Tag Archives: pilates for horse riders

Turn your T Spine

I was watching a talk by Ashleigh Wallace who is a physio on the Equestrian World Class Programme.

 

She discussed lack of mobility through the Thoracic Spine, in that she had reviewed 65 riders of varying levels and the majority lacked Thoracic mobility.

 

The Thoracic Spine is essentially your mid back and it forms part of your core stability. Core stability is the ability to absorb the force/movement of the horse underneath you, for that it needs both mobility and stability. The mobility is required to make tiny micro adjustments to dissipate the impact and the stability is all of the muscles working together to keep the spine aligned. 

 

If there is too much mobility the spine moves around too much and you will be unbalanced. If there is too much stability without mobility the force does not dissipate and it becomes an impact to the spine-think whiplash.

 

This week let’s start with mobility of the Thoracic Spine.

 

Here are 3 of my favourite exercises to mobilise the Thoracic Spine.

 

Lying on the floor, knees and arms to one side stacked on top of one another. Open the top arm, sweep it out following with your head then bring it back. You can either take it straight up and out or sweep it over your head and round.

It is also useful to try and incorporate the breathing and breathe in to prepare and out to move the arm.

 

In a 4 point position, take one arm to the back of your head. Leading with the elbow open up and then close back down. Try to keep your hips still -they will try and sway away to gain more movement but that’s cheating!

Seated on a chair or I often do this with clients on a gym ball. Place a pole (your schooling whip will do) over the back of your shoulders, then add a ball or something between your knees to engage your core and help to stabilise your hips. Rotate the torso left to right, breathing out as you turn.

React Fast

One thing to always expect when riding is ……...the unexpected.

There is the spooking at nothing, the cheeky buck and No matter how bombproof your horse may be sometimes he may just trip up potentially sending you somersaulting over his head!

So as well as a core of steel it helps to have good reaction times. In team sports such as hockey they will work on this stuff as part of their regular training but I don’t think it’s something as riders we really think about . Yet when things do go wrong how fast we can react and re-balance can make a huge difference as whether you hit the deck or stay on board and keep riding forwards (usually muttering a few choice words….)

Here’s a couple of suggestions for training your reflexes that we use in class and with 1 2 1 clients.

  • A reaction ball is an odd shaped bouncy ball, that when you throw on the floor can bounce off in any direction meaning you have to be ready to grab it at any angle-it’s sooooo tough and we have lots of fun playing this as a group in class.
  • The humble gym ball essentially teaches you to constantly re adjust your balance just to stay sitting, kneeling whatever. If you have mastered staying still why not try adding throwing and catching a ball, if you do this with a group of friends you can throw to each other whilst shouting out someone else’s name….so you’ve no idea where the Ball is actually heading.
  • And a game we played this week I’ve called  Musical S!ut drops! If you are in a group with whatever track you fancy on squat as normal then someone stops the music and you drop to a low squat -holding your reins so like a two point seat as fast as you can. If you’re on your own use a track with a repeated word or phrase and each time it says it drop down as fast you can-Try Bring Sally Up…..or set a timer for every 20 secs or so but face away from it so you can’t see it.

Running for Riding?

I’ve been thinking lately about cardio for Equestrians. There’s quite a few of the ladies in my classes that have started couch to 5k which I think is great and several others including myself who already run as part of their fitness. 

 

I’ve seen various opinions as to whether running is beneficial to Equestrians so here’s my thoughts on it.

 

Firstly when considering what kind of cardio to do you need to consider the requirements of your sport.

 

For example a show jumper will ordinarily go into the ring for about a minute so that’s quite a short burst and would lead me towards HIIT. So short bursts of fast work.

 

A Dressage rider will be in the ring for up to around 5 minutes so this makes the demand more endurance based.

 

An eventer will need a huge amount of endurance to get round a cross country course, alongside the short burst required for the showjumping. 

 

Endurance riding kind of speaks for itself and showing again can be a long time in the ring so endurance based (particularly if it’s in hand!).

 

There are also a couple of other things to take into account such as what you do at home training horses. 

 

For example I spend a lot of time long reining with two of my ponies so that can be 40mins to an hour of walking and trotting with a pony which is basically a cardio workout for me. So my at home training requires  a certain level of endurance even though if I’m Carriage Driving I only really need my upper body. 

 

So take into account your home training too. 

 

I think from that though we’ve pretty much confirmed that endurance is a requirement of most aspects of Equestrian sport.

 

Back to running then. Well it uses your heart and lungs, legs, bum and core so ✔️✔️✔️✔️✔️ all of those are required to ride so making them stronger will help.

 

If you are generally fitter those riding lessons that feel more like boot camp will become just a little easier so you will be more effective for longer.

 

So if you fancy upping your game then give a couch to 5k a go. One of the other benefits of running is that it only requires some decent running trainers and some basic Lycra (I’ve run plenty of time in stretchy breeches and riding socks!) You don’t need a gym membership etc. Just some will power to get out there. You could always rope in a yard buddy or join a running club to help. I use  my collie dogs as running buddies.

 

 There are of course other ways to train your endurance so as cycling, rowing , swimming etc and maybe I’ll look at the benefits of those another time.

 

How many of you already run as part of your fitness training?

2 Year Anniversary

This week my little Equestrian Fitness Studio turned 2 years old!

 

I started with 1 class which has now built to 5 classes and also 1 2 1 clients for both training and sports massage.

 

This is not a “look how great I am” blog but I do want to talk about the little community we have in our classes.

 

Each class is filled with women from different back grounds, different horses, experience and aspirations and each week we come together with the same goal in mind “to get better for the benefit of our horses”. 

 

It’s become more than that though. Each week we talk about our horse trials and tribulations, we just listen and don’t judge different approaches and of course we celebrate the wins. By this I don’t just mean the competitions although we celebrate a clear round as much as a qualification to the nationals; but it’s also the other stuff that happens from hard work.

 

E.g riding a straight line on a young horse! Surviving a tiny hack up the road, in fact sometimes it’s surviving just mounting up and walking around an area on a lead rein as these are all huge achievements at some point on the journey.

 

Genuine friendships have been formed, often other class members are cheering each other on at shows, and on social media. 

 

I think what we help each other with is realising that you are not alone. It’s realising that even those who go out competing every week suffer with nerves, it’s realising that the girl riding the warmblood has the same problems and worries as the girl riding the cob.

 

I think we have all learnt to be a little easier on ourselves, as let’s face it having horses is sometimes hard. We do it in the most part for fun and as a hobby, but add in work and family, the financial implications of horses etc sometimes fitting it in and paying for it can be a struggle and when stuff isn’t going right that can make it tough. 

 

So firstly be kinder to yourself for going out there every day and still just being with your horses at whatever level that is. Follow your own journey to your own destination and don’t compare it to someone else’s.

 

Secondly just be kinder to your fellow Equestrians. For the most part most of us are just doing our best for our horses with the knowledge and tools we have available. We may disagree on certain things but it’s important to remember there is more than one route to most destinations so let others take their own path.

 

Also, don’t be too sucked into the perfection you see on Social Media….the ones where their financial status and lifestyle is so far removed from yours but there you are berating yourself for not being as good as them.

 

Let me tell you,  the average Equestrian woman comes to my class and she is anything but average, in fact they’re all bloody amazing…..so if you’re reading this you probably are too!

 

Right, enough motivational chat from me back to working on your muscle next week! 

 

However if you’d like to join us amazing Equestrians I have space in Tuesday 7.30pm and Wednesday 9.30am so hit reply of you would like to join us.

Stable Hands Stable Seat

So, last week we talked about creating a connection across the full body to enable both stable hands and stable hips to fire at the same time-it’s tough I know!

 

We worked on a Turkish Get Up which is a great exercise that can be done at home to improve your ability to stabilise your hips and shoulders at the same time.

 

This week I want to look at some exercises that can be added to your gym routine. 

 

The Overhead Squat - With a Barbell over your head, arms wide, squat low keeping your arms just behind your head (they might try and creep forward).

 

Forward Lunge Overhead press. This adds some slightly more tricky movement to co-ordinate and it’s really important to try and lunge and press at EXACTLY the same time.

 

The Deadlift-on the face of it you think this is just lower body however to maintain good posture getting the bar off the floor you need to retract your shoulder blades and really work hard to stabilise as you lift. Also, working to pull some serious weight off the floor will make a huge difference to your overall strength which in turn will not only make riding a bit easier but also all those heavy lifting yard jobs…..so you’ll have more energy to ride!

 

Gym work might feel like the last thing you want to be doing after riding and yard work but as a rider you are an athlete, you expect your horse to be fit for purpose so you should be too! The stronger and fitter you are, the better your body is able to cope with all that riding and mucking out. You will have more energy and find work easier and bar the unavoidable stamping and bashing you will be les prone to injury and general aches and pains.

 

If you would like to up your strength work I have space for 1 2 1 Clients, so hit reply and we can get started.

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

The Turkish Get Up!

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

 

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

 

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

Mindful Riding

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Back Pain affecting your Riding?

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Firstly we need some mobility to the spine.

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

Strong All Over

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Try doing 10 of each for 3 to 4 circuits.

 

Not so simple Straight Lines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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