Ain’t No Hollow Back Girl

 

How did you get on with last weeks neutral spine?

Did you find it easy or difficult to remain in that position whilst riding?

There are many different ways that riders can deviate from a neutral position with backs arching, rounding, lateral shifts of the rub cage and curving to the side. Riders can have one or many of these things going on which will all affect your ability to stay neutral and therefore affect the aids you give to your horse.

One of the most common issues I see is a hollow back-an arched lower back causing the bum to stick out.

Now unfortunately some of us are built with a slight anterior tilt in our pelvis, which makes even regular standing and sitting in neutral spine a struggle. This doesn’t mean there is nothing you can do, it will just take some work to get the right muscles working in balance to allow a neutral pelvis. (I’ve spent around 2 years and I can now sit in a saddle in neutral I just struggle to maintain it whilst riding-but I have made huuugggee progress from where I started so it is possible!)

Add to this a Dressage saddle and we are in big trouble! You see in a GP saddle the thigh sits at approximately  a 45⁰ angle from hip to knee.  Depending on the severity of your hollow neutral spine may be achievable with adjustment in this position. In a Dressage saddle with the lengthened thigh position and usually higher cantle to really “plug” you in, the thigh is now somewhere around 35⁰ or less from hip to knee. Just to sit in a Dressage saddle automatically takes you into an anterior tilt, so in order to attain neutral you need to effectively posteriorly tilt. Which is fine if you have solid neutral already, if not then we classically see riders hollow backed, chest out and unable to use their core effectively when riding. Often these are the riders that complain of low back pain due to bracing in the back to try and absorb a big horses movement.

Aside from back pain, riding with a hollow back prevents you from being able to communicate with your seat effectively. If you can feel your seat bones at all they will most certainly not be pointing straight down rather they will be pointing backwards, and your balance will be off as your centre of gravity will ….well not be central as your chest is out, with your shoulders and bum back and your stomach lengthened. It can feel like you are working incredibly hard to give aids and they just aren’t as effective as they could be.

So, what can we do about it?

In it’s simplest form we need to release the back muscles and retrain them to work in a slightly more lengthened position and in turn retrain the abdominals to work in a slightly more shortened position. The aim being that you are actually equal length front and back.

This simple exercise with a pole is a great way to help retrain those muscles. Also look out for some more exercises on my social media across the week.

 

What & Why Neutral Spine?

What is Neutral Spine?

Why do we need it?

How do I get it?

Read on……

Neutral spine is when the spines natural curves flow gently into one another without postural extremes of being very rounded or arched in appearance.

If you were to draw a line from the top of the spine to the base of the spine that line would be vertical with only the slight curves away in between.

Neutral spine allows the whole skeleton to be a really effective shock absorber  with all of the movement of the horse being transferred straight through the centre of your joints. It also means you are completely in line with the pull of gravity.

 

If you move away from neutral you do not absorb the movement as well and the strain can be passed to the soft tissue structures surrounding the joints-tendons, ligaments etc. And this is likely over time to cause some aches and pains.

Being outside of neutral also means you are less balanced as gravity has more of a pull on you and of course this means you are more likely to fall off. Obviously gravity is always pulling on us but when it is not being opposed by good alignment and muscle tone it has more chance of pulling you down!

Imagine your body as a stack of boxes.

Pelvic box

Rib cage box

Head box

Each box can twist, tilt sideways, tilt up or down and shift sideways independently.

Your whole stacking pattern has an effect on your horse, not just your bottom and it can give your horse messages that he interprets differently to what you are intending.

Any box shifted to the left or right can be giving a weight aid -which you are then having to try and counteract with a rein aid. Any box stuck in a twist can put the horse on a particular bend and make the rein contact uneven.

Of course once in neutral alignment you may move out of it to give aids more effectively but you will then move back to neutral to make it clear to your horse that it was a single aid.

To help you maintain neutral whilst riding you can use your core stabiliser muscles-these work to keep the joint neutral not to hold it on when it’s not in neutral-that’s when the aches and pains happen.

 

So let’s start with the pelvic box.

Imagine the pelvis is a bowl of water. Tip the water out the front onto the pommel your back will hollow as you do this, you will feel your hip bones come forward and your pubic bone go back underneath you. Now reverse this and tip water out of the back onto the cantle you back will round your hip bones come back and your pubic bone will come forward. Now move between the two until you feel that the hip bones and pubic bone are on a vertical plane-this is neutral.

Step 2 check on the pelvic -can you feel your seat bones? Can you feel them equally? Re do the water tip if needs be to find them.

 

The rib cage box.

Imagine your chest is a pair of head lights-like the ones you have on your car.

Move the lights into full beam which will arch your upper back, now dip them to round your upper back and move between the points to find neutral. I also find it helpful to align my sternum with my pubic bone at this point to help.

Now close your elbows to your side. Can you feel exactly the same part of your waist,hips, rib cage on both sides or do they feel different? If you can feel yourself crooked whilst riding bringing the elbows into your sides and have them in EXACTLY the same place on each side and this should help.

 

Finally the head box.

I’m sure you’ve all heard this one or variants of it from riding instructors over the years and that’s because it works! Imagine your head is balloon gently floating up away from your body.

Put your fingers at the top of your neck/ base of your skull you should feel a little bony indent either side. This is the equivalent of your horses poll. Now flex your poll and then release it. When it is neutral it should feel like you can rest your fingers in the indent under the bone, when flexed the indent will flatten when extended it will close the gap.

 

Now recheck whether you think all the boxers are aligned.

This can be a nice exercise to run through when you first get on as you are just walking your horse around as it helps to set you up in good alignment for your ride.

Ok, so if anyone would like a little more detail on this kind of work for themselves I run a saddle horse alignment alongside a biomechanics assessment at my studio so drop me an email if you are interested in that.

 

A pain in the Equestrian

 

There is a noticeable trend with equestrians in that many of us struggle with some kind of injury or pain condition.

Of course many of these injuries and ongoing conditions are caused by numerous falls etc. over the years as its safe to say even if we are lucky enough to avoid serious injury have still taken a fair battering over the years.

I think many Equestrians could teach others some lessons in dealing with pain. As there are a huge proportion of us that no matter what we still drag ourselves up and ride half a ton of animal and nothing is going to stop us-heck some Equestrians lose limbs and it doesn’t stop them!

Why is that? Why can some people absolutely put up with whatever is thrown at them and carry on upwards when others with often less medically serious issues give up and go home?

Mind-set! You see pain is a hugely complicated issue with many factors that can influence it but one of the most important factors is your own mind.

It has become a little anecdote of mine that when I ask at initial consultations with clients if they’ve had any injuries they will reply “nothing serious……..just a broken foot, broken ribs, collarbone, vertebrae, and pins in my hip…..but nothing major!” Perhaps we just accept it as part of our sport that these things will happen?

I also think that for most of us, horses are not just a hobby we do when we have spare time, they are our life. We go to work solely to fund our horses, we go without other luxuries (apparently there are these things called beach holidays that people go on?) so our mind set is incredibly positive towards doing whatever it takes to keep horses in our lives.

I honestly believe that that is a great thing! As in most cases the exercise, fresh air and mental wellbeing that comes from being with our horses and riding is exactly what is needed to deal with pain both from a mental and a physical view-there are very few medical conditions that get better by sitting still!

Of course in my job I work with equestrians to help them become even better at dealing with and eliminating their injuries and pain issues. I’m going to talk a little bit about that in future blogs but if you would like some 121 coaching with me to help you really tackle your issues and get you back riding as your best self then hit reply!

There is also a new Wednesday evening class about to launch, 7.30pm at the studio based WN8 9QP. Only 2 spaces remaining so let me know today if you want in!

Let’s Start Playing With Those Balls…..

The last couple of weeks we have been playing around with balancing on gym balls.

This week I want to give you a couple of ides of things you can add which ever level you are at to improve your riding.

First test is once you are sitting, 4 point or kneeling on the ball and able to stay relatively still, why not see if you can carefully move from side to side and then go back to neutral -without falling off!

This is an exercise in muscular control and will help you to give very precise aids to your horse as you will be able to fully manage how much you move to give those aids.

How about trying to juggle, throw and catch a ball or have someone throw a ball to you? This is great fun in a group so why not try it with some friends at the yard. Again you can do this sitting or kneeling depending on your current skill level. This exercise works on your reaction times, as well as your ability to move your arms and remain stable. This helps with those unexpected moments and day to day your ability to give rein aids without unbalancing your seat.

Adding shoulder exercises perhaps with a band or cable machine combines shoulder stability with the already working hard hip stability. This again goes back to being able to give aids and remain balanced in your seat, but the elements of both hip and shoulder stability make this quite tricky as I have found many riders (including myself) can have great stability in the hips or shoulders when they focus on them but it is not quite so good when asked to have both at the same time!

I will be posting videos of some of these exercises across my social media.

If you check out my Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/equestrianfitnessnicola/

 

Or My new Channel on Instagram TV. *You need the IGTV App then  follow me on regular Instagram @nicola_equestrianfitness and when you go to IGTV it will show you my content there.

 

Kneeling up on a Gym Ball-2 Point

Soooo you must be a bit of a pro on that gym ball by now?

Now for the final mastery before we start adding movement, bells and whistles!

Time to kneel up onto just your two knees-no hands for balance and just learn to sit there are hang out!

As with the other phases of gym ball work there is totally a point to this other than of course looking really really cool.

When you are in a two point position, to stay still and of course upright you need super duper hip and core stability as well as the ability to hold relaxed muscle tension-which means if you are bracing to try and stay there you will be too tense and actually more likely to fall off.

Once you have the hip stability to kneel and stay relaxed you can move on add extra elements like doing band exercises to work the shoulders at the same time, things to improve reactions and proprioception function like throwing and catching a ball.

So, as we have done every week here is a video to talk you through it. Once you know how it’s not as crazy as it seems but I will say it does require a good amount of hip stability so if you find that one hip is collapsing you need to go back and work on that first.

Also, I did my video outside in the arena (soft landing!) but you can as with the sitting exercise do this by a sturdy table, the fence etc. and use that for balance to help you out at first……………...just don’t fall off and knock yourself out on said fence!

Kneeling on a Gym Ball

Ok, did you have a go at wobbling around on the gym ball?

This week I want to take things up a notch and go to 4 point kneeling. I know it sounds really hard! Honestly it’s not as hard as you think, I’m going to talk you through it on the video and most people who have done it this way have cracked it pretty quick and it’s the first step in kneeling up on the ball-which we will cover next week!

So, why should you spend your time trying to kneel on the ball? Well apart from obviously how much fun it is trying and of course how cool you will look, there is actually a point to it in terms of your riding Fitness.

I’m pretty sure you have guessed it’s about core stability but core stability for a rider encapsulates hip stability and shoulder stability. This position on the ball covers core,hip and shoulder stability.

Stable hips will help to control your seat, enable your legs to work effectively and prevent you from gripping or of course falling off! Shoulder stability enables you to retain a good upper body position keeping the rib cage over the pelvis and have a consistent but soft rein contact.

So, not just messing about on a gym ball after all.......

 

Why All The Balls

Well, we’ve been looking at the role of seatbones and using the gym ball to help you get the jist of it. Often I find videos of me or my clients doing daft things on a gym ball get the most traction, maybe people like the novelty value or they see it as some incredible feat that they could only dream of achieving.

 

The thing is I use gym balls a lot in my class and with 121 clients but often it’s not doing the crazy rising trot or throwing balls at each other (although we do that too!) it’s actually because there are loads of reasons to do even the most basic balancing exercises on a gym ball.

 

As you will note the gym ball moves around quite a bit. So in fact the very act of just trying to sit balanced, quietly on one requires core strength. Even more so if you lift your feet.

 

This is where I think the magic lies for riders. Firstly to sit on a gym ball with feet lifted whether in a chair like position or straddled as if in the saddle (i prefer this way) requires you to have level hips and be sat up straight i.e be equal length in your torso front and back……………..so you need neutral spine just like when you are riding. Secondly even if you can’t at first manage to do this and sit still, the very act of shifting around trying to balance and rebalance is exactly what you are doing on a horse all the time. As the horse moves underneath you, your body is constantly making micro shifts to rebalance the whole time-otherwise you’d fall off at even the slightest deviation from straight ahead.

 

So we will start with this, just have a go at sitting and maybe lifting one heel, one foot whatever you are capable of, hold onto a solid object next you if needs be. I’m a big fan if the cheating option if you need it as I find it can be difficult to grasp what correct feels like if you have never felt it, whereas if you have a hand on a table to help you get your balance you can consider which bits of you you need to adjust, switch on or strengthen to help you stay there in future.

 

So let’s leave that as your task for this week. Grab yourself a gym ball, straddle it as if on your horse, find your neutral spine and see of you can lift your feet, stay there and stay still-and if not at least feel good that the constant effort of rebalancing is improving your riding muscles anyway!

Little tip on gym balls. In the fitness world gym ball sizes are recommended according to your height. Under 5 ft 5” 65cm, 5ft5-5 ft 10 75cm and over 5ft10 85cm. This is to do with the alignment of your spine, hips, knees etc for lying on it etc. so different to what we are using it for.

 

From our very unscientific trials in my classes with ladies of various heights from about 5 ft 2 to 5 ft 10 ish we have come to the conclusion that we prefer big balls for this kind of work. (Stop sniggering I know what I’ve said!) so I would say at least a 75cm if you are on the short side but most of my class uses an 85cm. I get the 85cm from Decathlon https://www.decathlon.co.uk/anti-burst-swiss-ball-large-id_8381486.html

Large is 85cm and Medium is 75cm.

Onwards to Canter

Ok, last week we looked at seat bones with regards to walk and sitting trot so hopefully you’ve been practicing all week and now have totallymoveable wigglyseat bones?

 

This week I want to look at Canter.

 

What should our seat bones be doing when we are in canter?

 

Well we should be moving our leading seat bone with the leading leg. So think of the motion it makes. It lifts up, goes forward and comes down to hit the floor, comes back underneath, lifts up and repeats. Your seat bone should follow the same route.

Unfortunately what usually happens is either we sit really deep and push with our seats, or we bounce up and back, up and back…..neither of which is a) very comfortable for us or the horse or b) actually helping us to move with the horse. In order to ride a light, controlled canter we need to be with the stride of the horse completely. If we can do that and get him listening to those seat bones we ca then use that communication to lengthen or collect the Canter. How else did you think the pros were doing it without looking like they were doing anything at all?

So let’s get those seat bones cantering!

Again this can be done standing (members of my class have been known to do it in the que at the co-op!) or on a gym ball

 

Let’s get back to the seat bones of it

Ok, we’ve spent a couple of weeks discussing general areas of fitness but this week I want to delve really deep into what is actually one of the often forgotten basics of riding………………..seat bones!

Now I know you won’t have really forgotten about them, you just kind of forget how important they are in your seat, aids, communicating with your horse………….

The thing is, your seat bones are the foundation of your seat, forming a triangle with your pubic bone, if you are in neutral spine (which of course you are) they are literally what you are sitting on! If you have more weight on one than the other your horse knows and responds, if one is further forward or back your horse knows. We of course give aids with them and you can also use them to increase or decrease speed, they should move in time with every step your horse takes.

Unfortunately, due to erm, well life stuff the muscles surrounding the seat bones such as the Glutes, Hip abductors, adductors, flexors, hamstrings, quads, low back (you get the idea) can all impact on how well your seat bones move. If there are restrictions in these areas you may find your seat bones are not able to move freely and independently.

The good news is with a little practice you can get them back swinging like a skipping imp in no time.

I’m going to take you through some simple “gaits” with your seat bones. You can do this standing or on a gym ball. * I find it easier to grasp the movement standing but better for my riding connection to do it straddling a gym ball i.e as if on  a horse.

Firstly why?

 

Then we will start with walk.

And then speed it up for trot.

Next week we will look at Canter!

The Dreaded Cardio

We’ve been talking about Fitness for Equestrians generally for the past couple of weeks in relation to improving your control over your body and how this improves your performance and potentially then your confidence.

 

It’s been mentioned but we haven’t properly discussed the dreaded……….cardio!!!

 

I reckon you are either a seasoned runner or you avoid anything heart raising altogether (well maybe not everything…..).

 

The thing is cardio fitness has some great benefits for riders.

 

Such as.

 

  • Not being red faced and out of breath at the end of every round!
  • Better ability to ride consistently well from start to finish in your lessons or schooling sessions -or is it just my instructor that goes all boot Camp!
  • Feeling less tired
  • Maintaining better body control
  • Maintaining mental awareness

 

Many of this comes down to your heart being able to pump blood around your body more effectively as your heart will be stronger, and also because you will be more likely to breathe consistently and therefore take in adequate oxygen to power your muscles and brain.

 

There is no need to be scared though as the amount and type of cardio you need to depends very much on your chosen discipline. Although I will explain in a minute how this is not as clear cut but it is a good guideline.

 

Certain disciplines require endurance and steady state fitness

  • Endurance/general hacking
  • Dressage
  • Showing/equitation/schooling
  • Racing

 

Others require short interval fitness.

  • Showjumping

 

And some disciplines require both.

  • Eventing

 

 

The thing is how you gain that fitness is entirely up to you. When people ask me the best exercise to do to get fit I often answer “the one that you will stick to”. As in reality this is true, you see if I said for example it was running, but you hate running then you might go a couple of times then decide not to bother again because you didn’t enjoy it. However if you really like cycling or going to a dance class then this most likely to have an impact on your fitness because you will actually keep doing it!

 

Now if you want to be disciple specific and you are a show jumper then I am sure you are aware that your round will usually be a fast, short burst of energy and then it’s all done. This would tie in well with interval training as this works on the same principle. Something like Tabata intervals which is 20 secs works 10 secs rest x 8 doing whatever you like whether that be running, rowing or burpees would be a really simple and quick way to up your cardio fitness. However you just bear in mind if you have several horses to compete you may need some endurance in their too, but a few sessions of intervals per week regularly should give you enough gas in the tank to manage.

 

Now the endurance sports I listed can be a little less clear cut, as in reality unless you are doing proper endurance riding some interval training will probably be enough to improve your fitness and therefore performance as you aren’t actually training for a marathon.

 

So dressage, schooling etc. If you would prefer short and sharp then go for it, but if you have a cross country round or aforementioned endurance trek then you are going to have to put some steady miles in too.

 

Again how you do these is entirely up to you. If you like running, off you go, but you could also swim, cycle, row, use the cross trainer -there are pros and cons to all of them so it really is whichever one you will actually do!

 

If you are not a serious competitor and just want to stop being out of breath in your half hour lesson, then some brisk walking with the dog will still go a long way to helping.

 

I will reiterate the message though; the best way to improve your cardio fitness for riding is to pick an activity that raises your heart rate, that you enjoy doing and fits into your life so that you will do it consistently.

 

Biomechanics, Posture and Performance for the Equestrian

Facebook
Facebook
SHARE
INSTAGRAM