Connecting to your muscles

Do you ever try to do something with your body when you’re riding and you just can’t seem to connect your brain to your body part?

Sometimes you can send the message from your brain and it just doesn’t make the muscle move.

I’ve mentioned before that exercise; whether that is Yoga, Pilates or Weightlifting can help with your ability to activate muscles specifically.

However I’ve got another little tip for you that you can try to help you switch on those tricky bits of your body.


You can practice this off horse first to get the hang of it.

Start with the easy bit so consciously sending breath to your rib cage. Then try sending it to just one side of your rib cage.

Continue doing this around your body.

Send breath to your left waist, to your right hip…….your right leg, left ankle. Wherever you want.

Try it out, play around with using deep slow breaths, short fast breaths and see what works for you.

Then try it when you ride.

Want to tune into your left elbow? Send breath to it! Try it wherever you need it and see what happens.

Will the Gym help?

I’ve come across a couple of professionals in the Equestrian sector recently who are of the opinion that gym work and/or weightlifting is not useful or indeed could be detrimental to riding. The problem I have with this is that the people saying this are not exercise professionals, ( as in they are not Personal Trainer, Strength and Conditioning coaches or Sports Scientists) and they are basing their opinion on people they’ve seen who for whatever reason have issues that may not have been helped by their gym training. There is no mention of how these people moved or felt before or whether they were working with a professional in their workouts. 

The thing is I’ve seen plenty of people who aren’t riders go solo in the gym and end up finding themselves in more pain and/or injured because they had no clue what they were doing. It’s not the gym equipment that was at fault, it was the application that was wrong.

The thing is as riders it’s not just the riding we have to be fit enough for. It’s all the other stuff! 

A bag of feed weighs 20kg so do we really think that there is no benefit to someone get stronger so that, that 20kg feed bag isn’t such a big deal anymore. To be trained to carry that bag of feed with good technique and have the strength to move it without being worn out means your less likely to be injured and you’ll have more energy for the rest of your jobs and the riding.

If you’re fit enough that you can muck out your stable, do any other yard work, fetching and carrying then ride without being overly fatigued you will not only feel better day to day, you’re also less likely to injure yourself in the process. You’ll also of course ride better because you aren’t knackered!

I think the belief that weight training is bad for you comes from seeing it done badly. None of my clients over the last 10 years has gotten stronger but less flexible in the process. In fact they’ve all moved better, had less pain and better body awareness as a result of their training. 

That’s because we don’t just focus on how heavy they lift or how much they sweat or if they’re crawling out of the session at the end and unable to walk for days. That’s not productive nor beneficial to an Equestrian. 

A well balanced gym programme could have some heavy lifting in there, but it will also have some lighter accessory work to build weaknesses and balance out asymmetries as well as some conditioning of the heart and lungs (that’s cardio but not necessarily a long run!) 

We warm up and prepare with mobility and activation exercises and we deal with any niggles that might have occurred in the past week-there’s often something when a horse is involved!

So, if you do train at the gym in a bid to improve your performance riding, or to help manage pain or injuries bear these things in mind when planning your sessions.

And if you’d been put off because you thought it wouldn’t help…….my cocky answer is “you’re wrong!” but in all seriousness if you plan it well and if you’re able to; work with a professional who truly understands your needs (might be one you’re reading now……) you absolutely will get results. 

End of mild rant!

Check in with you feet

Do you ever check into your feet when you ride?

Do you think about how they feel in the stirrup?

Do you press down into them or are they lightly placed?

Are they equally weighted each side?

Are your toes facing forward or out to the side?

We know that our horses feet can have a huge impact on his soundness and performance, but what about our feet?

Firstly, your feet should be placed lightly in the stirrup, they don’t bear your weight your thighs you be doing that. If you press down into your feet you will pop yourself up and lock your knees. They should be relaxed to allow the ankle to absorb the movement.

Having equal, light weight in your feet is a great step for ensuring your symmetry so checking into this should be a regular check in when you first get on.

If your toes are facing forward this gives a good indication that your thighs are gently on the saddle.

Commonly I see a lot of toes turning out which means the hip stabilisers are not working and the hamstrings have taken over. I’ll write more about this another day.

For now try bringing some focus to your feet.

If you have trouble connecting with them, try doing this off horse.

Roll them over a ball and see how it feels You might find tense bits, maybe bits you hadn’t really checked into before and a heightened sensation or feeling of grounding.

Then next time you ride, check back in and see if you can have them light, equal and facing forward throughout. If not…….you’ve got stuff to work on.