Riding study: Saddle forces alter even with small speed changes

© Mike Bain
© Mike Bain

Even modest increases in speed can change the dynamics of a ridden horse’s movement and the forces emerging beneath the saddle, a study has revealed.

Swiss and Swedish researchers based their findings on data gathered from sensors that monitored seven ridden dressage horses on a treadmill.

The horse-and-rider combinations were monitored at walking speeds from 1.3 to 1.8 metres per second, and trotting speeds from 2.6 to 3.6 metres per second.

The motion of the horse and rider, vertical ground reaction forces and saddle forces were measured simultaneously.

Thomas Wiestner and his colleagues found that, with increasing velocity, the saddle forces at walk were mainly influenced by the accentuated rocking type of movement. At trot they were influenced by the higher vertical dynamic and a more rigid horse back, which resulted in increased counteracting forces between the horse and rider.

“Even small increases of velocity changed the dynamics of the movement pattern of the horse and consequently the forces emerging beneath the saddle,” the research team reported in the journal, Comparative Exercise Physiology.

They found that a 10 percent increase within each speed range resulted in a 5 percent increase in the total saddle force peak at the walk, and a 14 percent increase at the trot.

The researchers said the speed at which a subject was moving within each gait had a fundamental influence on many biomechanical variables.

The study involved high-level dressage horses. The seven horses were carefully adapted to treadmill use and were ridden by their own professional riders using their usual tack.

© Horsesports Photographic
© Horsesports Photographic

They were ridden with the neck raised, the poll high and the bridge of the nose slightly in front of the vertical in walk and at the sitting trot.

The study team pointed to 2009 findings, which found that, at walk, the horse’s basic motion pattern had a formative influence on rider movement and thus on the saddle-force pattern. Similarly, at trot, the movements of the horse dictate the basic pattern of the rider’s movements.

“The present study demonstrated, that increasing velocity significantly accentuates the basic motion pattern of the respective gait and consequently exerted a distinct formative influence on the saddle forces.”

At walk, the accentuated rocking type of movement of the backline with increasing speed had the greatest effect on saddle forces, they found.

“At trot, the alterations in the saddle forces with increasing speed were mainly influenced by the vertical oscillation of horse and rider, the resulting higher ground reaction force peaks and the stiffening of the horse’s back, which led to an increase of the counteracting forces between the horse and the rider.

“Extremes and distribution of the saddle forces change obviously even within a small speed range.”

The researchers were based at the University of Zürich and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.

The study was supported by a grant from the Stiftung Forschung für das Pferd (Research Foundation for the Horse).

Influence of velocity on horse and rider movement and resulting saddle forces at walk and trot
S. Bogisch, K. Geser-Von Peinen, T. Wiestner, L. Roepstorff and M.A. Weishaupt.
Comparative Exercise Physiology, 2014; 10 (1): 23-32 DOI 10.3920/CEP13025

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