Pre Ride Switch On

Last week I attended a course by Andy Thomas, who is the physio for many of the top level Equestrians including the British and American teams.


We discussed pre ride warm ups. Of course it is common place to warm your horse up at the beginning of every ride, but what about yourself?


I rarely see riders do anything to prepare themselves for the schooling session, Dressage test etc.


With any other sport athletes perform a warm up before they start. The purpose is to prepare the body for the work you are about to ask it to do.


For riding I also think it is important to realign the body before you start as hours spent hunched over desks, driving or doing yard work are not conducive to a good riding position.


So how should you warm up to ride?


Firstly we need to switch on the muscles we are about to use, and in some circumstances release any that are “hypertonic “ or “over tight” as I explain it to clients.


Which muscles are you going to use? The short answer is of course all of them but most importantly the legs and glutes, the core/back muscles.


I find it also helpful to switch on my stabiliser muscles by doing some balance work.


I know this sounds like a lot of things to do and perhaps like something that involves needing a gym or equipment before you’ve even got on your horse.


That is absolutely not the case, in just 2-4 moves for just a couple of minutes before you get on I promise will make the world of difference to your ride.


I’ve done a couple of routines that you can try out, either separately or altogether depending on how you feel.


I have used Dumb Waiters to switch on my back muscles, reverse lunges to a standing balance to switch on legs, glutes and the stabilisers.


In another I have used press ups on a mounting block to switch on the back/core and crab walks for legs, glutes and hip stabilisers.

Cue your rein contact

Last week i talked about cues and how giving yourself just a couple of things to focus on can make your life much easier as well as actually helping you to learn faster.


Following this we had a discussion about rein contact in one of my classes- we happened to be doing some exercises to improve it at the time.


In my humble opinion (and the opinion of many biomechanics based teachers) a stable but soft rein contact comes from stable shoulders.


The muscles surrounding the Scapula (the shoulder blade) and those down your spine create stability in your shoulders and torso to enable your arms to both remain still and move freely.


Of course having good muscle strength and control in these areas helps but there are also some cues that you can use whilst riding that will help to tap into this strength.


Close your elbows to your side -the enables you switch on your back muscles.


Close your “back armpit” i.e snug the back of your arm close to your body with a little squeeze. This activates the muscles between your shoulder blades.


Finally imagine someone is pushing onto the front of your hands and you are resisting their push-it can help to get a friend to push against your hands and you resist them to get the feeling you are after. What you should find is this activates the front of your body.


See what we’ve done there? We’ve activated the muscles at the back of the body and then the muscles at the front.


3 Cues:

  • Elbows into side
  • Close back armpit
  • Resist a push with your hands


If you are struggling with your rein contact try this out and let me know how you get on.

Improve with cues

When you embark on an “improve your riding” project it can all feel like an impossible task. There are so many things to remember and then do all at once, whilst on top of a moving animal!


So, what to do?


Whenever you are trying to master something give yourself just 2-3 cues max-even just 1 if you are really struggling. That way you can just focus on the most important elements, nail those and then tidy it up later.


As an example I spent some time essentially re-learning my rising trot mechanism in order to be able to influence the horse more with my body.


This involved such things as:


Hinge more over the knee

More ab recruitment

Tuck tail bone under

Keep elbows in

Draw shoulder blades back and down

Look straight ahead

Stabilise lower leg


Thats 7 cues there and to be honest there were probably more!


Instead of trying to do all of those new things at once I focused on the ones that would make the most immediate impact.


For me that was the stability of my trot so I focused on:

Hingeing over the knee

Tucking the tail bone under

Recruiting abs


This was more than enough to be getting on with and they were all in linked areas so it was essentially re-aliging my pelvis as a starting point.


Once I had got those pretty much there, I added in stabilising the lower leg and then looking straight ahead.


It is only now that these are “almost” second nature that I have started to focus on my elbows and shoulders.


Now this seems like a long process, but on the other hand if I had just tried to change everything all at once I would have found it too difficult and probably given up-so I would not have imrpved my rising trot at all.


However this way, I have been continually month by month, ride by ride been slowly making changes and improving my trot.


What do you want to improve in your riding? Break down the things that you need to focus on to improve and then just pick no more than 3 from that list to start with.


Imagine how much you could have improved in 1,2,3 and 6 months from now;my rising trot looks like a different rider!