There’s different sections to your horse’s spine (and yours, as a matter of fact) and each section has a specific shape for a specific role. I thought it would be a good subject for a post, as a little reminder of what the spine normally does for the horse, especially considering that we influence each section when we ride 🙂
So here we go. The horse’s spine can be divided in 4 sections.
- The cervical spine: they are the vertebrae of the neck
- The thoracic spine: where we sit, includes the withers
- The lumbar spine: right behind us when we are on our horses, and a very important place in the horse’s body
- The sacrum: where the spinal cord ends
We can add a 5th section, the coccygeal, which are the bones in the tail of your horse. Because the spinal cord ends before, and because we actually have little effect on them, I choose here not to describe them. If you really really want them to be included, feel free to comment and I shall ad them to the mix 😉 But let’s get back to our main 4 ones.
There’s 7 of them in the horse’s neck (and in ours, it’s a common thing for all mammals to have 7 cervical). The first 2 have specific shapes to allow movements only in certain directions, but from C3 they all have the same basic shape. You will find this basic shape in the thoracic and lumbar spine too, the sacrum is a bit different but I’ll explain that later.
We forget it too often as riders, but the horse uses its neck as a balancer. So when we’re doing dressage, show jumping, hacking, or when your horse is running wild in the field and playing with his/her friends, he/she is using its neck as a balancer. Kind of link a dog uses its tail of shift weight when running.
What this means for us riders is that any restriction that we bring on the neck is going to have a negative effect on the horse’s balance. It doesn’t mean that your horse is going to trip and fall, it just means that certain movements are going to be harder to balance, movements like a short turn to get to a jump for example.
When I say restrictions, I mean things like draw reins, martingale that are too short and end up pulling the reins down, and even just hand movements to bring the head down. Basically, anything that physically brings the neck into that sort of “round neck” position has a restrictive effect on the horse’s neck and therefore has a slight negative effect on the horse’s balance.
The good news is that if you get your horse balanced FIRST, the neck will naturally get into that lovely round position that, let’s be honest, we all want!
The thoracic spine has 18 vertebrae, and each of those vertebrae has 2 ribs attached on the sides. So there’s 18 thoracic and 36 ribs, 18 on the left and 18 on the right. All together, they form the rib cage.
We generally sit around T15, and your saddle, or at least the tree of your saddle, shouldn’t go past T18 because the muscles are stronger on the thoracic spine than on the lumbar spine.
The role of the rib cage is very important and once again, we forget that often when we ride, but this is where we have the heart and the lungs, and the rib cage is actually here to protect them.
Now, there’s nowhere else for us to sit (can’t sit on the neck or the pelvis), but in short, we sit where the horse breaths. So obviously we’re going to have an effect on this, we can’t avoid it, but there’s little things you can make sure you take care of, to ensure you have as little effect as possible on it:
- Make sure the saddle fits properly, so get your fitter out regularly if your horse’s back changes shape, to avoid pain in the back
- Get your manual practitioner to check the ribs and back regularly
- Be aware when you ride that you need to make ourselves as light and as stable as possible!
There are 6 lumbar in the horse’s back.
This section is really important from a biomechanical point of view as it’s the one who is going to transmit the energy from the hind end to the thoracic spine. And I can guarantee you as a manual practitioner, that if there’s any form of restriction in the lumbar spine, your horse will not be able to push through its back properly. This means that you’re not going to be able to get everything that you could potentially get from your horse, all because of that restriction in the energy transmission.
The lumbar spine also happens to be where all the organs of the digestive system, urinary system (peeing) and reproductive system (self-explanatory 😉 ) take their attachments from. So all of those organs have ligaments that are almost directly on the ventral side of the lumbar spine, which means a lot of weight for this area to carry, and even more reasons to be aware of that section!
Sacrum and pelvis
The sacrum is a bone formed of 5 fused vertebrae. It’s attached to the pelvis via the sacro-iliaque joint and a lot of ligaments. All in all, there’s 10 ligaments that attach the two together!
The pelvis is made of two coxal bones, each of those bones being made of 3 part: iliaque, pubis and ischium.
Like I said, sacrum and pelvis are very interlinked via ligaments and muscles and work as a unit, except in cases of sacro-iliaque issues.
Their function is to work as a pivot to bring the energy of the hind legs into the hips and sacro-iliaque joint, and then to push that energy into the lumbar spine which then transmits it into the thoracic spine. The energy comes from the horse’s fetlock and its recoil-like mechanism, moves all the way up the leg via muscles and joints, into the sacro-iliaque joint and the rest of the spine.
In conclusion, each section has an important role in the body and I really think riders need to remember them when they ride. The more we understand our horses, the more we can make sure that we take care of them and ride them in a way that makes sense to them!
As always, I’m only a message away so don’t hesitate to contact me if you have a question, a worry, or a subject you’d like me to cover 🙂
Much love to you and your horses,