The Impact of Horse Movement and Handling on the Rider

The following notes are from the 2014 PATH Intl Conference seminar “The Effects of Equine Handling on the Biomechanics of Mounted Human Subjects” given by Celia Bower, PT, HPCS, and Margo Dewkett, Master Instructor, of Windridge Therapeutic Equestrian Center of East TX, who has been utilizing hippotherapy for 10 years active in researching efforts to validate equine movement (click here for more info about their research). The application of this research on teaching lessons is very good!

First, a brief description of the study.

  • The purpose was to measure the reflection of the horse’s movement on the rider.
  • They measured a horse and rider at 3 paces:
    • Casual walk = left side, horse selects pace, loose lead, crooked, distracted
    • Working walk = actively led from left, lead contact, purposeful body language, straight
    • Long line = from behind and to side, rein contact, connection, purpose, impulsion
  • They measured the horse’s stride Length, Frequency, and Gait
  • They measured the rider’s Pelvic movement and Trunk movement at all 3 paces.

The main results were:

  • Casual Walk – beneficial, horse tracks up, pelvis moves a lot, “stuff is going on, just not as much as at the working walk”
  • Working Walk – most beneficial, horse overtracks, pelvis moves even more, greater range of motion in the pelvis and lumbar spine than the casual walk
  • Long Line – similar results as working walk
  • Gait Speed increases caused lumbar flexion to increase
  • Stride Velocity increases caused lateral pelvic tilt to decrease
  • Stride Length increases caused lumbar rotation to decrease

I’m not going to go into all the details of the results – if you want that, go see their handout from the conference by clicking here. I want to share the application and how to use it in lessons!


  • You can influence the client using gait speed, frequency, and length.
  • Use the Working Walk!
    • Riders receive the most beneficial input and increased pelvic/lumbar range of motion at the working walk, as opposed to a strolling casual walk.
  • Educate leaders and horses!
    • Leaders and horses should be able to adjust gait movement (speed, frequency, length), so you have options to work with.
    • Train horses – to adjust gait movement
    • Train leaders
      • Coach them how in lessons.
      • Teach them how in continued leader trainings.
      • Keep horse and handler together so more in tune with each other and responsive so can give you that adjustable movement you need
      • Teach them straightness, bend, connection, lateral movements, safety
      • At trainings put masking tape T across front and back of riders and leaders collarbone, shoulders, chest, back, waist, hips, and horse’s hips and backbone, and have them watch from front and back, watch what horses do in response to rider, and vice versa
  • Keep horses straight.
    • When the horse is are straighter, their legs are further apart because they are not leaning or rebalancing, so their base of support is wider and their stride is truer.
  • Consider horses’ movements and program’s current needs
    • Do you have the quality of horses you need for your current riders?
    • If limited resources, prioritize which clients and horses need which handling techniques.
  • Assess horse movement every year to help select for riders
    • Assess: horse, height, width, lead/longline, astride, side sit, backward, weight bearing (leaning on hands what motion/pressure receive), circles/turns, trot/job, inside/outside, rider/client type
  • Consider horse’s preferences
    • likes long lining better, dislike bits, distracted by leader, respond better to closer handler, etc.
  • Consider rider’s movement needs
    • For anterior/posterior movement
      • use a horse with adjustable gait that can increase stride frequency
    • For Lateral pelvic movement
      • horse with adjustable gait speed
      • then stride frequency/length
    • For lateral lumbar flexion and rotational components
      • might require other movements/techniques such as circles, hills, leg yields, etc. because it changes the lateral rotation etc
    • Rider needs leg yield = hard in halter than long line


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 judgement!

One thought on “The Impact of Horse Movement and Handling on the Rider

  1. Cindy,
    Thank you for your blog. There are so many great ideas and applications. This was a great summary of the presentation and how to apply it. Keep up the great work!

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