“Lifting” the horse’s back: Another meaningless equestrian phrase

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Chazot
Chazot

Lifting the back is an equestrian expression which, truly, does not mean anything, as it can be interpreted any way we want.

There is a muscular work creating upward force and preventing the thoracolumbar spine from extending under the attraction of gravity, but this complex coordination is often resumed to simplistic formulas that are so simplistic they are false.

Chazot is playing. Helyn caught him in the picture above, with her magic eye, on the flight period where the four legs are off the ground. The back is “up”, “round”, “lifted”, “flexed”, whatever metaphor we use.

The ones who want to believe that the lower line, abdominal muscles, flex the upper line, will see in this picture the demonstration of their theory. If you look more carefully, you can see that the theory does not fit the picture. The thoracolumbar flexion is not as a whole. In fact, the thoracic area is starting some extension of the thoracic spine preparing for the forward movement of the front limbs.

The ones who want to believe that the flexion of the neck does flex the thoracolumbar spine, will see in Chazot’s neck the demonstration of what they want to believe. Chazot does round his neck, but the whole-body posture does not permit to really believe that the neck does flex the back. As explained in the previous paragraph, the longissimus dorsi in the thoracic area are starting to contract, preparing the thoracic spine for the forward motion of the front limbs. At the next sequence of the canter, the hind limbs will alight first while the front limbs will be projected forward.

The back epaxial muscles, which are the muscles on and around the upper half of the vertebrae as well as the dorsal spine, create the “flexion”, “lifting’, “roundness”, that is visible in the picture. Chazot does have very strong development of his back muscles and uses it for its purpose; advanced body control for work or play. The neck position is helping him in the work of the thoracic area, creating upward force. Proper functioning of the back induces rounding of the neck as a way to enhance and ease the work of the back muscles. This is a dynamics phenomenon that we explain in the lecture, “Long and Laws of Physics”, but this has nothing to do with stretching, relaxation, and other theories commonly emphasized.

Charpege
Charpege

We have a picture of Charpege, a few days after her arrival at the farm. She is almost in the same sequence of the stride, but her back muscles are not developed and coordinated and therefore, she does not have the capacity of converting the thrust generated by the hind legs into upward force. The picture was taken a fraction of a second later than Chazot’s picture. Her left hind leg is alighting. She should have even more flexion of the lumbar and thoracolumbar junction. She does now, but she did not at this time. If it was the abdominal muscles and/or the effect of the nuchal and supraspinous ligament, as simplistic theories pretend, she would have been able to lift the back at the time of the picture.

In fact, due to the lack of muscular development and coordination, there is a noticeable rigidity in her body and her neck. She keeps the neck up to control her balance but does not use the elasticity and elastic energy of her neck muscles and nuchal ligament, as Chazot does, to enhance the work of the thoracic spine muscles.

There is a Samurai proverb which says “The stronger you become, the gentler you will be.” There is a peaceful power in Chazot’s picture and some anxiousness and intensity in Charpege’s picture. She did not have at the time of the picture, the muscular power to deal with her natural intensity. She is not strong enough for her spirit. If we feed them well and train them properly, most so-called behavior problems disappear.

At impact of the hind legs, gravity (black arrow) is pulling the body down to earth and inertia, (blue arrow) is pushing the body forward creating acceleration of gravity.
At impact of the hind legs, gravity (black arrow) is pulling the body down to earth and inertia, (blue arrow) is pushing the body forward, creating acceleration of gravity.
The joints flex under impact forces storing elastic energy in tendons, muscles, aponeurosis, fascia and ligaments. The energy will be part of the propulsive force.
The joints flex under impact forces storing elastic energy in tendons, muscles, aponeurosis, fascia and ligaments. The energy will be part of the propulsive force.
The thrust generated by the hind legs will be converted mostly in horizontal forces, as shown in this picture.
The thrust generated by the hind legs will be converted mostly into horizontal forces, as shown in this picture.

Or converted into greater upward forces, for play or performance.
Or converted into greater upward forces, for play or performance.

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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

2 thoughts on ““Lifting” the horse’s back: Another meaningless equestrian phrase

  • January 6, 2018 at 6:59 pm
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    It’s difficult to see how any of these pictures – and indeed the text – relate to the way in which the term “lifting the back” is used of a horse under saddle. Do correct me if I’m wrong, but to me a good rider is one who, through the driving aids into a soft, precise hand, encourages the horse to allow the muscles of his back to facilitate the free movement of all the limbs. This indeed feels to the rider as though the horse has lifted his back.

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  • January 9, 2018 at 4:32 am
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    Have to agree with Annie Cass. The term “lifting of the back” is a description of what happens in actual fact and which can be seen by the naked eye when a horse uses a certain set of muscles (often called the core but including, as it does with humans, an extraordinary number of individual muscles from hamstrings to psoas to para spinals to abdominals etc) to step under and use his full power for locomotion or jumping or play. This article is pedantic and confusing to the layperson. There is a debate going on in the wider horse world about which muscles are in play during “engagement” and if you read carefully this author is on the side that argues against those who believe it is the abdominals and the psoas which provide the core power needed for athleticism. This bleeds into the intense debate over “rolkur” but he does not make this clear. Reader beware! The only reason it matters which muscles precisely come in to play is to win or lose the rolkur debate. Let the masters keep debating. Most of us know what lifted back feels like and that is all we need to know. To go further into the debate requires a really serious study of anatomy and movement. Most of us have stalls to do or jobs to do to pay for our horses. I am not against knowledge, just please be clear to the audience why you are writing what you are writing.

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