Are you Activating or Bracing?

The concept of core stability has been around for a few years now and is mentioned frequently in riding as the way to a better seat.

This is technically true however how many of us truly know if we are using our core correctly?

I find many people will “brace” their core in an attempt to hold their position. Brace…………….is that the correct way to activate and strengthen your core? I’ll help you out- no it isn’t.

Firstly let’s look at the core.






In order to correctly use our core we want to be recruiting the deeper Transverse Abdominis and our obliques. However when most people do a core exercise they recruit the Rectus Abdominis down the front. This is what pushes the abdominals out.

So how do we activate them correctly?

If you can, do this lying down but sitting will do if you’re at your desk (your boss won’t notice I promise). Once you have grasped it on the floor try it on your horse or a gym ball.

Put your hands at your hip bones and then bring them in about an inch. Gently start to contract the muscles under your fingers and imagine a small lift from your erm undercarriage-can you feel them? That’s your pelvic floor. This is step one.

I was going to add a picture of the pelvic floor but they are all a little graphic of the other stuff going on rather than just the muscles. Just think of a sling of muscles underneath you that holds everything up-even the fellas have got one it just doesn’t have a hole at the bottom!

Anyway once you have found your pelvic floor we will move on to those deep abdominals.

Take your hands to your waist. Imagine your waist pulling in towards your belly button and as you do so draw your belly button back to your spine. You should feel some muscles switch on here? That’s your oblique’s wrapping around and your transverse abs drawing back to spine.

This should feel like a drawing in of muscles rather than a pushing out. A pushing out is bracing and that is what we are trying to avoid.

Now you need to activate both sets of muscles at the same time –can you do that? Try holding for counts of 10 working up to a minute. Once you have got the hold try to make sure you are breathing too!

I know there is a lot to remember and it’s kind of tricky. Now you know why it’s so easy to do it wrong but I promise practice makes perfect and it’s absolutely worth the effort in being able to effectively use your core whilst riding.


I’m going to leave you to practice that for this week and next week we will take it a little further and start to move whilst in activation.

Lower Leg Stability Part 2.

Last week we talked about how leg and glute strength were integral in lower leg stability, hopefully you have been doing the little circuit so your legs are feeling the burn now.


Today we are going to look at another area that may affect your lower leg position, and that is the stability of your pelvis. You see we focus a lot on having a mobile pelvis as riders but in fact it also needs to be stable. Part of this is what would be considered core stability but there are also many other muscles of the hips that help to keep it stable that your generic core stability would not hit. It usually focuses on just the middle.


So what has your pelvis got to do with your lower leg? Well it's obviously attached! Think about it your leg comes directly out of your hip socket so it makes sense that it's direct attachment to the body must be stable. Imagine a table leg that has not been securely fastened to the table-the leg will not be very stable and in fact the whole table won't be.


So, in order to stabilise your lower leg you have to start further up the chain at the pelvis. You will find this is true of most things in terms of the human body, a stable pelvis and shoulder joint will fix a lot of problems. But I won’t go into that whole can of worms right now it’s just important to bear it in mind.


Anyway, how can we stabilise our pelvis? Well there are actually quite a lot of muscles involved in hip stability but other than the Glutes that we have already covered last week the abductors  are probably the most important to consider.  The abductors are responsible for taking your leg away from your body (the exact position you are in on a horse) so they need to be strong to deal with this properly. It is interesting that many riders may experience pain in this area that can be wrongly mis-diagnosed as being due to a tightness when in fact it could be a weakness-again a blog for another day.

Today we are going to strengthen our abductors specifically.

Officially the abductors are the Glute Max (that’s your big bum muscle) Glute Medius and Minimus and Tensor Fascia Lata (TFL).


The Clam is a great exercise and can be done as a beginner and advanced exercise.


Clam and advanced clam

Crab Walks

1 Leg Squat and Side Leg Raise


So I know this feels like I haven't addressed your lower leg at all but I need you to trust me that if you build solid foundations in this case your pelvis the attached limbs will be much easier to control, so if you are struggling with your lower leg please give this a go and put the work in doing these exercises 4-5 times per week and I promise you will see results, and not just in your lower leg so this is definitely more bang for your buck work.



Lower Leg Stability Part 1.

I often get asked what we can do about flappy, unstable lower legs.

I often probably give what sounds like a dismissive response of let’ sort out the hips and core and see where are at then. I know that is frustrating for riders as we want a fix to our exact problem now!

So, I will try to explain why I say this now.

In terms of riding position and aids to the horse the lower leg does not need to be in contact with the horse unless directly giving an aid. If your lower leg is constantly on your horse’s side he will quickly become dull to it and no longer respond without a more forceful action.

The problem most riders tell me they have is that they niggle their horse with their lower leg, even when they try really hard not to they find it difficult to keep it still. Unfortunately this also means they then feel like they have to keep niggling as the horse isn’t listening.

Whether we believe it is the case or not the majority of the time this niggling comes down stability. The stability of your lower leg comes down to the stability of your hips and torso too, as they are the foundational unit from which they operate.

I am a follower of Mary Wanless and her Rider Biomechanics, as I believe her system has the potential to teach every rider to ride to the best of their ability. Mary teaches the rider to hinge from the knee as they ride-in this respect the lower leg almost becomes irrelevant unless giving a specific upwards transition and/or lateral aid. Far too often when trying to stabilise our lower leg we push down into the stirrup; which causes our seat to pop up. If we can focus on lengthening the front of our thighs and into our knee this will create a more stable base without losing our seat.

The magic of this is, that if you use all of those big muscles above the knee –quads, hamstrings, glutes and core muscles to stabilise you, your lower leg will automatically become stable as a result. The energy/go signal your horse receives comes from your hips and seat bones. I advise you to go and check out Mary’s books if you want more on how this works.

I find this most easy to see in rising trot when you essentially pivot over the knee to rise up using the power from your glutes and hips.

For me other than hips that are so tight they have broken my physios acupuncture needle (true story) this was a fairly easy adaption to my riding. Apparently when trying to encourage others to do the same not everyone has quite the same thigh strength!

So, rather than focus purely on the core stability element of this (check out earlier blogs and my youtube channel if you want some core exercises) let’s start with the basic matter of thigh and glute strength. Unfortunately as many of us have sedentary jobs our thighs and bums kind of go to sleep and as we may have been riding for many years bad habits and compensations creep in. This means we don’t quite have the thighs of steel and bums we can bounce a ball at we deserve from our hours spend in the saddle.


Try this little circuit 3-4 times per week and see your thighs and bum become a power station.

Set a timer for 3 x 1 min rounds perhaps with 10 secs rest between to give you chance to move between exercises. Repeat the circuit 3-4 times –literally only 12 mins of exercise you can do that can’t you!

Bridge half thrust-1 min.

Side Lunge to Balance-1min

Wall Sit – 1 min


Let me know how you get on!

Become Your Trainers Eyes

When I am working with riders one of the things they struggle with knowing when they are doing something right. It's all very well having your instructor put you in the right position and then continually cue you as you ride round, but what about when your instructor is not there?

So often when you have shifted your position slightly it feels 'wrong'. In order to make this our new default we have to embrace the 'wrong '.

I have a few tricks I use with my clients to help them recreate the perfection when they are on their own.

The luxury option would be to have mirrors in your arena but obviously that's down to budget and whether the arena is yours.

I find it really helpful to have someone video or take a picture when it's going wrong and when it's going right. I find the visual feedback really useful for me to understand how right the wrong feeling looked!

I also like to find inventive ways to recreate the position off horse. A gym ball is really good for helping you to sit evenly on your seat bones and being equal lengths front and back. It can also be more practical to use a mirror here to see how what you look and feel like matches up.

Try straddling a gym ball with your knees wrapped around the ball (as if you are at the top of the rise in trot). If you, can do this in front of a mirror to get some visual feedback. Encourage your inner thighs to relax and send your weight through the front of your thighs and tuck your tail bone under.Are you equal lengths front and back? If you can nail this position and hold it comfortably you will find many of your on horse position issues will be much easier to correct-even your lower leg despite it not being involved in this exercise-just trust me I will explain why another time!

Finding an exercise that switches on or relaxes the muscles you need to work on can help you become more aware of what you are trying to achieve. Struggle to get your core activated? Try this crunch exercise to recruit the muscles.

Having problems with moving with your horse? Then some of the standing series might help you focus on those movements.

Just try things out, videos, pictures, riding with a friend or working on your sticky spots off horse are all great ways to help you improve in time for your next lesson - you will be trainers pet!
Sent from my iPad
Sent from my iPad

Peak Performance For Summer

Well, it looks like summer finally arrived-it’s probably rapidly retreated as I’m writing this isn’t it.
This got me to thinking about electrolytes. I bet loads of you have added these to your horses’ water or feed when out competing or doing hard work over summer.
What about you though? It is too easy as riders to forget about ourselves. We can happily spend all day at the yard mucking out, grooming, riding and barely take a sip of water. I know this because I am guilty of it too!
Firstly, what are Electrolytes?
Electrolytes are salts that carry an Electrical charge. They are responsible for cell membrane stability and muscle contractions. They are messengers of the body and without them we are unable to function properly.
When we sweat we lose Electrolytes. One of the most common and obvious signs of electrolyte loss is muscle cramping, but it can also cause more serious muscle strains, along with dizziness, nausea (and the follow ons…)headaches and even fainting.
Before we even get to these more serious stages though a lack of electrolytes will affect your general performance. This could be yard jobs or it could be your riding.
I’m sure you don’t work all those hours to pay for your riding hobby only to perform at less than your best because you simply failed to hydrate adequately? Your concentration and your muscle strength diminish which of course means your riding will suffer.
So, what can you do?
Most obviously you can ensure you drink plenty of water throughout the day. Take a large 2 litre bottle of water with you to the yard and make your way through it over the course of the day.
In normal circumstances unless you are doing extreme amounts of exercise I would not recommend sports drinks, however I think as most equestrians will be outside doing yard jobs and riding for hours at a time on hot days I think they are a simple way to keep your electrolytes in check. I use the sugar free versions to keep my calories in check and you can also get caffeine free versions if you need to drink them later in the day.
Although this may have sounded a little scary at the start it needn’t be a huge deal with just a little forethought and ensuring you and your horse are prepared for the hot weather.
Also, don’t forget your sun cream for you and your pink nosed friends!
PS: Could I please ask you a favour. I just need 5 minutes of your time to fill in this survey in order for me to learn more about how I can better serve you. Thank you!