Guest Blog: Physiotherapy for the Equine Athlete – The Muscle Chains. Emma Green

 In Equine Physiotherapy, Guest Blogger

In order for us to not only care for the body of the equine athlete, but also to be able to train it and assist it to perform at its best, we first need to have a good knowledge and understanding of how it works.

So many of us hear ‘ride your horse long and low’ or ´lengthen the horses frame’ but for many riders these are just words with no real meaning behind them.

In order to understand these phrases, train your horse to correctly allow support of the skeleton and develop the muscles, we must look at the horse’s muscle chains.

As discussed in my last blog there are seven hundred muscles in the horse and therefore it takes groups of muscles to work together in order to carry out one simple movement.

The coordination of these groups of muscles allows the horse to move the head, neck, back, pelvis and each limb in synchronicity, so the horse can perform the correct movement required.

One muscle is linked to another, therefore each muscle influences another muscle in the body and creates a reaction throughout the whole body. For example, tension in the muscles around the jaw will create tension through the poll and lumber region of the back, causing the horse to hollow it’s back, reducing stride length and inhibiting full flexion and suppleness.

We can group the muscle chains together for better understanding, naming them the Extensor Chain and the Flexor Chain.

The Extensor Chain is responsible for moving your horse forwards, made up on the topline muscles, it also enables several movements such as rearing, kicking or browsing high from trees and shrubs. It is important the extensor chain in maintained and trained correctly in order to keep it supple and flexible.

extensor muscle chain

When a horse is hollow in the back and not working correctly, the extensor chain is contracted, therefore not allowing the horse to extend through the neck, back and hips. As a result of this the horse muscles continue contracting the horse becomes very tense and stride length is limited, with the hind limbs working out behind the horse. If a horse is trained with the extensor muscles contracted over a large period of time it can cause conditions such as Kissing Spines.

Although it is important to allow the extensor chain to work in an upwards direction sometimes (tree grazing or a high hay-rack) to assist with posture, it is very important the structures are allowed to relax from contraction in order to assist with support of the spine, whilst carrying tack and a rider. Working long and low encourages the muscles to warm up correctly, work in a stretched position and therefore encourages the extensor chain to support the skeleton.

The Flexor Chain is made of the muscles on the horse bottom line. Forming some of the core of the horse and allowing the horse to lift the back, flex the neck, back and hips. Although these muscles lie below the spine, they do support the spine and are responsible for good posture of the horse’s back.

flexor muscle chain

Contraction of the flexor chain allows the horse to lift the body, particularly through the abdominal’s and power forwards. The flexor chain works to bring the hind limbs of the horse underneath itself and therefore allows the horse to sit back onto the hind limbs, where the extensor chain then works to propel the body forwards.

Both chains must work together in order to create a correct gait that is smooth and supple.

With this in mind, keeping the muscle chains in top condition is also a job for your horse’s physiotherapist. Regular physiotherapy will ensure that the muscle chains are not carrying any tightness and soreness, will release any tension of the fascia covering the muscles and will ensure your horse has full joint mobility.


E Green Animal Physiotherapy was set up by  Emma Green after twenty five years working within the equine industry. Emma qualified with a BSc degree in Equine Science and Management in 2004 and went on to complete a Post Graduate Diploma in Veterinary Physiotherapy, specialising in equine and canine physiotherapy.

Emma furthered her education by studying equine chiropractory techniques allowing her to offer skeletal manipulation techniques and gaining her qualification in equine kinesiology taping.

Emma offers the highest standard of veterinary physiotherapy and is accredited by the Register of Animal Musculoskeletal Practitioners (RAMP), and the International Association of Animal Therapists (IAAT).

Further details can be found on my website

To find a physiotherapist within your area visit the register of musculoskeletal skeletal practitioners

RAMP ensure that every member is fully qualified, insured, works with veterinary referral and continues with professional development through their career. 

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