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Equine Postural Balance

Do you know what postural balance means, or have you ever stopped and asked yourself what it is and whether it concerns you?

Postural balance is principally the ability of the animal to maintain the body’s centre of mass over its centre of pressure on the ground. Postural balance is about the animal using all its sensory inputs to maintain the centre of mass over its base support. The animal's ability to self-maintain correct postural stance is also affected when carrying a rider or feeling a nearby threat, as it changes the musculoskeletal system alignment and affects the body's centre of mass.

Equine balance is also affected by the sensory inputs from the eyes, ears, muscles, and joints that signal the brain through nerve impulses from specialised sensory receptors to achieve postural balance. The vestibular, visual, and sensory receptors are part of the proprioceptive system the equine uses to identify its orientation in space concerning gravity while considering the direction and speed of movement and automatically determining the postural adjustments required to maintain stability under various conditions and activities.

For the animal to not fall over, it needs to control a vertical line from the centre of mass of its body and project that line to the ground. Hence, it stays within its support base with minimal movement or swaying. There needs to be a certain amount of swaying and adjusting of orientation due to normal movement when breathing and shifting body weight, e.g., changing foot position and looking around its environment. When the horse’s body is in equilibrium, and there is no net force at work, it can actively resist the external forces of gravity that pull it towards the earth.

An equine will constantly change its anatomical segments, such as the distal interphalangeal joint (the pedial bone, short pastern bone and navicular bone),

to align with the task at hand, whether standing still or moving around. The nervous system is responsible for maintaining equilibrium by ensuring optimal biomechanical functionality. Mechanical stability of the individual body segments and the joints that link them together falls to the nervous system for control. Therefore, mechanical stability requires controlling the body’s centre of mass.

The centre of the pressure point within the rectangular support base determines the degree of the animal’s postural instability. The closer the centre of the pressure point is to the outer edge of the rectangular support base, the more instability the animal must endure in order to maintain its posture. This instability determines the foot placement during the stance phase and as the animal activates the muscle system to keep its balance, maintain support against gravity, and control the height of the centre of mass within the body. In addition, the nervous system must account for the opposing forces of the ground pushing upwards against each foot and the ground balance alignment of the hoof capsule. Our trimming process plays an important part here, ensuring the animal is not imbalanced, as the hoof capsule's ground balance affects upper body posture and balance.

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