Equine Biomechanics Lectures & Demonstrations

Printable PDF:   RPH Equine Biomechanics Lecture and Demonstration Handout

pointing_at_painted_Rio_neck - Version 2


What do Karen’s equine biomechanic lectures include?

Karen’s equine biomechanics lectures touch on the fascinating world of equine movement.  Her lectures explain to riders the importance of creating and maintaining efficient and healthy posture and movement within their horses.

Her lectures are based on biomechanics knowledge gained through lectures and classes with the following international biomechanics experts: Dr. Gerd Heuschmann, Dr. Hilary Clayton, and Dr. Deb Bennett.  Karen’s in depth study of their concepts, work, and publications resulted in this visual learning experience, which includes a PowerPoint lecture, an anatomy painted horse, and a moving horse demonstration.

The PowerPoint lectures are filled with pictures and diagrams to help beginners to advanced riders understand how a horse moves and how riders affect a horse’s movement.

The anatomy painted horse demonstrations help equestrians to see the internal body structure involved in different movements for the horse.  This 3-D representation with an actual horse provides deeper understanding of the information learned in the PowerPoint lecture.

During the moving horse demonstration, a horse moves through its gaits including lateral work. Footfall, rhythm and tempo of all three gaits are demonstrated.  As the horse moves, muscles groups involved in healthy posture are pointed out and how they affect the horse’s movement are explained.

Who are Karen’s equine biomechanics lectures for?


Dr. Hilary Clayton and Karen at Michigan State University Equine Biomechanics class.

Each presentation is adapted to the level of experience in the audience – from recreational riders to Pony Club participants to professionals.

All disciplines, including dressage, jumping, eventing, western pleasure, reining, cutting, endurance, rodeo, and trail riders, benefit from learning the importance of healthy equine movement to improve their horse’s performance.

Those involved in activities such as therapeutic riding, ranch work, outfitting, and dude ranching gain understanding of the importance of healthy muscle development to maintain soundness for their working herds.


Equine Biomechanics is lots of fun.  Just see how much fun Karen is having at a class by Dr. Hilary Clayton.


 What is the focus of Karen’s equine biomechanics lectures? 

Karen talking at Clinic Square for FB event

Karen’s equine biomechanics lectures focus on explaining the horse’s musculoskeletal system and how to maximize the healthiest posture for carrying a rider.  She discusses the importance of a:

  • supple swinging equine back and the difference between back-movers and leg movers
  • well-developed long head and neck axis and its effects on the horses ability to easily carry the rider
  • yielding soft hand during training

The three main systems covered are the:

  • passive ligament system of the trunk and the cervical spine
  • abdominal muscular movement system
  • thoracic / shoulder carrying system

Additionally, participants learn how a horse’s posture and the rider’s training system can affect each of the three systems.

Why is it important to understand how a horse moves? 

It is important to understand how a horse moves because all equestrian disciplines revolve around movement, including:

  • Cutting horse separating a cow from a herd
  • Jumping horse taking a 5’ fence
  • Race horse galloping down a track
  • Draft horse pulling a heavy load
  • Endurance and trail riding

Knowledge of the components that make up the musculoskeletal system provides clearer understanding of equine movement to maximize training. Klaus Balkenhol, a USA Olympic Dressage coach, states in The Rider Forms the Horse that:

“What is absolutely essential for the training of the horse is an understanding of the links between muscular function and the skeleton working in combination during the different phases of training and exercises.  This applies to whichever type of equine activity has been chosen. “

This leads to the study of movement biomechanics – the study of the functions of the equine body in relation to movement

HOW do riders affect their horse’s movement and WHY does it matter?

It is well documented that efficient and healthy movement is imperative to keeping our equine athletes sound.  To prevent lameness and understand a horse’s movement, it is essential to know how and the horses’ musculoskeletal systems function.

It is very unfortunate that horses become lame. There are many factors that contribute to lameness that inhibit a horse’s movement:

  • Hereditary problems
  • Poor conformation
  • Physical trauma
  • Improper shoeing
  • Poor saddle fitting
  • Rider induced lameness
  • Overuse in a demanding discipline
  • Horses posture during training

The way a horse is ridden can lead to chronic unsoundness.  Without healthy conditioning, lameness can develop when a horse’s body is repeatedly misdirected: either by constricting the horse’s joints and/or compressing the ligaments, or by compromising the muscles.

Many riders ask:

“How can I improve my riding to insure that my horse remains physically and mentally sound?”

To perform to its highest level of potential, the horse needs to be encouraged into a ‘healthy frame’ or ‘position’ that allows it to develop the necessary muscles for balance and throughness.  When these muscles have been developed, the equine athlete will be able to enjoy moving freely without injury for many years.  Riders have good intentions; none intend to cause lameness in their horse.  Rider induced lameness is usually caused by a rider’s lack of exposure or awareness of the horse’s anatomy.

Karen incorporates classical and natural horsemanship training methods into her biomechanics presentations.  She addresses the horse’s posture and how different training methods can help enhance a horse’s physical and mental well-being.

Depending on the length of the presentation and customization requests, the training points address:

  • horse behavior and how horses respond to tension and how this affects their posture
  • importance of relaxation for all disciplines
  • benefit of a healthy posture to encourage a swinging back, throughness, and balance in the horse
  • importance of soft hand contact

An understanding of equine biomechanics helps riders develop healthy and responsive equine partners.  Through these lecture/demonstrations, participants leave with new skills and exercises that they can implement in their own training and riding programs.