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What Does it Really Mean to 'Engage' the Hind End ?

The hind end of the horse has for so long intrigued me. As a rider I have heard for years, “engage the hind end”, “he has to push from behind”, “ride the hind end forward” along with many other instructive statements presented by amazing and well-meaning trainers, masters and instructors that I have had the privilege of riding under.

Yet what exactly does that mean? It is known that the hindquarters of a horse is indeed the engine, yet an engine converts energy to power and it is from the power that the movement is created. So often the energy of the hindquarters is not producing power and the movement that results is lacking such. Therefore, to attempt to further engage a hind end that is not producing energy becomes a recipe for imbalance and incorrect movement. It also encourages a swing from the hind limbs instead of propulsive energy activated by the neuro-muscular system. By contrast, with correct neuro-muscular activation, proprioception is enhanced and communication from the central program generators, [which incidentally are activated from the front limbs of the horse] assists in the prescribed movement of the spine, which then functionally shapes the top line of the horse, generating hind end movement. .

So, what about a horse’s hind end has fascinated me all these years? It is the matrix of communication that is genetically inherent in each horse at birth. it is the complexity of the structure, the communication of the musculo-skeletal system that has so many moving parts and is reliant on many aspects of neuro programming that are not often taught. It is the communication between the muscles of the hind quarters and the emotional, limbic system of the horse. It is the brain wave patterns that influence whether a movement is relaxed or in tension based on an emotional limbic response. it is the neurons firing in a completely different part of the body that are ultimately the template for hind end motion. All of these factors play into the incredible movement of the pelvis which by nature of its function, has to be stable and mobile at the same time, and ultimately effect the complex engine we call the hind quarters.

As riders, we are seeking lightness. Lightness comes from unseen elements between horse and rider that are either present or not before hands on work even commences. Lightness comes from the most intricate nuances of conversation between horse and rider. So subtle that the conversation exists in time and space, and if mis-read in that time and space, is temporarily misplaced until another opportunity [the next ride or time together] presents itself.

Once lightness has been discovered through the conversation, then appreciation of emotional, physical, mental and spiritual balance is at play. Through that conversation comes information as to where the physical body of the horse is seeking support at that time. Simultaneously, a request through the space, and an awareness of the equine body is emerging regarding the emotional support necessary, either independent of that particular part of the body, or in relationship to it. This can be considered a multi-level conversation between horse and human and is only available if both are speaking the same language. That means we the human step into the timeless space of the equine language.

That door way leads to the path of balance and rebalance. To bring this full circle back to the hind quarters, it is through working with the emotional conversation that we can witness in what capacity, and where the horse is requesting support. To experience lightness throughout the horse, you as the rider and handler must have the flexion both emotionally and physically to elevate your own body and receive the grace and precision of the horse. That lightness will open the handler to the expression of new concepts and allow old systems and techniques to be rebalanced or sometimes replaced by new.

Often, with a focus on correct hind end mechanics and function, horseman have literally put all their attention on just that ~ the hind end. Yet the language of the hind end is partially initiated by the Central Program Generators which are located through the spine, but are accessed through the deliberate and intricate placement of the front limbs. This is subtle to the eye, yet is a powerful emergence of movement, activating neurons that translate the language of the genetic organization of the gaits in a way that it should be heard. Through the equine nervous system.

Working with the emotional system of the horse allows us to aid, re-inform and rebalance the hind quarters. It is through awareness of basic genetic programming that we can access the hind quarters through the front end. It is through knowledge of the mechanics of the hind quarters that we can begin to appreciate the complexity of correct and elegant function that is available to each and every horse, by understanding the hind quarters.

In Equine Self Expression’s ‘Equine Nervous System III Workshop ~ The Function of the Hindquarters’, these subtle [and not so subtle] nuances will be taught through power point, hands on experiential lab, followed by guided in hand work to activate the dance of lightness in each horse and handler combination.

For more information on this workshop in Oconto, WI, November 14-15, please visit our schedule page at For a flyer or to sign up, contact the clinic host, Carrie Dunlop at

Come join us and open your own door to discovering a new sense of lightness in the dance with your horse.

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Equine Self Expression

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