When you seat and hands………..at the same time!

Do you ever find when you’re riding that you get your leg right but then your hands are everywhere or your contact is spot on but your lower leg is flapping around like it’s ready for take off, sort of like you can have one or the other but never both together! 

 

This is totally me! I struggle with my rein contact as a rule (great choice to take up carriage driving!) but sometimes I get it just right and then I’ll hear “what’s your lower leg doing?” Erm it’s best, it’s doing it’s best……..

 

Of course then my seat and my legs are going great guns and instead my hands are verging on useless…..

 

There is of course ways to help this and it is just a matter of teaching your body to work as a stable unit from top to toe. 

 

If you can focus on off horse exercises that involve stabilising the shoulders at the same time as the hips and legs it will be an awful lot easier when you’re back on the horse to do the same. 

 

I’m going to start with what is essentially a fairly basic ( not necessarily easy) movement pattern.

 

The Turkish Get Up!

Basically from lying down with one hand in the air holding a weight you proceed to kneeling then standing and then do the movement in reverse. The added weight encourages you to stabilise your shoulder and of course the act of getting up to standing requires hip stability so that’s head to toe stability sorted.

 

You don’t need any particular weight just a bottle of water will do. 

 

Now get practicing that for this week and next week we’ll look at some more advanced exercises you can do to work on your full body strength. 

Mindful Riding

When you’re riding do you ever really focus on exactly what you’re doing and feeling? 

 

Not just focusing on the movement your are doing or the aids but how your own body feels and how it’s reacting, how your horse feels and their reactions to you. 

 

This is  Mindful riding . The act of switching off from your day and what is going on around you to focus on the present moment of riding your horse and how that feels right now. 

 

Sometimes in my classes we do exercises on body awareness and I ask them to close their eyes as it helps to focus on what you can feel happening in your body. 

 

I’m not suggesting riding with your eyes closed -although if you have a safe horse doing just a few steps with your eyes closed can be really helpful. 

 

I am suggesting trying to be really present on what your body is doing, how does it feel? Are you sat level and light ? Do you give equal aids left to right?

 

Is you horse responsive to your aids? How does your horse feel? Is he relaxed or tense? 

 

Just spending some time tuning in and really focusing on you and your horse can really help in knowing what you need to do to move forward in your partnership.

 

Give it a go and let me know how you get on!

Back Pain affecting your Riding?

I see a lot of back pain in the riders that I work with, it’s a bit of a joke that we don’t have a full set of good vertebrae between us!

 

To be honest it’s not a huge surprise that many riders suffer with back pain as the very act of riding involves absorbing the force of half a ton underneath you, as well as the day to day sh!t shovelling, carrying bags of feed, water buckets etc. Add to that the pushing and shoving you’ve been subjected to and not to mention the falls. We riders give our bodies a fair battering!

 

I’ve got plenty of ladies in my classes that have back problems and I have been working with back pain clients for several years, including working on my own back pain. 

 

I think it’s really sad when riders feel like they need to give up riding as it causes them pain, I get extra sad when it’s because a Dr told them not to ride! 

 

Firstly, because there are so many ways you can assist your back that will lessen if not cure your back pain. 

 

Secondly because sedentary lifestyles are actually worse for your back than riding so stopping isn’t necessarily going to fix you.

 

Most importantly, why should you have to give up the sport that you love. This disregards the many benefits of riding from the fresh air, the exercise and the mental health benefits many of us experience through our horses. 

 

So, I make it my mission to not accept that someone can’t get back riding after experiencing back pain. However what I will say is that it will involve some hard physical work and a positive attitude but you’re an Equestrian so you’ve got this!

 

The spine needs both mobility and stability to function well. To clarify it needs to be flexible and strong. One or the other isn’t going to do. If you have mobility but lack strength the muscles will be unable to stabilise ….and they will get sore trying. If the spine is strong but lacks flexibility it will be unable to absorb movement and essentially brace to try and do this…..and it will get sore trying. 

 

So here’s a couple of moves I like to start with.

 

Firstly we need some mobility to the spine.

 

Cat Cow….or Hollow Back and Rodeo horse if you’re in my class.

 

Then we need some stability both at the front and the back.

 

A great starter exercise is Bird Dogs, which can be done from the floor, or made harder by lifting the knees. It’s really important to focus on form with this exercise as the back must stay flat -which requires you to work your front and your back at the same time.

Now this is just a tiny starter on back pain as it is such a huge topic and there are many different ways to tackle it that may depend on individuals starting points. So if you are struggling and you want some help I’ve got a couple of spots for 121 training available in which we could really get you riding strong and pain free again.

Strong All Over

I’m pretty sure as an Equestrian you’ve been told you need a strong core but what about the rest of you? 

I know you may think you have a pretty strong set of arms from all that lifting of feed bags, strong legs from the riding itself but do you really? If you’ve been doing that stuff a while your body will have adapted and this won’t be a huge challenge to your muscles, however when you then put it into a different a stimulus say for example a bigger more powerful horse or perhaps actually a less balanced horse, maybe a more technical movement you just can’t get your body to do it.

Well, a stronger might help a little, but you’re also going to need stronger legs to hold that horse together and stronger shoulders to keep that rein contact and it needs to be able to work as a whole unit maintaining strength from top to bottom. 

This is starting to sound like a major gym session isn’t it……

Don’t worry I know you probably don’t have time for that (if you do and want some help with your gym programme get in touch!)

So, here are a couple of moves that will help you build strength from top to bottom. 

 

Burpees - I’m sorry I know everyone hates them but they really do offer a lot of bang for your buck.

 

Press Ups-If you can’t do a full one, raise your hands on a sturdy table and still do the full position, as you get stronger you can take your hands lower.

 

Tri Planar Lunge-If you want to add weights you can, whether that be a water bottle or a bag of feed!

Try doing 10 of each for 3 to 4 circuits.

 

Not so simple Straight Lines

What seems like such a simple task is in reality a really tricky one.

Just ride a straight line from A to C……...sounds so easy doesn’t it? 

Yet we all know it’s really, really not easy at all!

A sort of cut the corner, wavy line finishing somewhere just to the left of C, well we’re nailing those! But actual straight lines hmmmm not so much.

This has definitely come up in class quite a lot recently as myself and a few of the other ladies have young horses and as you may well have experienced, young horses aren’t great at straight lines.

This means it’s your job as a rider to ensure you are riding a straight line and with practice your horse will follow.

I use a few visual ques to help me and my clients wobble those baby horses onto straight lines.

First, before you do anything are you sat straight left to right, equal weight in seat bones?

Pick your line on the turn or corner-if you can’t start with a straight line you aren’t going to finish with one! So as you get to your turn imagine a set of rails or tracks in front of you that curve around and then open into that straight line up the centre. Keep your own body riding those rails.

You’re now on your straight line and here’s a couple of things we’ve used amongst my clients, try them out and see what works for you.

 

  • Create a channel of energy from your hands to your thighs and drive if forwards. 
  • Keep your horse weighted equally between your thighs.
  • Imagine there are lasers on your thighs, shoot laser beams straight ahead of you and ride towards them.
  • Imagine there is an eye in your belly button, keep it looking at C.

 

Try these out and let me know which one works for you, or maybe you have your own version you would like to share with us.

 

If you would like to improve your riding fitness I’ve got a couple of class spaces available so snap them up quick before we’re full again.

Up Your Gym Ball Efforts

I know plenty of my clients have a gym ball at home, great for sitting on, kneeling on etc. to improve your balance and ability to respond to movement.

However there are plenty of other ways you can up the ante on your training using a gym ball.

Here are just a couple I use in my class sometimes.

 

Plank on ball-Core without supported hands

Plank with your hands on the ball is a great exercise. It encourages you to maintain a stable core whilst your hands are not so stable-like you know every time you ride! This will firstly stop you using your reins for balance but will also help you out if your horse moves his head around perhaps sneezing, or pecks on landing after a jump. No more toppling over the head gymnast style for you!

To do this exercise. First ensure you have a firm footing. I tend to start on my knees with this to get my arms in position and then lift my knees to full plank. If you need to start just staying on your knees that’s fine you can work up to lifting them. Try holding it for up to a minute-5 seconds is totally fine as a starting point!

Stir the pot-This is essentially upping the ante of the exercise above. You know if it was too easy! Once you are comfortable in your plank slowly move your arms with the ball in a small circle, first left then right. Do 10-30 each way.

 

Reverse Hyper Extension. I know most of you wouldn’t see this as a core exercise, but the reverse hyper extension will work both your glutes and lower back. This is important as the glutes are the biggest muscle in the body and also play a supporting role in hip and core stability. So strong booty=strong core. The lower back forms part of the core and is an often underused area of the body. It is an area many people experience pain and would therefore be wary of working; but that is exactly what it needs. If we strengthen the area we make it better able to cope with the demands we place upon it.

Lie over the ball with your hands on the floor. Your hip bones should be in the middle of the ball and your legs and feet lifted. Squeeze your glutes together and lift both your legs up so they are a few inches higher than your glutes. You should also feel your lower back working here too. Do -10-30 reps.

 

Ball Pike. This move requires core control whilst moving. This obviously happens constantly whilst riding i.e when you use your hands, your leg, move into a jumping seat the list goes on.  Ok, people have different methods of erm “mounting” the ball. I like to roll myself forward over it and into a press up position walking out until only my feet remain on the ball. You can keep up to your knees on the ball if you need a little more stability. Then you are going to roll the ball in with your feet/knees towards your hands. You can do this firstly with knees bent and then if you can do this try it with legs straight with your feet on the ball.

 

Let me know if you do these exercises and how you get on!

 

If you would like to join us in class or 121  I have a couple of spaces so hit reply and you can join our tribe!

What about your Seat Bones

Last week we looked at improving the seat and I had a few questions about seat bones.

 

The Seat bones are one of our main communication tools when we ride. Your horse knows where they are, he knows if they are moving or if they are still and if one is sat somewhere different than the other.

 

Your instructor may sometimes ask if you can feel your seat bones and I bet many of you give a kind of nod not really knowing if you can or you can’t. Or you may be able to feel them but they aren’t level and you don’t know what to do about it.

 

First things first let’s find your seat bones. There are a couple of ways you can do this. Most simply you can just sit on a firm chair and sit on your hands, and you should be able to feel a bony lump in each cheek (yes even through any extra padding…..).

 

Another great way is using a ball. Either a tennis or hockey ball or a spiky physio ball (if you google it make sure you put physio ball as just spiky balls brings up something else…..) Either seated or lying down just pop one under your bum cheek and have a roll around. Then take it out, take a moment to notice how it feels and then do the other side.

 

If this feels a little uncomfortable you may be inhibited in you glutes which will in turn affect your riding and I would suggest spending a little more time using a ball in this way to release them.  It is also really useful to do this for a minute or so before you ride.

 

You can also try riding (if you have a bombproof horse!) with the physio balls under your seat bones , you may have seen the Franklin balls used for this. If you find you lift a seat bone on corners and circles this will help you to stay level as you will be trying to keep the ball in place.

 

If you are un-level in your seat bones a gym ball should become your new chair of choice. Just sitting on the ball and lifting your feet will help you to get the feel of a level seat. Obviously if you aren’t level you won’t be able to lift both feet! Feel free to hold onto something solid to help you get your balance first that way you can feel which way you need to shift your balance to find your central point. Just doing this alone has improved my position and balance in the saddle.

 

Once you have found your seat bones try this little challenge to show you how much your seat bones affect your aids. In walk feel your seat bones move forward and back in time with your horse, now try to slow your seat bones down and then make them still. What does your horse do? If you did it right he will have hopefully slowed down or stopped completely-clever pony!

 

I hope this has answered your questions and given you some things to go away and try.

 

Let me know if there’s anything else you’d like me to talk about.

Strengthen your Seat

When we talk about the seat what are we actually referring to? 

 

Well it comprises a lot of things. 

 

Firstly your pelvis,  and then as part of that here are your seat bones-which are the bony bits under your bum (no your bum isn’t too fat you can definitely feel them if you sit on your hands)

 

Your pelvic floor which is a sling of muscles on your erm….undercarriage.

 

Then there are the muscles of the hips, the inner thighs and the glutes.

 

In some ways your abs also play a part as they form part of your pelvis stability. As do some of the muscles of your back.

 

And worth a mention is your breathing as this can also affect how all of these muscles work together.

 

On the one hand this is great as it means you have a huge support system to create a light but stable seat. But on the other hand it means if you want to improve your seat there is not one single area that would definitely fix the problem.

 

However that is why I tend to use multi benefit exercises I.e exercises that perhaps recruit the outer hips and glutes, or maybe the abdominals and breath work, hips and abs together, lower back and glutes…...and of course all of these things will form part of my 121 sessions and classes so we aren’t leaving any stone unturned.

 

So, what can you do at home that will cover these basis and improve your seat?

 

Breathing leg floats-I like this as a really simple gym ball exercise to co ordinate breathing and movement. You can do it seated as if on a chair or in a more “on horse” position and co ordinate with giving a leg aid.

Curtsy Lunge-This works the glutes, outer hip and to some extent the inner thigh so all those big muscles that will help to stabilise your pelvis. If you also do it trying to maintain a more upright posture you will recruit your abdominals and back muscles too-winner!

Seat Bone Awareness-Just bringing awareness to your seat bones when you ride and allowing them to follow the movement of your horse can have a huge impact on how you sit and how you communicate with your horse. 

Try these out and let me know how you get on! 

 

If you’d like to join us in class or 1 2 1 to improve your riding hit reply and we can get you started.

 

Training for Turns

Whenever I assess my clients riding I look at whether they are sitting straight both on a straight line and on turns and circles. 

 

If a rider is sat rotated on a straight line quite often they are not aware of it. If you’re lucky you can make them aware of it and they will straighten right up- but it’s not always that easy.

 

Aside from not being aware,the reason riders are sat crooked is due to a restriction and weakness somewhere in the body that they are not able to hold themselves straight in the saddle.

 

If it only happens on turns and circles -again just bringing awareness to the pattern can help but sometimes these riders also just need a little extra strength in their turning straight muscles to help them out.

 

In order to move and therefore be still freely both left to right we need to be able to first move equally left to right.

 

I like to use pole rotations (yes it’s just a broom handle, a long schooling whip will do). These help to identify asymmetry in the rotation pattern and repeated practicing of the pattern will result in improvement.

 

To then strengthen the area I like to do two things.

 

  1. Strengthen the muscles that wrap around the trunk in slightly more isolation-there will be other muscles involved but I like to take out the symmetry requirement to focus on the left and right more individually.
  2. Get the trunk to work in a rotation pattern and focus on the straightness.

 

To work the muscles in a more singular manner I like Windmills if you have access to light weights or side plank dips for a no equipment exercise.

 

To the then work in the rotation pattern I like a cable or band Russian Twist or for no equipment a seated Russian Twist.

 

 

 

 

Solid Front to Back

If you ever look at top riders they look solid in the torso, no wibbling around in the middle creating flailing arms and limbs!

 

It’s what most people would refer to as good core stability. The aim is to create equal strength at the front, the back and the sides of the body. This also translates as being sat equally front to back and left to right. 

 

If you are able to hold a level of strength here you are firstly able to better absorb the movement of your horse underneath you ( see last week for some specific exercises on force absorption) but also better able to maintain control of your body and limbs which in turn makes you more able to give clear aids. 

 

As the goal is strength whilst moving limbs and absorbing movement your standard crunch and static plank just aren’t going to cut it. 

 

Starting with a basic exercise 

 

Tap Back Planks.

Starting at 4 point in a neutral spine imagine pushing your front to your back and your back to your front. Keeping your neutral spine, hips as still as possible tap one foot back, leave it there and then again keeping everything as still as possible tap the other foot back to take you to a full plank position. Take each foot back down one by one and then repeat changing the leading leg each time.

 

Lifted Bird Dogs.

In a 4 point kneeling position and neutral spine, lift your knees just off the floor (about an inch will do as you don’t want to have to round your back) From here maintain neutral and lift opposite arms and legs away. 

 

Now for some fun……

 

If you want to add in some force absorption, try standing on one leg, standing on a wobble board, kneeling on a gym whatever level you are at, then throw and catch a ball against a wall or have a friend throw it to you. That’s solid core, moving limbs and dealing with extra movement all in one go!

 

We do exercises like this in my Equestrian Fitness Classes every week. If you would like to join our group of like minded Equestrians all working towards improving their riding whilst having loads of fun and making friends hit reply and I can let you know which classes have space available.

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