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.

Shock Absorption

What do we actually do with our bodies when we ride?

 

Well we,

 

  • Use it to help balance the horse

  • Control the direction, speed and tempo with it

 

But, in order to effectively do this we must first absorb forces with it. That is we must be able to absorb the movement of the horse underneath us and be still in control of our muscles. That’s a pretty big ask for say a 60kg woman on a 600kg horse!

 

So, what can we do to help us achieve this?

 

Firstly, riding in a neutral spine allows our bodies to be it’s most effective at absorbing force.

 

Neutral spine is when all of the joints of the body stack on top of one another allowing them to fully supported by the big muscles of the body to do this.

 

However there are also things we can add into our off horse training for shock absorption.

 

By being able to recruit the big glute muscles (that’s your bum) and the hip stabiliser muscles around the pelvis you are better able to absorb movement of the horse underneath you and keep your control centre that is your pelvis and spine stable.

 

Here are a couple of great exercises to train your shock absorption system.

 

Kettlebell swings. Working with kettlebells trains you to control the speed of the swing with your own body. You control the speed of the kettlebell swings and then you control the stop at the top to bring it back down.

 

Quick Squat Drop. If you are a regular on the dance floor on a saturday night you may know these as a sl*t drop, but basically you drop into a squat really fast, take control at the bottom and push back up.

 

Squat Jumps. Drop into a squat and jump back up. This can be done as a single or in a continuous pattern of squat to jump straight back to squat to jump.

 

Depth Jumps. That is jumping off a box, landing and then immediately jumping again

 

Now to up the Ante’

Single Leg Squat Drop. As with the quisk squat drop but on one leg!

 

Single Leg Squat Jump. Start with your back foot on a bench in a split squat position. Jump with the front foot, land and repeat.

 

What can your elbows tell you?

Your elbows can be a great reference point as to how your upper body is stacked up.

 

The first thing to look at is whether they are touching the same points on your torso on each side. For example on your left side your elbow might sit just under your rib cage, and your right side it sits on your hip. Which of course means you are not equally balanced.

 

To correct this imagine there is a spirit level attached from elbow to elbow and you need to  make it balance. 

 

Then ask yourself whether you have equal distance and pressure between your arm and your torso? Maybe one is clamped in with no distance between your arm and your waist and maybe the other looks like a bus could drive under it. Obviously neither of those is ideal so to help them hang more equally and effectively imagine some tiny weights drawing them gently down, then gently close your back arm pit keeping the upper arm still soft; this should engage your lats (back muscles) to assist with maintaining a stable position.

 

How about your hands? Are they using equal pressure? Are they fixed or do they move too much? Imagine trying to keep the hands still but gently moving the elbows to brush against the fabric of your sleeves so to do this they will move but only very slightly and very gently-this is what you’re aiming for.

 

I hope these visualisations help you to fix your elbow woes but if you would like some more in depth 121 advice to improve your riding I have some limited spaces for 121 Clients at the studio-WN8 9QP so hit reply if you’re ready to up your game!

Are you getting better?

This week I am away at Equipilates™️HQ completing the first couple of modules of the Advanced Equipilates Biomechanics Trainer qualification.

 

I love learning and I think it’s important that I continue to learn and grow as a trainer in order to continually improve the service I give to my clients.

 

Riding is a sport that no matter what level you are at you never really stop learning-even the pros have regular coaching.

 

So as a rider are you continually trying to learn and upskill? I’m sure each time you ride you are expecting your horse to improve but what about you?

 

I know riding regularly means hopefully you are getting stronger and therefore getting better, but do you take it any further?

 

Do you look at individual areas you can improve on yourself? Perhaps your right shoulder is stiffer, or your left leg is wobbly?

 

Do you try and address those issues outside of being on your horse?

 

I think it’s so important to be aware of your part in the relationship between you and your horse, if you expect your horse to improve you must make sure you are trying to improve in order to support his journey.

 

What sort of things can you do to improve?

 

Watching videos on YouTube, I also like DressageTraining TV or the Masterclasses with top riders on Horse and Country TV.

 

Have regular coaching with an instructor that focuses on you as well as your horse.

 

Train off horse with a coach specifically targeted to helping riders …….I’ve got space for 121 clients and a couple of spaces in Wednesday at 6pm.

 

Sideways and Circles

So often riders have told me that their horse falls in on one rein or out on another, they can do a lateral movement one way and not the other; and no matter what they do they can’t fix it.

However when we then assess the rider we almost always find some sort of asymmetry or uneven weight distribution.

This of course then transfers to the horse and then exacerbates further on a turn, circle or lateral aid so whilst that rider thinks they are giving perfect aids both ways and the horse is ignoring them one way they are actually giving different aids for each rein.

So if this is you it’s time to stop blaming your horse and have a really in depth look at Exactly what You  as you give these aids.

Starting straight on and from neutral-first we must establish neutral.

  • Can you feel both your seat bones equally? Are your feet equal weight in your stirrups?
  • Is your rib cage directly over your pelvis –or try sternum in line with pubic bone. That is front to back and left to right? Do you arch, hollow or tip to one side?
  • Is your head floating on top of your neck, central and looking ahead?
  • Are your hands equal weight, height and length on the reins?

It is really useful to have someone on the ground to help you with this as often what we think is happening is not necessarily the case. We wouldn’t be fluffing our circles if it was would we!

Now in a walk start a 20m circle and run through the check list again. You see the idea is not to lean to the inside and motor bike around the corners. It is perhaps useful to imagine you are on train tracks and as they run around a circle they still stay equal distance apart and you remain equally attached to them.

As you turn; your body will turn with your horse so in fact you stay in neutral together around the circle.

  • Are your seat bones still equally weighted?
  • Are your feet equal weights in the stirrups?
  • Is your rib cage directly over your pelvis?
  • Are you still looking straight ahead?
  • Are your hands level?

Try it again in a leg yield. Using leg yield right as an example.

  • Can you open your right hip slightly to allow the horse to step over?
  • Is your rib cage still facing the front?
  • Are you still equal length front to back and left to right?

 

Again it is really useful to get someone to watch this. If that’s not possible I often set my phone up in the corner of the arena and video myself to watch back afterwards-it’s brutally useful!

If you can keep everything in balance throughout on both reins I guarantee there will be an improvement in how your horse performs them.

Reaction Riding

If you see the videos of my classes you will see sometimes we’re outside in the arena having a great laugh balancing on gym balls and wobble boards throwing stuff at each other, sometimes without looking at the person or saying a different name etc to make it more difficult.

 

Of course there is usually lots of laughing and everyone does enjoy themselves but is there some method in this madness?

 

Of course there is!

 

How many times have you been merrily trotting along on your horse then suddenly you’re going sideways or facing the other direction? Those pesky pony eating invisible monsters!

 

To stay aboard and hopefully maintain some control takes not only good core stability but also super fact reaction skills.

 

The majority of the time you are on your horse your body is reacting to the movement underneath you so spooky horse or not your ability to ride consistently well is affected by your reaction time. Of course spooking and “surprise” behaviour just add an extra test into the mix but your ability to react can make the difference between a minor second of non compliance or a hitting the deck scenario.

 

So that’s what we’re really up to on those gym balls throwing stuff.

 

Why not have a go at training your reflexes and reaction times yourself?

 

You don’t need a group of crazy women on unstable surfaces (although I highly recommend it for the fun element). Instead why not try.

 

  • Learn to balance seated or kneeling on a gym ball. It will move underneath you meaning your body has to react to stay balanced.
  • Throw and catch a ball with one hand.
  • Throw a ball against a wall.
  • Try the ball throwing on a gym ball……
  • Play with a Reactor ball -it’s an odd shape so when you throw it on the floor it pings off all over the place meaning you have to be sharp to keep up!

 

Are You Symmetrical?

As riders our aim is to be as symmetrical as possible that is with equal balance and strength front to back and side to side. This gives us the best foundation for absorbing and working with the force of the horse underneath us.

Of course in real life 100% symmetry is not really going to happen but we can aim for 99% right?

When riding we want an equal connection and reaction time from the top to the bottom of our body.

You see if we give aids we want them to be instant, clear and concise and of course to get the desired reaction.

If you need to give an aid for say Shoulder in. You put your inside rein on and  your inside leg on to create the bend at the shoulders and then the outside rein and outside leg then also act at the same time to support the movement and stop the horse falling in at the shoulder or turning and the hind from swinging out.

Now when done well this all happens simultaneously, but if we do not have equal strength and reaction time what may actually happen is this: Inside rein comes on and creates bend at neck, inside leg kicks in and has to try and create bend from the rest of the horse. The horse starts to turn before the outside rein kicks in so in fact it has to now try to turn the horse back whilst the outside leg is basically a lost cause! You see what happened here was not one aid of bend at the shoulder, stay on the track moving forward but in fact a series of smaller aids one after the other-I know the scenario will sound familiar to many of you!

This is why equality and harmony from top to toe and side to side is vital! We very rarely give an aid with just one part of our body, with a right hand aid the right leg, left hand and leg support and vice versa etc. If the support act doesn’t kick in at the same time as the aid your horse will do exactly what that aid asked him to do-in the above example turn his neck………as your leg didn’t support and tell him shoulder.

This of course doesn’t just apply to shoulder in, it applies to any aid in fact. It applies to your ability to ride straight lines – what if the left side asked for forward first before the right side came too?

Then of course circles, lateral work and so on.

Then back to front and back equality.  This is a big area in the ways it presents and causes problems so I may write about it in more detail another time as it is commonly misunderstood, however the basic premise is that your should be equally working the front and back of your body the entire time you are riding. This not only creates a good neutral alignment but it also enables you to absorb the movement of your horse more effectively and therefore give better aids and in many cases prevent the many cases of back pain, shoulder pain, hip pain etc.

Let’s try this really simple exercise to see whether your top and bottom, front and back, left and right can fire at the same time.

Starting on your back. Try lifting your left arm and leg up at the same time-does one lift quicker than the other? Now try the right side? Now try opposite sides so left arm right leg. Notice if it is consistently say your arms that lift first, can you make arms and legs lift at the same time?

Now try the same exercise on your front. Notice if this feels easier or harder than on your back. If it feels harder you perhaps favour your muscles on the front of your body and of course vice versa if it was easier on your front you favour your back muscles. Again can you lift top and bottom and left and right at the same time or does one always fire first?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iJf8kAX4yTw

 

This will give you an idea as to how you give aids on your horse.

I always lift a leg first, my left side was much easier and more equal and I favour my front muscles. How about you?

 

Create some space in your ribs

Often I talk about recruiting your core correctly whilst riding by visualising sticking your bottom rib to your hips. I have found this technique works really well, however another element to this is being able to keep the chest open to avoid the shoulders rolling in.

 

Unfortunately as most of us spend the majority of our time hunched over a desk we struggle to do this and instead bend from our lumbar spine sticking the chest up to create an open feeling in our chest. This unfortunately then undoes all the good work you had done on creating a neutral pelvis as by lifting the chest you have more than likely lengthened the front.

 

In order to be in balance the front and back of your body should be the same length.  In order to create an open shoulder and chest without compromising this length we need to create space at the rib cage and keep the abdominals switched on and short.

 

This is actually very subtle when you see it but I promise you the effects can be magical. I have mentioned before how if we are hunched and heavy in front this transfers more weight to the front of our horse, which can go a few ways from a very heavy horse in the hands, being on the forehand or struggling to really use the shoulders-either way it’s not what we are after.

 

To help you learn this technique I have an exercise for Thoracic extension. That is essentially upper back extension. It is a really subtle and small movement that focuses on keeping that bottom rib to hip with core engaged and then trying to separate the other ribs up and away and from each other.

 

Begin lying on your front, arms down by your sides.

Engage your abdominals so that you should feel them lift away from the floor a little. Keep your bottom ribs on the floor throughout, gently starting at the top of your chest imagine separating your ribs out and lift forward so that your head will come up but the only movement should be in your upper back. Return to the start position.

 

This can be made harder by putting your hands on your forehead as this adds additional weight.

This exercise should be done slowly and with real focus on the ribs. Try working up to 2 x 10 reps.

 

Breathe Some Magic Into Your Riding

I have spoken before on the importance of your breathing whilst your ride.

However I want to focus less on the hip relaxing today and more on the energy and connection with your horse.

To be honest it can be quite a difficult thing to explain how and why horses respond to our breathing pattern when we ride them and there can only really be hypothetical answers ranging from it being how our body language/position etc. changes subconsciously, they feel vibrations and electromagnetic fields to plain old magic!

So rather than try and give you any of these arguments I’m just going to give you some things to try out and you can come to your own conclusion.

Just sat still on your horse or at a walk breathe right into your belly and then progress this by imagining you are breathing right into your thighs wrapped around your horse.  Do this for a couple of minutes just focusing on your breath going right down into your thighs, down your legs and imagining that breath being felt by your horse. How does your horse respond?

If your horse is really tuned in and communicating with you, you may just find he starts to match your breath too, breathing in and out with you so you draw energy from each other’s breath. Imagine how connected you must be for that to happen?

You could also try breathing in for 8 beats (that’s hoof beats not full strides!) and out for 8 beats. This is great way to relax either you or your horse-or both! It can be useful to practice this at home and then it is comforting exercise when you really need it out at a show or on a hack.

When you are in a rising trot and want your horse to stretch down and really use his back, I want you to rise and breath out but think –breath down-yep rise up and breath down! Just try it…….does your horse stretch down a little bit more? This is only way I know how to get a horse to stretch down!

A great way to improve your seat in the sitting trot and canter is to try breathing in for 2 strides and out for 2 strides. This may be because it helps to free up your hips which in turn can also help to free up a lazy horse but to be honest don’t think about the why’s and wherefores just accept the magic as it happens!

Facebook
Facebook
INSTAGRAM