Body weight Movement Patterning

Last week we talked about getting our muscles firing from head to toe and using weight lifting to achieve that. However whilst I think that the majority of riders would benefit from getting stronger I don’t believe that lifting weights is the only way to improve movement patterning. If only strength were required most top level riders would look like strongmen surely?


 So let’s look at some exercises that don’t necessarily require weights-although they could all have weights added if you prefer that style of training.


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.



Bird Dogs-in a 4 point kneeling position with a strong core and flat back throughout take opposite arm and leg away.


Dead bug-like a lying version of Bird Dogs, keep your back flat and abs pulled in, take opposite arm and leg away.


Firing from top to bottom

When I’m training equestrians I try as much as possible to include full body exercises. Much as people like to say we just sit there any rider knows that to “just sit there” requires a lot of effort from your body.

When I discuss the foundations of a an effective rider it comes down to stable seat, shoulders and core. These areas need to be able to function alone and together effectively in order to have a good seat and hands that give clear, concise aids. So it makes sense to train this way off horse. 

A basic squat actually involves all of these elements in order to do it well. If you’re new to exercise/squatting take your feet hip width apart, turn your toes out slightly. Keep your heels on the floor, your chest up and open and squat down to at least 90 degrees with your thighs. Push back up to standing in the same form. To do that well took some effort right? 

Obviously legs and bum were used for the squat, but your back, shoulders and core had to keep you upright with an open chest.

If you’re ok with this adding weight either held at the front or on your back ups the challenge more. This can also start to highlight whether you turn one shoulder as you squat or use one leg more than the other. If you’re doing it squatting you can almost guarantee you do it whilst riding! 

Hence the need for the whole chain to learn to work together as the fault seen in the shoulder may not be the shoulder, it may be instability in the hip or it could be the core muscles not recruiting correctly. 

Many of these elements may work on their own but together there is a disconnect. I often tell my instructor as she goes intermittently from -w“hat’s your leg doing to what’s your right elbow doing” “you can have seat or shoulders you can’t have both!” Obviously that is not the answer I just need to work harder to get everything working together but it’s definitely still a work in progress for me; and gues what? The same pattern occurs when I’m in the gym. Individually my legs, shoulders and core work fine but when asked to work as a team…….. not so much!

So give this some thought when you’re planning your off horse workouts. Look for exercises that require stability and a recruitment pattern from head to foot and see what patterns you notice, what your strengths and weaknesses are and work to correct them off horse and feel the benefit on horse.


Why do riders need to be strong?

Every time you ride each muscle in your body needs to work to control and stabilise your joints.

As I have mentioned before, riding in neutral spine, with Shoulder, Hip, Heel alignment enables all of the joints of the body to line up correctly and therefore be in the best position absorb the movement of the horse beneath you. However they can't do this without the muscles to help hold them there.

The stronger those muscles are the better they will do this and the easier they will find it.

Add to this that as many riders have spent years being bashed about and thrown off, they inevitably carry a few injuries. The most common injuries i see in my clients are back, hip and knee injuries. The best way to manage and support these injuries both on and off horse is to build strong muscles to both support the joints and heal damaged tissues.

So, if you want to ride in true self carriage, in control of your aids and hopefully pain free the answer lies in building strong muscles.

I know we think that pushing wheelbarrows and carrying feed makes us strong but in reality the majority of us don't lift correctly and also favour one side making us asymmetrical and at risk of injury. Secondly, these activities don't make us full body functional strong.

If you're new to exercise a good Pilates class is a good place to start but for the strength seen in the likes of Charlotte Dujardin some proper weight lifting is required.

It doesn't need to be overly complicated or hours of training but some basic Barbell Squats, Deadlifts combined with a  Bent Over Row and Press Ups will start to build you a solid base from top to bottom.

If you'd like some help I've set up a lifting area in a stable next to the studio-so you don't have to even go to a gym! I've got just a few slots available for 121 training so hit reply if you'd like to become a serious Equestrian Athlete this year!


Nail New Year Nutrition

So this week everyone has gone back to work, kids have gone back to school and it’s all New Year New Me……


Although actually I think there has been less of that this year which I think is a good thing. You aren’t magically going to wake up on 1st Jan only wanting green juice and coconut water. Neither should you.


Life is for living and yes food is fuel but it should also be enjoyed. But of course some of us want to lose a few pounds and that’s fine but doing that needn’t involve sacrificing all the food you enjoy and surviving on meagre rations of bird seed. 


Add to that a busy lifestyle with horses, jobs, families….. And spending hours on food prep, existing on tiny portions is not going to help you do all of that and lose weight long term.


The key to long term weight loss is actually just simple maths. You need to create a calorie deficit. Calories in needs to be less than calories out. That’s it.


Of course it makes better sense health wise to make the majority of your diet up with Vegetables, Fruit,  lean meats and pulses but there are no hard and fast rules about what you can and can’t eat to lose weight. 


I like to keep simple with my clients. We set up MyFitnessPal accounts, then start tracking every day. In the first few days we aren’t worrying too much about being over the calorie goal, we just need to know where we’re at and what sort of patterns are showing up. 


We’ve set up a little Whatsapp support group with the ladies in my class who want to lose weight-Its called “Grazing Muzzle Club” 


Once we’ve got the hang of the app and looked at our current habits it’s time to make some tweaks. Are we over our calorie allowance because of lots of snacking or because certain meals are much higher calorie than the others?Can we start to look at lower calorie meal option? Are we snacking through boredom or because of genuine hunger? If it’s boredom we need to either accept that its boredom not hunger or look for some lower calorie options to at least keep a limit on how much is consumed. Things like sugar free jelly, low calorie hot chocolate etc are great for this. If it’s genuine hunger we either need to make the meals or the snacks more filling. Usually upping the protein levels so lean meats, boiled eggs, nut butter with your apple  or a protein shake are filling options. Also ensure you are drinking enough water throughout the day.


We continue this just making tweaks as we go along until we’re comfortably in a calorie deficit without really feeling like it’s dieting, more like -This is how I eat now. 


I know this approach almost sounds too simple, and well that;s because it is simple. You still have to make the effort of logging food, starting to plan how meals will fit into your calories etc. However the freedom to make your own food choices based around what you actually like and what is convenient to your lifestyle is what throws people who are used to rules of giving up certain food groups or having weird (non scientific) points attached to things that mean they struggle to navigate an M&S lunch counter or a restaurant menu. 


So, if you’re committed to losing weight for good this year, make the commitment to keep it simple, follow the basic science of calories in vs calories out and create a diet that fits your lifestyle long term.


Here’s a couple of things I will add that will make this process easier.


  • Start to plan your meals and snacks in advance. Take into account the time you will realistically have available on those days to prepare and eat food. If you’re on the run or home late have portable and quick to prepare foods.
  • For the most part coloured vegetables -greens, purples, reds etc. have a low calorie value for the volume of food so use them to add bulk to your meals.
  • Admitting you won’t have the time or inclination to cook and therefore buying low calorie ready meals, soups, packet rice and microwave veg bags is a much better option than throwing in the towel and ordering takeaway. 
  • Weighing, measuring and searching for things in myfitnesspal can seem like  a pain at first, but you can save recipes and meals, copy them into other days etc. which makes it much easier after a couple of weeks and it starts to become more instinctive.

What are you going to achieve in 2020?

Happy New Year!

So, what has 2020 got in store for you? 

  Now is the time to sit down and plan what you want to achieve this year.

Then of course what you are going to do to achieve them. Planning is key to achieving goals. 

Are you going to take up a new discipline? Perhaps you’re taking up Dressage or Endurance.

Are you hoping to move up a level in your discipline?

Maybe it’s not entirely horse related. Perhaps you want to improve your fitness or lose weight.

Whatever it is, the key to success is firstly identifying your why.

If you know how much a goal means to you it can help to keep you going when stuff gets tough.

My why for losing weight was because I ride a pony and don’t want to be too heavy.

My why to be as physically fit as possible is because it’s helps control my hyper mobility which firstly manages the pain and secondly means I ride my pony better.

My Why for  Carriage Driving is just pure passion. I really want to do it because I love it.

So ask yourself why you want to achieve your goal and what it means to you personally, when life tries to get in the way remember this why to help push you through.

Secondly make a plan of how you are going to achieve your goal.

If you have a specific event to train for,do you need a training plan to help you peak at the right time?

Will you need extra training, a specific trainer etc? Get that organised and plan where you can fit that training in and how you will pay for it.

Do you need some new gear -any excuse right? 

Will you need to adjust your schedule to fit in your schooling sessions etc? Be realistic about what you can fit it,  but also be ready to make some sacrifices along the way. I’m sure there will have been plenty of times those at the top would have preferred to be at home watching a box set rather than riding in the cold but those box sets won’t help to improve your performance.

Those that achieve great things will have made sacrifices, had tough days and set backs along the way but because they really wanted that end result they kept going.

So, get your planner out. 

What are you going to achieve this year?

What do you need to help you achieve it? Is it new kit, support from family, friends or a coach?

How will it impact your current lifestyle and what will you need to change for it to happen?

I’d love to know what you’re goals are and how you plan to achieve them.