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SportBallet Online


By Stephen M. Apatow
Biomechanics Specialist & Technical Consultant

During the 1980's, a specialized analysis, correction and retraining program was developed to enhance the joint flexibility and technical performance of competitive international level dancers in Soviet ballet training. The primary method used encompassed the analysis of a dancers postural alignment to the mechanical ideal of the development program. Next, functional limitations in flexibility of the spine and extremities are isolated, direct traction applied and a technique used to increase the elasticity of the abnormal muscle-tendon tension relations of the joint complex. This procedure yields an immediate change in functional range of motion, providing the dancer with the capacity to correct the postural alignment problem. The dancer is then worked with manually to develop control of the correction. This foundation, combined with a stretch program is then integrated into all ballet classes and choreography. Dancers have demonstrated the capacity to improve hip turnout, functional flexibility of the legs in all classical positions and technical ability to improve from 2-3 turns on pointe to 7-8 turns on pointe, in as little as a one month concentrated program prior to international competition.

In 1994, after learning about the application of the procedure in a cervical entrapment neurapathy case on the wife of a physician at Yale Medical School, a veterinarian in Northern Nevada requested our help with a spinal condition involving a 12 year old basset hound.The case encompassed a lower thoracic herniation which was acute for six weeks and not responsive to drug treatment, leaving the pet unable to support its weight on it's hind legs. During our first session, the veterinarian and assistants helped while the problem was assessed and small muscle tendon restrictions in the back, pelvis and lower extremity isolated. As in humans, the approach yielded an immediate increase in joint range of motion providing the dog with the functional capacity to support its weight on its hind legs, with stability maintained when the hind end was lifted and released from approximately 6 inches above the ground. One week later, after only one session, the owner brought the pet back in for an examination, the dog stood up and walked out of the exam room.

Shortly after realizing our capacity to improve the functional performance of a quadruped, we were interested in exploring applications to increase the speed of race horses and performance of high level sporthorses. Our first case was a Hanovarian jumper at the Franktown Meadows Equestrian Facility in Northern Nevada. According to the trainer, the horse was the most flexibility restricted in the facility, requiring over a one hour warm up period prior to lessons or longer for competition. The assessment of muscle-tendon relations of the spine and extremities resulted in our isolation of restrictions and hypersensitivity which contributed to numerous compensatory patterns. The same procedure was used to increase the elasticity of the affected structures, a number of which exhibited hardening or fibrosis due to trauma or a chronic condition in which compensatory changes resulted in stabilization. As with the basset hound, we were able to immediately increase the elasticity of these structures, decrease the hypersensitivity and observe an immediate increase in functional joint range of motion.

After the assessment and procedure, we proceeded to saddle and have the trainer assess the functional capacity of the horse. To our surprise, the horse walked out relaxed and with the same level function that was experienced after a prolonged warm up period. During the session the horse warmed up and progressed proportionately. The training objective was then to progressively work with movements which could be executed correctly, avoiding any destabilizing compensatory pattern. If a problem was observed in a movement, the instruction was to back off, and only work in a range which the horse could work correctly and below a threshold of discomfort. Our capacity to increase the joint flexibility to accommodate stability, combined with efforts to control inflammation, led to the continued progress in the horses performance.

The wonderful thing about the horses was that once you were able to provide them with the functional capacity to work without pain, they would automatically adjust their mechanics into a correct pattern, a scenario that just doesn't happen quite as easily with humans. To date, doors have opened to adapt this work on numerous small animal cases with conditions ranging from herniations to arthritis and hip dysplasia as well as hundreds of sporthorses in dressage,hunter-jumper and western training programs.

For additional information on this work, visit SportBallet Online:

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