Movement Development, revisited

Something that has been blowing my mind lately is connections between child development, watching my baby learn to move, horseback riding, therapeutic horseback riding, and rehabilitating my own core. Because they are really all the same thing.

Motor Development

A few years ago I posted about Movement Development and Stability. The seminar made me aware of the stages of infant motor development. It goes something like this:

  1. Baby lies on back, breathing – breathing works the inner core and pelvic floor, it’s the start of everything!
  2. Baby tucks chin and lifts head to look at legs (you could tell our baby already had some natural obsession with trying to touch his toes) – develops deep inner core muscles
  3. Baby moves head side to side to look around and moves legs
  4. Baby rolls over by looking so far to the side that his body follows his head, then by using the same side arm and leg to push over
  5. Baby, on tummy, lifts head to look around
  6. Baby reaches out to sides
  7. Baby reaches across midline – develops oblique and trunk muscles
  8. Baby rocks back and forth on hands and knees
  9. Baby crawls on belly, or on hands and knees – using opposite arms and legs
  10. Baby pulls up on objects
  11. Baby walks sideways on objects
  12. Baby walks forward from one object to another
  13. Baby walks on its own

This development process requires feedback from the joints, which drives the growth or revealing of the nervous system, circuit developments, and motor skills required for things like walking. The development starts with the muscles that stabilize the spine and trunk. Once core stabilization is achieved, the arms and legs can move around the core without compromising the core’s stability, and be used to do things. The stages build upon each other and develop with each other. With each progression the baby’s spinal curves develop and they move toward better and more upright posture. With each progression the baby is able to make more and more diverse vocal sounds, since speech requires core stabilization for lung strength and breath coordination.

Watching my baby learn to move and go through these stages has been like learning this information all over again! And it’s amazing how hard it is and how long it takes. He spent 4 months looking at his toes trying to reach them. The day he reached his toes was huge. Current life goal met. I didn’t really understand these stages until I watched him go through them.

Horseback Riding

Learn to ride is like learning to walk all over again! Without the ground under your feet to depend on for balance, the rider must learn to use their seat and core to balance. I think the stages are similar (at its most basic):

  1. Rider sits on horse.
  2. Rider learns to balance head on top of the “building blocks” – head, shoulders, hips all stacked/aligned.
  3. Rider learns to look around and turn torso without losing balance.
  4. Rider learns to move legs without losing balance.
  5. Rider learns to use each limb separately without losing balance.
  6. Rider learns to use opposite limbs together.
  7. Rider learns to use different combinations of limbs as aids to cue the horse.

Similar to learning to walk, the rider has progressed through stages to develop spinal stability while on the horse so that they can use their limbs separately to effectively cue and ride the horse.

Therapeutic Horseback Riding

Kids with disabilities often have challenges that prevent them from going through these stages of motor development, preventing the natural progression of spinal stability and movement.

Horseback riding is an amazing tool because it naturally moves the body in the positions that a child with disabilities may have missed:

  • The horse’s hips move the rider’s body (especially hips and core) in a way similar to walking
  • The horse’s movement requires the rider to sit taller, more balanced, and find midline, leading to the spinal stability and symmetry needed to perform most movements and speech
  • The horse’s movement feeds joints with motion, providing the brain with the joint feedback needed to drive the development of neuropathways and incomplete motor programs
  • The horse’s movement requires many tiny balance adjustments requiring the use of core strength
  • A rider put on hands and knees on a pad on the horse’s back can experience similar crawling movements in joints

This gives the brain the opportunity to develop the brain circuitry and muscle memory that allows progression through the stages, or at least improves spinal stability so some progression in movement can occur.

Core Rehab

I have been thankful to learn some really good methods of rehabilitating your core post-partum. Anyone who has diastasis recti (abdominal muscle separation) or pelvic floor issues (think incontinence) needs to rehabilitate their pelvic floor and deep core muscles. Interestingly, the process is the same as babies learning to roll, crawl, and walk! Most of the systems I’ve looked (Nutritious Movement, MutuForce Fitness workshop,  etc.) at have very similar if not the same methods:

  • Breathing is where it all starts. Breathing correctly keeps everything inside in place, decreases intra-abdominal pressure, and starts you feeling where your inner core and pelvic floor are.
  • Have good posture. Make sure you’re not still standing like you’re pregnant with your hips thrust forward.
  • Restorative baby movements that rebuild all the connections:
  1. Breathing and lower ab contractions
  2. Neck nods – tuck your chin and look at your toes
  3. Dead bug neck nods – same but with legs held up at 90 degrees
  4. Heel slides – on back, bend knees with feet on ground, slide one leg out and back
  5. Dead bugs – on back, bends knees at 90 degrees, extend one arm and leg, keeping back on ground
  6. Half rolls – reaching across and down while laying on back
  7. Egg rolls – side to side while holding knees, looking first with your head like a baby
  8. Full rolls – laying down, look first then roll over
  9. Rocking horse rolls – hold your knees and rock up and down
  10. All fours rock backs – on hands and knees
  11. 1 leg rock backs – lift one leg back
  12. 1 arm rock backs – lift one arm forward
  13. Bird dog – on all fours, extendone arm and one leg, alternate
  14. Crawling forward and backward
  15. Bear crawl (crawl on hands and feet)

Going through these exercises, I’ve been amazed at the similarities to the progress of a baby learning to crawl, and also the difference it’s made in subtle internal core strength I didn’t know I’d lost with pregnancy. But it totally makes sense that you need to go back to basics and do the same motor movements that got your there in the first place.


Anyway, all that to say that after watching my baby and going through it myself, I have a whole new understanding of the motor development process and watching our riders on horses, and it blows my mind. They are so similar!! May you see the connections too, and have a deeper understanding and appreciation for the amazing things simply riding a horse can do for the body!


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! If you would like to contribute an activity or article, please contact me here, I would love to hear from you!


One thought on “Movement Development, revisited

  1. Very well explained the developmental movements and the relevance of each stage built one over the other so as to integrate them to achieve the crawling movements that later on help in walking.
    As an infant undergoes through these stages in a spontaneous manner, the same way somehow I could also be able to develop a habit revisiting these movements or reflexes for the rehabilitation of my shoulders being a recurrent shoulder dislocation sufferer.

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