto Reyes for the translation of this interview.

Thanks to Marc for answering my questions and coping with an interview in a second language. Interesting that he uses the word patient for the horse – an apt description for an animal coming out of shoes. You can contact Marc on his website

Spring Competition

Swann Equine Osteopathy is giving away this gorgeous Fleece show rug to one lucky winner.

To be in with a chance to win please:

1) LIKE our Facebook page

2) State your horse's rug size

3) SHARE and tag some friends in the competition post

Good luck everyone, winners will be announced on 31st March!

And don't forget to check out how I can help your horses stay competition fit by enhancing and optimising performance

Adding more Muscle to your horse

It's that time of year where spring is just around the corner (hopefully!) and we are focusing on getting our horses fit for the upcoming season.

Here is a link to a very interesting article by Dr David Marlin who explains how to help your horse build muscle;…/adding-more-muscle-on-your-horse/

Don't forget that it is also essential to ensure correct bio-mechanical function by reducing asymmetries and restrictions from your horse - this is my specialty so please get in touch if you wish to discuss how I may be able to help.

Sponsorship Opportunity

Swann Equine Osteopathy is looking for a new sponsored rider for 2018!

You will receive free treatment for one of your horses for a whole year as well as embroidered saddlecloths. Osteopathy can help your horse stay in peak performance and can assist in avoiding injuries; therefore helping you to reach your goals and aspirations. For more details on the benefits of equine osteopathy click here.

I am ideally looking for someone competing BD, BE or BSJA who is also ambitious, dedicated and passionate about their horses. 

To apply please email ( or PM me with the following;

  • Some information about you and your horse
  • Details about your previous competition record
  • Photos of you riding/competing your horse
  • Your aspirations for 2018
  • Your location
  • How you would be willing to promote the Swann Equine Osteopathy brand, i.e. social media posts, Vlogs, word of mouth.

I look forward to hearing from you - good luck!

Entries close on the 15th January; the winner will be announced on the 1st February.


Equine Biomechanics Research - The Significance of a Horse's Chest Sling Muscles

Below is a fantastic article written by Betsy LaBelle detailing Hilary Clayton's recent research; it makes very interesting reading and I apply these concepts to my treatments. Nice to see that osteopathic ideas are being backed up by research!

Seventeen years of collecting data on gait analysis for dressage horses in the equine laboratory at the McPhail Center at Michigan State University, biomechanics research veterinarian Hilary Clayton, BVMS, PhD, DACVSMR, MRCVS, conducted studies to evaluate a horse’s body during collection.

She ascertained how much weight each of the four limbs of a horse carries, how much propulsion are in each of the horse’s legs, the significance of a horse’s chest and trunk, and how crucial it is for a rider to have a well informed understanding on the sling muscles to aid a horse’s balance.

Unlike the human shoulder girdle where the collarbones (clavicles) attach the arms to the body, a horse has none. Without a collarbone, a horse has no bony connection between its front limbs and trunk. Instead, strong muscles connect the inside of its shoulder blades to its rib cage, which act like slings and suspend the chest between the horse’s two front limbs. The 'sling muscles' consist primarily of the serratus ventralis thoracis muscle assisted by the pectoral muscles. 

Contraction of these sling muscles lift the trunk and withers between the shoulder blades, raising the withers to the same height or higher than the croup. When a horse travels without proper contraction of its sling muscles, the horse's motion looks downhill and on the forehand.

Horses in Clayton’s studies were ridden in a working frame, a collected frame and a downhill frame in order to check the different populsion of each leg. Motion analysis markers were used to measure movement of the trunk, neck and croup as well all of the horse's legs during many data sessions on a horse's populsion and collectability. The average horse carries 58 percent of its weight on its front legs and 42 percent on its hind legs. She discovered the horse must learn to move in an uphill balance by pushing upwards with its forelimbs. The hind legs can then function as they should by sitting to carry more weight and by providing pushing power. In essence, the heavy chest needs to be up and out of the way for the hind legs to push.  

The Sling Muscles and Self-Carriage

Sling muscles.jpg

The sling muscles are extremely important to the self-carriage of the dressage horse. The goal in dressage training is to teach the horse to use its sling muscles throughout the workout. With time, these muscles get stronger and the persistent elevation allows the horse to push and hold its hind legs under the center of gravity through its motion to be even more pronounced and uphill.

The toning of the sling muscles increases with a rider who balances the shoulders throughout training while also balancing with half-halts. This raising of the frame, if balanced correctly by the rider, will allow those muscles to become stronger and more elastic and aid in the horse learning to hold its own frame.

Riders tend to think crookedness comes from the back and hind legs of the horse. However, it is the horse’s serratus ventralis thoracis muscles and its shoulder blades that also play a role in the crookedness equation. Since a horse is stronger on one side than the other, it allows one shoulder to fall in on a turn or drift out on the other, depending on the stronger or weaker side. 

“These muscles,” Clayton explained, “fan out from the shoulder blade onto the ribs and on to the vertebrae at the base of the neck. When they connect they raise the withers so they emerge into a higher position between the scapulae and also raise the base of the neck.”

"In a young horse, the strength of its sling muscles are often asymmetrical on the left and right sides and that plays a significant role in its crookedness. Riders, therefore, must focus on teaching the horse to use and develop the muscles on its weaker side to make them more symmetrical for balance and self-carriage. In time, the horse will begin to balance in a more upright position without falling in or out of the turns." 

She also discovered that the horse's pectorals get bigger and grow stronger if the chest is balanced up during smaller circles, correct turns and going sideways (lateral work) because these muscles are important for holding the front legs in a vertical position during their stance phase and for crossing the forelimbs during their swing phase. 

A horse’s shoulders and trunk are heavy; therefore, in training and working toward collection with a horse, a rider must learn how to balance the chest and the trunk upwards so the hind legs can come underneath to provide propulsion and support. Clayton emphasized, “It’s the balance of the trunk that allows the push from the hind legs to go through the horse's body without pushing it onto the forehand.”

Posture of Both Rider and Horse

There is a distinct correlation between the rider’s posture and the horse’s posture as they train together. If the rider’s core muscles are not engaged, then the horse’s core muscles also will not be engaged. Even though the horse has a distinct advantage in having four legs, a rider must learn to hold his or her own posture in order for the horse to engage its own core strength, which is necessary for it to hold its frame up.Ashley Holzer and Sir Caramello at the Dutta Corp U.S. Equestrian Festival of Champions Photo: DH

A horse’s self-carriage is achieved through controlled tension of the muscle groups. There is a muscle ring that wraps around deep inside the horse through its back and abdominal muscles which allow it to maintain roundness of its back. The abdominal muscles encase the abdomen from the pelvis to the ribcage to the sternum. Contraction of these muscles and the back muscles allow the horse to be supple and loose to free its legs to push and carry all of its weight.

Equal Pushing Power

Most riders think that only the hind legs need development and push. More accurately, the push from the hind legs has to be supported by the upward push of the front legs. So pushing power of the hind legs must be harnessed by the elevation of the forehand so the horse can perform with controlled power in an uphill balance.