Icelandic Horse Connection

The Horse's Ring of Muscles

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Which muscles hold up the horse's back?

It's actually the ring of muscles which include the abdominal, the scalenus, and the semiteninosus.

The keep this ring of muscles active, the horse needs to be ridden in a way that will preserve the health of the horse's back. The easy gaits of gaited horses tightens or contracts the back muscles. To keep the back muscles healthy, they need to be stretched.

Proper use of the ring of muscles allows a horse the opportunity to reach his full athletic potential and helps to keep a horse sound for the long-term.

A TTEAM practitioner said, when talking about the balance rein: "The light pressure on the base of the neck helps to trigger the "seeking reflex" which is the third part to the "ring of muscles" that is necessary for proper engagement. It encourages the withers to rise and the neck to telescope from the horse's shoulder: the opposite of tightening the poll and jamming the neck."

The horse's back is held up by a series of "cables" which includes ligaments and muscles, some of which are shown on the image, such as the dorsal ligaments, the scalenus, the semiteninosus, and the abs.

The longissimus dorsi (the muscle that runs along the length of the back) is not responsible for holding up the back. It's job is to stabilize lateral movement and serve as a medium for sending movement from the hindquarters forward.

To keep the back of the horse healthy, the other muscles in the "ring of muscles" are exercised and strengthened. This can include any number of exercises such as head-down, long and low, lateral flexion, disengagement of the hind, neck telescoping, belly lifts, etc.

Function of the Ring of Muscles begins with the loins, so let's take a look at that part first. Here's a picture of my horse's loins (the width happens to be marked in this picture).

The loins (also known as the "coupling") are between the lumbo-sacral joint (LS) and the thoracic lumbar junction (TL). They are marked on the following image.

You can find these areas on your horse by palpating for the LS joint. Feel down the spine and when you get to the hip area, feel for a spot that doesn't have bone--sort of a small trampoline-feeling area.

To find the TL junction, put your fingers on the last rib, and follow it up to the spine.

Once you've found the loin area, you can define the loin triangle and "evaluate" it. In this picture, the loin triangle is outlined. It shows the line up of the LS (lumbo sacral) joint in relation to the hips. This horse has a wide loin--from side to side-- (good for carrying a rider), but also a long loin--from front to back-- (not so good for back health). A wide, but short (from LS to TL) is stronger for carrying a rider. For this horse and his particular loin area, we try to keep it healthy with suppling exercises.

Strength of top line and loin muscles over the kidneys are factors that influence soundness and athletic ability.

Horses that have excessively long backs are unbalanced and weaker in their top lines than short-backed horses. The loin should be well-muscled and strong as opposed to being long, weak and poorly muscled.

Some things to look for are: pain, tight muscles in the loin area, atrophy, "stringiness" feeling under the skin, bumps, lesions, obvious pathology of the bones (for example hunters bump).

Good loins should be smooth and broad.

Problems in the loin area: Outward manifestation of symptoms might include some of the following: a wry tail, turning away from approaching people, movement while mounting, unsettled attitude while ridden.

We get to the tricky part now! In the gait of tolt (rack), the ring of muscles is not really working the way it should!
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