Improve with cues

When you embark on an “improve your riding” project it can all feel like an impossible task. There are so many things to remember and then do all at once, whilst on top of a moving animal!

 

So, what to do?

 

Whenever you are trying to master something give yourself just 2-3 cues max-even just 1 if you are really struggling. That way you can just focus on the most important elements, nail those and then tidy it up later.

 

As an example I spent some time essentially re-learning my rising trot mechanism in order to be able to influence the horse more with my body.

 

This involved such things as:

 

Hinge more over the knee

More ab recruitment

Tuck tail bone under

Keep elbows in

Draw shoulder blades back and down

Look straight ahead

Stabilise lower leg

 

Thats 7 cues there and to be honest there were probably more!

 

Instead of trying to do all of those new things at once I focused on the ones that would make the most immediate impact.

 

For me that was the stability of my trot so I focused on:

Hingeing over the knee

Tucking the tail bone under

Recruiting abs

 

This was more than enough to be getting on with and they were all in linked areas so it was essentially re-aliging my pelvis as a starting point.

 

Once I had got those pretty much there, I added in stabilising the lower leg and then looking straight ahead.

 

It is only now that these are “almost” second nature that I have started to focus on my elbows and shoulders.

 

Now this seems like a long process, but on the other hand if I had just tried to change everything all at once I would have found it too difficult and probably given up-so I would not have imrpved my rising trot at all.

 

However this way, I have been continually month by month, ride by ride been slowly making changes and improving my trot.

 

What do you want to improve in your riding? Break down the things that you need to focus on to improve and then just pick no more than 3 from that list to start with.

 

Imagine how much you could have improved in 1,2,3 and 6 months from now;my rising trot looks like a different rider!

 

Tight Hips?

I see loads of posts these days about riders needing to stretch their hips, I also have lots of ladies tell me that their instructor told them to stretch their hips as they were too tight and this is why they couldn’t sit to the trot, couldn’t move with the horse in Canter, where gripping with their thighs etc.

 

The thing is I’ve done lots of Biomechanics, Flexibility and Stability tests on various different riders and almost all of them have passed the flexibility test for hips.

 

Think about it, just sitting astride a horse stretches out your inner thigh a great deal, then the position of your leg will stretch out the front of your thigh-even more so if you ride in a Dressage Saddle.

 

This information sat in my brain for a while at the beginning of my journey training riders and I would do what everyone else did and stretch out riders hips (including my own) and see if it made a difference. I’ll be honest it usually felt a little looser but it didn’t actually fix the problem of my seat, legs, gripping etc.

 

Then further along my journey I started adding in Stability testing, and you know what? All those riders that claimed their hips were too tight when riding despite having more than adequate flexibility when tested……………..they failed the hip stability test!

 

So, how does this match up to the feeling of having “tight” hips?

 

Movement Specialist Gray Cook describes Stability as “The ability to demonstrate Flexibility under load” In this case the ability to remain flexible whilst absorbing the movement of half a ton of horse underneath you.Boom! That explained everything.

 

The reason many riders appear flexible when tested on a table is that they do have the necessary range of movement, however the minute they are put on a moving horse the hips are not strong enough to absorb all of that movement whilst in a lengthened state so they contract and shorten to make themselves more stable.

 

The rider then stretches the hips and of course it feels nice as the hips have been shortened for a time and do need lengthening back out, but this stretching does not cure the initial problem and the rider continues to struggle.

 

This lack of flexibility under load is just the bodies protective mechanism, basically it doesn’t trust you to be strong and flexible at the same time.

 

So, if this sounds familiar; your hips feel tight, you struggle to ride in neutral spine and get your leg long down your horses side or your instructor says you are gripping or not moving with your horse and so far stretching hasn’t fixed your problem other than feel quite nice at the time it’s time to change tactics.

 

I am huge on hip stability with my riders, we do loads of it in my classes -like every week!

 

What can you do to improve yours? Thinks like Glute Bridges, Single Leg Glute Bridges, Split Squats and Single Leg Deadlifts are all great hip stability exercises so why not give them a try and they might just help you deal with that “tight hips” problem.

Fit for Purpose?

I’m sure you will have noticed that rider fitness is gaining momentum. More research is being done into the effects of rider symmetry on the horse, as well as rider weight and I’m sure more and more will continue to be done.

 

It is also now common place for the top riders in many countries to have team physios and fitness trainers.

 

As perhaps an amateur rider you may be thinking this isn’t really relevant to you, especially if you don’t compete.

 

However being fit to ride applies to every rider.

 

Firstly for the aforementioned research projects that have shown that rider symmetry and weight has a correlation with horse lameness.

 

Secondly though being “fit for purpose” as it were will prevent you becoming injured and developing the general aches and pains I see lots of riders deal with.

 

You see, being strong, flexible and with a decent level of endurance makes everyday tasks become that little bit easier -carrying a bag of feed no problem! So when something happens like that crazy catapult jump your horse threw in during your lesson your body is better equipped to deal with it. It’s not already knackered from the mucking out you do so it’s still got some extra left in the tank to help you out. It also makes the demand of just riding easier on your body. If from top to toe you are mobile, stable and balanced there will be less chance of compensatory actions happening and the wrong muscles being over worked whilst others are not working at all.

 

I think one of the most visual examples I see of body compensation is Dressage Riders (sorry guys). How often do you see someone going into a “big trot” and lean back as they do it? This is under the impression that it makes them feel more stable and better able to ride that trot. What it is actually doing is stretching out the front of the abs and therefore not recruiting them properly and putting all the work into the lower back now into a very short contracted position. Strangely enough many of these riders will complain of back pain………Basically neither front nor back is doing its best work. Also as a side note they are also behind the movement because they are no longer over the centre of the horse so it’s a lose lose situation.

 

Unfortunately if these riders then try to sit up with equal front and back and sit to the trot they will find it wobbly and will struggle to ride it. This is because they need to re learn the muscle balance and be able to work the front and back equally. This takes time and effort but if they do it not only will they get less back pain but they’ll also find they have way more riding to give that trot-which then transfers to more complicated movements such as changes, pirouettes etc.

 

It’s not just the Dressage riders that are guilty of this, that was just a very common visual I think you will be able to identify with. I also see lots of Showjumpers doing the reverse and over rounding at the shoulders both before and over fences, plenty of hackers slouched etc. Let’s be honest we are all guilty of falling into bad habits.

 

So, next time you are riding have a think about your position. Is it level at the front and back so you can use both sides equally? Of course then ask yourself if you are level left to right so you know you are less likely to be crooked.

 

If you find yourself lacking in some areas…...well you could come and work with me and we can iron those issues out!

 

Of course there are also lots of ideas for things to help you out over on my YouTube https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=iJf8kAX4yTw

 

And my social media.

 

Facebook. equestrianfitnessnicola

Instagram. nicola_equestrianfitness

Twitter. equestrianfitt

 

And of course all of the previous blogs over on www.equestrianfitness.co.uk

Precision Beats Strength

Conor Mcgregor said in an interview “precision beats strength “ Obviously he was referring to MMA fighting but I think this definitely holds true for riders.

 

If you are quite strong then it is easy to give a really strong leg aid, but for that leg aid to be effective needs to be given and the right time and place. The same goes for any aid given when riding. A strong aid is great but it needs to be clear for it to get through.

 

We work on this in my classes, it’s called Proprioception or as Equipilates™️ Founder Lindsay Wilcox-Reid calls it “Equiception”. So what is this mythical thing we’re after? Proprioception is knowing where your body is in space, so Equiception is knowing exactly what your right leg or left hand are doing, what’s that right seat bone up to and where is your rib cage. It’s essentially body awareness and I think it is a huge part of good riding.

 

These are the things that all add up to clear aids and they are part of the elusive almost invisible aids of the top riders. We’ve never seen Charlotte give a pony club kick to get her Canter have we? Although it would give us all a giggle I’m sure! A simple look at this is perhaps giving an aid with the leg ON the girth….do you know when you’ve definitely got that right? Or inside leg outside hand at EXACTLY the same time-this is way harder than you think.

 

So, how do you train body awareness? I could say well “come to a class and find out…..” but I’m not that mean. The truth is we train it in lots of different ways. One of my favourites is through Yoga Flows; linking balance, movement and rotation to train your brain to be able to control parts of your body you can’t currently see with your eyes-in short if you don’t do it right you’ll fall over-tough love!

 

We also train it through work with props such as small balls for leg aids, bands for rein aids and on unstable surfaces such as gym balls and wobble boards-again you fall off if it’s not right!

 

It can be as simple as performing a move to and either asking a friend to watch or videoing yourself-something like a Superman is a nice , easy start. Do you move both the arm and leg at Exactly the same time? Are you aware if you do or don’t? What does your middle do when you move? Does it stay still or does it dip? Can you feel it doing it? Noticing is the first step to correction as you cannot correct what you can’t feel.

 

Have a go and let me know how you get on?

 

What are you training for?

The last couple of weeks my 1 2 1 Clients and the ladies in my classes have all been starting to think about upping their game and take on the 2019 season.

 

They have different goals in mind so different approaches to what they need to do to really smash it this year.

 

I have those who are already seasoned competitors looking to go up a level this year so their fitness is about fine tuning their muscles to be just that little bit stronger, to be that little bit more aware of what is happening from head to foot when they ride and how to control it a little bit better. I have no doubt that this fine tuning will actually see some great results for them this year. This means we work on any weaknesses and asymmetry, focus on the mind body connection and aim to be moving a little bit better, with a little more strength but an entire fitness overhaul isn’t needed it’s just a an hour or so a week to tweak those muscles.

 

I also have another little club of riders who have recently purchased bigger, more powerful horses that in reality they are going to have to learn to ride! That’s not to say they can’t ride already, they ride exceptionally well in fact but they have spent the last few years on a horse they are comfortable with and that perhaps isn’t quite as powerful as what they are about to let themselves in for! ( I think these ladies like a challenge!) In short these ladies are going to have to up their game massively and become an athlete; strong and stable enough to absorb all of that power and damn well Ride it! If you’re one of these…….then if you aren’t already pretty fit then you had better get started. To ride the equine equivalent of a Ferrari (it doesn’t have to be Valegro just your version of a Ferrari-mines 13H!) you need to have the body control to absorb all that power without injuring yourself.  I see a lot of back and hip pain in riders just because they are actually not strong enough through their back, hips and core to hold that horse together. I’m sure you’ve all also seen someone being an untidy passenger on a powerful horse and it’s frustrating when you can see the potential if the rider worked on themselves.

 

Once you can hold it together you then need to have the body control and awareness to make the finite aids that make you really dance. I’m sure you know that to make riding look effortless in fact takes a huge amount of effort! I hate to be the bearer of bad news if this is you but unless you’re already strong and fit and in the fine tuning camp it’s going to be a couple of hours per week dedication that gets you really riding like the sassy diva you are..

 

Then I have the other camp that for various reasons aren’t riding at the minute. For those that it’s due to horse problems it’s about staying in the game so when you’re finally back on board it isn’t a huge shock to your body but also that they are in the best shape they can be to give their horse all the support it needs to get back to fitness or if it will be a new horse so that they aren’t transferring bad habits. There is something slightly terrifying about having a newly backed youngster knowing that if it becomes one sided it was you that did it…….What are we doing-similar to the fine tuning camp, just ticking over ironing out the imbalances and keeping ship shape for when we are back on board.

 

If it is because of their own health and fitness problems then it is of course about getting them fit enough to get back on board and doing the sport they love. With these riders it’s slow and steady, but regular movement to bring back those basic movement patterns that eventually will make them able to put that foot back in the stirrup.

 

What camp do you fall in to? Maybe one of these categories of perhaps something else?

 

Let me know!

Sing for the sake of your riding

This week I was talking to someone about listening to music whilst riding.

 

It serves a couple of different purposes for me and depending on the purpose depends on the kind of music I have on.

 

One of the main reasons I listen to music it that it helps me to breathe. I can be quite a nervous rider, which means I tense up and don’t breathe! This translates to my hips creeping my leg up, my hands get rigid and guess what…….my pony gets tense and I essentially create the scenario I was imagining in my head!

 

However the very act of singing forces you to breathe and secondly if you do it properly (a good ballad will ensure this) you will activate your Diaphragm which will enable you to release your hips-without even thinking about your hips you’ll just be singing your best Whitney.

 

Your Diaphragm is a muscle that sits under your ribs attaching both there and to your lower spine. As you breathe in this muscle should drop down to allow more air in, however if we are shallow breathing into our chest it won’t do this.

 

The shallow breathing can make us tense, as activating the Diaphragm also activates the Vagus Nerve which sends a message to our brain to relax. So, if it’s not activated our bain thinks their is a reason to be stressed.

 

Secondly, the Diaphragm attaches on on our lower spine at the same point as our Psoas muscle, which is the hip flexor at the front of our thigh. If the Diaphragm is pulled up into the rib cage it is also pulling the Psoas up-which is bringing your knee up and causing tension in your seat.

 

So, activating the Diaphragm encourages both relaxation of the brain and the hips in one go-both needed for effective riding.

 

So, back to the signing. If you suffer with nerves, you just forget to breathe or you have “tight” hips try singing when you ride (yes you will look crazy but it doesn’t need to be that load to be effective). To really use your Diaphragm I recommend a good ballad as to even sing it a little bit forces you to activate.

Personal recommendations are:

Amazed - Lonestar

Iris - The Goo Goo Dolls

All or Nothing-O Town

 

And something easy on the big notes but it has calmed me down enough with it’s signing rhythm so it doesn’t feel right not to include it…

 

Niall Horan-Slow Hands

 

As you can see from those selections I’m incredibly hip with my music tastes….

 

Have you got any songs that you would add to this list? Let me know and we could create a Diaphragm Breathing Playlist!

 

What’s with all the Ball Play?

You may have noticed on social media and across my classes we spent a lot of time “messing about” on gym balls. It’s great fun and everyone always really enjoys it.

 

However, is it really just messing about or is there some serious training going on here?

 

Well I’ll have you know there is actually a lot of rider specific work going on alongside all that falling off the gym ball.

 

The reason gym balls have become popular training tools amongst equestrians is due to them requiring good balance and stability to stay on one. Even just sitting on one with your feet on the floor can be a challenge if you are new to core training.

 

When we are riding our horse we are constantly making tiny adjustments to our stabiliser muscles to keep us in balance with the horse. This is exactly what you are doing on a gym ball. Whether you are sat on trying to lift your feet, kneeling 4 point or 2 point; the very act of trying to stabilise on the ball trains the muscles you are using to stabilise on your horse. So even if you can’t kneel up and juggle on the ball in perfect stillness (if you can please send videos!) the very act of trying to stabilise is still rider specific exercise in itself.

 

I know many of you will have a gym ball gathering dust somewhere, or you will have seen them in the shops recently for less than £10 and are thinking you should get one but you’ve no idea what to do with it.

 

There are in fact loads of exercises you can do with a gym ball, hence why I use them in my classes and with 1 2 1 clients. However let’s start simple and do what I call “getting comfortable” with the gym ball.

 

Start by just sitting on it as you would a chair. Breathe, relax and try holding a conversation.

 

Then start to turn your torso left and then right-is one way easier than the other?

 

Now try lifting one foot at a time.

 

Now try lifting one foot and turning the opposite and then the same way.

 

Both feet…..

 

Try all of this again but in more of a horse rider stance-straddle the ball as if it was a horse.

 

Honestly, I don’t mind you giving yourself a little hand by holding a sturdy table or windowsill to help you learn what “right” feels like until you can do it on your own.

 

Ok, crack on with that this week and let me know how you get on before we move onto the circus tricks.

 

Ps: Please make sure there is nothing you could hurt yourself on around you-walls to crash into etc. If you’re very accident prone wear your hat!

Diets and Detox

I wasn’t going to write about diet and nutrition today but as is customary around this time of year there was so much nonsense being posted on the internet about weight loss, detox etc. that honestly it drives me crazy!

I’m going to try not to make this into a rant but I fear it may be a little ranty so if you can’t deal with that look away now.

Firstly, Detox…………….There is absolutely no need whatsoever, no matter how much you ate drank in December to need to drink green juices or take special supplements in order to rid your body of toxins. You have a liver and kidneys doing that right now just fine. If they aren’t doing that effectively then you need a hospital not a green smoothie! Of course you can make their lives a little easier by minimising your alcohol intake and making your diet up mainly of fresh, whole foods but other than that, trust me your liver and kidneys are just “detoxing” away 24/7.

Second up-Weight Loss.

It is of course completely fine to want to drop a few pounds you may have added over Christmas or indeed if you would like to lose some weight to become a lighter, more athletic load for your horse, that’s great and I completely support that. However, dieting, quick fixes, shakes, pills, body wraps and whatever other nonsense the internet has told you is the answer is really NOT the answer. The diet industry is worth billions and the reason it is worth billions is because people don’t just buy into it once, they buy into it, fail, blame themselves, buy into again……rinse and repeat. The problem with diets is that unless you can live on that diet for life then eventually you are going to eat differently and if that “differently” isn’t conducive to weight loss or maintenance then you are going to put the weight back on.

Don’t be disheartened by this, I’m not saying you can’t lose weight, but what I am saying is you need to make permanent lifestyle changes that in short put you into a calorie deficit to enable you to burn the fat you’re trying to lose. Then when you hit goal weight you just keep eating as you have been the entire time which is now your normal way of eating.

Take this advice from someone who has lost around 2 Stone and it did come off slowly, but it has also stayed off without it feeling like at any point that I was hugely depriving myself. I still ate chocolate every day, I still had meals out, and I still spent lots of time drinking Lattes in Starbucks and I didn’t spend every day in the gym running miles on a treadmill.

No matter what the internet, the celebrities and the people trying to sell you shakes and supplements tell you, the Science still stands up that weight loss is based on Calories in vs Calories out = Simples.

If you would like more nutrition focused emails let me know what you want to know and I will do my best to cater.

New Year Goals

I hope you’ve had a lovely Christmas and New Year and perhaps had a little time off to spend with your horse.

This time is probably one of the very few times throughout the year where I really do try to slow down and let my work brain rest a little.

I also find it’s a great time to do a little more research on things I’m interested in for my own ponies so that I can get inspired for the coming year.

I am an avid goal setter within my business. I am also a goal setter within my personal life and in particular my ponies but I tend to make these smaller. Not because I am “unambitious” but because I have a very busy schedule and don’t have a massive desire to do anything huge with my ponies other than enjoy my time with them. That doesn’t mean I don’t make plans or have goals it just that they don’t necessarily have anything to do with competitions. I looking forward to getting on with the first Canter on PoppyMayand hopefully getting  out and about with Douglas both driving and possibly some Pony Ploughing (yes really!).

I do however have some lovely clients who have bigger ambitions with their horses than me. These aren’t all professional riders, they are people like you and me who have full time jobs, partners etc. who have that burning desire to succeed in their chosen discipline. We’ve got those aiming to qualify and compete at Dressage Regionals and possibly Nationals, Show riders aiming for HOYS and some aiming to do their first ODE or move up a level at Eventing.

Whichever camp you are in though both levels of aspiration require the same method of planning and then following input of work.

New Year is a great time to look forward to what you would like to achieve in the next 12 months. What would you like to be doing with your horse next summer? Is there a competition you would like to compete at? Maybe you would just like to hack through the forest or ride on the beach?

Sit down with a diary, a notebook whatever now and write that goal down.

Is there a time limit on it? For example if it is competition based. If so, work backwards from that date and plan what you need to be doing at each point to get you to that goal-make sure you have some wiggle room for inevitable days/weeks off due to work, weather, lameness or illness.

Does your horse need bringing back up to fitness first? Do you need bringing back into fitness??

Will you need checks from Saddlers, Physios, and Dentists etc? Do you need to have a conversation with your trainer so that they know what your plans are and can help you work towards them?

Write all of this down and map it out.

Then start to plan the training schedule. I don’t want to discourage you but be realistic. If thus far in your horse ownership to date you have never consistently ridden 6 days per week most of the year don’t imagine you are going to start in 2019 unless you are prepare for the dedication and sacrifice that this will take. If it’s more likely to be 3-5 times per week make your plan based on that.

If like me you have more ground level, less time dependant goals the theory is the same but the time element does not need to be there. I still write down my training plan however the steps are not time dependant and are more in the nature of achieve step 1, once this has been done move on to step 2.

If you think you need to up your game with your riding fitness in 2019 get in touch I would love to help you achieve your goals!

 

Positive Pony Talk for 2018

I hope you had a nice Christmas, and got some nice presents for your horse…..

I usually take this time to reflect on my year and most importantly to look back on all the positive things that have happened.

I know it can be too easy to focus on what didn’t go well particularly if some significantly awful things have happened. However I find no matter what downs the year had celebrating the ups no matter how small can reframe your feeling about the year gone by.

I feel incredibly fortunate that 2018 has been an amazing year for me both professionaly and personally.

I’ve had the best time in my classes and with my 121 clients this year, seriously we have had way to much fun that I can’t believe it’s actually my job! It’s not all been messing about though we actually got results too and I’m really proud of the part I have played in everyone’s success this year from the cracking that rising trot to sorting out that wobbly shoulder or sitting more level you are all amazing working so hard to make yourselves better for your horse.

I’ve also had lots of fun teaching demos and clinics and hope to do more of that in 2019.

If you will follow my social media you will know that operation driving pony went slightly awry as PoppyMay got booted out of driving school! But sometimes fate is trying to do what’s best for you and instead I bought Douglas who is just the absolute best driving pony I could wish for and now we just need to get some transport to get us out and about next year! So turns out I achieved my driving pony goal just not in the way I expected, and PoppyMay is making a nice riding pony anyway ……

There have been loads of other great things that have happened and I’ve done lots of happy dances this year so I just want to thank all of my lovely clients, those crazy ladies that come to my classes I am blessed to have such an amazing tribe to work with.

I also want to thank all of you who have responded to me on my emails, social media etc. and those of you I have seen out and about-sorry if I look freaked out I forget people can see me on the internet! But honestly I am flattered you’re all still reading and watching.

So firstly I want you to have a think about all the positive things that have happened to you this year-not necessarily horse related but maybe you’ve finally got that bitting issue sorted, or got more Canter strike offs on the right leg than not-it’s the small stuff sometimes.

Secondly, how can I help you in 2019? What do you need help with? What would you like me to offer that can help you?

 

Let me know and I will do my best to deliver, now I’m off to scoot on my carriage!

Biomechanics, Posture and Performance for the Equestrian

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