Chazot Thoughts 58

“Classical Umbrella”

Part 2

“To discover something new, you must be willing to loosen your grip on the old.” (Michael J. Gelb)




“In horses, and most other mammalian quadrupeds, 57% of the vertical impulse is applied through the thoracic limbs, and only 43% through the hind limbs.”     (H. W. Merkens, H. C. Schamhardt,G. J. van Osch, Anton J. van den Bogert, 1993). The findings are in complete contradiction with the fundamental principles of classical equitation; Engaging the hind legs forward under the body, toward the center of gravity allows the horse to propel himself upward and forward into lightness. And now, scientific measurements show that it is in fact our front legs that produce the greatest amount of vertical forces. For us horses, this is not new; we know that since our first step, but for you humans, I can see the confusion. You truly have to consider a paradigm shift. Caesar commented, ”They are going to have hard time swallowing this one.” Basically, you have two solutions, deny or evolution.


He told me that when the study was published for the first time, angry dummies violently rejected the measurements suggesting that the group of scientists had “an agenda; than they interpreted the data to fit their opinion.” Basically, riders blame the scientists for what riders do all the time. He is used to these low class reactions; he meets them each time he explains new scientific discoveries. As a matter of fact, he personally knows Anton den Bogert as they worked together for one research study. He greatly respect Anton as a superiorly intelligent man and a genius in mathematics. He is a scientific researcher in equine biomechanics but he does not ride. He does not have any interest and any opinion in riding and training principles. His team of researchers measured forces produced by the hind and front legs and published the results.


With a smile, he told me about an event that occurred during the experiment that they completed together. They placed seven sensors on the horse back and the computer screen showed seven columns of digits. Anton looked at the screen, looked closer a specific number saying, “This number is wrong; sensor number two is not working properly. He laughed saying, there are thousand digits on the screen and you can see one number that is not correct? “Anton responded, “You point out a limb kinematics abnormality and I look at the limb and I can’t see anything. Then I verify through my numbers and realize that you are right, I can see the abnormality though my digits. Our brains work their respective ways but we find the same results.“



Get Adobe Flash player


The classical interpretation is that we engage our hind legs forward underneath our body and propel ourselves upward into balance. Measurements demonstrate that in fact our forelegs produce greater upward propulsive force than our hind legs. Let me tell you how we do it and you will understand why your ancestors believed what they believe. Their thought is that our alighting hind leg propels our body upward as soon as ground contact. In reality, we do not propel our body upward as soon as ground contact. Instead, we resist attraction of gravity. Our joint fold under the load of impact forces and our muscles and associated tendons resist impact forces. Scientific studies refer to this sequence of the stride as the “braking phase”. They use the term “braking” because our hoof push on the ground in the direction of the motion. He prefers the term decelerating phase. I agree with him. Our alighting hind leg decelerates our body resisting attraction of gravity and inertia forces. Our joints flex and elastic strain energy is stored during this phase in our tendons, aponeurosis and even muscles. This elastic strain energy is used for the second part of the stance, which is the pushing phase. Basically, when our supporting hind leg starts its propulsive activity, our hind limb is no longer engaged forward under our body, but instead, under the vertical of our tuber coxal and moving backward. This kinematics is very well known from serious research studies and since decades. Classical trainers who still believe in propulsive activity as soon as impact are too busy looking in the past for even look at actual knowledge.

Decades ago, Schryver and his team concluded talking about the propulsive activity of our hind legs, “The net effect is a force in the direction of the motion.”  Instead of propelling our body upward. Our hind legs produce a horizontal force travelling forward through our thoracolumbar spine. Due to the attraction of gravity, part of the thrust generated by our hind legs loads our forelegs. Our front limbs are designed to compensate the loading effect of our hind legs producing a force directed upward and forward but mostly upward.

Of course when the weight of the rider complicates the issue or when we are asked to perform jumps or movements requiring greater balance control, we have to convert a percentage of the thrust generated by our hind legs and traveling forward through our thoracolumbar spine into greater upward forces. We do that with the sophisticated coordination of our back muscles. This is where we need a rider who understand how our locomotor mechanism effectively works. It is a subtle work and coordination of two main muscle groups situated above our vertebrae. They don’t work in one long unit. They are composed of fascicles that are oriented oblique, down and forward or backward and bridge about three vertebrae. You can understand that when the rider interprets his or her perception of our muscular work as stretching, swinging, or relaxing, the riders totally misinterpret what we are effectively doing. This is where theology separates form reality. The rider reacts based on his or her false interpretation of our muscular work and we have to protect ourselves from the incongruity of the rider reactions.


It is a quite complex mechanism as we control a very large diversity of forces and minuscule movements. It is all about sophisticated orchestration of our back muscles. The main point is that our back muscles resist forces, gravity, limbs actions, rider movements, etc. Our back muscles reduce, resist, redirect forces. They don’t release or stretch, or relax. When riders believe that we create greater amplitude of our gaits and movement relaxing, stretching or elongating our muscles, the rider does have a false understanding of the way our vertebral column and associated muscles work. We are disturbed by gestures and relaxation of the rider back. Instead, we are comfortable with subtle nuances in muscle tone.


In fact, as we were working today, he asked me for greater balance and therefore, straightness and as he often does, he analyzed his own riding in order to provide better explanation to his students. He was thinking, “If I have to explain it, I would say subtle nuances in muscle tone, but truly, it is more about controlling energy”.  I agreed with him. We work at this level all the time and it is truly for us horses, our real level of sensitivity. We survive aids, gestures, pressures, spurs, whip and other gimmicks,We have a frequency and a subtlety and sensitivity that is far ahead of what conventional as well as classical equitation believe. Our comfort zone is very subtle and sophisticated. This is the dialogue that we have with him. We all love it. It is of course about coordination of his muscular system but it is so light and subtle that we are working through energy. Manchester told us that his students were capable to ride like that. When he was a school horse, he had great relation with the students that were riding him. He added with a smile, “When they did not, I gave them a ride for their money and they learned very fast”. Our real world is far away from the gross equitation taught everywhere. With the insight of modern science, he does explain it very well but it is more than just explaining. Riders have to loosen their grip on the old and explore what generation after generation, skilled Masters have tried to explain. Chazot



IHTC Course