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The Uphill Horse Vs The Downhill Horse

The Uphill Horse Vs The Downhill Horse


Welcome to the beginning of my Jumping Formula! To do my coaching method justice, I need to emphasise the importance of how a horse is supposed to use its body while jumping. For that reason, I begin with the uphill horse vs the downhill horse. 

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By Amanda Wilson | Tuesday, 26 June 2018

To start this article off, I want to explain an uphill horse vs a downhill horse. In my previous article on horse anatomy, I showed where the Shoulder Blade and Humerus sits, (, creating an angle where the bottom of the Shoulder Blade connects with the top of the Humerus which runs back to the point of the elbow (as shown in the picture below). Towards the back of the horse, the Pelvis runs from the top of the Sacral Vertebrae down to the point of the rump (the boney lump on either side of the tail) and connects with the top of the Femur which runs down to the point of the stifle creating an angle also.   


THE DOWNHILL HORSE | When the Shoulder angle closes it causes the whither to drop which opens the Pelvis angle in the hind end of the horse, causing the spine in that area to lift. This creates a downhill horse as the hind end is now higher than the front end, which will cause gravity to naturally feed the weight from the back end of the horse into its front end.



THE UPHILL HORSE | When the Pelvis angle closes (the horse having loaded its weight onto its back end) it will cause the spine at the back of the horse to drop which will cause the Shoulder angle in the front end of the horse to open, causing the whither to lift. Thus creating an uphill horse - gravity will now naturally feed the weight from the front end of the horse down the spine towards the horse's hocks. 


Horses are designed to push off their hindquarters into an open uphill shoulder. If you imagine there are springs in the horses back fetlocks and all the weight is loaded correctly from the front end to the back end of the horse, that weight hits the springs and propels the horse up and over the fence creating a scopey and effortless jump. Its front end (having no weight on it) will snap up quickly with no restrictions, creating plenty of clearance and tighter knees. 


When ridden properly, Cassonova is very careful with his front end. However, if I soften my body forward over his shoulder on take-off or I don't get him uphill into the fence he will roll onto the forehand and jump over his shoulder making him more prone to taking a rail.


However, if the horse canters into a fence with all the weight on its front end, (leaning on our hands or with its shoulder angle closed, causing gravity to feed the weight down into the front hooves) then the horse will be unable to push off the ground properly and will often hesitate on take off as it tries to figure out what to do with the weight. This can result in the horse having to throw itself at the fence, twist to get out of the way, drift, jump over the shoulder and more. All of these issues, if done over an extended period of time, will have a severe impact on your horse's soundness as it twists and turns itself inside out to get itself over the fence as safely as possible. If it jumps like this too long and has a crash then it is also more likely to hit the brakes and throw in a stop or a run out and it certainly more likely to smash out rails.


As a general rule of thumb, at least in New Zealand anyway, over 80% of jumping horses that I watch, jump with the majority of weight on their front end. This weight can vary upwards of 10-60kg that it is having to get off the ground (coming from the hind end and the weight of us as a rider). If you imagined you were a horse and you were having to carry that much weight on your front hooves when you are cantered into a fence, where do you put the weight? And more importantly, would you feel safe taking off? 


Conformation has a huge part in a horse's ability to sit in the hindquarters and open the shoulder angle in the front end. Some horses are built bum high (their rums higher than their whithers) which will cause gravity to naturally feed weight from the back end to the front. Cassanova is slightly bum high so I have to be very aware of this when approaching a fence. If I soften on takeoff he rolls his own weight forward and will tip the rail whereas my TeamWS mare Quintesse Z is a very uphill horse and is built with a higher whither than rump. 


Our Team WS stallion Waffle, imported from Belgium, has SUPERB conformation. His shoulder angle is naturally very big and open and he has a beautiful back end designed for sitting.

Breed also is a factor. Quarterhorses are usually bred slightly higher in the rump then in the front end because they need to be able to drop low for spins. Thoroughbreds are also often bred downhill (rump higher than whither) as it encourages them to take a longer flatter stride for speed, although this is not always the case.


Quarterhorses are generally built bum high.

Rider position effects how the horse loads its weight. A rider who leans forward over the shoulder will load extra weight onto the horses front legs. Tall riders or heavier set riders will have more of an impact than smaller, petite riders but even tiny riders can off balance some types of horses.


Speed is a big factor involved with weight dispersion. If the hindquarters are generating a lot of power then that power will usually travel down the spine towards the front end of the horse and hit the shoulder blade angle causing the horse to drop on the forehand.


Racehorses canter on a longer flatter stride to cover more ground. I refer to a flat stride as one taken with the weight on the front end that covers a longer distance than your typical stride.


Soundness is a big factor also. Horses with hind end injuries such as chips in the hocks, arthritis, sacro injuries, spine injuries, hip injuries, bad feet (and some barefoot horses also if they do not have much sole or ability to get traction) are more likely to want to canter on the forehand (another word for downhill).


Feret was a classic example of a horse who struggled to sink his weight into his hind end. He was very strong in the mouth and always rushed, he could never sit and maintain a nice rhythm off a soft contact.  I rode him a handful of times before deciding he needed to have his spine x-rayed. He was diagnosed with one of the worst cases of kissing spine the vet had seen on a horse. 

Now that I am aware of how important this weight dispersion is I always try to buy horses with big forward shoulder angles (so I can't off balance them so easily) and with a nice strong back end with a good hock angle and I will also do soundness checks (this will be shown in future articles). Once I have made sure I am starting with good foundations I then turn to my schooling which is an extremely important element in training the horse how to work uphill. I do a lot of hill riding where I stay seated in the saddle to encourage the horse to push off its hocks, I also do many transitions which develops sitting muscles (where the hamstrings are), grid work, playing with different canter gears, canter poles and many others.


Dressage is such an important factor in teaching a horse how to use their bodies correctly. If a horse does not know how to soften correctly through the wither, neck and jaw, they cannot bring their hind end through properly and will either always want to run out the front door or will slip behind the leg. Both of these issues will hugely affect your ability to ride to a good distance and will limit the height your horse will be able to jump (even if it is built to jump a bigger fence). It is also very important in building correct muscle for a horse to be able to hold itself together. Without correct muscling the horse will easily fall apart, get exhausted faster and be more prone to injury and bad experiences in the jumping arena because their job becomes too difficult.



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1 comments on article "The Uphill Horse Vs The Downhill Horse"

April Ellerbeck

The horse in leasing is always in the forehand so I've been doing a lot transitions. But she typically is behind my leg on the flat and then running away with me when we start to jump.

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