Horse's Physical Development

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   Your Horse's Physical Development -
The Early Stages

    2006 Cherry Hill

  Throughout a horse's training program, it is important to regularly evaluate the development of his physique.

     As a horse exercises and is trained, he uses particular muscle groups more than others.  With repetition, these muscle groups become dominant and subsequently affect the horse's conformation.  If the work is correct, the horse develops an attractive, smooth, and functional physique.  If the work is incorrect, the horse's conformation can become rough, develop thickenings and bulges in some places and hollow, weak spots in others. 

     As you train your horse, it is good to keep the goals of physical development in mind:

* Gradually change the horse's flat or hollow topline to a bowed topline.
* Develop suppleness and strength evenly on both sides of the body.
* Gradually shift the weight of the horse from the forehand to the hindquarters.
* Improve the style or expression of the horse's movement.
* Improve the quality of the gaits.

 first ride on a young horse   

 Most horses start out with one of two basic frames.  The first frame is when a horse carries himself with a shorter topline than underline.  The horse holds his head high with his nose extended as much as 45 degrees in front of the vertical.  His croup is higher than his withers and is held flat or up, causing the hind legs to trail behind the horse and the back to be hollow.  Gravity, the weight of the tack and rider, and a horse's intestinal fill all contribute to a hollow back.  In addition, various conformational components can predispose a horse to have a hollow back and a horse with weak or poor muscle tone will display a hollow back, especially once his muscles have become tired. 

     The second type of beginning frame is characterized by a horse with a low, flat neck and a nose extended at about a 45 degree angle.  Such a horse is often very heavy on the forehand and strung out behind but with a relatively flat, relaxed back.  This horse has both a long topline and long underline.

     Both types of horses must be gradually developed so that they can strengthen and round their toplines, shift more weight back to the hindquarters, and increase the carrying capacity and activity of their hind legs. 

     A horse with the first type of beginning frame would benefit from long, low work such as posting trot. 

  The second type should be worked long and low only to accomplish suppleness and then he should be gradually introduced to the idea of shifting his weight rearward.  Upward and downward transitions between halt, walk, and trot are a good means to initially cause the horse to step under with his hinds and slightly elevate his front end.  This will take considerable time.  It may take several months or more to move from Phase A to Phase B. 

     After several months of correct riding, horses generally show signs of slightly rounding the back accompanied by a very slight rounding of the neck and a slight lowering of the croup.  One of the most visible differences is that the horse can carry his nose comfortably and steadily at about 25 to 30 degrees in front of the vertical.  The hind legs are stepping slightly more under the horse.  It is beneficial to ride a horse in this type of frame for the next year of his training.  He will likely show glimpses of self carriage during that year.

     Developing a horse's frame is a process accomplished by degrees.  At first, a horse should be ridden in a slightly more engaged frame for only a short period of time (a few strides, a few minutes) before he is allowed to return to his established level of self carriage or he is given a break on a long or a loose rein.

     Designing a horse's training program is a delicate blend of scheduling time, setting realistic goals, and monitoring physical development. 


  2004 Cherry Hill



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