Lifting the Back

One of things we strive for as riders is getting our horse to engage his hind end and lift through his back.

If you’re on his back it’s your job to make this as easy as possible for him. 

To allow your horse to lift it’s back you need to be off his back. However it’s not really traditional to ride around standing up in your stirrups for the whole session.

That means your seated position needs to be conducive to him being able to do this with your bum in the saddle.

That is why good alignment with all your joints stacked on top of one another -Shoulder-Hip-Heel (It’s technically ankle bone but it’s not as catchy!)

 If  you are in more of a chair position,  your weight is behind your legs where your bum is and therefore all on your horse's back-gravity is not your friend here as it’s literally pulling your weight down onto your horse's back. 

This makes it much harder for him to lift it.

If your joints are neatly stacked, the weight is held more down your thighs and you are supporting your own weight. This gives your horse the freedom to lift his back. 

Once you have mastered this you need to be able to support him at the front end, as very often I see the energy be created in the back but then throw the horse forward onto the forehand at the front.

You also need to be able to support him at the front end. So as you’ve encouraged the lift from the back you need to be able to absorb and maintain that in your core through to your hands. 

I know this sounds like nonsense but I’ll try my best to explain how this is done!

A stable but breathing core, with relaxed but stable hands.

Your hands need to be up and in front of you with enough stability between them and your torso that you can keep that energy up at the front rather  than sending it to the floor-i.e forehand.

If your horse starts to drop his head, don’t be pulled forward with him, stay straight and stable letting him explore the position. If you are stable enough to be there to support him when he get’s there he’ll find the right spot eventually. If you go with him and therefore drop him you’re back on the forehand. 

Energy up from behind and forward through his ears!

Yep I’m still talking in mythic riddles i know! 

Honestly, it is kind of hard to explain as I think you need to be able to feel it so here’s my tips.

  • Good Alignment-Stack your Shoulder, Hip and Ankle Bone in a line.
  • As you work around the arena imagine lifting your horses bum with your bum, like theres a sucker on it. Lift it up!
  • Then send that energy through your middle into your hands-which is why they need to be up and in front of you, not down by his withers. Send that energy forward!
  • Keep breathing throughout, this both stabilises you and stops you becoming tense.

The thing with this sort of stuff is it does work -I promise! However you have to have the body control and stability to be able to hold it, if you don’t have the seat or shoulder stability to hold your position it’s going to be much harder.

If that’s what you’re struggling with that’s where you’ll need to start. 

Work on stabilising your seat -Glutes, Hips, Legs and Core alongside your Back and Shoulders.

This is what we work on in my 121 Training, my classes and Online Programme, so if you want some help I’m sure I’ve got an option to suit you.

Struggling with the basics?

Often I hear riders say they can’t exercise off horse because they can’t perform the movements; they can’t squat, lunge etc pain free so they avoid it.

The thing is, rider or not you should be able to perform basic movement patterns pain free. They are the foundations of your everyday movement and a key component of being able to keep moving and of course riding well into old age.

Your bodies ability to move through different planes of motion also helps to prevent injuries.

So, it’s vital you work towards performing some basic movement patterns for:

  • Ease of everyday movements from yard work, to house work, picking up small children etc.
  • Management or prevention of pain.
  • Longevity of movement.
  • Injury prevention

That’s a few good reasons and we haven’t even got to how it will improve your riding.

If a body moves well off horse it is more likely to be in control and absorb force on horse. As well as the aforementioned injury prevention. If riding has created pain issues in your back, knees etc I know already that not riding is not an option so instead of suffering why not do something to help the problem.

I know if this is resonating with you you’re already saying “that’s a great idea but how can I do the off horse exercises if they are painful.”

Say, you can’t Squat, you can try breaking the movement down. Really focus on your positioning of feet and knees then make it a half squat. Or I like to try Bench Squats -sitting on a bench and standing up from there-it’s basically biomechanically correct getting up off the sofa! Or I do Gym Ball or Trx Squats to help you take some weight/pressure away from the knees and encourage you to use your Glutes more.

There’s more options than that if neither of those work for you, I break movement patterns down in various ways in order to bring back movement patterns. The same system can be used for a Lunge, Hip Hinge or Shoulder Activation.

If this is something you want to tackle this year to improve both your overall life performance as well as your riding performance my tips are:

  • Break the movement down-make it smaller or adapt it.
  • Strengthen the surrounding muscle groups of painful areas
  • Don’t give up!

If you’re struggling with movement and pain issues working with a professional can really help you get a strategy to overcome it-points at self as a large hint……..

Can you breathe and ride at the same time?

Often when people do tricky exercises they stop breathing.

Ever wonder why so many horses get tense between the white boards that were fine in the warm up? 

How many riders say they don’t breathe during their dressage test? 

Perhaps there’s a link there!

If you’re not breathing your tense within your body. 

Tensing muscles really tight isn’t what you’re after. Tension isn’t stability. Stability is relaxed muscular integrity. That is muscles that are still soft, able to move and absorb movement whist still remaining in control.

In order to ride stable without tension you need to be able to breathe whilst activating the muscles required to create that stability.

So if you’re struggling with it on horse try mastering it off horse. 

Whenever you’re exercising focus on form with breathing-can you execute your Pilates or Yoga moves well whilst breathing softly? 

Can you time a core activation with an out breath during a heavy lift?

Perhaps you have to really concentrate at first but the more you practice the more second nature it becomes. 

Then you can transfer that to on horse exercises. 

Make an out breath every time you make a transition……..then do a schooling session involving lots of transitions.

It will soon become second nature to breathe whilst you ride!

Consistency is key for January

You’ve made it through the first week of January.

I don’t know about you but I’m not quite ready to participate in 2022 just yet.

And right on cue the weather has turned and it’s really cold!

So, if you had decided you were off to start smashing all the goals in January you might be thinking it’s already beating you.

It’s not! However, if you have set goals for 2022 remember you have set them to be achieved across the whole year not all in January.

Go easy on yourself and be realistic about what you can achieve with dark mornings, dark nights and rubbish weather-no one’s doing much schooling on frozen arenas!

The most important thing for any goal is consistency. It’s not about that 2 week cramming of all the things that achieves it (we aren’t studying for your A Levels now……) it’s the consistent habits that add up bit by bit keeping you improving little by little.

What matters is that you’re still working towards or maintaining a habit in 3,6 or 12 months time.

So make consistency your plan, then have a plan for what you can do consistently no matter what the weather that will keep you on track even in a small way so that it’s not an all or nothing approach.

Over in the OnForm Equestrian monthly Challenges we have daily habits that can be done with your horse in the stable so you’re keeping him supple whether you’re riding or not.

Your off horse exercise can be done inside whatever the weather and will really help to keep you fit and ready for action as we move towards spring. But again you don’t need hours and hours a day. In my online programme we do 20-30 minutes twice per week and a quick 5-10 minutes HIIT once per week. It’s manageable around a job, horse, family etc yet still effective enough to improve your fitness and your stability and mobility for riding.

So for January make Consistency and Habits your goal, that way you’ll still be on track for Spring.

Nicola x