For an avid horse person, little takes the breath away like watching an athletic horse performing his job in the best of style: The dressage horse suspended in perfect piaffe, the cutting horse hunkered low as he turns a calf, the reining horse spinning and sprinting with fluid ease, the jumping horse in perfect form as he launches his half-ton mass to fly through the air. For an athletic horse to execute a thrilling performance, he must feel comfortable in body and impart strength to his efforts.
Building muscle strength and flexibility is an important part of developing a horse's performance, and the principles of doing this are steeped in science and techniques based on results. A starting point in all cases is to have your veterinarian complete a thorough soundness exam to put any musculoskeletal pain concerns to rest. If problems are discovered on exam, they must be addressed before training can produce success. In multiple studies that have reviewed complaints of back pain, often the horse is afflicted with limb lameness as the primary problem, especially in the hocks or stifles; commonly, back pain is a secondary consequence.
Occurrence of true back pain seems to be relatively uncommon, but it might be underdiagnosed. When it does occur, the likeliest locations include impingement of dorsal spinous processes of the vertebrae, osteoarthritis in the vertebral joints, or problems in the sacroiliac (SI) region where the vertebral spine joins the pelvis. The SI joint is fairly stable through its connection with the rigid pelvis. In this way, muscle contractions of the rear limbs are transmitted through a horse's trunk and back to propel him forward across the ground, up and over a jump, or in sudden twists and turns or stops. Ligament and muscle injuries also occur in the back. It is possible to avoid muscle and ligament strain in the back and hindquarters by developing a muscle-strengthening program that incorporates training exercises and conditioning.
For movement and locomotion to occur, muscle contractions generate the force to move the skeleton. Every muscle in the body anchors to bone at its site of origin; then at the other end at a distance from the body's trunk spanning a joint, each muscle inserts on another bone through tendon attachments. As a muscle contracts, it folds onto itself and shortens, thereby pulling the bone to which it attaches in the direction of the contraction.
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