Tag Archives: rider fitness merseyside

What aids are you giving?

As you’re riding your horse you’re communicating with your seat bones. If you’re tuned into them you can give precise aids without looking like you gave any aid at all.

However as often we aren’t necessarily tuned into our seat bones they could be giving aids without us realising. Or if we are using them but aren’t necessarily fully tuned into exactly what they’re doing they could be doing different things right to left.

So, here’s a little exercise for you to try out on a gym ball.

Firstly sitting on the ball, can you feel which direction your seat bones are pointing? Forward, back, different each side? Ideally they should both be pointing straight down as if you could plug yourself in to the ball with them. 

Then imagine there are pencils on the bottom of them, draw a circle with them one at a time. Are your circles the same? 

Now, sitting on the ball imagine a set of buttons in front of you. Slide alternate knees forward to push the button-or start to move your seat bones as if you’re in walk on your horse. Are your left and right seat bones doing the same thing? 

How about in trot?

Then move on to Canter. If you’re on right canter just follow the canter with your right seat bone, how does that feel? What shape does it make?

Now try the left. Is that the same or is it different?

By this point you’ve probably realised you’re more asymmetrical than you thought…….

Think about how that impacts your horse, your riding and your saddle. Of course no horse and rider will ever be 100% symmetrical but being as close as you can get will have a huge impact on your riding aids, as well as your horses symmetry and the wearing of your saddle. 

What did you find when doing this exercise? 

Crunches for Core Training?

Often when I start training a new client they will have asked for better core strength. 

Then after a few weeks training I’ll ask them how they’re finding the training, what they are enjoying and what they may want to do more of. That’s when they’ll say-“ I want to work on my core more……”

Their training so far will have included things like Weighted Squats, Deadlifts, Over head press, Kettlebell swings………all of these movements require you to use your core! However they require you to use it as part of using your whole body so it learns to switch on whilst hip hinging, pushing, pulling etc. 

So much core training we see is using the abdominals in isolation either static or with very little movement across the rest of the body. That doesn’t transfer that well to sports performance; riding or otherwise!

Don’t get me wrong, I still include some of the more traditional core work in my sessions, classes etc but usually as a way to break down a breathing and recruitment pattern or to focus on ultimate control of small movements in the torso. It’s more accessory work than the main focus. 

The real “Core Strength” training occurs in the big compound movements when they are required to activate as part of a whole body stabilising movement pattern. 

When you ride you don’t use your abdominals in isolation. You use them alongside a stable pelvis and shoulders, force absorption through the whole body and perhaps small movements in the arms and legs. And you’ll hopefully be breathing throughout all of this too! 

So, it makes sense to train in a way that requires your core to work whilst performing other things such as a movement pattern, maybe force absorption and of course Breathing!

If you’re looking to improve your core for riding think about the whole picture in your training. Start with basic movement patterns such as Squat, Hip Hinge, Push Pull. Also consider Force Absorption, perhaps your reflexes and sure add in some abdominal work.

But don’t think you haven’t done a Core Strength session because you didn’t do a Sit up or a Plank!

Mastering your Body

As part of my work with clients I often help them understand what things are supposed to feel like when riding.

For example; the idea of your rein contact coming from your shoulder girdle and abdominals, or what your body needs to do to absorb the movement of a horse underneath you.

It can be hard to explain this whilst on a moving animal, particularly when it can be something that talented riders do instinctively. It takes a huge amount of body awareness to understand what the body is supposed to be doing whilst riding, which muscles are activating, which bits are lengthening and how you can make those things work better together.

Without blowing my own trumpet, that’s what I do. It’s my job to understand, analyse and explain all of those things to riders like you in a way you can easily grasp and then hopefully recreate that feeling when you’re riding.

Once you are aware of how your body can move or manipulate what’s going underneath you, suddenly things start to click into place; the impossible becomes possible.

Off horse training is about mastering and understanding your own body. If you can understand and control which bits of your to activate to create stability alongside which bits to release to create mobility you can fully use your body to communicate with your horse.

If you want some help mastering your own body let me know!

Staying strong the whole ride

This week I’ve been having a little fun with some of my 121 Clients holding a 2 point seat on some balance pods whilst trying to keep a steady contact on bands held as reins. With optimum time of the Cross Country at the Olympics being 7mins 45 that’s been the aim. To stay fairly still on an unstable surface, when if you try and use your hands for the balance the elasticity of the band will throw you off is harder than you think.

Although of course this doesn’t directly replicate a cross country round effort it does train stability and endurance of the muscles. I’m considering ideas of how I could add jumps in……

Whether you do Eventing, Dressage or just general hacking or schooling, riding well throughout requires stability and endurance of your muscles. This is slightly different (although not exclusively trained different) to endurance of your lungs.

If your stabilisers and your bigger muscles get tired mid ride it’s going to be hard to stay effective, and indeed safe right to the end of your ride. Tired muscles don’t perform as well, so they won’t be giving clear aids, or sitting as lightly or correctly. Secondly, tired muscles may not react as quickly to a spook, trip etc meaning you’re more likely to fall off!

As I mentioned training endurance of your lungs is different that doesn’t mean training you would traditionally do for that such as running, cycling or swimming etc isn’t effective for endurance of muscles; it totally is! So, if you like adding that into your training that’s great.

Regular resistance training is also great for improving muscular endurance.

However I like to occasionally add in some static muscle poses to test the endurance of muscles alone. Although riding can often feel like a decent workout (or it should if you’re doing it right!) you don’t actually move your muscles that much-although they are working quite hard.

You don’t have to be quite as silly as me and my clients with the balance pods and the bands etc, you can make it much simpler by doing things such as wall squats, a low free standing squat, plank, side plank or holding a split squat for increased lengths of time.

Breaking down the basics

I’ve been doing a bit more horse training lately. Mainly groundwork or basics under saddle with both my own ponies and a friends. I am by no means an expert on training horses but I tend to approach physical schooling problems with horses in the same way I approach training people.

How are the absolute basics or movement patterns? With my clients that’s how stable are they on single legs, can they isolate their shoulder blades, do they rotate left and right equally and can they Hip hinge and Squat.

The Squat is one I’ve seen lots of riders struggle with. The squat is much more technical than it appears. It requires stability from the hips, knees and ankles and good control of the torso. 

This is why I break it down to into regressions depending on peoples’ ability. 

If someone struggles with control of their torso or finds Squats painful on their knees I start with Gym Ball Squats.

If it all goes wrong in the mechanics of the up and down (lacks stability) I use Bench squats. Just using the familiar motion of standing up and down like you would many times per day makes it easier to focus on the bits that need extra work.

Using plates under the heels can help people reach depth whilst they work on ankle mobility.

Once we’ve got a solid base we can do regular bodyweight squats. 

Then we can add weight with a Kettlebell/Dumbbell or a Barbell on the back or the front. 

After that it’s add more weight or add instability such as bands, wobble boards etc.

The point isn’t necessarily to get to the end point. 

We don’t all school our horses to get to Grand Prix, we school them to be the best athletes that can be. 

That’s how you should approach your own training. It’s doesn’t have to be about becoming an all out gym bunny or weight lifter, it’s just about making your body the best that it can be.


Lessons from Wimbledon

I’ve been watching some of the tennis this week and in between matches they have been showing cameras behind the scenes where players are warming up. The nerd in me found this bit way more interesting than the matches!

The players aren’t hitting balls and just playing tennis to warm up, they were doing a series of activation exercises clearly all specific to them. Things like fast banks rotations or arm pull overs designed to prepare the muscles for what they’re about to do on the court.

It got me thinking whether if you went behind the scenes before a Dressage competition or on Cross Country day would we see the same thing? 

Probably not. I’m sure you may find the odd rider doing a few stretches or activation exercises, but the majority will be getting straight on and focusing on warming their horse up. 

Of course if anyone ever says the horse does all the work you’ll strongly disagree-“have you ever tried to get half a ton of animal to follow instructions?” Riding requires you to do a lot of things with your body. So why don’t you prepare it for that before you get on?

So, what sort of things should you do to prepare your body for riding?

Think Seat - Activating your hips and glutes with some Crab Squats and Side Lunges

Rein Contact-Open your chest with some T Arm rotations then activate your back and shoulders with some scapular retractions or dumb waiters. 

Then add anything else that may be personal issues to your body such as opening up one side or stretching out a calf


Hands and Seat……at the same time

When we ride we ask for both stability and mobility from our bodies.

We want stable hips, middle and shoulders. Yet we want softness from our ankles, knees, elbows and hands.

For me the biggest challenge is maintaining stability in the rest of my body whilst keeping it in my shoulders and keeping my hand and elbows soft.

I can do it if I’m just focusing on that area but not if I’m trying to use the other bits too. It’s so much to think about!

So I have to train it to get better.

In my regular training things like Deadlifts where I have to use my lower body to lift the weight whilst keeping my middle stable, my shoulders retracted whilst my arms stay relaxed.

Kettlebell swings which require the power to come from the hips, the torso remains stable and helps control the movement whilst the arms remain soft.

I also like to do some more rider specific exercises.

Rising Trot Squat -trying to get soft elbows and still hands.

I also like Split Squats with the arms going forward and back with the lift and lower of the squat.

Something I’ve also been trying out is sitting trot on a gym ball again trying to get soft elbows to absorb the movement but still hands for the contact.

Half Squat position whilst doing a banded row encourages me to stabilise my body and retract my shoulder blades. To make it harder I do the Squat so I’m moving up and down sort of like a rising trot whilst still trying to keep the movement coming from my shoulders keeping my arms soft.

I’m still way off being good at this so please excuse the video-these are my best efforts for now! Hopefully with practice I’ll be able to report back in a few months with some better ones!


Core……Set Training

In proper medical anatomical terms the “Core” isn’t really a thing. However it is a term that most riders recognise as a thing, and if you ask them where it is they will usually point at their abdominals. 

If that’s you, you’re not wrong! The abdominals are very much a part of what we would call the core. However it also emcompasses other muscles around the waist and back too. So really the core is a wrap around of muscles kind of like……..a Corset! Ponders whether that’s where the term came from?

That is why just doing a bunch of sit ups won’t fully strengthen your “Core.” You’ve got to Strengthen the sides and back too! 

Then to have it fit to ride you want it pliable, able to move , absorb force without becoming stiff and able to maintain stability whilst the limbs move independently of it. 

This is why with my Weight lifting clients rarely do any traditional looking Core training. We do full body exercises such as the Barbell Squat and Deadlift which require stability of the torso whilst moving limbs under a load. 

When we do “Core” work without equipment such as in my Classes or Online Programme we will mostly do them with movement of the torso or the limb; or sometimes both. 

Here’s some examples of my core stability training whilst moving limbs. Bird dogs -regular and lifted, Deadbugs - Regular and Double.Mountain Climber Straight and Across, Side Plank Lift and Leg Lift.


Why Yoga?

Why is Yoga beneficial for riders?

Yoga is great for :

Switching your brain off, unwinding and relaxing. Let’s be honest horses can be stressful. Add into that work, families etc and it can sometimes all be a bit overwhelming. Taking some time to switch off can be hugely beneficial to your mental well being and resilience. 

It can teach you to focus on both stillness and precise movement of your body. Being able to switch off and fully focus is a huge asset to your riding and Yoga is a great way of practicing that whilst tuning in to how your body reacts to signals from your brain and different movement patterns. If you can fine tune this off horse it will be a whole lot easier on horse. 

You learn to recognise your own movement patterns and asymmetries and can work to improve them. If you don’t know what your body is doing when you ride you have no way of correcting it. If you don’t know your left is different from your right you won’t take steps to improve it. Recognising these things in Yoga means your both feeling and addressing them ready to put into practice when you ride. 

Yoga combines mobility, flexibility and stability. Which are all required not only to be a good rider but also to help prevent injuries and make you feel good day to day. 

I utilise Yoga with my 121 clients, in my classes and we do a weekly yoga session in my online programme. 


Marginal Gains

There is a phrase used in Triathlon “marginal gains”

Basically if the right tri suit, helmet, bike frame, trainers etc made you even the tiniest percentage faster you do it because that’s a marginal gain and added to all the other marginal gains will hopefully give you some big gains overall.

Riding is similar in that respect.

Dressage competitions can be won and lost on the smallest of percentage. There could be a huge difference in your placings for getting an 8 or 9 for certain movements so those little extra marks -those marginal gains can make all the difference.

Jumping is the same.If you’re against the clock the smallest second or the tiniest rattle of a fence can win or lose a competition. If being able to ride a tighter line knocks of a second thats a marginal gain that could make a difference.

Most of us are on board with the idea of making tack choices to make our horses just that tiny bit more comfortable, able to move better etc. They’ll have physio, massage pads etc all with the view to helping them perform even the tiniest bit better.

Perhaps you’ve even looked at the difference your boots, gloves breeches etc make to your performance.

What about your own personal performance? 

How many marginal gains do you think you could add if your reactions where faster, if your aids where a little sharper or you were a smidge more symmetrical?

That’s where I come in. 

I’m not really known for massive transformations with my clients. It really is about the marginal gains. 

It’s about being a little more symmetrical in your left and right hips.

Being a little more stable in your lower leg.

Having a little more control of your upper body over a fence.

Being able to rebalance quicker if it gets a bit messy.

These are the things I help my clients with in their off horse training. We do exercises to make them aware of and improve their symmetry. We improve their reactions, stability and control with off horse training alongside some tips and tricks for in the saddle.

These things are difficult to quantify with data, and often difficult to see as a before and after. Its just chipping away making tiny improvements along the way all adding up to bigger improvements over time. 

When you then take all these little improvements to a competition its a series of marginal gains that hopefully add up to marginally better score. That could be 2nd to 1st or it could be just a bit less rubbish than last time, wherever you’re at it means you’re inching forward bit by bit. 

What do you struggle with that with work could be a marginal gain?