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The Veterinary Journal 2000, 160, 225234

doi: 10.1053/tvjl.2000.0507, available online at on

Body Centre of Mass Movement in the Sound Horse


Clinic of Orthopaedics in Ungulates, University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna, Veterinrplatz 1, A-1210 Wien, Austria

The body centre of mass (BCM) is a key factor in the analysis of equine locomotion, as its position and move-
ment determines the distribution and magnitude of loads on the limbs. In this study, the three-dimensional
(3D) movement of the BCM in walking and trotting horses was assessed using a kinematic, segmental
method. Thirty markers representing 20 body segments were recorded in 12 sound horses while standing,
walking and trotting on a treadmill using a high-speed video system. Based on segmental inertial data, 3D
positions of the segmental centres of mass as well as the total BCM were calculated. The position within the
trunk during square standing and the movements of the BCM were determined for the three planes.
The position of the BCM in the standing horse is presented relative to external reference points. At the
trot, vertical displacement amplitude of the BCM amounted to 53 (6) mm as mean (sd), which was 27%
smaller than external trunk movement. Medio-lateral displacement amplitude of the BCM was 19 (4) mm,
34% less than trunk amplitude. Sagittal forward-backward oscillations of the BCM independent from
general forward movement were 13 (3) mm, being 24% less than trunk movements. At the walk, vertical,
medio-lateral and sagittal BCM movements were smaller than trunk movements by 43, 65 and 65%
The results show reduced and efficient BCM movements compared to the trunk and form a basis for the
assessment of various clinical conditions such as lameness, the influence of a rider and various dressage
2000 Harcourt Publishers Ltd
KEYWORDS: Horse; centre of mass; kinematics; segment model; locomotion.

INTRODUCTION Wanless, 1999) and estimations of the BCM posi-

tion in the horse are used to guide riders to find
The determination and analysis of the body centre
the best position with minimal disturbance. Early
of mass (BCM) is a key part of biomechanic analysis
scientific studies about the position of the BCM in
dealing with the kinetics of a body. BCM is defined
standing horses were published in 1934 by Benke.
as the centroid of all mass elements of an object
Using a Borelli moment table, he was able to deter-
(Nigg, 1994) and its position and movement pat-
mine the position of the BCM in the sagittal axis.
tern determines, for example, the load distribution
Various head positions of the horse and the influ-
on the limbs and the external work of locomotion.
ence of rider posture on the overall centre of mass
In humans, the BCM movement is widely used both
were studied. Using this method, however, the posi-
as tool for basic biomechanic research (Cavagna
tion of the BCM only in the craniocaudal axis in
et al., 1963; Winter, 1979) as well as in clinical appli-
the standing horse could be measured. Knoll
cations (Saunders et al., 1953; Simon et al., 1977;
(1934) was the first to measure the different posi-
Iida & Yamamuro, 1987).
tions of the BCM in the moving horse. He meas-
In horses, the position of the BCM is frequently
ured the segmental masses of equine cadavers and
mentioned in equitation books (Romaszkan, 1957;
used plastillin models of the segments to deter-
mine segmental centres of mass assuming equally
Correspondence to: Dr H.H.F. Buchner, Clinic of Orthopaedics distributed density. Combining these segmental
in Ungulates, University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna, data and pictures from kinematic recordings, Knoll
Veterinrplatz 1, A-1210 Wien, Austria. Tel.: +43 1 25077 5508; fax.:
+43 1 25077 5590; e-mail: could determine geometrically the BCM position

1090-0233/00/030225 + 10 $35.00/0 2000 Harcourt Publishers Ltd




Fig. 1. The 20-segment model of the horse. Straight lines indicate the segment boundaries, grey circles the markers for
the recording of the reference points and back movement. The cross indicates the position of the body centre of mass
(BCM) in the square standing horse. The movement axes (x, y, z) of the global co-ordinate system are indicated.

in the sagittal plane at various instancets during all with modern gait analysis and computation tech-
gaits and during jumping. However, the database niques allows detailed and reliable determination
was still limited (there were no cadaver studies on of BCM movement patterns in moving horses to be
the position of the segmental centres of mass) and, determined.
probably owing to the huge amount of work The purpose of this study was to determine the
involved in the data analysis, only exemplary posi- 3D position of the BCM within the horse as well as
tions and no total pattern of the motion were the locomotion pattern of the BCM at the walk and
reported. Basing on the work of Knoll (1934), the trot for all planes of motion using a kinematic,
Krger (1941) discussed in more detail the BCM segmental method.
displacement. He first mentioned the possible
significance of craniocaudal BCM movement in MATERIAL AND METHODS
lame horses as means of relief of a lame limb.
In a survey reported by Leach and Crawford Horses
(1983) on future research in equine locomotion, Twelve horses, seven geldings and five mares, aged
the determination of the BCM and the influences between four and 22 years were used. All were
of various segments on BCM movement were iden- Warmblood horses of different size with a body
tified as major areas for future study. Since then, mass between 450 and 670 kg. The horses
two-dimensional (2D) segmental centre of mass belonged to the University of Veterinary Medicine
data for Thoroughbred horses (Sprigings & Leach, of Vienna and were clinically examined for absence
1987; Kubo et al., 1992), as well as the complete of any lameness. All horses were well trained to
three-dimensional (3D) inertial data set of Dutch treadmill locomotion (Buchner et al., 1994), shod
Warmblood horses (Buchner et al., 1997) have with standard open shoes and accustomed to the
been published. Combining these accurate data recording environment.

Segment model BCM calculation

For the assessment of the BCM, a 20-segment The calculation of the BCM was a two-step proce-
model was chosen (Fig. 1). In accordance with the dure. Firstly, for each frame and each segment, the
inertial segmental data set of Buchner et al. (1997) 3D position of the segmental centres of mass within
the following segments were defined: head, neck, the global co-ordinate system were calculated from
trunk, tail, digit, metacarpus, anterbrachium and the reference marker positions and using the iner-
shoulder for each fore limb, digit, metatarsus, crus tial segmental data from Buchner et al. (1997).
and thigh for each hind limb. Relative segmental Using only two markers for each segment, no rota-
masses and position vectors for all segmental cen- tional movement along the longitudinal segmental
tres of mass were taken from Buchner et al. (1997). axis could be assessed, but this movement is
Owing to significant skin displacement of the assumed to be very small and negligible. Shoe mass
marker at the neck/trunk junction (C6), its posi- and position of the CM were considered with the
tion during locomotion was calculated based on digit data. In the second step, a weighted sum of all
the triangular position of the marker at the withers segmental centres of mass was calculated to give
(Th5), the first coccygeal vertebra and C6 during the x, y and z co-ordinates of the total body centre
quiet standing. of mass for each frame.
The equation for the x- co-ordinate is given by:

Kinematic recording rm1x1 + rm2x2 + rm3x3 + + rmnxn

Spherical passive markers, 4 cm in diameter, were xBCM =
attached to the skin of the horses at specified refer- M
ence points (Buchner et al., 1997) (Fig. 1). An addi-
tional five back markers were used at the level of where rmn equals relative mass of segment n; xn
the dorsal spinal processes of thoracal vertebrae equals x-co-ordinate of CM of segment n and M
Th5, Th10, Th16, the lumbar vertebra L3 and the equals body mass.
cranial edge of the sacral bone to analyse the BCM In this global co-ordinate system, the x-axis is
position relative to trunk movement. positive in the forward moving direction of the
The locomotion pattern of the horses was horse, the y-axis is positive in the left lateral direc-
recorded while standing, walking (1.6 ms1), and tion and the z-axis is positive in the vertical upward
trotting (3.9 ms1) at a constant speed on a tread- direction (Fig. 1). The position of the BCM in the
mill (Mustang 2200, Kagra AG). Kinematic data standing horse is related to the position of external
were collected using the ExpertVision analysis trunk or limb markers (Th5, Th16, Tuber spinae
high-speed video system (Motion Analysis scapulae and Trochanter major). To determine the
Corporation) at a frame rate of 120 Hz during 10 s. position of the BCM from external markers, regres-
Six cameras in total with a resolution of 240 833 sion equations for x and z co-ordinates of the BCM
points were used on both sides of the treadmill. were tested for their significance. As independent
variables, the sagittal distance between Th16 and
Th5 as well as withers height were used.
Kinematic analysis BCM movement at the walk and the trot were
Following calibration of the cameras the markers then analysed for its displacement in
were tracked automatically under manual control. forwardbackward, mediolateral and vertical direc-
The raw data were smoothed and stored. General tion. For visualization, 2D movement is shown in
stride variables (stride duration, stride length, the three movement planes: xz, yz and xy plane
stance duration) were calculated and all strides (Figs 2ac). To allow the comparison of BCM and
normalised to 100% stride duration. The stance Th16 in one graph, the positions of both points
phase was defined by a statistical method determin- were standardized to their position in the standing
ing the horizontal speed distribution of the hoof animal (stand = 0). The movement of the BCM
(Peham & Scheidl, 1998). The kinematic variables within the body was calculated as the difference of
were calculated for each stride, controlled for Th16 and BCM, and is shown as relative BCM
irregular strides and averaged for each recording. movement in Figures 3ac. The displacement
No correction for skin movement (except C6) was amplitudes of the BCM were calculated and com-
performed. pared to those of the trunk marker Th16.

Vertical movement (m) Forwardbackward movement

0.01 0.07
a c
Th 16 Th 16

BCM 0.05 BCM


caudal cranial right left

0.09 0.03
0.02 0.00 0.04 0.06 0.08 0.10 0.12 0.02 0.03 0.04 0.05 0.06 0.07
Forward -backward movement (m) Medio- lateral movement (m)

Vertical movement (m) Fig. 2. Mean displacement pattern of body centre of

0.01 mass (BCM) and Th16 marker of 12 horses in the xz
b plane (a, seen from the right side), the yz plane (b, seen
from the front side) and the xy plane (c, seen from the
0.01 ground) during one complete stride. The arrow indi-
cates start at suspension before landing of the left fore
BCM limb and direction of the movement during the stride.

were compared using paired students t-tests. For
Th 16 all tests a significance level of P < 0.05 was chosen.
Data are presented as mean values and standard
deviations of all horses.
right left
0.02 0.00 0.04 0.06 0.08 0.10 0.12 RESULTS
Medio-lateral movement (m)
The mean position of the BCM in the standing
horses relative to the positions of the external
Statistical analysis markers is listed in Table I. For an individual local-
The regression equations were tested for statistical ization of the BCM, the position in craniocaudal
significance using Pearsons correlation coeffi- direction can be calculated from the regression
cient. Displacement amplitudes of BCM and Th16 equation using the distance between Th5 and Th16

Table I
Position of the body centre of mass (BCM) in the standing horse relative to trunk markers in x, y and z
direction in 12 horses
Mean distance to BCM (m) Regression equation R2
xBCM 0.10 0.49 0.72 xBCM=xTh16+0.403 (xTh5xTh16) 0.0562 0.37*
(0.05) (0.05) (0.05)
yBCM 0.01 0.17 0.29
(0.03) (0.06) (0.10)
zBCM 0.22 0.11 0.02 zBCM=0.723 zTh5 + 0.122 0.86*
(0.04) (0.03) (0.03)

Data are presented as mean (sd). Th16: back marker at level of the dorsal spinal process of the 16th thoracic vertebra;
TSS: Tuber spinae scapulae; TM: Trochanter major; *: P < 0.05

Vertical movement (m) Table II

0.00 Displacement of the body centre of mass (BCM)
and the trunk (Th16) in x, y and z direction in 12
horses at the walk and the trot
axis BCM (m) Trunk (m)

0.02 Walk X 0.014 (0.005) 0.040 (0.009)*

Y 0.020 (0.002) 0.058 (0.016)*
Z 0.020 (0.008) 0.035 (0.013)*
Trot X 0.013 (0.003) 0.017 (0.004)*
caudal cranial Y 0.019 (0.004) 0.029 (0.011)*
0.04 Z 0.053 (0.006) 0.073 (0.008)*
0.025 0.020 0.015 0.010 0.005 0.000 0.005
Forwardbackward movement (m) Data are presented as mean (sd).
*: P < 0.05
Vertical movement (m)
b marker as external reference length. Roughly, this
position is near to the dorsal process of Th13 or at
0.01 the lowest point of the back in the saddle region.
The vertical position can be estimated using the
0.02 regression equation (Table I) using withers height
as reference length and is approximately 2 cm
beneath the hip joint. The position in the medio-
0.03 lateral direction was slightly out of the median
plane, a distance of 0.01 m to the left of the median
right left
0.04 line.
0.05 0.04 0.03 0.02 0.01 0.00 The movement of the BCM was found to be
Medio - lateral movement (m)
smaller than Th16 movement in all three move-
ment planes both at the walk and the trot. Figure 2
Forward-backward movement shows the 2D movement of the BCM and Th16 for
0.00 xz (sagittal) plane, yz (mediolateral/vertical) plane
and xy (horizontal) plane at the trot. All graphs
start (arrow) with the suspension phase before the
stance phase of the left fore limb. In the sagittal
plane (Fig. 2a), as seen from the right side of the
horse, both BCM and Th16 show two nearly sym-
metrical oval circles. Both points move down and
slightly forward at the beginning of the stance,
0.02 then back and down until the midstance position.
Slightly after starting the upwards movement, the
right left propulsion caused a forward movement in the sec-
0.02 ond half of the stance phase. Looking from the
0.05 0.04 0.03 0.02 0.01 0.00 front of the horse (Fig. 2b) the BCM movement
Mediolateral movement (m) showed in addition to the vertical movement, a
slight leftright movement directed to the weight-
Fig. 3. Mean relative displacement of the body centre of bearing limb during the stance phase. Th16
mass (BCM) within the trunk of 12 horses in the xz plane marker showed a mediolateral movement in oppo-
(a, seen from the right side), yz plane (b, seen from the site direction. Accordingly, Figure 2c combines for-
front side) and xy plane (c, seen from the ground) dur- wardbackward and mediolateral movement
ing one complete stride. The arrow indicates start at sus-
pension before landing of the left fore limb and pattern in one graph.
direction of the movement during the stride. Figure 3 shows the movement of the BCM within
the trunk during one stride at the trot. Owing to

walk Vertical movement walk

Forwardbackward movement
1.6 1.4
(m) (m)
head and neck
head and neck
right forelimb
left forelimb

0.8 BCM
both forelimbs


trunk both forelimbs

all limbs 1
right forelimb left forelimb
% of stride
0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100

0.2 left hind limb right hind limb 0.9 all limbs
both hind limbs
right hind limb
0.4 both hind limb
left hind limb
% of stride
0.6 0.8
0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100

the larger displacement of the trunk compared to plotted together for the x-direction and z-direc-
the BCM, the relative movement was in the oppo- tion. In the figures showing the x-direction move-
site direction to the absolute BCM movement in all ment (Figs 4a & c) the opposed movement of
three movement planes. The displacement ampli- contralateral limbs is nicely visible. The combined
tudes in x, y and z direction are shown in Table II. contralateral limb pair centre of mass is not a con-
BCM displacement is generally significantly smaller stant position, but moves sinusoidally with the most
than trunk displacement. At the trot, BCM x (for- cranial located position shortly before the begin-
wardbackward) displacement was 24% smaller ning of the stance phase of each limb. In the verti-
than Th16 displacement, y (mediolateral) displace- cal direction (Fig. 4b) the shift of 25% between
ment 34% smaller and z (vertical) displacement fore- and hindlimb pattern at the walk evens out
27% smaller. At the walk this difference was even most vertical movement of the all-limbs-combina-
more evident than at the trot: BCM movement was tion. At the trot (Fig. 4d) the synchronized move-
65, 65 and 43% smaller than Th16 movement in x, ment of fore and hind limb caused the same
y and z direction respectively. sinusoidal movement as all other body segments
The share of different body segments and com- and the overall BCM movement.
binations of segments of the BCM are illustrated in
Figure 4. Both for the walk (Figs 4 a & b) and for
the trot (Figs 4 c & d) the movement of the four
limbs, the fore-limb and hind-limb combination, all The position of the BCM in horses has been of
limbs combined, the head and neck combination, interest both for equitation schools and for biome-
the trunk and as the sum of all the total BCM are chanic research for a long time. However, the

Forwardbackward movement Vertical movement trot

1.8 trot 1.5
(m) (m) d
1.6 head and neck head and neck

left forelimb right forelimb

1.2 1.3

both forelimbs BCM

all limbs both forelimb
1 right forelimb left forelimb

% of stride
0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100 0.9
both hind limb both hind limb all limbs
right hind limb left hind limb
left hind limb % of stride
right hind limb 0.8
0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100

Fig. 4. Centre of mass movement of various segment combinations and the body centre of mass (BCM) in the
forwardbackward (x) direction at the walk (a) and the trot (c), and the vertical (z) direction at the walk (b) and the trot
(d) during a complete stride in one horse. The graph starts with placement of the right fore limb till the next placement.
The co-ordinate system is calibrated with its origin (x, z) at ground level between fore and hind limbs.

calculation of the BCM position needs a high tech- fore- and hind-limb centres of mass. The second
nical effort and was possible with reasonable accu- method for the determination of the BCM move-
racy only for the standing horse in longitudinal ment, often used for human locomotion research,
direction (Benke, 1934). Knoll (1934) was the first uses force plate data (Simon et al., 1977; Iida &
to estimate the BCM position for particular Yamamuro, 1987). Measuring the ground reaction
instances of moving horses, but the lack of anatom- forces of a person and integrating the forces twice
ical data and processing capacity impeded the use gives the BCM-displacement in each moving direc-
of his results for biomechanical analyses. Only the tion. This method is relatively simple and non-inva-
availability of accurate inertial properties of horses sive, but needs the total ground reaction forces of
(Buchner et al., 1997), together with modern the subject during the stance phase. With horses
kinematic equipment allow for a thorough assess- having at most times at least two limbs with simulta-
ment of the 3D-BCM movement using a segmental neous ground contact, this would need a set of
analysis method. This segmental method using the force plates to gather the force data simultaneously
weighted sum of all segmental centres of mass in all supporting limbs.
enables not only the calculation of the total body The segmental method of BCM assessment also
centre of mass, but also the share of particular has some limitations. Firstly, the inertial properties
parts of the body such as head and neck, or the are based on cadaver studies and the data of the

living horses could be estimated only using regres- a lower vertical position of the BCM, basing on
sion equations. Additionally, the original data base their trunk centre of mass data. However, their ver-
belong to Dutch Warmbloods with a slightly more tical trunk reference line is described with a varia-
narrow mass range than the Warmbloods used in tion of the dorsal origin between Th10 and 12.
this study. This introduces some systematic error in Owing to the curved shape of the back in this
the absolute position of the BCM, but the displace- region this reference length definition can cause a
ment pattern and the relative movement of the variation in length and origin C which might be
BCM are fortunately not influenced. A second limi- responsible for the high variation within their
tation lies in the fact that living horses are not rigid three horses and the low position in their
body systems, which is a basic principle of the estimation of the trunk centre of mass.
segmental method. Muscle shape changes and skin The movement of the BCM both at the walk and
displacement necessarily cause some additional the trot follows in its general pattern the move-
error in the results, which have a constant pattern ment of the trunk as shown for Th16 (Figs 2ac).
during all strides. In addition, the use of only two However, in all three movement axes, the displace-
markers in this study to characterize one segment ment amplitude of the BCM is significantly smaller
does not allow for the assessment of rotational than the external visible trunk movement. This
movements around the longitudinal segmental axis shows a smooth and small BCM movement, which
of each segment. As these movements are only very contributes to the high locomotor efficiency of the
small owing to the limb and joint geometry in horse. This difference also shows the need to use
equine limbs, these limitations are considered the real BCM displacement pattern for the calcula-
acceptable for the assessment of the general move- tion of the external work for locomotion, as
ment. None of these errors in the results, however, described by Minetti et al. (1999). An assumption of
impedes an assessment of various influences on similar movement ranges of BCM and external
BCM movement as, for example, different riding trunk markers would clearly overestimate the real
techniques or changes in the locomotion pattern energy requirements of horses for external work.
owing to lameness. The reasons for these smaller displacements are
The position of the BCM in the square standing different for the walk and the trot. In the walking
horse is as described in 1934 by Benke and was horse, the trunk shows two cycles of a rotational
shown graphically by Seiferle and Frewein (1977). movement around the medio-lateral axis during
Benke (1934) found the position in forwardback- one stride. This means while the cranial part of the
ward direction to be at a distance of 42.86% of the trunk reaches a maximal vertical position during
body length (distance from the cranial shoulder midstance of a fore limb, the caudal part reaches its
contour to the caudal contour at the Tuber vertical maximum 25% of the stride duration later,
ischiadicum) caudal from the shoulder, which is during midstance of one hind limb. The BCM,
slightly more caudal than found in this study (Fig. located near to this mediolateral rotation axis of
1). This position near Th13 comes close to the low- the trunk, has consequently less vertical movement
est point of the back line of horses and allows for than the peripheral trunk locations. At the trot,
an alignment of the riders centre of mass with the however, fore and hind limb cycles are synchro-
BCM of the horse in the craniocaudal direction nous and so almost no trunk rotation takes place.
(Benke, 1934). The vertical position of the BCM, During trotting, a vertical bending of the equine
however, proved to be significantly higher than that back might cause an increased vertical movement
estimated by Knoll (1934), who assumed an equal of the middle part of the trunk at Th16 compared
density distribution in his plastillin model of the to Th5 or the first coccygeal vertebra (Audigie
trunk. The dorsal position of trunk segment parts et al., 1999). This implies that real BCM movement
with high density, such as the spine and back mus- might show a larger vertical displacement than cal-
cles, and the ventral position of the parts with low culated in the rigid body model basing on periph-
density, such as the lung, cause a much more dor- eral trunk markers (C6 and coccygeal markers),
sally located position of the BCM than has been but less displacement than found for Th16 at the
estimated up to now. This vertical position can be middle of the back.
calculated using the regression equation given in The segmental method allows us to analyse all
Table I and may be located roughly 2 cm beneath possible combinations of segmental units and to
the hip joint. Sprigings and Leach (1986) reported assess their share for the overall BCM. The most

significant influence is of course the movement of REFERENCES

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