Reaction times are something that is looked at a huge amount in other sports but not so much in equestrian sports. Yet we all know that one minute you’re merrily riding in one direction then the next minute you’re facing the other way. If you’re lucky you’re still on board at this point! So, you definitely need good reflexes to deal with that!
It’s not just for the emergency situations though. It’s also when you’re trying to join movements together in a Dressage test, or jumping a course of fences. The faster your body is able to react to the changes required of it the more in balance you will both be and the clearer your aids will be.
Whenever I train reactions with my clients we have some fun with it.
It could be playing with the reaction ball (odd shaped ball that pings off in all directions) or we run in one direction then when I shout they change direction.
We also do weighted ball slams or throwing it against the wall.
I know we aren’t really doing Christmas parties this year but you could have a family game of musical statues or musical chairs and call it rider training.
Force absorption is what your body is doing the entire time you are on a horse. Of course in reality your body is absorbing force when just walking around it’s just that on a horse it’s got an extra say 600kg of force underneath it to deal with.
If you’re wobbling around on board, maybe you have a wiggly middle, a nodding head or you have to stiffen up to hold yourself, they’re all signs you aren’t absorbing the movement as well as you could be.
Efficient Force absorption isn’t just so that you can sit and ride well. It’s also important to prevent injuries.
A really simple way of looking at how your body absorbs movement is by sitting on a gym ball and gently bouncing. Can you do this whilst maintaining a stable but not stiff torso? Think of relaxed muscle tension. Once you’ve got this bounce a bit bigger.
A great body weight force absorption exercise is squat jumps. Starting from a squat, you jump up and land back in the squat. If you then wanted to progress you could add height by jumping onto and off a box. Make sure you land with a strong torso and bent knees still tracking over your feet.
A great weight based exercise is the Kettlebell Swing. This requires you to both create acceleration and then control it at the top to bring it back down. It’s like the biggest trot you’ve ever ridden!
Being able to absorb force makes you more stable which relates back to the exercise we did last week.
Last week I mentioned some areas to focus on for your own rider fitness.
As promised here is the first round of inspiration for you.
This weeks focus is balance and stability.
Stability requires a level of muscular strength. I’m not going to go into pure strength here I’m going to focus on the balance element.
A basic balance test is standing on one leg.
Can you do this whilst keeping your pelvis level? Is it harder standing on your left or your right leg?
Now try moving the same side arm or the opposite arm at the same time as lifting the leg. Can you still keep your pelvis level?
You could then up the ante on this by trying it on a wobble board or wobble cushion.
Or adding a band attached to a door around the standing leg or your waist so you have to resist the sideways movement.
Even trying to do this whilst turning your head or having a conversation can make it more difficult. Of course that’s the point as when you’re riding you want your balance to work whilst you’re also focusing on your horse, giving aids, possibly listening to your instructor. So you want your balance to work even when you aren’t focusing on your balance.
Give these exercises a try and see how far you can get before you start to wobble.
I don’t often cover jumping things mainly because most of my clients focus on flat work, but I do have the odd one that leaves the ground occasionally.
However I watched a video recently that made me think about how the rider has so much influence on the quality of the horses landing, the get away and turn to the next fence and of course getting over it.
Landing from a fence requires your body to absorb a huge amount of force and it needs to be strong enough to do that.
As you then start to pick up the pace again you need to already be back in balance to stay with the acceleration of the horse. Then particularly if you’re showjumping you will be making a tight turn to another fence.
Your horses ability to do this in balance and fast relies on the rider staying with him at every stride.
Being able to do this can be the difference between 1st and 4th place at a competition as the margins for time can be so tight. If you shaved 2 seconds off because you were able to make a tighter turn or because you were able to pick up the pace faster after a x country fence that could be a decider.
Also, most importantly in my opinion being able to stay balanced puts your horse at much less risk of injury.
Ok, I could talk about all the why’s etc forever but I’m pretty sure you’re already at the “so how do I do this” bit.
Work on yourself.
- Your balance and stability.
- Your reaction times
- Your force absorption
Look out for future posts on some ideas on how to incorporate this into your off horse training.