Cartoon Wisdom

I heard a great phrase over the weekend “your body is a car for your mind to drive around in” It was actually said in kids cartoon Kipo & the wonder beasts but let’s not dwell on why I was watching that as clearly they are very wise beasts. 


It got me thinking about how much our brain affects our body. 


I think we all already know how being tense or nervous affects our riding.


How does being mentally tired affect it?


Feeling like you aren’t good enough? 


Being angry? 


I’m sure if you think about this you’ll notice your body reacts differently depending on your mental state. 


So, our mind has a huge impact on our performance.


However it also goes deeper than that.


The brain links to the entire nervous system, so (and this a very brief & unscientific description) is a key part of how your body responds to and manages pain. We all know fellow riders who in any other area of life would be absolute write offs, probably bed bound with all their injuries yet they crack on mucking out, riding etc. Their mind is so strongly focused on the horse stuff that they just don’t focus on the pain they may be in. NB. These are my favourite kind of people to work with.


Then when you feel mentally exhausted or stressed your body does too. It can be a struggle to even lift your limbs sometimes when you’re mentally drained. 


It can also affect your gut. There is increasing research into the gut-brain axis and how mental health can affect your gut. “Gut feeling really is a thing”. 


So, there are various different ways our mind can affect our body. 


Yet I know so many of us use riding as a form of stress relief, a way to switch off etc. Which is great as of course we know it really is great therapy.


But, how do we keep improving or riding at our best when our mind is not necessarily in the game. 


We need a system or routine that hel us switch into riding focus. It doesn’t need to be difficult or complicated, in fact it needs to be a basic and easy as possible so that it’s totally doable on even the most stressful days.


Mine is something like this.


I do a warm up off horse , nothing fancy or complicated just a few torso rotations and hip mobilisations or whatever my body feels like it needs that day. Then I like to do a little body check in when I first get on. Just as I’m walking around I just let Jamie bimble around whilst I take some deep breaths, check into how I’m sat, realign if I need to, maybe think about activating some bits that feel asleep and generally just see how my body feels and then focus on what we’re going to work on today. This helps me to get my mind focusing on the ride without really forcing the issue.


Do you have a pre ride routine to help you get in the right frame of mind? 


Do you struggle to stop your mind affecting your riding? 




Make being healthy easy

We are still going through some really uncertain times at the moment which means many of you may not have got back into your healthy habits. You’re still having a gin and tonic on your 10 am work Zoom meeting aren’t you?


The thing is although this year has been a huge out of the ordinary test for everyone, regardless of that there will always be stressful, testing times to throw you off course. 


That shouldn’t make them excuses to not hit your healthy lifestyle goals.


You just need to make your healthy habits easy to stick to. 


It’s not about being all kale smoothies and daily 10k runs, its about small, easy to stick to habits done consistently.


So maybe start with just one at a time.


  • Buy a reusable water bottle and aim to finish it every day.
  • Try not eating snacks after your evening meal during the week. 
  • Do two 20 minute exercise or stretching sessions per week (I’ve got an online programme perfect for this….) 


Also just because you maybe don’t do as well one day doesn’t mean you’ve failed. You just draw a line under it and try to do better the next day.


Plan your workouts and riding sessions etc. In your diary as if they were important work meetings at the beginning of the week so you know where they are fitting in.


Plan your meals and your snacks. They don’t need to all be “healthy” they just need to stop you steering off track completely. So three proper meals and then maybe 1 or 2 small snacks used tactically as a mid afternoon pick me up and then a pre or post ride one or whatever works for you.


Full disclosure I eat chocolate most days-that’s proper, full sugar milk chocolate not some raw, cocao based healthy option. 


Don’t feel like that run? Go for a walk, do some yoga whatever you choose, just honour the commitment to do something for your body. 


Make it small, make it consistent and it will start to just become what you do all the time.

The devils in the detail

When it comes to riding very often the devil can be in the detail. Something barely noticeable to you or someone watching could make all the difference to how your horse performs what you’ve asked of him.

That’s why having mastery of your own body is vital to improving your performance. 

Particularly in Dressage when the smallest percentage can make all the difference. When getting equal scores for a movement left to right knowing how you behave differently on each rein can be a huge help. 

When you train it’s really important to focus on exactly how your body reacts. 

I always say I can tell how someone’s body reacts whilst riding by watching them squat. Hip shimmy’s, more weight one way than the other, turning from the shoulders, tipping forward…………

If we can get someone to first notice that and then fix it in the squat they have addressed the asymmetry which then transfers over into their riding. 

It’s not just the squat though, whenever you’re performing an exercise really check in to what muscles are working, how they move and travel and how that may be a pattern in your riding too. 


Advanced Old People Training

Sometimes when I'm training clients I do exercises that one of them refers to as “advanced old people training “. Usually this will be an exercise that involves maybe getting up off the floor or standing up from a box or bench. There is another reason for doing these exercises that will be relevant to that clients goals but he has got a point about the old age thing. I tell him he’ll thank me when he can still tie his own shoes at 90!

Maintaining fitness, muscle mass and movement patterns as we get older gives us a much better chance of staying fit and mobile well into old age. I call it “use it or lose it” 

For us that also means more chance of riding and all that entails for as long as possible too.

We start to lose muscle mass in our 30’s unless we actually strive to maintain and build it. A loss of muscle makes us firstly weaker and therefore less able to withstand our activities but also more prone to injury. This doesn’t mean you need to become a body builder but you do need to do some form of resistance training that challenges your muscles. 

Bone density also peaks in our 20’s and if your female declines when you hit menopause due to the loss of Estrogen. A loss of bone density can cause Osteoporosis. As a rider this puts us at a way greater risk of breaking bones. A way of maintaining as much bone density as possible is by doing weight bearing exercise- I.e being on your feet.

Regardless of your overall training goals I’m sure we can agree the plan is to stay riding fit for as long as possible. In order to give us the best chance of this off horse training is vital. 

That’s why I’m so passionate about strength training. It’s not about maxing out lifting as heavy as possible-unless you want it to be. It’s about encouraging your bones and muscles to regenerate, repair and stay strong. It’s about maintaining movement patterns we use all the time but can get a bit lazy with the actual muscles involved -picking things up off the floor, going from sitting to standing unaided, carrying heavy objects etc. 

It’s basically about enabling you to live your life feeling fit and well for as long as possible. Which to Equestrian’s means still being able to put a saddle on, hop on board and go for a ride well into our 80’s…….and beyond. 


Relaxed Activation

One of the problems I see in riders is trying to activate muscles to help them stabilise but actually squeezing so hard they just create tension. 

Like with your horse, you want him to be working, activating his muscles but still relaxed in his way of going.

In essence you need to be strong enough to not need to do a full effort contraction to stabilise. Also you need to learn to dial up and dial down your muscular effort. Then for the piece’ de resistance you need to be able to activate these muscles at adequate tension to perform but still relaxed without having to think about it.

How do you achieve this?

Step 1 is actually getting stronger. 

Step 2 learning to activate muscles all at the same time-which generally prevents you from being able to maximally contract everything.

Step 3. Learn to breathe at the same time.

Do this often so that it becomes second nature.

Ok, great but actually How?

Well I’m a firm believer in there being no one way to achieve anything.

Personally I choose strength and conditioning training. It’s made a huge difference to the stability of my hyper mobile body. Having to lift a heavy weight off the floor or over head requires huge muscular input and you need to breathe! 

However I also like Pilates as this has a huge stability and breathing element. Trying to stabilise, keep everything in line, move and breathe in sync is great training for using your body on a horse. 

Basically anything that makes you stronger whilst using multiple muscles and breathing. 

I use both of these methods across my classes and with 1 2 1 clients depending on their preference. 

I’ve got space in my  daytime Pilates based class -Wednesday 10am.

Thursday Strength & Conditioning class at 6.15pm.

Space for 1 2 1 clients both daytime and limited evening slots.