The Dynamics

(The Forward Swing of Cadence - The Kinetic Energy of the Legs in Motion.)


Cadence - is the legs interchange in particular/certain time intervals.
Well-balanced horse will have relatively slow cadence and his gaits will be crisp and springy. For the slow cadence is important the longest possible time carrying period of the hind leg. A strong pushing-off, long advancement and prolonged carrying time of the hind leg causes free/relaxed/light, roomy and cadenced transition of the diagonal front leg. A horse that interchanges/alternates his legs quickly travels in a fast cadence and tires quicker.

Impulsion - results from the energy of the hind legs pushing-off the ground and the advancement of the hind legs. Brisk, lively and regular movement of the legs, as well as the entire body is showing the impulsion in the individual gaits. From the horse is required to move in every gait and speed/tempo with adequate impulsion, which will guarantee the lightness of movement and flawless execution of a needed task.

The kinetic energy of an object (in this case the advancing leg) is the energy which it possesses due to its motion. It is defined as the work needed to accelerate a body (in this case the leg) of a given mass from rest to its stated velocity. Having gained this energy during its acceleration (in this case during impulsion), the body (in this case the leg) maintains this kinetic energy unless its speed changes. The same amount of work is done by the body (in this case the leg) in decelerating from its current speed to a state of rest, which in the case of horse's gaits assists in lifting the front end of the horse.

Leg Motion Phases

The horse's leg in motion either rests on the ground supported by the hoof, or is moving above the ground. Generally there are recognized 6 basic phases.

  1. The take off phase, which is the position of the extreme rear point when the leg is leaving the ground.
  2. The forward movement above the ground, which consists of two phases:
    a.) The draw in phase, (or re-collection in the case of the hind leg), which is from the take off phase until the moment when the leg is passing the opposite leg that is in the upright position of its supportive phase.
    b.) The step phase, or stepping out phase, which is from the passing of the upright leg to the landing phase.
  3. The landing phase, where the extended forward leg touches the ground.
  4. The carrying phase, which is from landing until the moment when the leg reaches the upright position.
  5. The supportive phase, where the leg is in the upright position.
  6. The forward pushing phase, which is from the upright position until the take off phase.

These above are just the general terms, and the functions of the motions, especially those of the energies, differ somewhat in the hind legs and the front legs, obviously, which will be pointed out in this article. I have put these phases up, to point out that there is a seventh phase missing, or better said, the kinetic energy of the swing motion is missing, which is within the second phase when the leg is above the ground. Since I am not aware of any riding term in English, referring to this energy, I named it the "Cadence Swing", which is actually very important part of the propelling energy, as well as the dynamics of the horse, very much relevant to the lightness and crisp movement of the horse in all gaits. It is also the only part of the propelling energy that the rider can manipulate, which is the essence of riding in hand. It is only through the hand aid that we can influence or manipulate the cadence swing motion energy, and with it then the balance, the collection, the impulsion, as well as the suspension, and that in all gaits. One could say, that the leg and seat aids are prompts, while the hand aid is a stimulus.

The Cadence Swing

Since we are talking about the mechanical kinetic energy of the leg, during the forward advancing motion, when speaking of the cadence swing, it cannot be seen, but can only be felt when on horse.  For this reason I will compare it to a kicker of the football. Let's look at the scenario of the kicker. There is a person setting and holding the football in upright position so the kicker can kick the ball. Imagine that at the precise moment, when the kicker is about to kick the ball, the person holding the ball would move it suddenly to the side. The obvious thing would happen, where the kicker would more likely end up sitting down on his hind end. In short, the energy of the kicking leg did not have the ball to absorb it, and so it followed through, and the kicker obviously fell on account of it. In the horse, this cadence swing of the kinetic energy in the hind leg in forward motion is absorbed into the front end of the horse via the loins, which is exactly what gives the horse the lightness of movement.

The forward factor of cadence, or as I refer to it, the swing of cadence, is fairly ignored factor in riding today, as most folks simply have no clue that it even exists, let alone what it is about. When we are talking about the swing of cadence, we are talking about the kinetic energy of the hind leg from the final point of pushing off to the most forward advance stage (point) of elevation. The longer and the more energetic this phase is the lighter and roomier the gait.

Just like the impulsion is tied to the loins and to lifting the front end of the horse, so is the swing of cadence involved in the same. For example in the trot, say the right hind is pushing off, while the left hind is in the cadence swing. One could say that the impulsion gives the horse the power, and the swing of cadence gives the horse the lightness, or elevation in motion, or in the more sentimental term, elegance. A horse that moves with a strong impulsion, and with energetic and long cadence swing, has good dynamics, endures longer, is faster in its gaits, safer to ride, and most of all last much longer in service.

Of course all this is fairly impeded once the horse travels with his impulsion line below the hips, or better said, once the horse travels on the forehand. Furthermore, once a horse flexes at the neck, and not at the poll, the rider can no longer influence anything when riding, not the collection or impulsion, let alone the cadence swing.  This improper riding causes the energy of the cadence swing to end in the horse's back, and not continuing onto the front end through the back and neck, hence the rear end is often lifted higher than the withers, especially in the canter, which results in the so-called "humping movement" of the rear end, which reflects in the rider's seat, in his back and forth movement of his upper body during the canter.

The swing of cadence is part of the re-collecting process when in motion, and so as you can see the impulsion, the cadence and the collection are tied to one another, hence influence each other equally. The swing of cadence is greatly influenced by the freedom of the horse's back, especially of the loins, hence the more we sit in the horse's back, or the further back we sit on the horse, the less cadence swing, and of course the less impulsion. It is through this swing of cadence that we regulate the collection of the energies of the horse's motion, and through the impulsion phase we regulate the release of these energies, hence we control the entire motion of the horse in every step, as well as direction. This is of course impossible if the bit is below the hip, neck flexed at the center, and dead and irresponsive jaw. Therefore, the essence of riding solely rests in the hands of the rider and in the horse's jaw, hence supple jaw, free neck and back, are of the essence, and of course a decent hand by the rider.

I will try to attempt to demonstrate what the cadence swing does, and how it influences the horse's movement and its dynamics. I will start at first with the gallop, where it can be easier seen and understood.

Please notice in all depictions of phases, in trot and gallop alike, that the impulsion line is pointing up. Meaning that the bit of the horse is well above the hip of the animal.

This is a typical rider that just sits on a horse like on some bicycle and lets the horse deal with his weight as it does, which in this case is too much on the forehand. Riding like this is the main contributor to lame horses in racing, as well as in any riding gaits or styles.
The same incompetent riding is of course in all the phases depicted here, unfortunately, but at least the horse in these motion frames is not on the forehand. Some horses handle the weight of the rider better and safer than others.
1 2 3 4 5 6

Please note in all the phases that the top of the croup is always the same height as the withers, or the same with the hip and tip of shoulder blade.

The Cadence Forward Swing of the Hind Legs- Gallop

The Impulsion - Gallop

1 2 3 4 5

The phase of impulsion begins at the landing (1) with the beginning of the landing phase, and ends somewhere between the phase 4 and 5, at the final push off of the hind hoof toe, which is not depicted in these phases. This is why we pay attention to shoeing and related traction, lest the horse loses the footing during this final phase of impulsion and injures its stifles. In this way stressed or injured stifles then result in pain in the loins, which in return influences the cadence swing, and of course with it the collection and impulsion.

The Cadence Forward Swing of the Hind Legs - Trot

Since trot is a simultaneous diagonal interchanging of the legs, the impulsion and cadence swing work simultaneously opposite each other side by side. The good and strong pushing off the right hind, and the strong and energetic cadence swing of the left hind leg, lift the front end of the horse from the loins up, through the lever mechanics at the hip, all the way to the poll, and form there mechanically to the tip of the nose.

Please notice and compare!

Please notice in these phases that the hind leg is last to leave, and in no time the front leg alone supports the horse in all the above trotting phases. Any decent rider should have his horse moving at least in the same way as the free horse is above in the trot. This alone should serve as the criteria for riding balance. Please note the bit is above the hip of the horse!

This above is an extreme out of balance, on the forehand going. Horse is obviously landing on its front leg, unlike in the pics above. Needless to say that horses like this have very hard and irresponsive jaw, which basically reflects the rider's hands and the brutality of the same. It is a genuine sexist presumption that women are gentle creatures, because through arrogance and ignorance they can become more brutal with horses than men, and of course they don't like to hear that. Hence I am pointing out on the main page, that the human arrogance is the major cause of the suffering of not only horses, but also all life. Arrogance and ignorance are two sisters that walk hand in hand.

A man calls a wise man stupid. The wise man responds with: "What have I done?"
A man calls a stupid man stupid. The stupid man replies with: "Don't insult me!"
The latter is arrogance and ignorance, the former is humility and wisdom.

We say that stupid is as stupid does. Only a genuine arrogant fool feels insulted or offended by being called stupid for doing something stupid.

The higher in riding you go, the worse the riders. Please note the crippling supportive position of the left front, that is the last one to leave the ground in this crippled half pass. This is how they cripple so-called dressage horses today. At one time the dressage was reserved solely for the military officers of the cavalry, these days any housewife takes part. I guess this is the result of feminist equality. Not bout if you can do it, but rather if you are allowed to do it, hence the "equal rights" nonsense that allows the incompetent to take part, but it is all OK, as long they "love" horses. The hind legs are well off the ground, while the entire weight of the horse rests on the front leg in trot. This is downright an extreme on the forehand, but to fools it all looks nice, especially if one dresses the horse and her self for the occasion. Please note the similarities in all these crippling pictures, as all horses are below the impulsion line, in short, off balance and on the forehand.
This absurd and pitiful attempt to present passage clearly demonstrate the restraining of the forward cadence swing of the hind legs by the rider (note the rhythmical - cadenced pulling back on the bit). In this picture it is very apparent how the misdirected cadence swing energy ends in the back under the rider, which causes the rider to bounce as she does, up and down, as if riding a camel. Please notice, this horse is literally walking in the front, while the rear humps up and down, because the energy of the cadence swing has no place to go but up, since the horse is so heavily on the forehand. This motion of the horse literally resembles the mechanics of the wheelbarrow, hence the rear (the handles) go up and down, while the front literally roles over like some wheel. The impulsion pushes the horse forward, but there is no cadence swing of the impulsion to assist in lifting the front end of the horse. This picture shows a little more freedom of the horse, hence the cadence swing energy is transformed more onto the front end, which causes the horse to get more suspension, as opposed to the picture on the left, where there is no suspension of the front leg what so ever. This is not a good example of the long (extended) trot, but it does show what happens if we restrain less the horse's motion forward than in the case of her deplorable attempt for passage on the left.
The irony of both pictures is that the passage is supposed to have more suspension than the trot, more elevation in the air, and as it is in this case the opposite is true, hence the word absurd is more than suitable.


The Cadence Swing of the Front Legs

Action - describes the style/form that the legs exhibit during the time period when they are moving above the ground/in the air in reference to the height and roominess of the gait. The action depends on the structure of the legs, on the relative length ratio of the bones and the carrying time period of the hind leg. Various breeds and kinds of horses have their own special/certain action high, low, flat etc. (carriage horse has a high action as against the racehorse has low and flat action).

As mentioned above, the energy of the cadence swing of the hind legs, and its effect on the motion of the horse, differs from the cadence swing of the front leg. Here, in the combination with the high action, the front leg cadence swing eases the burden of the break over stress. In other words, the higher action, with energetic cadence swing in one leg, assists in the lifting of the opposite leg exactly at the point of break over. For this reason, in the old and sane days, people bred the high action into the carriage horses, since these horses had to travel on fairly hard surfaces, like stone paved roads.

In traveling on hard surfaces, the break over stress is increased, which in return puts a lot of stress on the deep flexor tendon, and with it of course on the navicular bone. In horses with low action, the cadence swing of the front assists in the speed of the horse, in propelling the horse forward, rather than assisting in lifting the opposite leg during the break over. From this, one can then understand why we have to use the suitable breed of horse for the intended work for which it was bred, which of course is ignored by most people in the equine world today.

For example, the thoroughbred is bred for speed and for running over longer distances, in which case the forward cadence swing of the front assists the speed, while there is hardly any assistance in lifting the front by the front cadence swing, because all the assistance comes from the rear leg cadence swing and impulsion, or push if you will. Many people use retired thoroughbreds for riding in the riding rings, totally ignorant of these facts, and so many of these animals, some 30%, suffer injuries to the navicular region, while hardly any go lame from the navicular related pain when on the track racing. This again is caused by the same folks being ignorant of the surface they ride on, which is too hard in many cases. Though I have made this clear to so many people over the years, most simply ignore it, but they love their horses, as they say. In these cases, the ignorance is bliss for the idiot, while it is pure hell for the horse, and the horses don't talk or complain, or better said people ignore it when they present resentment or even pain.

If one has to ride horses on a hard surface, he must first of all acquire a suitable breed of horse, as well as suitable individual horse, for such purpose, like some genuine Arabian desert bred horse, that more likely has very strong hoof, as well as the higher action in the front leg, which was bred into them, as these horses were for most part ridden in very rocky desert. A horse traveling on hard surface under the rider, especially in faster gaits, is much better off without shoes, but that is another subject that I hope to present one of these days.

And so if you have a horse that has low action, make sure that you ride the animal on softer and deeper surface, especially when riding in turns, or you will surely end up crippling the horse for life. No one in a sane mind gallops a horse on hard surface, especially when shod and low action. Please pay attention and notice if the following scenarios display themselves before you. Watch a horse gallop on the grass, and then watch the same horse gallop on the hard surface or pavement. You will notice two things for sure, and you will be able to hear them as well. On the softer and supple surface, in the energetic gallop, you will hear more or less three beats, as two of the four become almost simultaneous. The same horse will also display a longer stride. The horse galloping on the hard surface will shorten its stride, elevates the action of all four legs, all to reduce the break over stress to the front, as the horse feels the discomfort and pain. You will also hear four beats in the gallop. This alone bears witness to all that I am saying, hence I need no people to approve of what I write, but rather the horses themselves bear witness to all of it, that is if one can actually see it and notice. The most repeated phrase by me, to majority of horse people is, "You don't know what you are looking at!", and of course they don't believe me, unless I can literally stick their nose into it, when possible.

The Points of This Lesson.

  1. We do not ride coldblooded horses or heavy warmbloods, because they do not have sufficient rear leg cadence swing, hence very limited help in lifting the front end. They were bred for walk and for heavy draft or agricultural use. Since these horses have such low dynamics, they are easy to sit on for the nincompoop greenhorn, and so they buy them for riding.

  2. We do not run fast the horses with high action, due to the high impact of the front legs, and the lack of forward cadence swing in the same.

  3. We do not run or gallop any horses on hard surfaces, especially not when shod. It takes a special, usually smaller, and lighter horse, without shoes, for such activity, like the old Mongol horse or the desert Arabian, and others bred for such purpose, or in such environments.

Written by Ludvik K Stanek a.k.a Lee Stanek (2011)