Check in with yourself

Do you ever check in with your body?

When you’re riding do you ever mentally check in with how you feel today rather than just checking in with your horse?

Does everything feel stacked up the way it usually does, or feel as mobile or stable as always?

I reckon the answer lies somewhere between no I don’t, and everything hurts!

It can be easy to fall into this system of just plodding considering how your horse feels day to day and whether he might need some physio, a massage, a different workload etc. But never considering how your body feels and whether it needs attention.

Your body has a huge impact on how your horse feels and moves being ridden and then of course than may impact on his overall wellbeing.

There are a couple of ways you can check in with your body.

Sometimes at the beginning or end of a Yoga session in my online programme we just lie on the floor or stand still and do a mental check in of our bodies from top to bottom.

Try lying on the floor, taking some deep breaths, and then starting at the top squeeze then relax each part of your body and see how it feels. Which areas of your body feel like they don’t relax? Those areas might need some more attention.

In my in person classes, we do regular stretch weeks where the sole purpose is to reconnect with your body and deal with those areas of tension. We do this with movement patterns such as opening and closing the chest, mobilising the spine etc. and self - massage with physio balls and foam rollers.  It gives everyone a chance to check in with their own bodies and deal with any niggles that may be affecting their riding.

If you put time into making sure your horse’s body is in tip top shape surely it makes sense to make sense yours is too.

The same principles apply

Whatever your chosen Equestrian discipline they all require the same fundamentals from you as a rider.

Yes, there are differences in your position if you’re doing Dressage as opposed to Jumping, however there are many principles that remain the same whatever actual position you may be in.

  1. Straightness. Whether trotting the centre line or approaching a fence, being able to ride straight makes a huge impact on how successful that will be. Obviously in Dressage lack of straightness will affect your marks. When jumping, the line to the fence can have an impact on whether you clear it and then the line following landing sets the success for your line to your next fence.
  2. Stability and Self Carriage. The ability to support your own body weight gives your horse the space to manage his own balance. If you’re unbalanced your horse has to manage your weight as well as his own. If your horse is a little unbalanced being able to support him with your own stability can help him to achieve his own balance with time. Again, the ability to remain stable over a fence makes the job a lot easier for your horse, as well as stability being able to hopefully keep you out of trouble if it goes a little awry.
  3. Proprioception. This is just a posh way of saying body awareness. It’s really helpful when riding to have good awareness of what your body is actually doing.  For example, if you ask for go with your legs but say whoa with your hands that’s not a clear aid to your horse. Or perhaps you’ve no idea you always slide your left leg further back than your right and it’s affecting your Dressage scores. A good level of body awareness can help you identify and then address these asymmetries.
  4.  Shock Absorption. Riding of any style requires your body to absorb the movement of the horse underneath you. In flatwork this enables you to move with the horse, maintaining good, relaxed stability.  Over a fence this enables you to land well and in balance. This has two benefits; firstly in preventing you from distorting your horses balance on landing and secondly setting you up well to ride away from the fence and possibly onto the next one. It is also vital for helping you ride pain free. A body that isn’t able to  absorb the movement underneath it will overuse some muscles and under use others. It will also place more strain on the joints and ligaments again potentially causing pain.

These are the things that whatever your chosen discipline you should be considering in your off horse workouts.

Are you Symmetrical?

I’m pretty sure you know that Symmetry is super important for your horse, so I’m sure you also know it’s important for you as a rider too.

Your own symmetry affects how your weight is carried by your horse and how effectively you give aids.

That asymmetry will affect your horses’ symmetry and therefore his way of going.

If he’s falling in on one rein or always getting a better score for movements one way than the other that could be down to you.

We all know we have a better rein, but do we ever really address it?

Perhaps you aren’t sure which leg is the strongest?

Or you do but you don’t know how to fix it?

Training your body off horse is an effective way of addressing asymmetry as patterns can be spotted and then addressed on the ground which will more than likely be representative of what is happening on when you ride.

Here’s a couple of exercises to try to both identify and then help to correct asymmetry in your lower body.

Standing on one leg-Surprisingly you might find one leg easier than the other!

Single Leg Bench Squats. Standing up from a seat on one leg is firstly more tricky than you think, secondly it’s a great way of training a weaker leg.

Give them a go and see if with practice you can even yourself up.

Nicola x

Staying strong the whole ride

This week I’ve been having a little fun with some of my 121 Clients holding a 2 point seat on some balance pods whilst trying to keep a steady contact on bands held as reins. With optimum time of the Cross Country at the Olympics being 7mins 45 that’s been the aim. To stay fairly still on an unstable surface, when if you try and use your hands for the balance the elasticity of the band will throw you off is harder than you think.

Although of course this doesn’t directly replicate a cross country round effort it does train stability and endurance of the muscles. I’m considering ideas of how I could add jumps in……

Whether you do Eventing, Dressage or just general hacking or schooling, riding well throughout requires stability and endurance of your muscles. This is slightly different (although not exclusively trained different) to endurance of your lungs.

If your stabilisers and your bigger muscles get tired mid ride it’s going to be hard to stay effective, and indeed safe right to the end of your ride. Tired muscles don’t perform as well, so they won’t be giving clear aids, or sitting as lightly or correctly. Secondly, tired muscles may not react as quickly to a spook, trip etc meaning you’re more likely to fall off!

As I mentioned training endurance of your lungs is different that doesn’t mean training you would traditionally do for that such as running, cycling or swimming etc isn’t effective for endurance of muscles; it totally is! So, if you like adding that into your training that’s great.

Regular resistance training is also great for improving muscular endurance.

However I like to occasionally add in some static muscle poses to test the endurance of muscles alone. Although riding can often feel like a decent workout (or it should if you’re doing it right!) you don’t actually move your muscles that much-although they are working quite hard.

You don’t have to be quite as silly as me and my clients with the balance pods and the bands etc, you can make it much simpler by doing things such as wall squats, a low free standing squat, plank, side plank or holding a split squat for increased lengths of time.