Riding With The Brakes On?

I imagine as a rider you have inner thighs of steel!

We use them for so much-forward, sideways sometimes for stability. We also by the very nature of sitting on a horse ask them to work in an extended position i.e. with the ends of the muscle furthest away from each other. Ordinarily when we want to work a muscle we contract it by bringing the origin and insertion (that’s either end) closer together –think bicep curl in the gym; the bicep is brought closer to the body to lift the weight.

When riding we elongate the adductors (inner thigh muscles) and then ask them to work in a static position there.

Then in our everyday lives we walk around with them typically in their shortened position as our legs are together. So we are contracting them to walk and then we ask them to contract when we ride-do they ever get a day off!

Now, many of us will have been led to believe that rock hard inner thighs are a good thing. Whilst a strong inner thigh is a good thing we also need to balance that with a relaxed inner thigh. This is because as mentioned we use them as aids to our horse so if they are always switched on…..you guessed it you are always giving an aid! Depending on a number of factors some being you and some being the schooling of your horse this can present in a number of ways. Most commonly you are riding with the handbrake on as you will lack a true lightness in your seat and will therefore be giving a very subtle slow down signal to your horse.  This then causes you to have to nag constantly with your leg and label your horse lazy.

It can also have the opposite effect on some horses as a grip on the inner thighs may mean “go” and this will be when you start to suspect you have electric jodhpurs as you swear you didn’t put your leg on!

To be honest the very nature of wrapping your legs around a horse means you will have good range of motion at your inner thighs they just need to learn to let go.

The first exercise I want to take you through is a technique called gliding. You will take the muscle to a stretch position and then move gently forward and back before increasing the stretch a little more and holding it. The stretch is passive as your hands are used to take your weight giving your body greater chance to relax into the stretch.

The second exercise aims to encourage opening at the hip joint but also stability of the pelvis. If we cannot open our hip with a stable pelvis this will affect our adductors ability to relax when we ride. I short it will become stiff to help stabilise the pelvis-so you are back to riding with the brakes on.

Begin standing with weight evenly spread between both feet. Then lift one leg and place the sole of the foot on the inside of the other leg-wherever it is comfortable there is no “correct” place for it to go. Place your hands on the front of your hip bones to ensure that the stay facing forward throughout. Now take the lifted knee out to the side keeping the foot on the other leg. Continue bringing the leg in and out for a count of 5. Repeat on the other side.

Don’t forget just two weeks until the Equestrian Bootcamp begins at Warren Farm, Formby. Places are limited so please secure your slot now if you want to join us!.

Are You Stable?

I talked last week about hip mobility, however equally as important is Hip Stability.

When I discuss the demands of riding to other fitness professionals they often struggle to grasp that we want flexible, mobile but also very stable hips-it’s basically the holy grail!

Well, it is possible and I am going to show you how.

It is important to ensure your hips stay as still and level as possible throughout these exercises. If you struggle just do a couple at a time and as you get better you can do more. Quality not Quantity is key!

Bridge.

Begin on the floor, knees bent feet flat on the floor. Tuck your tailbone under and lift your hips off the floor. Your aim is to create a straight/diagonal line from shoulders to knees.

The Bridge exercise seems very simple at first glance. However there are a number of things to be aware of.

  • Your Glutes/Bottom should be doing the work not your Hamstrings. If you feel your hamstrings burning make a conscious effort to squeeze your glutes more.
  • Ensure your Knees are in line with your hips-not falling in or out
  • Your Torso should be in straight line, your spine should be in neutral neither dipped nor arched
  • Your feet should both be pointing forward and underneath your knees
  • If possible have your arms/elbows off the floor-if you struggle to remain balanced you can work up to this.

Once you have grasped Bridge, we are going to really test your stability.

Once in your Bridge, You are going to maintain your alignment and lift one foot off the floor. I like to put my hands on my hips to check for movement. Also ensure your elbows are off the floor too! Return this foot and then repeat on the other side. Aim to do 10-30 reps.

 

I’d love to know how you get on!

It’s all in The Hips

I’m sure you know how important your hips are as a rider. They are your main source of communication with your horse. They give aids, receive feedback as well as help you stay on board.

Unfortunately, our hips are also responsible for an awful lot day in day out and that can cause them to become less mobile. They may feel stiff or tight or perhaps they just won’t do as they’re told!

These are two great EquiPilates™ exercises that can help you to articulate your hips better.

One of them is standing and requires no equipment (except a good soundtrack and plenty of sass!) and the other uses the Gym Ball.

This exercise forms part of the EquiPilates™ Standing Series.

Trotting Hips

Standing up with your spine in neutral (Think tailbone tucked under, stomach pulled back to spine.) Keeping your rib cage still and imagine that your spine is a pole directly through your body. Swivel your hips one at a time around the pole your knee will bend as you do this. I think it helps to imagine you are the front two legs of your horse trotting.

Video Link. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZbyNppL03gw

Push the Button.

The second is similar but sat down on a Gym Ball. I find this one easier. Sitting up tall, sat on the ball feet flat on the floor hip width apart in front of you. Push one knee forward as if to press a button in front of you, return it and then push the other knee forward. Start slow and then increase the pace. You are looking to keep your hips level as you do this and the ball should not wiggle around too much.

Video Link. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BUlPZ60kTFo

What If You Could See Yourself?

I hope you have enjoyed the recent exercise based blogs. Let me know if you would like more of the same or indeed anything else?

Today I just want to give you a little tip on how to make some great improvements in your riding for very little time or money.

Just by using your smart phone or tablet. Oh and you might need a friend to hold it.

Have you ever videoed yourself riding? It can be really eye opening and in fact a really simple way to help you improve. Often with our bodies, what we think it is doing is not necessarily what it is doing. Or perhaps you have a little habit you are not aware of-looking down, tipping forward or nagging with your legs. The suddenly you watch yourself on a video and you realise why you are not getting your desired result.

It can be so powerful to video your lesson or even part of it and see for yourself what your instructor sees and how you respond to the instructions given. I have found myself better able to correct my position after I have watched it in action. Next time I am on board I am able to re consider where my head or hands are or if I am sat straight.

So, why not try this out for yourself, have a friend or trainer video you riding and then watch it back and see where you can improve.

I’d also love to see some of your videos so send them over!

 

More Work On Your Balls

So last week we did so totally riding specific core work. This week we are going to do some more great core exercises although I guess what you would call more “traditional” exercises. They are of course still relevant to riders and I will explain why as we go along.

 

Plank on ball-Core without supported hands

plank on ballPlank 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.rev hyper 2

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 ball roll in 1hands, 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.ball roll in 2

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.ball pike

How’s Your Balancing Act?

So, I’m acting on a request this week, I was asked about good core exercises to do on a gym ball.

Now there are loads of great exercises you can do with a gym ball and they will all be beneficial in some way. However for the purposes of this I am going to focus on some very Riding specific exercises.

The great thing about gym balls is that they are unstable and require complete balance to stay on them. As riders we can use them to determine whether we do sit level on our horses and then whether we can move our bodies and still stay level.

If we have any notable asymmetry, weakness or tightness this will cause other muscles to compensate when we move and in this instance you will probably fall off the ball-it’s tough love I know!

A gym ball can be bought pretty cheaply these days; supermarkets etc. have them for under a tenner. When you blow it up it needs to be firm enough to sit on without squashing itself in half but not so solid it doesn’t squash at all.
Also, it is completely ok to hold onto something doing any of these exercises and to gradually take your hands away.

Please make sure you stay safe, have a soft landing should you fall but be careful and don’t do anything you are not ready for.

Note: I'm totally aware of how unsubtle I am holding the clicker to operate my camera-or am I holding 1 imaginary rein.....
And I have 3 layers of clothing on it was cold that day so I am not carrying twins as it may appear at some angles!

 

Firstly, if you are not used to the ball just sit on it            with both feet on thesitting on gym ball floor and get used to how it feels. If you do not have a particularly well-functioning core or have prominent imbalances in your body this in itself will actually be quite a challenge-trust me I’ve been there!

 

 

Once you are comfortable with that try lifting one foot off the floor.

 

on ball 1 foot lifted

Then repeat on the other side. Is one side easier than the other? Is one side more stable? Does a hip lift or tilt on one side more so than the other? Does the ribcage tilt, twist, lift or dip? Does the whole of one side displace when a leg is lifted? This will give you some clues as to what happens when you are riding and you use your leg.  

If you have mastered that take both feet off the floor. Ensure you stay sat upright as I have seen many people tell me they can do this and then lean back to help balance-perhaps they do this on their horse too…..both feet lifted on ball

If you can’t stay balanced, notice what happens as you tip off. If you always fall the same way for example then you may be leaning more this way, try leaning a little more the other way and see if this helps.

Once that is comfortable for you try getting on the ball in more of a riding stance. I like to try these two ways.

Firstly by sitting astride the ball as if it were a horse seated straddle on ball

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and secondly astride but with air between you and the ball as if at the top of rising trot.

I find it is pretty obvious if you aren’t level aupright straddle on ballt this point! Try to replicate your riding position as best you can. As well as being level through the hips, look for ensuring your sternum is over your pubic bone to keep you level back to front, and keep your tailbone tucked under.

If it helps hold some imaginary reins, you’d be surprised how many people need to do this in order to balance, what do you think this means about their riding and rein contact if they need reins to balance-real or imaginary?

And lastly once you are a total pro on those try four point kneeling on the ball. (Make sure you have a soft landing should you fall!) If you want to really show off you can lift one arm or leg – or indeed one of each! Jockeys and most eventers tend to have no trouble doing this exercise!

4 point kneeling on ball

So these may not seem like “core” exercises in the traditional sense, but I promise you practicing these and getting comfortable holding them, maybe being able to watch tv, hold a conversation etc. without falling off will have far greater benefit to your riding than any plank or crunch exercise I can give you.

I may cover some of those soon as they do have their benefits but for now let’s see how we get on with these!

I'd love to see your pictures if you try these!

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Not Got Time To Exercise? Join The #HorseHour Fitness Challenge

Not Got The Time?

I hear this so much when I ask people why they don’t exercise, and I hear it even more with Equestrians. I get it I do, we go to work, and we muck out the horse, ride the horse and then we go home to eat, sleep and then repeat. I have been there. When I had a 9-5 job I get up super early to muck out my horse before work and be at my desk for 8am (overalls and a hat combined with a good perfume!)So that I could ride after work, then go to the gym before going home usually to do more work as my 9-5 wasn’t really that exactly! So I would pretty much be on the go from 5am until 9pm. I’ll be honest I don’t advise it long term it was exhausting.

However, what it does show is that if you really want to fit something in you can. I also get that some of you may have children so you have added pressures and time constraints there.

What I am suggesting though is firstly realising why your own fitness is important.
If you are a fit and healthy person then all of the running around in general life feels much easier. You just have more energy to get through the day. Mucking out and carrying feed bags becomes a breeze too!

The stronger your muscles are, the better able you are to control them which in turn makes you a better rider. It also means you won’t get tired and start to lag towards the end of your schooling session.

We expect our horses to be athletes, to be fit, muscular and able to do whatever we ask, but surely your horse should expect the same from you? You should be strong enough to move with him and give clear, precise aids whenever you ride him from start to finish. That’s what makes you a partnership. You both work hard to become better together so I think it’s time you kept up your end of the partnership.

The Time issue? Well How about 10 mins per day? Surely you can find that?

Check out my podcast with Amy at Horse Hour and our Fitness Challenge.

https://t.co/DvWHV4fpXe

http://www.horsehour.co.uk/category/education-hub/rider-fitness/

Also Check out My You tube Channel for the videos.

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCMEKrjkfb75ou2Q4hBPKr-A

And if you want to join us don’t forget to tag us in your workout pics and statuses!

You can find us on Twitter, where #HorseHour happens every Monday at 8pm-9pm

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C’mon Join Us It’s only 10 mins per day to improve your riding!

What’s the Core Principle?

I’m sure you’ve heard it and heck I’ve even written about it. To improve your position in the saddle you need to strengthen your core.

That’s great advice it really is, but it’s not the whole story.

A strong core can be interpreted in many ways.

Firstly what is the function of our core whilst we are riding? It is to absorb force. In this case the force created by your horse as he hits the ground and moves off again-that’s some force! In order to do this it actually needs to be able to flex and extend whilst maintaining control. It also needs to be our stable base from which to move our arms and legs without losing balance.

So, let’s go back to the first point. In order to absorb your horses movement your spine needs to be able flex and extend? Ever see those riders with ram rod straight spines-fixed in that position in order to maintain a “strong core”. In reality they are sending all of that force their horse has created right into their spine. If the spine does not move itself cannot absorb movement sent through it-short version this is bad news for your spine long term and likely to cause you back pain.

On to the second point, if your spine is a hardened, solid core it will actually be quite difficult to create soft and subtle movements with the attaching body parts. They will also be stiff and maybe jerky.

So what to do? Well core work is still great for your riding, but I also recommend yoga to maintain flexibility and also to do core work that involves movement at the same time perhaps balance work involving movement of arms or legs –or both! It is also to look at how you breathe when your core is “switched on”. Can you keep those muscles switched on and take some deep breaths at the same time-then move an opposite arm and leg…..tricky huh? It will be worth the practice I promise!

Is Your Riding Suffering Because Of This?

You know the scenario, long day at your desk, hour commute in the car, arrive at yard, drag horse in , wave a brush at him, throw some tack on and jump on board. Now I bet at this point you spend 10 mins warming your horse up, starting slowly, bending, flexing and stretching before you move onto your planned schooling session.

But what about you? Did you do anything to warm yourself up and prepare to participate in this schooling session? Did you do anything to undo all of those hours spent sedentary?

Thought not.

I know, I know you haven’t got time to do an hours yoga before you ride!

The thing is you are all stiff, tight and hunched from a day spent at a desk or in a car your body is not primed to perform like the athlete you are! I know you don’t think you are an athlete but riding is a sport like any other – except there are two athletes in the performance and both of you need to be on top form to be your best. I bet Usain Bolt doesn’t train without warming up first so you shouldn’t either!

Just 5-10mins of movement before you mount up will have your hips relaxed, your back ready to absorb your horses movement and your shoulders and arms able to maintain a stable but elastic contact.

I know you might think you look silly but when you get on your horse and ride better than ever………….who looks silly now!

Check out this little 5 mins routine and try it before your next ride:

The Rider Weight Debate

Happy New Year! I hope you all had a nice break over the festive period.

January is the time the world is full of weight loss and health kicks. You may have also seen much more publicity recently surrounding rider/horse weight ratios. This has mainly been aimed at adults on ponies wherein the Great Yorkshire Show actually asked riders it deemed too heavy to dismount-awkward!

There have been a couple of bits of research but nothing with solid outcomes as such. Previously it was stated that the rider should be no more than 10% of the horses weight-which I think personally is ridiculous as most average sized women would have to ride a Shire Horse! More recently it was suggested more in the region of 15-20% was acceptable with over 25% beginning to show welfare concerns for the horse. I think is more reasonable but what many have questioned is the different breeds and conformation of ponies and horses.

It has been accepted for many years that Native Ponies in particular are capable of comfortably carrying weights much more than their size would suggest. Then perhaps in comparison we should consider whether a much taller horse with say, a long and therefore potentially weaker back with very little bone to the leg may actually weigh more due it is size but may not actually be as strong as something shorter and more compact? Then comes into the equation the riders seat, being that a more capable rider with a light seat would be much less strain on a horse than a beginner who may not carry themselves as well.

Anyway as yet research continues and there are no definitive guidelines on the matter so I guess we just have to use our common sense.

What I will say though is that we should consider on own fitness level and how this impacts our horse when we are riding. I don’t just mean our weight-but I think we do need to accept that being overweight ourselves is not good for our own or our horses health, but there is more to it than that.

In reality you could be 9 stone, incredibly weak and unfit and therefore your horse has to work harder to “carry” you than maybe if you were 12 stone but with lots of muscle and endurance and in turn actually had better “self carriage” whilst riding.
Secondly, in terms of health and your day to day energy levels; eating a predominantly whole food, unprocessed diet will give you more energy and you will be less susceptible to illness. I bet you give your horse the best diet you can………………….so why not you?

This January I want you to embark on that health and fitness kick to improve your riding and to have more energy to give to your horse time-I promise you it’s a better motivator than celebrity ideals. Although I am told the fear of white breeches for dressage season can be equally motivating!

And if you are like me and have a penchant for ponies rather than horses, I’ve got to get some weight off to get down to my “jockey” weight so I am below 20% of my 12.2h native ponies bodyweight-turns out the promise of riding my pony when she is backed is all the motivation I need to keep my diet on track!

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