Before we can begin to explain and have you understand motion or any type of movement we have to understand that any movement starts with the leg. And any movement being done correctly or incorrectly needs to be understood so that we are aware of what does happen inside as the horse does move.
The cycles of the steps of movement are referred to as gaits and are more fully explained later in greater detail. But, gaits are the patterns of movement that must be accomplished to allow forward motion or performance. Each gait starts with the movement of a rear leg, the next leg to move is the opposite front. This happens in this manner due to the fact that the horse is a lateral support animal. What that means is that the horse does support itself on opposite corners (of a rectangular shape) of its body.
Even when a horse is motionless the majority of the horse’s weight is being supported by one front leg and the opposite rear leg. One point that you might do with your own horse that is confined in a specific area ~ when it stands for a period of time you will notice that the horse does shift its weight from one front foot to the other. When it does shift its weight from one front foot to the other you will also notice that the weight bearing leg in the rear also changes and when it does change it is almost always to the opposite rear leg of the front leg that is the weight bearing leg.
There has to be an understanding that the front leg does act independently and is a supporting aid for the opposite rear leg. It is that statement that allows us to introduce a very basic statement of forward motion and how it affects the movement of the horse.
“For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”
The previous statement is the basis for understanding forward motion but it does need to be looked at in a manner that will make it easier to understand how it does pertain to the movement of the horse. So, what we are going to do is break the statement into sections that pertain to specific movements of the horse.
“For every action”
This is the first movement that is made by the horse, the starting of movement by lifting and bringing forward of the rear leg. Then once that the rear leg completes its forward motion cycle and returns to the ground, the second part of the statement comes into effect.
“there is an equal and opposite reaction”
Once that the rear leg completes its cycle and returns to the ground the opposite front leg starts to leave the ground and continues through its cycle until it is complete. This will then start a continuing process of alternating legs in motion that is referred to as the gait of the horse.
Before we can proceed past this point it needs to be understood that each pair of legs have a specific task to perform ~ not just during standing, but also especially during the movement cycles or gaits.
The front legs have two functions that they do perform sometime independently and at other times these two functions act together. The initial function of the front legs is to act as a pivot point that will allow the horse to adjust its body weight from front to rear as necessary during any of the necessary movements. In addition to being a pivot point the front legs act as a lateral support point (from side-to-side) during any necessary movements.
The back legs of the horse are attached to the largest muscle mass within the body structure of the horse; this is also the strongest part of the entire horse. The hindquarter is where all of the strength that creates forward motion and has been referred to as the “engine” of the horse since this is where all of the horse power is located. With the hindquarter creating the force used to initiate forward motion it is also the hindquarters that control forward motion or impulsion.
Understanding the great amount of strength that is accumulated within the hindquarters and how it is accomplished we can then proceed to the understanding that the same strength that was used to initiate the movement will then support movement through the complete cycle of forward motion. It must also be understood that once that forward motion is started and then supported by the movement of the horse additional parts of motion come into play. There are two additional parts of forward motion that we need to understand and they are momentum and inertia.
Looking at momentum more closely we need to be aware that it is broken down into three parts that make up the momentum cycle.
1). Creating momentum ~ is when the movement of the rear legs is initiated to start the gait process.
2). Supporting momentum ~ is the movement of the front leg to help balance and becomes the pivotal support factor that has been explained earlier. It is at this point that the front leg, or the pivotal support point is now supporting the majority of the body weight which will allow the horse to be able to bring the opposite hind leg in a forward motion, setting the cycle up for the final part of the momentum cycle.
3). Sustaining momentum ~ is the continuing of the momentum process which will allow it to happen over and over in an unending loop until it is necessary to stop the momentum process.
I have not been able to come up with any better way to explain momentum and how it pertains to the horse than what I have just explained. The other point that has to be considered is the fact or presence of inertia. Inertia is nothing more than mass in motion. What is meant here is that inertia is the force that has been created to allow the horse to continue its movement. Inertia also plays a major role in the sustaining of momentum; it is its supporting factor that allows movement or motion to become the continuing part of momentum. When it becomes necessary to stop the motion process of the horse momentum and inertia need to be overcome and then reversed. The stopping of the horse is the true overcoming and reversal of momentum and inertia.
What was just covered is the basics of forward motion as it works within the horse. We could talk about many more factors that do happen and even control forward motion process but, these are more specific and will be explained as we cover the areas of the body of the horse and the function of the rider in relationship to movement of the horse.
By Bob Burdekin
My work with horses and owners is dedicated to the thousands of horses that I have had the distinct pleasure to meet, learn from and allowed into their lives. That acceptance has given me the insight that is necessary for the understanding of their world and how I had to alter my thoughts and actions to become the same as theirs. These horses started out as my clients, became my friends, then my teachers and finally my mentors. For that I am forever grateful. Learn more about Bob and subscribe to his blog at http://www.BobBurdekin.com