Horses and The Form-Function Principle

The form-function principle as it relates to a horse’s body, suggests that each part of the body; each unique form, is designed to carry out a specific function.  How the form-function principle pertains to horse biomechanics, has been the work of Dr Gavin Scofield.

Dr Scofield would say that “each structure within the body serves a purpose and the exact form of each body part is related to its purpose; its function”. Overall, the design of a horse’s body is what it is because of the things a horse needed to do to survive in the wild. Healthy function means that the form or design of the body is used appropriately, to the fullest extent possible. 

For example, the hip joint is a ball and socket structure that has a deep socket with a small ball. Ball and socket design allows extensive range of motion for the leg and the deep socket/small ball structure is engineered for stability and weight bearing. Increased weight bearing on the hind legs is appropriate use of the structure. The shoulder joint is another ball and socket structure but has a shallow socket and a large ball. The change in design for the shoulder joint supports an even greater range of motion than the hip joint and is less mechanically suitable for weight bearing as it lacks stability. Bearing a majority of body weight on the front legs is inappropriate and damaging to the horse’s structure. The horse’s body is also designed symmetrically, meaning that the structures on the left and right sides of the body mirror each other. This tells us that appropriate weight bearing is also equal side to side for healthy function.

Analyzing each part of the anatomy and understanding the form-function principle begins to reveal what constitutes bio-mechanically correct movement. Having a general understanding of the horse musculoskeletel design and taking into account the Form-Function Principle, helps in the understanding of correct and healthy movement. Looking at the details of the horse’s inherent, natural physical structures tells not only how each should ideally function, but how the overall body should function. Once this concept is understood, it becomes very easy to see that the horse is designed to carry a greater percentage of body weight equally on both hind legs compared to its front legs.

From “Adams’ Lameness In Horses” – 5th edition:

Traveling heavy on the forehand sets the stage for increased concussion, stress and lameness.

So what does this mean for the horse owner/rider? It means you have the power to effect and encourage the horse to use its body in a mechanically efficient way; a way that promotes long term healthy physical development.

It means your ground training and riding sessions should reflect your encouragement of the horse’s healthy biomechanical use.  Ignoring this reality can lead to chronic soreness, behavioral problems and even lameness for a horse that is continually crooked and/or front-loaded.  Nature never intended for horses to operate this way.  Domestication however can encourage a horse to function for years with patterns of crookedness and an inappropriate amount of weight on the front legs . My work as a horse trainer includes not only making riders aware of their impact on the horse’s use of its’ body, but teaching riders how to effect and encourage the horse to use good mechanical form.

The greatest benefit of understanding the simple principles regarding correct horse function is that it helps you sort through information, opinions and personalities when it comes to what is best for the horse. The horse’s body tells us how it should ideally function, no matter what level of training you are currently working at. The result of good training will be a horse that is habitually functioning the way its body was designed.

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Quote Of The Day

"You cannot train a horse with shouts and expect it to obey a whisper."
~Dagobert D. Runes