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!

Pre Crazy Christmas

Well, we are just days away from Christmas day-I hope you’ve done all of your shopping!

I also hope you are going to get some time off to spend with your four legged friend.

Do you get your horse a Christmas Present? I’d love to know what you get them?

 

I know this can be a really busy period for some people whether you are still working or just with lots of social events to negotiate, it can actually be really difficult to spend any time with your horse at all!

Don’t beat yourself up about that. If you do have time to ride but not much, just spending 20 mins schooling, lungeing or a stroll around the block is still a valuable use of your time spent with your horse.

Your horse also probably won’t mind a few days off. I think it does us good to spend a few days immersed in Muggle Culture –Y’know with hair free of hay etc. if nothing else to remind us why we would rather not spend all year doing it!

I find having a plan in place helps immensely though. So have a sit down now and go through the next week or so putting in social commitments and how you will fit in the essentials of feeding, mucking out etc. and if you might need some help have you got it organised?

That way you can party on knowing your horse is taken care of.

Those of you that do all the fun stuff at this time of year such as Fancy Dress rides, Boxing Day hunting etc. I’d love to see what you’re up too and if you send over some pics I might feature you on my Facebook or Instagram!

Have a lovely Christmas, my herd of Four Legged Fluffies Pearl, PoppyMay, Douglas, Bernard and Dan Send Best Wishes to your Four Legged Fluffies xx

 

Best way to improve your riding

I get asked a lot what the best exercise to improve riding is. This is quite a subjective question as it depends what it is you struggle with, as well as your current fitness level.

If you are incredibly fit but struggle with certain aspects of your riding then that area needs to be looked at individually, or you could be fairly unfit overall and that needs to be addressed to correct an overall picture.

That makes the most important thing to me Self Awareness.

In order to improve your riding you need to be aware of your own strengths and weaknesses.

This can be done from just basic self- awareness as you ride, do a full body scan of how you are sat.

For a full alignment scan check out my video

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FgNplzeUObk

However I know lots of you like me want to be working on your riding when you’re not on your horse.

If it’s at home and keeping it simple you like then I suggest a gym ball. The reason being you can just sit on it and test things out. Can you lift your feet, can you kneel up etc. Of course this trains your core stability but most importantly it will tell you where your weaknesses are. Do you keep falling off the same way etc.  That will tell you which side you are weak on (the side you fall off) and over time will help you to learn which muscles you need to switch on to keep you on the ball which of course will transfer to which muscles you need to switch on when riding.

I also very much like Yoga for riders. This is because it encourages body awareness. Not just for asymmetry but also for areas you may hold tension or be not quite as strong or dextrous.

Why not put these ideas down as 2019 projects.

I don’t have any space on my classes currently but if you would like to be put on the waiting list hit reply.

I do have space for 1 2 1 clients  in the new year so of you would like to improve your riding off horse with full focus on your goals let me know!

Sitting Up Straight

Last week we looked at being equal left to right so this week we will look at equal front to back.

This one I think is looked at more often but can actually be more difficult to correct. You see often the problem of leaning forward or back comes from a deeper postural or strength issue-not always but most often.

I’ve mentioned before the importance of Neutral spine for both balance, shock absorption and injury prevention and the short answer is if you are leaning forward or back you aren’t in neutral spine.

If you don’t know whether you lean forward or back ask a friend to video you, or if you are on your own sitting in your saddle ask yourself whether your rib cage sits directly over your pelvis or whether your sternum lines up with your pubic bone. This is a good indicator of where you are sat.

I also like to visualise pushing your front to your back and then equally your back to your front; this encourages you to switch on the right muscles.

In order to maintain equal front to back you need to have equal muscle strength front to back. It is quite common for riders to be told to improve their core stability and for them to go away and do lots of ab work-what about your back?

Now of course you can train your front and back separately and that will improve how they work together, however you are busy people with horses to ride so we want to make it as simple and time efficient as possible.

I really like the kneeling squat exercise with the focus being on staying level on the up and down.

Also Bird Dogs both simple and lifted of you like an extra challenge. This focuses you on keeping the middle still whilst moving limbs-or in riding speak staying still whilst giving aids.

Look out for next week where I’ll share with you another tip for practicing this too.

Stop the Tilt

I’m sure you’ve heard me say the phrase “stay straight on circles” or being equal left to right.

Perhaps you are aware of it on yourself or as you watch other people that there is a tilt or a shift of the ribcage in an otherwise beautiful position.

Firstly, why does it matter?

Any deviation of your weight is noticeable to your horse, if that’s a full tilt, it could be almost half your bodyweight being shifted to one side of the horse. In order to balance himself he will drift away from the side you are leaning to. For example if you are tilting left he will drift right.

This can affect everything from general straightness, circles, lateral work and of course the wear of your saddle and most importantly the muscles of your horse. Perhaps your Saddler and Horse Physio could give you a clue as to which side you sit heaviest on.

So what can you do about it?

Most importantly is becoming aware of it. If you have no idea you’re tilted then you aren’t going to make the effort to fix it. Ask a friend to video you on both reins in 3 paces, then on circles and some lateral work.

Once you’ve spotted which way you tilt you can start to notice if you do the same pattern at any other time, driving the car or sat at your desk for example.

When you get on your horse, close your elbows into your sides and notice whether they sit at exactly the same place and pressure on both sides. If you can equal them up this will be your first self-check as to whether you are level.

Whilst riding around I like to use the imagery of a pair of boards on either side of your body and you have to push them together. This will help to switch on your “side” muscles to stabilise you and keep you level.

Out of the saddle we are looking to strengthen your Oblique’s and Transverse Abdominis. These are the muscles that wrap around your waist between your pelvis and rib cage.

A great no equipment exercise is the Side Plank. This can then be changed up to Side Plank Dips or Thread the Needle (which is a rotation underneath yourself) to challenge your muscles in movement.

 

 

 

 

 

In the gym or with a band I like Woodchops on the Cable Machine, Kettlebell or Dumbbell Windmills or Single Arm work that requires you to stabilise the other side to stop tilting such as single overhead press or single arm kettlebell swing.

Check me out on Instagram for videos!

https://www.instagram.com/nicola_equestrianfitness/

 

Improve Your Rein Contact

In my classes and with my 1 2 1 Clients, I train shoulders and backs a lot. This surprises people as they expect it to be all about the core. However in terms of riding your back and shoulders are part of your core. They are a vital part of your torso box and it’s over all stability as well as the foundation of your rein contact.

In order to absorb the movement of your horse underneath you, you need to be equally strong in torso back and front. In order to be able to truly ride with an independent and soft, giving hand you need a stable foundation at the shoulders. If your rein contact comes from your chest and your arms whether you think you are or not, you are bracing against your horse.

I have coached several riders with “strong” horses that as soon as they stop trying to resist the horse with their arms and instead just form a solid base at their shoulders and relax their arms the horse stops fighting.

Also if like me you have a wishy washy rein contact, or perhaps find your arms straight out in front of you (it’s like I forget I have elbows!) just focusing on retracting the shoulder blades brings your elbows back and firms up your contact.

So, what are these mysterious back exercises…..?

Well depending on where you do your training and what equipment you have access to there are loads of variations you can do.

If you train in a gym things like Dumbbell bent over row, Narrow Grip Cable Row, Lat Pull down are great rider specific back exercises. Just ensure you are focusing on using the muscles between your shoulders blades and not tensing up your shoulders.

If perhaps you have a resistance band you can do Narrow Row and Rein Position Band Pull aparts (Dumb waiters with a band if you are a Pilates fan).

Without equipment? Then Dumb waiters, Tricep Press Ups, Superman Pull Down.

For examples of these exercises go to my YouTube channel or keep an eye on my Social Media this week as I will be posting them after this blog goes out today across the week.

What do you struggle with in your rein contact?

 

The Weight of Your Head on Your Shoulders

Do you think about the position of your head much when you ride?

I have a little per hate of the amount of riders I see looking down, although it’s slightly hypocritical as I have a tendency to cock my head to one side-it’s my concentrating pose!

However your head has a huge impact on both your own posture and therefore performance and wellbeing. Your head can weight around 4.5-5kg, add to that your hat and you’re probably looking at 6kg-that’s just shy of 1 stone!

If you are looking down you are transferring that weight to your horse, which often has the effect of pushing your horse onto the forehand. If it’s tipped to the side you are unbalancing your horse on that side.

In terms of your riding this is an important point to take notice of.

With regards to your own bodies overall performance and wellbeing this puts a lot of tension on your neck and upper back. As I have mentioned before, being out of neutral alignment does not allow your body the best chance of absorbing the movement of the horse underneath you. This puts extra strain on the joints and muscles surrounding the neck as they take the load instead.

I use a technique that has foundations in both my Equipilates™ training and the Franklin method.

Take your fingers to the base of your skull and find the two indents either side of your spine. You should feel a little dip and also the neck muscles –which may feel quite hard if they are tense.

This area is the equivalent of your horses’ poll. Now keeping a little pressure on those muscles begin to flex your poll (tilt your head forward) and then extend your poll (tilt your head back) Think Rolkur to Nose in the air! Just do this gently and slowly several times, you should start to feel the muscles relax. Once you stop you should feel like you have re set your head directly on top of your spine-Magic! Now remember this feeling and try to maintain it as you ride-I know if you have a concentration tilt like me this is super tough!

Biomechanics, Posture and Performance for the Equestrian

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