How we move off the horse influences how you move on the horse.
A riders effect on their horses movement
As a rider, you spend countless hours ensuring your horses are fit, strong and supple enough to carry out whatever task you require of them. Undoubtedly, your feed room is something similar to a pharmacy, and little expense is spared ensuring your horse is not only fit but also nutritionally balanced. You spend thousands of dollars on shoeing, massage rugs, body work, supplements, but has it ever occurred to you that no matter how much money you spend, you are still only treating half of the equation?
You would never dream of getting on your horse and getting straight to the krux of your training plan that day – the potential injuries and subsequent time out of the competition arena as a result of overstressing cold and unstretched muscles, ligaments and tendons are a riders worst nightmare… so why would you get on your 500kg, unstable based, thinking, breathing horse without taking 10 minutes to warm yourself up first? How could you possibly ensure your horse is warmed up, supple and ready to begin a rigorous training session if you yourself are stiff, one sided and unprepared to support your horse during this session?
How your body affects your horse’s body
Have you ever considered that the perfect 20m circle to the right, and the wonky, falling in egg shaped creation on the left are actually as much your own physical issues as they are your horses? We all know horses have a hard side, but when was the last time you identified and tried to work on balancing your own hard side?
Poor movement off the horse can create riding issues such as;
● Inability to keep your heels down
● Knee gripping, an unstable lower leg feet flapping
● Bouncing in the saddle during sitting trot
● Coach always repeating the same issue e.g. elbows sticking out
● One stirrup longer than the other
● Easier to leg yield on one side than the other
A lot of articles I read on rider fitness focus on core strength, and don’t get me wrong, but it is core stability that is crucial to maintaining your position while riding, but nobody seems to focus very much on your hips. Think about it, which part of your body makes the most contact with your horse? Absorbs the movement during sitting trot? Must move in multiple different directions to facilitate that large, over tracking walk all dressage riders aspire to, sit fluidly to an extended trot and glide effortlessly into canter? Without hip mobility, core strength has nothing to base itself on.
What this means for you as a rider
Without taking into consideration how you and your horse move together as a pair, and only focusing on how your horse moves and what your horse must improve on to reach your goals, you are only addressing part of the puzzle. How can you gain the most marks in the Collective Marks in dressage for Impulsion, Submission and Rider Seat and Position (all coefficient marks), if your seat is blocking your horse from being able to come through from behind, or your shoulders are locked up, which means your hands are not allowing your horse to ride positively forward into them?
Do you have a horse who constantly picks up the wrong canter lead? Who struggles to bend more to one side? It doesn’t matter what level you compete at, what discipline you choose, or whether your enjoyment with your horse is trekking, endurance or having fun – having a stable, secure seat and engaging the correct muscles can make the difference between you and your horse having a harmonious relationship.
Think about it – every rider, regardless of the discipline, requires an independent seat. This independent seat then lends to a stable lower leg (do your legs flick back when you are jumping?) and independent hands, things that many riders struggle with.
Riding, whatever the type, is a sport. Horses are athletes, and so too are their riders. Can you think of any other sport that doesn’t require some form of sport specific fitness?
How I can help you
As a movement coach I understand how you move and how your body is influencing your riding – a riding coach understand how to get you and the horse working together but they rarely look to see if you have the capacity to perform the task. They assume you have the capacity!
Having trained for years, and worked with numerous different elite athletes alongside their sport specific coaches (including Olympic level dressage riders), My point of difference is that I have the ability to work with your coach and identify areas within your body that might be preventing you from getting that elusive 8 in your trot half pass, or taking that extended trot from a safe 6 to a solid 7. Once these areas are identified, I am able to put together a plan to improve these areas – these will include hands on manipulation such as massage, kinesiotaping, exercise programs and warm up plans along with qualified nutritional advice.
When I watch someone ride I can the work alongside the riding coach to get the body doing what its supposed to be doing.
One of my clients was struggling with shoulder in. Rather than turning her shoulders from the ribcage to follow the horses shoulder movement, her body found an easier way to achieve this, and instead rolled the outside shoulder forward. Rather than providing a clear body cue to the horse, instead she was blocking the horse with her outside rein as that shoulder rolled and locked. I was then able to work with the rider, while her coach focused on the correctness of the movement, to identify why her shoulder wanted to roll, rather than be able to complete a fluid movement with the upper body as a whole, and resolve the issue she had been having with shoulder in.
Another client was always being told to keep her heels down, but on assessment we discovered nerve tension which meant the brain did not want to put this area under considerable strain With some simple corrective exercises and physical treatment, this issue was quickly resolved, and there was no more yelling “put your heels down” from their coach.
A bit about the author:
I am a qualified Health and Movement Coach with over 20 years experience in the health and fitness industry. My love of learning and how the human body functions drives me to help others be the best they can be.
My love of working with equestrians started in the UK where one of my clients was Angela Weis (Great Britain National Para Dressage Coach) and and her students (both para and able bodied). During this time, I met GB Paralympic Gold Medalist Sophie Wells, with whom I worked alongside for many years, including in the all important lead up to the London 2012 Olympic Games, where Sophie won Gold and two Silvers.
Since relocating to New Zealand, with bases in both Masterton, Greytown and Palmerston North, I now work with a number of top New Zealand riders, from racehorse trainers, through to show jumpers and Grand Prix dressage riders.
As well as riders, I also work with many other sporting codes including squash and hockey as well as people wanting to move better, I work with coaches and sports psychologists and other rehabilitation disciplines to ensure my clients achieve their full potential, and in my spare time I love to walk and we keep bees we love growing our own this keeps us very physically active .