Pick out your postural habits

If we have ridden for a long time it is possible you’ve picked up a few bad habits along the way and you now find them hard to undo.

Now think about all those little postural habits you have throughout the day. They might be related to how you perform your job, how you stand, drive or sit at a desk. You may be in variants of this for 8-10 hours per day for 40+ hours per week!

Then you ride your horse aiming to be straight and symmetrical .

It’s a tough ask if you’ve spent your day possibly hunched left with more weight on one foot than the other!

Firstly, this emphasises the importance of a warm up to open up these tight spots and activate the under used muscles.

It also means we need to be more mindful of how these daily postures may be affecting our position when we get on our horse.

Unfortunately for many it’s not realistic to suggest that they adapt their posture more at work, some jobs just require awkward positions and movements………..

So, what do we do?

If you can spot the patterns then you can be more mindful of trying to adapt your position when you ride.

You can do work off horse to try and improve the weaknesses and even up the asymmetry.

Have a pre ride warm up specifically designed to uncurl you and wake up those muscles ready to ride.

In areas where you are able to such as driving to the yard, carrying buckets etc be mindful of your posture. Level torso left to right and front to back, feet pointing forward, shoulders activated and aiming to keep your body free of prolonged tension in any one area.

Equestrian Fitness can help you with:

Off Horse Training -Online and In person

On Horse Training in person to identify your patterns and help you find ways to use your body more effectively when you ride.

How to fix what your instructor wants

Do you ever assess the how of the muscles working when you’re riding.

Your trainer says “tighten your core” but what does that feel like? Do they mean brace so it’s super tight (probably not…) do they mean just engaging your abs?

What about relax your arms? Like floppy, spaghetti arms?

More leg? Like more kicking, more squeeze or something else?

One of my roles working with clients is to help them understand what all this means, how it should feel and of course how they can achieve it.

It’s often misunderstood that my job as a Strength & Conditioning Coach is just to make people stronger but it’s actually to make them better athlete’s overall. That means if someone needs to be more mobile we work on that, if someone needs to absorb movement better we work on that or if someone needs better body awareness we work on that!

If you’re thinking about your own performance and what you need to do to improve it this should be part of your plan.

What are the areas your instructor is constantly nagging you about? Ask them what correct would look like or how it would feel.

Then consider how you can try and replicate that in your off horse work.

For example I’ve often been tasked with “more leg”.

The rider misinterprets this as more strength, more kick etc. I’ll watch them ride and see that their leg is not placed optimally to give clear aids. Think thigh rolled out, heels tapping away. The rider tries more leg by squeezing the back of their legs around the horse; still nothing.

The problem isn’t lack of strength, it’s the rider not using their body as well as they could.

If we Internally rotate the thigh, that’s automatically a bigger surface area to communicate to the horse, if we turn the toes to face forward thereby pushing the heel out we’ve activated the outer hip and glute muscles to help stabilise the leg and pelvis more.

This is going to feel really hard to maintain at first so we would combine that with some off horse training focusing on improving the internal rotation of the thigh and then strengthening the glutes and outer hips to make it feel easier and be more effective when back on the horse.

Then we’d add in some control work of the inner thigh to enable the rider to dial them up and down as and when required.

Along the way we’d add in cues that the rider identifies with to use when they’re riding and tie the work off horse to the work they’re doing on horse. This then helps them to fix the problem themselves when they’re back on the horse.

If you’re working off horse give these things some thought to help you design your sessions and if you’d like some help you know where I am.

You can’t do PSG if you didn’t nail Prelim

You can’t do PSG if you didn’t nail prelim.

Sometimes the basic tuff can be the hardest to master and it can be easy to skip but it will show up somewhere down the line….

This is how I approach training riders off horse. If they don’t have a good basic squat and hip hinge pattern we don’t progress to the sexy looking stuff like heavy lifting or balance boards etc. This might mean the first few months of training feel slow and repetitive but it’s really important to master the basic movement patterns so you have a solid foundation before you start to progress to more technical movements. 

Think of it like training your horse. If your Canter transitions were a bit hit and miss at Prelim, you might get away with it in terms of overall score so you don’t really tackle the issue. However as you start to move up the levels and need to add in Canter to Walk, Walk to Canter or Flying Changes, Tempi Changes etc; that woolly Canter transition is going to come back to haunt you. It’s going to be impossible to progress unless you go back and master the first aid you need! 

So don’t be tempted to rush straight in to the fancy bells and whistles multi movement, instability training or whatever it is you’ve seen on Instagram. Start at the beginning and master your basic movement patterns really feeling the muscles working and then programme in some body awareness to help you self assess at every stage. 

Then once you’ve got this you can have some fun and up the ante’ and not only are you more likely to be able to do it, you’re also less likely to build up detrimental movement patterns or injure yourself in the process!

Nail your Prelim before you skip to PSG! 

Want some help? I’ve got a couple of spaces for 121 in person or online to help you take your first steps. 

If you’re self aware enjoy the ride

Very often clients will say to me they aren’t good enough for their horse because they can’t do xyz……

The reason they come to me is because they want to get better for their horse. Which means they at least have self awareness of what may be limiting their lack of progression. Which I’d say is more likely to achieve progression versus someone doing the same thing over and over with no awareness of how they could do something different to improve their performance. 

Very often riders who want to get better can be their own worst critics, yet those who are seeking to improve are usually doing a lot more right than wrong. 

If you’re aware that your hands are pulling back on your horses mouth, you’re more likely to stop doing it, if you’re aware you sit to the left more you’re more likely to start putting more weight to the right. 

So, if you’re aware of the things that can be improved you’re much more likely to fix them than someone who isn’t even considering there could be areas for improvement. 

 My style of training encourages people to spot patterns and to be aware of what their body is doing when it moves, that makes it a transferable skill to add to their riding. Spotting the patterns, noticing the movement so that you can begin the path of improvement.

Even professional riders will be constantly critiquing their performance and looking for areas of improvement. There will always be something that could be just a little bit better. 

Riding is a life long journey that I think pretty much no one ever actually completes! As long as you’re striving to be the best that you can be for your horse then really should just enjoy the ride!

Why should you do Anti Rotation Training

As part of my clients training programmes I often include Anti Rotation or Anti Tip training.

This entails a movement that uses one side of the body which would encourage it to twist but instead you must resist those forces and stay straight ahead.

Why is this helpful for riders?

If your horse is asymmetrical it’s you as the riders job to assist with making him more symmetrical. So for example if your horse twists you to the right it’s your job to ride straight and encourage the horse back underneath you. Can you imagine how much easier this is if your body is already trained to resist an external pull and remain straight ahead anyway.

This also comes in useful when things go awry. If your horse shoots sideways unexpectedly your body is better equipped to maintain it’s balance under external forces.

Exercises I like to include to help with this are:

Plank Shoulder Taps

Landmine Single Arm Presses

Forward, Back or Side Lunges with the same side arm loaded.

Single Arm loaded Squat

Single leg Deadlift

Nail The Basics

As an Equestrian life can be pretty full on; yard jobs, riding, work, family etc all take time and energy. So much so that feeling constantly tired seems to be an accepted norm.

Yet, there are some people who seem to have boundless energy and possibly even thrive on this constant busyness.

From my experience of working with people from lot’s of different walks of life I’ve noticed some familiar patterns in those that seem to cram in an abundance of things into their life whilst still having the energy to sustain it long term.

They nail the basics.

That means they eat well, exercise and make switching off and getting enough sleep a priority.

Eating a diet filled with good quality protein, fruit and vegetables along with good hydration has a huge impact on your energy levels day to day and how your body feels in general. It doesn’t have to be elaborate or complicated but making the effort to have proper nutritious meals throughout the day and drinking more water instead of surviving on caffeine and mars bars will not only improve your energy levels but will also improve your body’s ability to perform and repair-read ride better and injure less!

If I’m not going to have time to sit and eat I use protein shakes and fruit to get me through a day. Otherwise it’s porridge or granola, maybe a salad or soup at lunch then salmon or chicken with vegetables or rice in the evening. I take hydration tablets in my water and I have herbal tea in place of caffeine from lunch time onwards.

I think it’s finally getting main stream that riders should exercise off horse to improve their performance on horse. However there are multiple other benefits to fitting exercise into your life. If your body is stronger it will find your every day tasks easier, meaning those yard jobs won’t seem such an effort. You will to move better so you won’t be feeling quite so stiff and achy all the time which again boosts your energy levels. Exercise can also boost your mental health, so when you’re having a tough horse day having another outlet can really help. I mix up strength training, with cardio and yoga preferring 5-6 30 minute workouts per week rather than 3-4 heavy sessions but it’s trial and error to find what works best for your body.

Rest can be an interesting topic to tackle with people, often what people can perceive as switching off isn’t really having the desired affect. So many people spend hours staring at a tv, whilst scrolling through a phone thinking that’s down time. The blue light from devices can disrupt our sleep patterns, often it means we struggle to go to sleep or if we do sleep we don’t get the deep REM sleep we need to fully recuperate. Aiming to get 5-6 hours of good quality sleep can be much more beneficial than 8-9 hours of restless sleep.

Switching off also doesn’t have to be just sitting down doing nothing. For me, taking the dogs for a walk clears my head, listening to a funny podcast – Buck off Banter …… So you could be combining the exercise and the switch off maybe with a Yoga session. You’ll find what works for you.

I have a wind down routine that involves listening to something light-hearted on my drive home to take my brain out of work mode, then putting my phone away as soon as I get in so I’m not tempted to scroll. (that’s why you get ignored if you’ve messaged me after 9pm!)Then I shower and go to bed, pretty much out like a light! If I skip some of this routine or maybe do something on my phone it’s definitely harder to get to sleep so the system works!

I think this can often sound like a lot to fit in, yet I can assure you the busiest people I know are doing this (myself included) and it’s what enables them to be on the go from 5am to 9pm every day without hitting burnout.

You don’t need to be quite so full on in your own life, but I guarantee if you start to nail the basics of nutrition, rest and exercise whatever the demands of your life they’ll start to feel a bit easier.

What are your feet doing?

Lucinda Green MBE shared a great tip to stop you pushing off your stirrups whilst jumping as this puts you in front of the movement. She suggests jumping without stirrups then retaking them and jumping exactly the same way.

What I found great about this is that very often even during flatwork people are pushing into their stirrups which causes tension in the lower leg, and can encourage the joints to try and lock out; which sends your lower leg forward.

I think many people are doing this because they have misinterpreted the “weight in your heels” instruction. They then try to push their weight down.

As a rider you need to focus on being in your own self carriage. That means you aren’t excessively pushing or pulling in any direction. Any push from your body should be equal front to back, left to right-Symmetry!

So, what should you do with your feet?

You want a connection with your stirrups, that means equal weight in your feet, but that weight doesn’t push down it supports itself. You should be able to feel the stirrup across the whole width of the foot and be supporting your heel and aware of it’s position.

This is why I like to do exercises that improve the connection to the feet.

Bringing awareness to the feet can be done a number of ways depending on where you are in your exercise journey, and how connected you are to your feet already.

An initial awareness can be brought by rolling your foot on a ball, either a smooth ball or a prickly physio ball. Standing on the floor barefoot after this will give you new sensations and connections to your feet.

When doing regular exercises such as squats, tuning in to whether you have equal weight in both feet, whether you have your full foot in contact with the floor can all help to increase your awareness of your feet.

Working on unstable surfaces such as balance pods can give you an extra insight to how equal your weight is. Are you tipping one way more than another? Maybe your toes tip forward or your heels drop down -fine as long as it doesn’t tip your whole weight back.

Transferring this to your riding, now you have more awareness do your feet feel equal in the stirrups? If your horse drifts left or right can you correct it by gently increasing the connection to your opposite foot?

Our feet play a bigger part in our riding than we realise and it’s not about force or big efforts, just by  improving our brain body connection and awareness to them we can make big changes.

Exercise for Meditation

I was listening to a podcast about Yoga this week, and the Yogi in question talked about how Yoga isn’t necessarily about Yoga, it’s about allowing and controlling movement through your body. It’s about connecting with how it feels, focusing your brain and fully immersing in the practice. And then being able to carry that flow state throughout your daily life. Flow State is when you effortlessly focus on what you’re doing, sort of like meditating with movement.

This can be said of other forms of movement too. Any high level athlete of any sport will tell you that in the moment they are fully immersed in their body in tune with it’s movement and how it feels. This then transfers to other areas of life or indeed other sports.

This is why I think different forms of exercise can be beneficial to your riding.

Taking part in exercise that encourages you to become fully immersed in your body whether that is Yoga, Dance, Weight lifting, Boxing or whatever else you fancy will help you to become more aware of your body in general. Being able to do this without the extra distraction of the horse with you allows you to fully immerse and find your flow state.

Once you’ve got a little more mastery of your body, you’ll be able to transfer that awareness and control to your riding and maybe all the stars will align and you’ll find your flow state there too. When you do it's Magic!

Are You Checking Form?

One of the reasons many of us exercise off horse is because we want to work on our own asymmetries and weaknesses. That means it's really important to make sure everything you do is with good form, otherwise your just further instilling those bad habits and not improving your riding!

Do you regularly check your form and straightness when you exercise off horse?

How do you ensure that you're actually working on your own asymmetries and weakness?

Here's a simple but very effective exercise that has some easy markers to help ensure you're in good form.

The Goblet Squat.

You can do this with or without a weight.

Feet hip width apart, hands clasped in front of you -or holding a weight with your elbows pointing down-kinda like a prayer position. Keeping your chest open (don't round your shoulders) squat down to touch your elbows to your knees.

Do both elbows touch your knees at the same time? That's your first clue if it was level!

Once you've got that, check in to whether your feet feel equally weighted left-right-front and back. Do you stay level all the way up and down? Is your chest still lifted at the bottom of the squat?

Squats are a great exercise for strengthening the big muscles of the glutes and legs, which creates stability in the pelvis and spine, the action of keeping your chest open works your abdominals and back muscles then when you add in the focus on form you're training your body awareness, symmetry and feel-maximum bang for your buck!

What aids are you giving?

As you’re riding your horse you’re communicating with your seat bones. If you’re tuned into them you can give precise aids without looking like you gave any aid at all.

However as often we aren’t necessarily tuned into our seat bones they could be giving aids without us realising. Or if we are using them but aren’t necessarily fully tuned into exactly what they’re doing they could be doing different things right to left.

So, here’s a little exercise for you to try out on a gym ball.

Firstly sitting on the ball, can you feel which direction your seat bones are pointing? Forward, back, different each side? Ideally they should both be pointing straight down as if you could plug yourself in to the ball with them. 

Then imagine there are pencils on the bottom of them, draw a circle with them one at a time. Are your circles the same? 

Now, sitting on the ball imagine a set of buttons in front of you. Slide alternate knees forward to push the button-or start to move your seat bones as if you’re in walk on your horse. Are your left and right seat bones doing the same thing? 

How about in trot?

Then move on to Canter. If you’re on right canter just follow the canter with your right seat bone, how does that feel? What shape does it make?

Now try the left. Is that the same or is it different?

By this point you’ve probably realised you’re more asymmetrical than you thought…….

Think about how that impacts your horse, your riding and your saddle. Of course no horse and rider will ever be 100% symmetrical but being as close as you can get will have a huge impact on your riding aids, as well as your horses symmetry and the wearing of your saddle. 

What did you find when doing this exercise? 

Biomechanics, Posture and Performance for the Equestrian