All posts by admin

Why Neutral?

We talk about neutral spine a lot and also alignment in terms of ear, shoulder, hip and heel. Whilst most riders are aware of it, it can kind of be left to go awry if we find it difficult to maintain, or if no one points out that we aren’t doing it after years of letting bad habits in.

The more I talk the riders the more I notice that many don’t actually know why we ride in neutral alignment.

Do you know why?

Often if I ask riders why they think we ride like this I get answers like “to keep the horse in balance, to remain over the strongest part of the horse and it keeps you more balanced….”

All true don’t get me wrong, but the thing is even at the highest levels (I’m always analysing the alignment at Grand Prix!) they aren’t all in this alignment so you start to think well if I can get the job done without being in this alignment then why should I struggle to try and achieve and maintain it?

I will add that the super elite as I would call them-Carl, Charlotte, Isabell etc. Are in this neutral alignment.

But back to why you should be.

Neutral Spine stacks up all of your joints on top of one another in perfect alignment which allows it a much stronger foundation upon which to absorb the movement of the horse beneath you without placing excessive strain on the ligaments, tendons and muscles as well as creating just one line of pull for gravity to act on rather than being out of alignment which gives gravity extra lines to pull and on well…….gravity might just get the better of you!

Basically it does keep you balanced but it also protects you from injury from just riding itself.

I see lots of riders with back pain, most commonly Dressage riders who when I watch ride will hollow or lean back during sitting trot in an attempt to stay balanced and let the horse go forwards when unfortunately what they are actually doing is putting the movement of half a ton of horse athlete through their lower back in extension and it’s not able to keep doing this without complaining eventually! It is also not the most effective way to get your horse to move forward with impulsion but that’s a different blog post.

So, I want you to go away and think about your alignment and how you think you stack up. This will be extremely useful for you if you do have any aches and pains but even if not you should still take this into consideration to ensure you are bullet proofing yourself further down the line.

If you want some help with this I offer 1 2  1 on horse assessments at £35 (local only or if you have 4+ riders a clinic could be arranged) and this can be combined with an off horse Biomechanics assessment of yourself for £60 as a package.

Every Step You Take, Every Move You Make

Your horse can feel you!

I’ve been doing a little more work with riders on horse lately. I’m not a riding instructor but what I do specialise in is how to make your body move and perform better and this case it means being able to do that whilst you are riding.

 

What I think has been the biggest lightbulb for most people is how just the tiniest movements can have an effect on your horse. I haven’t been teaching anything that on the surface looks dramatically different from how these ladies already ride but what I have taught them is how to use their body most effectively to get greater results with much less effort.

You see, your horse can feel a fly landing on it, so when give him a kick, or you pull on a rein etc. he can definitely feel it so more than likely he isn’t ignoring you if he doesn’t do exactly as you asked, he probably doesn’t understand the question.

Often what we think we are doing and what we actually doing can be a little different. Also, when we ride several times a week over many years we can get a little lazy with certain things and develop bad habits.

When I ask “do you think you are sat straight” people aren’t lying when they say yes, as however they are sat feels straight to them, and then when I move them to actually straight…..it feels wonky!

It turns out it’s the little things that actually make all the difference, like remaining straight yourself around turns and circles rather than leaning in. Just ask yourself next time you are riding if you really are doing this?

Perhaps as you make an upward or downward transition you lean forward or back, when in fact you should remain equal and strong front to back. You probably still get the transition (unless we are back at my Canter transition debacle!)But that transition could be more balanced if you stay balanced throughout too.

I know you are thinking …..This all sounds like more work when it fact what I’m doing now is working. Well yes I’m sure you are still getting circles, sideways, speed up and slow down and it feels relatively easy because you are used to doing it that way.

However, when you start to address the weaknesses and imbalances with a little time they won’t feel so difficult and in fact because you are more balanced your horse will be more balanced so in fact it will actually become easier than that previous default as you won’t have to balance your horse so much anymore!

Now this is just one of the little secrets we go through in my rider assessments, but if you want to learn some more I have spaces available at a clinic running at Long Lover Livery, Halifax HX3 7TJ.£35 per 45min private session on your own horse.  Hit reply if you would like a slot.

There is also just 1 slot available on my weekly Thursday Equestrian Fitness Class at my private studio located WN8 9QP. Let me know quick if you want it!

What does Douglas do?

You may have seen recently I was featured in Your Horse Magazine. It is a regular feature they run about how people fit horses around their jobs. Those that have read it have asked me how I do fit so much stuff into a day/week. The answer? Good time management. This is definitely something that helps when trying to get multiple ponies worked throughout the week and keeping them all on track with their individual training.

So, how can you do it?

Firstly, as I’ve mentioned in a previous blog; make a training plan. If you know what your goals are you can then look at what your schooling/exercise plan needs to entail in order to get there. That way you know exactly what you have to achieve in each session so you don’t waste time just going round in circles (unless your plan was to work on circles…) and you can plan this across the week looking at what time you are likely to have each day to get things done. There is no point pretending you are going to school for an hour 5 times per week when you barely manage to ride twice per week now, it clearly isn’t going to fit with your lifestyle.

I will use my driving pony Douglas as an example. Douglas had been chilling out in a field for a couple of months before he came to me so one of his initial goals is to improve his fitness and endurance. Then as he is a driving pony to encourage him to use his back end more to give him more power and finally to work on his manners/schooling as although he isn’t particularly naughty he can be a little cheeky, doesn’t like to halt and we are still figuring out each others cues.

So, Douglas’s plan looks like this.

Monday: I have a little time but not much so we lunge, do plenty of Canter work, Poles and little Jumps. This is his cardio and building muscle and as its on the lunge just 20 mins is enough to tire his little legs out.

Wednesday: Usually have a little more time so I will either long rein or go out in the Carriage. If I’m short on time I actually long rein pretty much at a trot for 20-30 mins (sneaks in a cardio session for me too!) or we walk, trot, do circles and practice our halt and groundwork if I have more time.

Friday: Usually similar to Wednesday. Or I do what I didn’t do on Wednesday so if I just took him for a trot I will do groundwork and a little schooling and vice versa.

Weekends: We are starting to get the Carriage out (it’s just too much faff if you don’t have much time during the week!) and do our schooling session for that.

I’m finding that although he may have only done less than a couple of hours work though the week, it’s all relevant to his Driving work so he is primed and ready to go. Fit from the lungeing and long reining, and on the aids from the groundwork etc. It’s like we’ve been doing the same stuff all week, which we haven’t but they have all been relevant to getting out driving at the weekend.

So I know the majority of you aren’t drivers but this was just an example. You can apply the same thing with your own horse. Maybe lunge sessions, ground work (The Equitation Science work of Andrew McClean is great) and faster and shorter ridden sessions when you have less time through the week and then longer more advanced schooling or hacking etc. at the weekend when you have more time.

Then there's looking at whether you would be better getting up early and training your horse before work? Or maybe arranging lessons on week nights when you need the motivation to ride!

I apply this theory to my own fitness routine (I can highly recommend long reining as a double whammy!) Just looking at what I want to achieve and how much time I will have on given days.

 

Practice Differently

We all have that one element of our riding that we just can’t seem to crack. For me it’s Canter transitions, they are like a mental block and if I don’t get my Canter on the first ask I fall to pieces and start to flap away like a lunatic-achieving nothing!

 

Now I’ve spent a fair bit of time lately working on these Canter transitions as the horse I was riding was not making them easy for me-Jamie just wants me to learn I’m sure he’s doing it for my benefit…..

 

The thing is, I’ve been riding for many years so I’ve done thousands of Canter transitions so you’d think I’d know how to do one, which I kind of do. But if you break it down do I REALLY know how to do one? If I did why would I not get into Canter on the first ask? Or why if I didn’t get it the first time because the horse was being lazy could I not just ask again a bit firmer? You see I went round and round trying again and again but they weren’t getting any better, sure I got into Canter but it was messy and certainly not effortless.

 

So what did I do? Well I got help via a couple of different mediums.

 

Firstly I am fortunate that often I have a friend with me when I ride so she was able to watch EXACTLY what I did I.e not what I THOUGHT I did and we could then discuss which bits of this did and didn’t add up to a Canter transition. Apparently what in my head was sitting up tall, giving with the reins, leg just behind the girth was in fact tip forward, chuck the reins at him and swing your leg at his hip bone…...so not exactly a Canter aid after all!

 

I also had lessons on a different horse -who was a little more amenable so that I could practice the aids knowing I was going to get the Canter.

 

I also had lessons on Jamie to deal with the steps leading up to the transition to give us the best chance of a successful Canter.

 

I also went away and did some research-I’m a huge fan of Dressage Training TV with Mary Wanless and Peter Dove and I found a great session on Canter aids by Peter that really helped.

 

So with all of these new tools under my belt, I practiced and practiced and well they have definitely got better. The reason not being because I have practiced but because I have practiced differently than before. I have broken down what was going wrong, found new ways of learning it and then begun to practice with these new tools under my belt.

 

It would have been easy to blame Jamie for not responding to my aids but in reality it’s me that needs to learn to communicate with him not the other way around. If he doesn’t respond to what I’m asking I need to change how I ask the question.

 

Ok so what the point of my little confession on the crapness of my Canter aids, well hopefully you will feel a little better that other people struggle too, but also my point is that if you are struggling with something in particular instead of just bashing away with the same skill set, go away and develop a new skill set on it.

 

You could try doing some reading on the exact aids, some schooling exercises around the aids and then really analyse whether you are using those aids. Again someone on the ground or if I don’t have that I set up my phone camera in a corner of the school and video it so I can watch back. Having lessons on another horse or with a different instructor can help too. Our brains all learn differently so what explanation may work for one person may not work for another.

 

I challenge you now to decide what you’re going to tackle and spend this weekend looking for a different way to practice it! Let me know how you get on!

 

If you would like to improve your riding performance off horse I have space for 121 clients at my private studio located WN8 9QP so hit reply if you’d like a consultation.

 

Nicola

Improve Your Personal Performance

You may have noticed that fitness for equestrians is having a bit of a moment (great news for me!). It seems that suddenly there are programmes popping up everywhere all promising to improve your fitness for riding. I think this is a great thing as I really do believe fit riders make better riders. A fit rider is in better balance and control of their body as well as able to maintain that level of balance of control for longer periods before becoming tired.

However not every rider wants to be an avid gym bunny. You may have absolutely no desire to take up running or lifting weights. That’s cool it doesn’t mean you can’t find an off horse way of improving your riding.

In order to see what needs to be done to improve your own performance you need to look at two things.

Firstly your specific discipline. What does it entail and require of your body? The demands of a jockey are very different to that of an endurance rider, dressage rider or showjumper etc. So have a think about what level of cardio fitness you require. Do you need to remain focused and strong for long periods or short rounds? How do you need your body to be move and be active? The working position of a showjumper is very different to a dressage rider and therefore again the flexibility and stability needs will be different.

Secondly, what are your current strengths and weaknesses? Perhaps as a Dressage rider you have a very good alignment but you struggle to absorb the movement of the horse in bigger movements and therefore require more stability. Perhaps as an Eventer you are quite strong but get tired on the cross country and therefore need to work on your cardio endurance.

To avoid doing a generic improve everything programme have a look at these questions and then focus on your off horse exercise into improving these elements specifically.

I have 1 2 1 training availability so get in touch if you would like some help with your specific training plan.

Planning Winter Training

No matter how many years it has been since I left school (a few….) September always feels like a fresh start.

Maybe it’s because it’s also the switch over from summer to autumn so the nights get darker, the weather gets colder and with that comes a change of routine for riding and fitness sessions.

I think it’s a really good time to sit down with a pen and a diary, planner, piece of paper etc. and make a plan of how your training is going to look for you and your horse from now until the end of the year. (Without causing alarm there are just 16 weeks left of 2018!).

For your horse:

  • What activities will he be doing? If he’s not likely to be out competing etc. maybe you want to give him a break, or if you have some winter competitions planned how fit do you need him to be?
  • What facilities do you have? If you have an indoor then time and weather may not be a problem, but does your outdoor have lights? Maybe you don’t have an arena and will be limited to hacking in daylight hours. Make a plan based on the fact it will be dark in the mornings and evenings and it may well be wetter and windier.
  • What do you want to work on? Have you struggled with a particular issue out competing this summer? Make this time your chance to really nail it and plan the exercises, schooling sessions etc. that you will use to help you overcome it.
  • Get your trainer involved in your goals so they can be best advised to help you when training you. If necessary also get your saddler, vet and horse bodyworker on board to help you along the way.

Of course we all know with horses you can make a plan and the next day you’re phoning the vet and ripping the plan up! However instead of falling at hurdles along the way go back your plan, regroup and amend as necessary. For example we had spells over summer when the arena was too soft to ride on, so instead I did groundwork with backwards, sideways and walking over poles. My original plan was work to get my horse using his back end improving his muscle tone so we still achieved some of those things just in a slightly different way so that when I got back on we hadn’t regressed at all-in fact I think it helped immensely.

For you:

I personally feel that autumn/winter is the perfect time to really work on your on fitness, balance, symmetry etc. As you are likely to be riding a little less, and the dark nights mean you tend to spend less time socialising at the yard so more time to focus on you!

  • What activities do you need to be fit for? There is difference in being fit to go a full days hunting to be being fit for a Dressage Test.
  • How fit for this activity are you currently? If you are feeling very unfit then start slowly and if you are fairly fighting fit maybe just a few tweaks to your routine could make all the difference.
  • Have you been struggling with something on your horse that could be caused in part by you? Now is the time to assess and work on any imbalances, injuries and weaknesses.
  • As with your horses training, get your planner out and write down your training aims and plan and get them scheduled into your week.
  • Who will you need to help you? Maybe it’s just a local class you need to sign up to, or you may need the help of a physio, personal trainer etc. whoever it is, contact them and get them on board to help you achieve your goals.

If you need some help with your goals I have availability for 1 2 1 training in the studio, so get in touch if you would like an appointment to see how I can help you.

 

Learn it right the first time

I see it so often, in fact I’ve experienced it myself. You are trying to do something new with your horse for example Counter Canter and you know the aids but you can’t seem to do them. What you can do is push & shove a bit and apply extra force and most of the time you get what you want-but it’s hard work.

 

Do you really want it to be hard work forever? I’m guessing the answer is no,but if you don’t ever address why you can’t already just lightly apply the aids now then it’s always going to be the pushing and shoving method isn’t it.

 

It will also come back to haunt you at some point when you again try to progress a movement. Using the Canter and Counter Canter as an example, if you have never learnt to ask for and control the Canter with your seat and instead have relied on your legs, hands and a bit of push and shove then to ask for Counter Canter is a very difficult task indeed. Whereas if you have nailed the Canter with your seat aids and it is almost rather effortless (or at least appear it!) the Counter Canter is then just a different arrangement of these aids and although may still take some time and practice to achieve you will already have the required skill set to be able to begin to transition into these aids.

 

So what I am imploring you to think about is whether you first have mastered the basics of riding from your seat, able to give invisible aids with your seat bones and maintain Shoulder Hip Heel alignment with stable shoulders for a balanced and giving rein contact and legs that can come on or off with only a slight shift of the seat.

 

If you can control the tempo of your walk, trot and Canter and perform turns and circles using these skills alone then any more advanced movements will be just a different arrangement of what you already do. The sky will then indeed be the limit!

Round Shouldered Rider

A couple of weeks ago we looked at the hollow backed rider so this week I want to look at the round shouldered rider.

 

What problems does this cause?

 

Most likely the head and shoulders will be stooped forward which puts extra weight on the front of the horse-in short of you are on your forehand your horse is on his forehand.

 

It is also likely that as the back is lengthened it will not be activating effectively. This impacts on the core as the back is as important as the front, and secondly the rein contact. A truly soft and giving but supportive rein contact can only come from the use of the shoulders. Relying on the chest and arms will cause tension and stiffness in the rein.

 

So if this is you, what can you do to fix it?

 

Well firstly you need to open up the front of your body.

 

I use this great stretch to open up the front of the body. In yoga it is called Camel. It can be done with the aid of a chair or ball if you wish-I really like the ball version.

 

Kneeling (put cushions under your knees if you wish) lift your hips and push them forward and with your hands either behind you on the floor or on a chair open your chest and push your shoulders back. Hold this for up to a minute.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then you need to switch on those back muscles to help keep you upright.

 

I like a back extension with a pull down as this works both lower and upper back.

 

Lying on your front, arms above your head on the floor. Lift your upper body off the floor a couple of inches, then squeeze your shoulders blades together, and draw your elbows down as if pulling down something from over your head to your shoulders. Then return to start position.

Do 2 x 10 sets.

Which is your “bad rein”?

We know as riders that being able to ride with equal strength left to right makes a huge impact. Now in reality it would be impossible to be 100% symmetrical but hey 99% will do!

I know you will have a rein you may be stiffer on, of your horse falls in or out on and often we say this is the horses’ weaker side. But is it the horses’ weaker side or is it your weaker side?

I’ve had this conversation with riders before and often there is no definite answer as over time the horse may respond to a rider’s weak side and vice versa so it’s basically chicken and the egg as to whether the horse caused your “bad rein” or you caused your horses!

Either way, it is you job as the rider to fix it. If it just your bad rein (for example if someone else riders your horse and they don’t find the same problem) then you of course need to even yourself up. If it’s both you and your horses’ bad rein then it’s still your job to even yourself up and then become strong enough to correct your horse to become equal again.

Let’s look at a couple of simple tests to find out which side is your strongest!

First up.

1 Leg Squat.

Starting sat on a bench with 1 leg raised, push up to standing and then slowly sit back down again. Now try with the other leg. Which side was easier? The standing leg that found it easiest is your most stable hip.

 

Side Plank Dip.

Lying on your side, get your whole body in a straight line, either stack your feet on top of one another or one in front on the other. With your elbow down and forearm flat on the floor, lift your whole body onto your elbows and feet, keeping your hips stacked on top of one another and trying not to tip forward or back. Now dip the bottom hip down to almost touch the floor and lift back up again. Do about 10 of these and then change sides. Which side was easier? The side on the bottom that found it easier is more likely to be the side you are most stable through your torso and shoulders. The weaker side may be the one that you tip or struggle to turn.

 

Does the stable hip match the stable shoulder? It doesn’t always as injuries, daily posture and habits can have an effect on these things.
How do you go about correcting these imbalances?

Do the test exercises! On both sides for say 2 sets of 10 and then do an extra set on your weaker side for a few weeks and notice how it improves both on the ground and most importantly on your horse.

It would be interesting to know how that has affected your horses’ “bad rein” now?

I’m not in control of my right elbow!

I think most of us know as riders that how effectively we ride comes down to how effectively we can use our bodies, but often we get stuck when we just can’t seem to get our bodies to do what we want.

I definitely drive my Carriage Driving instructor mad (pardon the pun) with his constant requests to sort my right arm out! I have to explain to him that it’s not that I don’t understand what he’s asking it’s that there is a blockage between what I’m asking my arm to do and it actually doing as it’s told!

The thing often when we are trying to learn something new our bodies will try and do it any way it can, even if that means using different muscles to do so. I have seen this a lot with riding in that many riders get away with using different muscles than is correct and it all works fine for a while, but then one day they try and learn something new –(particularly true in Dressage as the movements get more technical as you go up the levels) and they can’t do it because they really needed to be using those foundationally correct muscles and they have previously gotten by using different ones.

This is why I am stickler for learning things correctly first time around now! If I am trying to perform a lateral movement say and I can’t achieve using the exact aids I should be, I keep practicing until I can rather than previously when I’d just apply more force here and there to get it now, as I know at some point further down the line I will come unstuck and only have to re-train those muscles again anyway, only this time when they’ve been doing a the wrong thing for hundreds of rides!

Of course this is all well and good but how do you learn to use those correct muscles in the first place?

Well this comes down to body awareness and what the fitness industry would call “mind muscle connection.” Basically can you send a message to a muscle in your body and make it contract without using lots of other muscles around it?

Here’s a simple fun way of playing with mind muscle connection.

Standing up, can you contract just your right glute? Can you contract just the left one? Think Magic Mike style pec dancing!

You might find one side is easier than the other?

Try it again with right and left quad, and then right and left hamstring.

A great one for riders is right and left oblique’s as these can be switched on and off to control turns, circles and some lateral work.

So, have a little play with these this week, and you can try out whichever part of your body you like. Just pick a muscle and try to activate it individually-this is harnessing your mind muscle connection!