Skeletal muscles are amazing, they hold the skeleton together and allow movement of all kinds in the horse. Horses are talented creatures that not only can gallop extremely fast, but can also jump, swim, perform ‘ballet’, slide, spin, etc… all with a rider on their back! The conformation and the biomechanics of the horse make them agile and comfortable for us to ride.
Muscles cover the whole body. Muscles work in groups and individually. Groups work together and against each other (agonists/antagonists) to allow smooth movement.
Tip 1 - Generally most muscle cross over joints. This means that tight muscles reduce joint movement. Regular mobilisation exercises and massage help keep the muscles in optimum capacity and thus allow fluid joint movements.
Variations in the shape of the muscle assist with efficient energy transfer throughout the body. However all muscles function in the same way. Isometric contraction generates force through although there is no change in the length of the muscle e.g. when mounting . Isotonic (concentric = shortening; eccentric = lengthening) contraction generates a force through a change in the length e.g. movement.
Tip 2 - Be aware of which muscles work to move and stabilise your horse. This will help you decide which exercises are important to build up strength and fitness required for performance.
Equipment problems; always a ‘hot topic’. Well fitting equipment (saddles etc) are necessary not just for the comfort of your horse. The are also many training aids available in the market. When used correctly they may help in education/training. However conversely, equipment of any sort can create blockages or impair muscle function.
Tip 3 - observe your horses shape and muscles formation. Ill-fitting or incorrectly used equipment will cause muscle damage, over development or weaknesses and this can usually be seen.
Muscle diseases are more common than you may think. Often these are typical to breed (eg Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy or PSSM in QHs or Warmbloods). If suspected, your vet can diagnose this.
Tip 4 - As with people, many conditions can be managed with appropriate remedies; whether they be medical and/or natural, a good nutrition program and the right amount and type of exercise (including warm up and cool down). If unsure, seek professional advice.
Muscles that cannot function properly affect performance. Many muscular issues can be successfully managed with assistance. Of course massage is always beneficial!
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