Be your own Biomechanist: What to look for in your photos

If you can afford regular lessons with a good instructor you’re laughing. If not eyes on the ground or at least a video can be a real help. Even if all you have is the odd photo you can still plan and make progress.

So, without further ado, here is why Carl Hester is better than me, from a biomechanics perspective.

Here’s that photo from the previous post, of Carl and Uthopia in competition (right) and me slobbing about on the left:

Carl’s horse is obvious happier, it’s more uphill, it’s more engaged and swinging through. All this is easy to see when you have a comparative photo opposite. But let’s assume you don’t. Here’s a few basic biomechanics things you can look at in any picture, with or without a gold standard.

1) Would it make a statue?
Even though Uthopia (right) is on one leg, you could imagine it as an ambitious statue. If my photo was made into a statue, little horse would fall on his nose. In biomechanics terms, what you’re looking at is whether the horse and rider’s centre of gravity is over the base of support. Imagining the statue helps you do this, without the maths, and in my case makes it obvious that he’s not that well-balanced. I find thinking about this helps when I’m riding too.

2) Check your verticals (pictures below)
Carl’s horse’s nose is slightly in front of the vertical, as is correct for a dressage test. He is sitting slightly behind the vertical (the line of his back is more or less parallel with his horse’s nose). My horse is behind the vertical and I need to straighten up and get my shoulders back too.

3) Check your horizontals – is the horse uphill?
Badly timed or angled photos can easily hide how uphill a horse actually is, so if you compare your horse’s back to the fence line look at the whole horse -. If we look at the top of my horse’s back it doesn’t looks so bad, but if we look at the whole horse and check for lowered (engaged) quarters and raised shoulders the illusion is shattered. Compare the little guy to Carl’s horse.

Moving on….

4) Is the horse tracking up and symmetrical?
For the horse to use its back effectively (see previous posts) the hind legs should be stepping well underneath it. Check whether the hind hoof is landing in the print of the fore hoof. In walk your horse should over-track – the hind hoof should land well in front of where the front hoof left the ground. My horse, on the left, is trotting so we can also check for symmetry – are the diagonal pairs synchronised? It’s pretty common to start to spot problems in extended or very collected work. My horse is looking nicely symmetrical and similarly Uthopia is clearly in the midst of a clear three beat canter, with the diagonal pair well matched.

5) Is the horse happy and relaxed?
Yes, this is a biomechanics thing! Muscle tension is the enemy of athletic performance and my little stallion is not just giving his grumpiest just-been-told-off face and tail twitch but you can see the muscle tension in his neck, shoulders and back. Carl’s horse, Uthopia, on the other hand.. oh, you get the idea…..

6) Is the rider secure? Dancing with the horse or fighting against it?
Ok, first let’s all concede that my photo is taken from a very unflattering angle! Ok. So if you look at Carl’s seat and leg, ignoring the lower leg, you can see his security comes from the seat and length of thigh. Even if his leg ended where his boot started, you can see he’s staying on. Look how ineffective my seat and thigh look in comparison. Admittedly my legs are shorter than Carl’s but I’m not using what I’ve got. My security is coming from the lower leg, a show jumping habit, whereas it should be coming from higher up.

People are intuitively good at maths. You use it every time you catch a ball – having successfully predicted it’s path and timing, allowing for gravity, momentum, and air drag. Horse riders tend to be doubly so. Carry on using it.

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3 Responses to Be your own Biomechanist: What to look for in your photos

  1. Shannon says:

    I just love Carl Hester, he’s so elegant on a horse. It’s certainly something to aspire to!

    Thanks for pointing out ways to objectively look at photos. I find that so many people just look at the horse’s head and say “Ooh, he looks great!”, without taking the whole picture into account.

    Great post and great blog in general! I hope you write more soon!

  2. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Consider you and your horse as “works in progress.” It takes a lot of time and talent–on both horse and rider’s part to aspire to the Carl Hester standard. He and his horse make an elegant pair. Wow!

    Regardless, your analysis is excellent and very interesting. I like how you break down the details. Thanks for an informative and valuable post.

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