Bamboo – good for pandas and music, but not for horses

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Giant pandas having a snack on bamboo in Sichuan province.
Giant pandas having a snack on bamboo in Sichuan province. © Chi King Sichuan. [CC BY 2.0, Wikipedia
Take a bamboo pole. Cut a small segment, drill one hole at one end and several holes at the other end, you can blow air at one extremity, modulate the air flow with the fingers covering the holes and play music.

You have found the only harmless way to use a bamboo pole. The other music, the one played touching the horse’s limbs, is a cacophony altering proper synchronization between flexion, extension and inward rotation of the joints.

Synchronized with each flexion and extension of the hip, stifle, hock, fetlock, an inward rotation occurs, medial to lateral and lateral to medial, around the vertical axis of the bone. Most of the joints have an  irregular shape designed for a combination of flexion, extension and inward rotation. With each stride, sound locomotion requires precise synchronization between flexion and extension of the joints and their inward rotations. When proper synchronization between the moving parts is altered, shearing forces occur and arthritis develops.

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It is hoped that consideration of the normal system will illumine abnormal as well as the abnormal illumining the normal.  _ James Rooney, Biomechanics of Lameness in Horses

We start with the normal synchronization between flexion, extension and inward rotation. Then, it will be easy to understand why and how training techniques acting on the lower leg without adequate kinematics of the upper leg and in relation to the thoracolumbar spine mechanism, induces shearing forces on the joints and consequent injuries.

The normal

During the stance, which is the time the hoof is on the ground, a subtle coordination of flexion, extension and rotation induce static and sliding frictions on the surfaces of the joints. Static frictions are greater than sliding frictions but they all reach maximum intensity at the end of the propulsive phase where maximum forces are exerted on the joints.

“The development of shearing forces between the joint surfaces may be expected when the forces exerted on the joints are maximal. In the rear leg, forces exerted by and on the leg is maximal at the end of the stride, just before the hoof leaves the ground.”  _ James R. Rooney

racehorse

Frame by frame, we can easily visualize and understand how parts articulate around each other. Before the hoof contacts the ground, the tibia has, by extension of the stifle, rotated around its long axis from medial to lateral. (Medial to lateral means from the inside, medial, to the outside, lateral).

At the moment of impact, Mt3 and T3 may be considered to be stationary. The tibiotarsal bone, (TT) and central tarsal bone, (TC) are also stationary.

At the moment of impact, Mt3 and T3 may be considered to be stationary. The tibiotarsal bone, (TT) and central tarsal bone, (TC) are also stationary.
At the moment of impact, Mt3 and T3 may be considered to be stationary. The tibiotarsal bone, (TT) and central tarsal bone, (TC) are also stationary.

A slight flexion of the hock and stifle may occur at impact inducing a minute rotation lateral to medial of the tibiotarsal joint, (TT) and central tarsal joint, (TC).

A slight flexion of the hock and stifle may occur at impact inducing a minute rotation lateral to medial of the tibiotarsal joint, (TT) and central tarsal joint, (TC).
A slight flexion of the hock and stifle may occur at impact inducing a minute rotation lateral to medial of the tibiotarsal joint, (TT) and central tarsal joint, (TC).

Lower in the leg, dorsiflexion of the fetlock causes a lateral rotation around its long axis of Mt3.

Lower in the leg, dorsiflexion of the fetlock causes a lateral rotation around its long axis of Mt3.
Lower in the leg, dorsiflexion of the fetlock causes a lateral rotation around its long axis of Mt3.

This rotation of the canon bone, (Mt3), induces a medial to lateral rotation of Mt3 and T3.

This rotation of the canon bone, (Mt3), induces a medial to lateral rotation of Mt3 and T3.
This rotation of the canon bone, (Mt3), induces a medial to lateral rotation of Mt3 and T3.

In the hock joint, which is composed of Mt3, T3, TC and TT, we have at this instant a medial to lateral rotation of Mt3 and T3 while the two higher components of the joints TT and TC are held stationary or rotate slightly in the opposite direction.

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This is a stable coordination, which provides for maximum contact of joint surfaces and thereby gives maximum stability and maximum surface for weight bearing. These conditions pertain until the second half of the stride.

During the second half of the stride, the stifle and the hock extends and the pastern elevates.
During the second half of the stride, the stifle and the hock extends and the pastern elevates.
MT3-2

During the second half of the stride, the stifle and the hock extends and the pastern elevates. It is the moment where the hind leg exerts its maximum propulsive activity. The tibia rotate medially as well as  TT and TC.

Simultaneously, the pastern elevates, converting the dorsi-flexion of the fetlock into plantar flexion. The inversion from dorsi-flexion of the fetlock into plantar flexion induces a medial rotation of Mt3 and T3. The hoof then clears the ground and the hind limb moves forward into the swing phase.

This is, frame by frame, the normal synchronization between flexion, extension and inward rotation of the different parts of the hock joint during locomotion. We always warn against activating the hind legs with a bamboo pole or a whip. You can now understand how these practices alter proper synchronization between flexion and extension of the joints and their inward rotation. Classic authors used the technique because they were not aware of the internal rotations of the joints. It is doubtful that they would keep promoting the practice in the light of new knowledge.

Proponents of these archaic approaches will argue about details such as where the pole touch the horse. This is the classical form of deny that always resists pertinent discoveries. In 1856, German philosopher Arthur  Schopenhauer (1788-1860) wrote: “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”

Truly, it does not matter where the pole touches the leg. As long as the kinematics of the lower leg are modified without adequate kinematics of the higher leg and in relation to the vertebral column mechanism, synchronization between flexion, extension and inward rotation of the joints is altered and arthritis develops. There is no substitute to sound education.

The biomechanics of the vertebral column form the basis of all body movements, including limb movements. The equestrian art is truly an art and cannot be achieve without understanding and respecting how the horse’s physique effectively works.

“The ability of the artist to express the beauty of the human form is predicated on a profound study of the science of anatomy.” _ Leonardo da Vinci, 1452-1519

Leonardo also described the achievements of the ones who act on the leg without understanding that sound limbs movements are the outcome of proper vertebral column mechanism.

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“Lacking an appreciation born of a detailed analysis of bone structure and muscular relationship, the would-be artist was liable to draw wooden and graceless forms that seem rather as if you were looking at a stack of nuts than a human form, or a bundle of radishes rather than muscles.”

Acting on the legs is not the only possible disturbance. Morphological flaws can create kinematic abnormalities, as well as load on the forelegs and training misconceptions rushing the horse faster than its natural cadence. Rooney described how straight hock conformation is prone to arthritis between Mt3 and T3. Training misconceptions creates functional straight hocks, which induce the same aberrant stresses on the hocks than the morphological defect. Functional straight hocks are training misconceptions that create early impact of the lower hind leg. On the other side of kinematic abnormalities, functional sickle hocks will create the same stresses on the joint than the morphological defect.

scienceofmotion.com

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Jean Luc Cornille

Jean Luc Cornille M.A.(M.Phil) has gained worldwide recognition by applying practical science to the training of the equine athlete. Influenced by his background as a gymnast, Jean Luc deeply understands how equine training can be enhanced by contemporary scientific research. A unique combination of riding skill, training experience and extensive knowledge of the equine physiology enables Jean Luc to “translate” scientific insights into a language comprehensible to both horse and rider. This approach has been the trademark of his training. – read more about Jean Luc

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