Movement Development and Stability

At a therapeutic riding conference I attended a few years ago, I heard a chiropractor talk about human development, spinal stability, and therapeutic riding. She was a volunteer at a therapeutic riding barn, and was amazed to see the horse naturally develop in the rider what she worked on in the office. Her explanations were so striking they still stick with me today. So I wanted to share my notes with you.

Please note I’m not an MD, and not the fastest note taker, so I my have gotten a few things wrong. If you need to make a correction, please leave a comment. Also, remember, you are not a chiropractor or a physical therapist, so there’s only so much you can do with this information. These notes are more an explanation of the benefits of therapeutic riding, and why as an instuctor developing midline awareness in our riders is so important. Hope you find this as interesting as I did!

Movement Development and Stability

From Dr. Kirsten Ray, Chiropractor, seminar at PATH Intl. Ill. State conference 2012

  • Development
    • Posture, crawling, and walking follow the maturation of the central nervous system (CNS) and brain.
    • In early development, motion drives the growth of the nervous system. Joints give the brain feedback, which drives the development of more circuits and uncover genetic systems of motor programs as the child develops.
  • Body motor development progression
    • Includes development of muscular stability of spine and trunk (“sagittal stability”), and moving joints around the stabilized spine and trunk:
    • Baby lies only on back with hips flexed, moving the legs
    • Progresses to rolling over on stomach using arm/leg on same side of body
    • On stomach now can hold head up
    • Then reaches out to the sides
    • Then reaches across midline
    • This develops oblique and trunk muscles
    • Progresses to crawling, now using arm/leg on opposite sides of body
    • All of this strongly influences muscle development, core stabilization, and quality of body posture for the rest of the child’s life
  • Results
    • Sagittal stabilization = the basis for stabilization, the fixed point from which muscles of movement (arms/legs) can pull from. If you keep stable, joint motion can occur!
    • Joint Centration = the ideal alignment of joints to give stability to the system and allow their most effective mechanical advantage and strength (such as stacking blocks in alignment or off centered)
    • These work together to hold a joint in its right place and allow purposeful movement.
    • They function as a unit – when one area decentrates, it affects another area. For example, if you have tight hamstrings and bend over, you may pinch a nerve in your back.
  • Disabilities
    • If the CNS and brain have a disability, correct body motor development may be hindered.
    • Kids with neurodevelopmental disorders who don’t get feedback from joints to feed circuit development and body motor progression, will miss milestones such as crawling, and have abnormal muscle and joint centration, develop abnormal structural complications (scoliosis, etc.)
  • Therapeutic Horseback Riding
    • “Development of upright spinal stability is the most important result of any therapy – from there other more centered motions follow”
    • “Riding puts the body in the developmental posture of hip flexion underneath spine; an invitation for joint concentration and muscular synergy”. Sitting on a horse encourages the rider to find midline.
    • “So anything that can maximize or normalize motion and alignment of joints [such as riding]…has the potential of improving the actually functioning of their brain and their body for the rest of their life! Feed those joints with motion, drive those higher centers of the brain into action, wake up those incompletely developed motor programs, help the body to find join centration of the spine, and from there increase muscular synergy”
    • “The movement of a rider on a horse provides challenge and input to the midline stability system; it also rehabs the all-important midline stability of the body, allowing for better muscle synergy for the development/rehab of other movements. In general, it provides much stimulation to those all-important spinal and pelvic joints; filling the cerebellum with input and thus driving cerebral activation, activating stored motor programs, and improvements to higher functions.”
    • Always ask, “Are they symmetrical?” Anywhere there’s asymmetry, work on it, because once there’s symmetry, the joints ready to do more complex things.


Note: This is not professional advice, this is a blog. I am not liable for what you do with or how you use this information. The activities explained in this blog may not be fit for every rider, riding instructor, or riding center depending on their current condition and resources. Use your best personal judgment!

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