Finding Your Flow

An important part of both exercise and riding is the ability to fully focus on what you’re doing.

When riding our performance can be hugely improved by being fully present in what we’re doing, how our horse is feeling and reacting and in turn responding to that.

The same goes for exercise. If you can focus on the muscles and your movement pattern throughout this will give you better results both physically and mentally.

An Athlete would call this Flow State.

The ability to be fully immersed in what you are doing, having your body follow your horse and to be as one with your horse-Flow State.

However, I think for most of us it’s more of a mental battle than that. Whilst we think we are in the zone, our brain is probably sifting through various thoughts; maybe your work day, what else you have to get done that day etc.

I can tell what mental state someone is in during their exercise session by how they are moving.

If your brain isn’t in the game during your workout your balance will likely be off. If someone’s struggling to perform stable movements often it can be a as much a brain problem as a muscular problem.

How do you get your head in the game then and find your flow state?

You can work on your mental stillness and focus in various different ways. For some people it’s Meditation, for other’s it’s Yoga or maybe it’s music, running whatever.

A great way to test it before you get on is to stand on one leg and just stay still. Too easy? Now try it with your eyes shut! Struggling? Focus on a spot in front in front of you that isn’t moving. This focuses your brain on the object and creates the stillness you’re after.

How do you find your Flow?

Jumping Position

This week I’ve been looking at Jumping Positions and the Biomechanics of a good one. There’s been some serious “nit picking with Nicola” going on over Youtube, viewing some serious top level competitors -but there’s always something that could be improved! 

I believe that the same rules apply in jumping as in flat work in that you should be in your own self carriage.

Generally horses carry 60% of their weight on the front end  and 40% on the hind end. That’s quite a bit of force through the front end.   When jumping those forces are increased further still.

In order for the horse to do his job to the best of his ability it’s up to you as the rider to manage your own body weight to enable him to manage his. 

If you are leaning forward, using your reins or the horse's neck for balance, that is extra weight he has to lift up over the fence and then has to manage on landing.

In order to allow him to do his job the best he can you need to be over his centre of gravity. That is the middle of the saddle as you would be for flatwork. The only difference is that you will be lifted out of the saddle in a Jumping position. 

As for supporting your own weight there seems to be a pattern of people being told to have their weight in their feet. Which I think is actually more of an interpretation issue than it being incorrect. I find that as soon as people are told to have weight in their feet they push their feet down; which pops them up and locks the joints in the ankles, knees and hips preventing force absorption. This makes the position tense and also not that stable. Also, if you had all your weight in your feet what happens when you lose your stirrup? We’ve seen plenty of top riders complete a round with one stirrup; which means they didn’t have all of their weight in their feet did they?

I think it’s more that there should be a positive connection to your feet, in that there is weight in the ball of your foot, your ankle is able to absorb movement so it draws down rather than being pushed down. 

The majority of your weight will be in your thighs and your bum. These are the big muscles of your body so it makes sense to use them for stability and endurance. 

In a Jumping position your hips hinge back, so it’s not a rounding of the shoulders, it’s a stable core, flat back hip hinge like you would in a Deadlift off horse-starting to make sense why we might do them now isn’t it? It’s this hip hinge that keeps you over the centre of the horse. If you leaned forward like I think many of us seem to have been taught, you’ve sent your bodyweight forward onto the front of the horse. Now he’s got to lift himself up at the front and you! Then when he lands there’s his own body weight multiplied in force, and now yours all coming down in his front legs. Then of course if he trips on landing you were already partially out the front door so you’ve less chance of staying on!

So your hands will go forward to allow his neck out, but the rest of you is still central over the saddle, supporting your own bodyweight on the take off right through to the landing. 

The ability to absorb that force through your body and still be supporting yourself to land pretty much in the same position ready to ride onto the next fence requires your body to be very stable and be supple enough to absorb that force without having to collapse.

 I actually train force absorption with my riders, we do jumps off a box straight into jump position, we use med balls for throwing and catching, band work to train against resistance. 

As mentioned we also train the hip hinge so it’s a natural position for their bodies to adopt and they understand how to be strong there. 

Training off horse is of course about being a better rider in general, but if the jumping position is anything to go by, the ability to support your own bodyweight can go a huge way (I’m not saying you're heavy!) in taking additional strain from the front of the horse; and I’m sure for most of us it really is just about being the best that we can be for our horse.

Getting in shape for the season.

Eventing Season is imminent, and for the non Eventers; Camps and general more horse activity season is also imminent. 

Are you excited? Or are you now in a flap because neither you or your horse is fit enough?

It’s ok, you’ve got time to get your act together!

Time to make a plan.

Speak with your horse’s physio and your instructor to make a plan for your horse’s fitness.

As for your fitness I guess it depends on what your plans are this summer. 

If you are Eventing I’m sure you want to ride at your best, do you and your horse justice finishing your round strong. Most importantly you want to be fit enough to keep riding for the whole round, this is not just for performance reasons but also for safety reasons. 

If you’re attending weekend camps with multiple lessons per day I’m sure you’d like to be able to ride your best throughout so you get the most enjoyment - and improvement out of them.  

These things are going to take muscular endurance, cardio fitness along with the every day riding requirements of stability and mobility. 

This sounds way more complicated than it is. 

Realistically this can be done in 3-4 workouts per week and they don’t need to be hours long or have you drowning in a pool of sweat, wanting to vomit-unless that’s what you’re into. 

You just need to focus on the basics. 

For Cardio, keep it simple. 20-30 minutes of running, cycling, swimming, dancing whatever you’re most likely to actually stick to. Or you could do shorter HIIT sessions. 

Then add in a resistance workout either bodyweight or with whatever weights you have available. If you’re new to exercise and want something bespoke I suggest you have a coach who specialises in riders help you……I’m one of those!

If you want something lower budget - I’m aware how expensive this whole horse thing is I’m right in there with you; then my Online Programme will cover all you need to get Riding fit for Eventing or whatever else you’re doing and it’s tiny money!

What are you getting up early for?

I was reading an interview in Horse & Hound with Annabelle Pidgley-The girl who now owns Charlotte Dujardins horse Pumpkin.

Now, it cannot be disputed that Annabelle has the financing and horse power to help her achieve great things in her Dressage career; Pretty sure she’s going to be in the top rankings one day.

However there is something else she needs and indeed does have that cannot be bought - Hard Graft.

In this interview Annabelle says that to fit riding around school work she gets up at 4am to ride two horses before 7am so that when she comes home she can do her homework or have lessons with her trainers.  Just let that sink in……………4am!! That’s a girl prepared to make things happen.

I see this pattern in lot’s of my clients. They get up early, manage their time well and fit in horses, fitness and often children around demanding careers too. So it certainly isn’t a lack of other things to do on their side!

If you ask them, they’ll tell you it’s hard work;  but if you want something enough you’ll make it happen.

The thing is, I get it. Getting up early (I get up at 5am most days) working to a military schedule to fit it all in and ending the day late and very tired can seem a bit much, however I see people who don’t get up super early or  finish late  to fit in riding or training and they still feel tired and are also unfulfilled because they aren’t achieving any of their goals. 

Which one do you think is generally happier? Obviously, it’s the one’s who get up early and get stuff done working towards their goals!

You see if you really want something and you take steps to make it happen, the sense of achievement and doing the thing you love is what keeps you going.

If you have goals in life it’s up to you to make them happen.

You can say that other people have less to do, less demanding jobs etc but in my experience with my clients they don’t have less to do they just fit more in. They are prepared to sacrifice watching the latest drama series, or the weekend lie in because they know achieving what they set out to will make them happy.

So, it’s totally fine if you’ve read this and thought “yeh I’d rather watch the box set and have the lie in” but if you have other responsibilities too you may have to accept you aren’t going to achieve the big horsey goals too.

However if you read this and thought “hell yeah I’m going to make stuff happen” Firstly, you are my kind of people and secondly I’d love to know what you’re going to be getting up early to achieve?