Dynamic stability refers to the horse’s ability to maintain balance and coordination whilst in motion, during activities under saddle, or other forms of physical exercise. It encompasses the horse’s capacity to adjust its body posture, distribute its weight effectively, and respond to external stimuli or changes in the terrain whilst moving.
A dynamically stable horse can adapt its movements to stay upright and coordinated, even during challenging situations when balance and agility are crucial (think: dressage, show jumping, eventing, cow horse work, and more!).
In this blog, we are breaking down everything you need to know to have a stable (no pun intended), physiologically sound, and strong horse.
What Contributes to Dynamic Stability?
It sounds fancy, but what does it actually mean? Dynamic stability involves these five factors:
- Physical Condition
- Muscle Strength
- Coordination during movement
- Proprioception (awareness of body position)
- Training or ground exercises
Correct training and conditioning can improve a horse’s dynamic stability, making it more capable of performing tasks with precision, and reducing the risk of injury.
Posture Vs. Stability
Posture and stability are related concepts but refer to different aspects of body mechanics.
Posture refers to the position and alignment of the body and its parts, including the arrangement of the limbs and the orientation of the body in relation to the surrounding environment. “Good posture” typically means the body is aligned correctly, with minimal strain on supporting muscles and ligaments. It’s about maintaining a balanced position whilst standing or during locomotion.
Stability, on the other hand, refers to the body’s ability to maintain balance and control its position, especially during movement or when exposed to external perturbatory forces. Stability involves the coordination of all the connective tissues in the body, to prevent falls, slips, or loss of balance. It is more dynamic and relates to the body’s ability to stay balanced and controlled in all gaits, and during specialized exercises.
Whilst good posture contributes to dynamic stability, stability itself is a broader concept that encompasses not just how the body is positioned, but also how effectively it can control movement and resist instability from external forces.
What Signs Suggest Poor Posture and Stability?
Each horse is an individual and it is important to remember that posture and stability are traits that can ALWAYS be improved.
That being said, these signs can be seen as “yellow flags” indicating suboptimal posture and stability, especially if these are chronic issues:
- High head carriage
- Low head carriage
- Hollow back
- Stiffness and resistance
- Difficulty in transitions
- Short strides
- Reluctance to move forward – loss of impulsion
- Swayback or roach back
- Tripping or stumbling frequently
- Difficulty on uneven terrain
- Difficulty in turns or circles
- Abnormal gait patterns
Which Muscles Contribute to Spinal Stability?
In horses, the deep stabilizer muscles play a crucial role in maintaining spinal stability. These muscles are attached directly to the spine, and provide support, control, and stability to the vertebral column.
The primary deep stabilizer muscles in horses include:
- Multifidus: The multifidus muscles are deep muscles that run along the dorsal aspect of the spine (directly above), and they provide stability to individual vertebrae and across multiple vertebral levels.. They play a significant role in segmental stability and help the horse maintain ideal spinal alignment.
- Longus Colli: The longus colli muscle is found on the ventral (underside) aspect of the cervical spine (neck), into the cranial (forward) part of the thoracic spine. Longus colli stabilises the neck and cranial thoracic spine, through the cervicothoracic (lower neck) junction, and also contributes to overall spinal stability, particularly during movements involving the head and neck.
- Psoas Complex: The psoas muscles, together with the iliacus muscle, are found in the lumbar region of the spine and extend into the pelvis. Together, they stabilise the lumbopelvic region.
- Abdominal Tunic Muscles: The horse’s abdominal muscles, including the internal and external obliques and the rectus and transversus abdominis, provide superficial core stability of the trunk, and support their back. A strong core is essential for maintaining optimal posture, balance, and spinal stability.
Overall, the deep stabilizer muscles contribute significantly to spinal stability by supporting individual vertebrae, providing fine motor control, maintaining core stability, preventing excessive loads on spinal structures, supporting proper posture, and protecting spinal nerves.
Regular exercise and correct body mechanics can help to strengthen both superficial and deep core muscles, promoting spinal stability and reducing the risk of back pain and injuries.
How Are Neural Pathways Involved in Dynamic Stability?
Neural pathways play a crucial role in coordinating and controlling the deep stabilizer muscles in horses. These pathways involve the communication of signals between the brain, spinal cord, and muscles, initiating and coordinating movements.
Here’s how it works:
- Sensory Input: Neural pathways receive input from various sources, including proprioceptors (sensory receptors in muscles, tendons, and joints) that provide information about the position, movement, and tension of muscles and connective tissues. This sensory feedback is essential for the brain to understand the horse’s body position and make necessary adjustments to remain balanced and stable.
- Motor Output: The brain processes sensory information and generates motor commands. These commands are transmitted through neural pathways from the brain to the spinal cord and then to the specific muscles involved. For example, when a rider cues the horse to engage its deep stabilizer muscles, neural pathways transmit the signals necessary for those muscles to contract and stabilize the spine. These deep stabilizer muscles fire milliseconds before larger, more superficial muscles are activated during movement. As such, the spine is stabilised before perturbation from movement.
- Coordination: Neural pathways coordinate the activation of different muscles to maintain stability and perform specific movements. For instance, during complex movements like jumping or dressage maneuvers, precise coordination (motor control!) of deep stabilizer muscles, along with other muscles, is required. Neural pathways ensure that these muscles are activated in the correct sequence and intensity to achieve the desired movement.
- Motor Learning: Neural pathways are involved in motor learning, the process by which the brain adapts and refines movements based on experience. Through repeated movements and training, neural pathways become more efficient in activating the appropriate muscles, including the deep stabilizers, leading to improved stability and coordination over time.
- Balance and Proprioception: Neural pathways are crucial for maintaining balance and proprioception. Proprioceptive signals from muscles and joints are continuously processed by the nervous system, allowing the horse to make rapid adjustments in muscle tone and position to maintain stability, especially during dynamic activities like riding and jumping.
As you can see, neural pathways are fundamental to the proper functioning of muscles. They facilitate the communication between the brain, spinal cord, and muscles, enabling the horse to maintain stability, coordinate movements, and respond to various cues from the rider.
Neural pathway function is disrupted and altered with pain or injury. Once pain is resolved, these neural/motor pathways do not automatically revert to normal – this is where specific movement retraining is crucial, to (re)activate neural pathways.
Training and conditioning not only strengthen the muscles but also enhance the efficiency of neural pathways, leading to improved overall stability and performance.
How Can I Help My Horse Build Dynamic Stability?
Now that you understand more about how the horse’s body works, you may be asking what you can do to help!
Retraining for correct posture and stability involves specific exercises, training techniques, and sometimes therapeutic interventions aimed at correcting the horse’s body alignment, balance, and movement patterns.
Truthfully, your horse is much larger than you and trying to manipulate their body to hold a certain movement pattern is challenging, without the right tools!
Working with a qualified trainer, veterinarian, and physiotherapist is always advised, first and foremost. The right team of professionals can help you ensure that the exercises you carry out with your horse, both from the ground and under saddle, are contributing to optimal strength.
Secondly, the Equiband Pro is a safe, effective, and research-proven method of conditioning your horse’s posture and dynamic stability. Think of this system as a re-training tool.
Humans have a difficult time being consistent enough to teach horses the correct body patterns. It’s ok, just part of being human! That’s why we designed the Equiband Pro system!
Focusing on your horse’s movement patterns and body alignment can greatly improve their long-term soundness, health, comfort, and performance. Learn more here!