The biomechanical construction of the horse's body and activity patterns of three important muscles of the trunk in the walk, trot and canter

J Anim Physiol Anim Nutr (Berl). 2018 Apr;102(2):e818-e827. doi: 10.1111/jpn.12840. Epub 2017 Nov 14.


The activity patterns of trunk muscles are commonly neglected, in spite of their importance for maintaining body shape. Analysis of the biomechanics of the trunk under static conditions has led to predictions of the activity patterns. These hypotheses are tested experimentally by surface electromyography (EMG). Five horses, with and without a rider, were examined in the walk, trot and canter. Footfall was synchronised with EMG by an accelerometer. Averages of ten consecutive cycles were calculated and compared by statistical methods. The start and stop times of the muscle activities of 5-10 undisturbed EMG plots were determined and the averages and standard deviations calculated. In walking, muscle activities are minor. Electromyography (EMG) activity was increased in the m. rectus during the three-limb support. When the bending moments assume their greatest values, for example while the horses' mass is accelerated upward (two times earth acceleration) in the diagonal support phases in trot and canter the m. rectus, connecting the sternum with the pubic bone is most active. The m. obl. externus is most active when the torsional and bending moments are greatest during the same support phases, but not bilaterally, because the forces exerted on one side by the (recorded) m. obl. externus are transmitted on the other side by the (not recorded) m. obl. internus. While the hindlegs touch the ground in the trot and canter, ground reaction forces tend to flex the hip joint and the lumbar spine. Therefore, the vertebral column needs to be stabilised by the ipsilateral m. longissimus dorsi, which in fact can be observed. As a whole, our EMG data confirm exactly what has been predicted by theoretical analysis.

Keywords: bow and string theory; dressage; electromyography; finite elements.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Gait*
  • Horses / physiology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*