You get what you asked for

I’ve been doing more ridden coaching recently and a pattern I’ve noticed is many problems are solved when the rider is more clear about what they want.

A Horse’s lack of energy very often matches the riders lack of energy. Said rider may be flapping their legs etc but the actual energy emanating from the rider is a bit lacklustre. Add a bit more oomph to the rider and you get a bit more oomph from the horse! 

The same goes for the more lively horse. If the rider can lower their own energy they will find it easier to contain their horse’s energy. 

Then there’s the specifics. When you’re asking for forward with your seat and legs yet you’re hands are ever so slightly pulling back. If you’re pulling back just the tiniest bit that’s a stop/slow down signal to your horse. If he’s an “energy conserver” you’ll be struggling for forward; if he’s a bit of a hot head you’ll get what comes out as a tantrum-he’s confused!

You give an aid, you move a leg then a hand……. did you mean to give two separate aids? Or did you mean to give a hand and leg aid as one aid? Those things will get you different outcomes.

If you give a leg aid and lift a seat bone, you’ve shifted your weight, did you mean to do that?

There are multiple ways your body can shift when you what you think you’re doing or asking for become something else. So it’s really important that you as the rider can take responsibility and be really clear about your intentions to your horse. 

If you don’t get what you wanted, ask yourself if you definitely asked for that or if maybe you were a little unclear.

This is why as riders it’s super important to work on your body awareness. Being able to recognise your own patterns and notice when things move a little off kilter is the key to refining your aids and being clear with your horse.

I do this in lots of different ways with my clients, from Gym Ball work to exercises involving bands, different planes of movement and often just really focusing on the basics.

How do you train your body awareness? 

Tipping Forward?

When I asked riders what their biggest riding bad habit was, tipping forward was a common answer.

It’s a big one because there can be lot’s of reasons we do this.

  • Nerves. When we are scared or nervous our body tries to feel safe by returning to the foetal position; hence it tries to curl up.
  • Expecting bad behaviour-rearing for example. There may be some nerves linked to this too, but not necessarily. There are plenty of fearless riders who spend a lot of time riding flighty horses so they naturally sit a little hunched in a sort of defensive position.
  • Lack of stability. This can be two fold. If you lack strength through the middle it’s going to be difficult to sit up on a horse. Also, if you lack stability in your hips/pelvis again like the nerves your body tries to retreat to a position of safety-leaning forward.

Firstly, let’s deal with a quick checklist of how to set yourself up to sit up straight.

  • Have your seat bones pointing directly down as if plugging into the saddle.
  • Check your pelvis is level.
  • Imagine you have 4 corners of your pelvis and slot the 4 corners of your rib cage directly on top.
  • Float your head directly on top.

If you struggle with nerves and it causes you to tip forward, focusing on your breathing can both help to calm you down and help you to uncurl.

  • Breathe in, fill your belly so it pushes out, breathe out, push the air out and draw your abdominals in. This deep belly breathing activates your diaphragm. This both calms you down and creates stability in your core at the same time-cool huh!

If you tip forward because you lack stability……..well I think you know the answer! You’re going to have to get stronger! Creating stability in your seat and middle requires strengthening your Glutes, your Hip flexors and your Abdominals and Lower back.

  • If you’re a gym bunny that could mean adding Deadlifts and/or Front Squats to your routine.
  • Not a Gym Bunny? A Pilates class that includes Squats, Bridges all the hip work plus the regular core stuff you get with Pilates. Little hint-my online programme has all of this…..

If you want some more in depth help, myself and Veterinary Physio Steph Morgan are running our April Challenge in which I’m focusing on helping you deal with your tipping forward problems alongside Steph providing structured strength and conditioning for your horse. She is adding in a focus of different training strategies that would be helpful for different breeds and types of horses. If that sounds like something you’d be interested in head over to our Facebook page for full details.

Mastering your Body

As part of my work with clients I often help them understand what things are supposed to feel like when riding.

For example; the idea of your rein contact coming from your shoulder girdle and abdominals, or what your body needs to do to absorb the movement of a horse underneath you.

It can be hard to explain this whilst on a moving animal, particularly when it can be something that talented riders do instinctively. It takes a huge amount of body awareness to understand what the body is supposed to be doing whilst riding, which muscles are activating, which bits are lengthening and how you can make those things work better together.

Without blowing my own trumpet, that’s what I do. It’s my job to understand, analyse and explain all of those things to riders like you in a way you can easily grasp and then hopefully recreate that feeling when you’re riding.

Once you are aware of how your body can move or manipulate what’s going underneath you, suddenly things start to click into place; the impossible becomes possible.

Off horse training is about mastering and understanding your own body. If you can understand and control which bits of your to activate to create stability alongside which bits to release to create mobility you can fully use your body to communicate with your horse.

If you want some help mastering your own body let me know!

Restore Equilibrium

As riders it’s inevitable that we are going to fall off at some point. Even if you don’t sustain any noticeable injuries, it doesn’t mean it hasn’t affected you.

If you did suffer an injury, what did you do about it before getting back on your horse.

Even if you didn’t fall off it’s possible a bucking episode or a shoving over by your horse can still injure you- ‘I’ve had plenty of whiplash from bucking and long reining incidents.

But what do we do as follow up……? Nothing!

Yet if your horse takes so much as an off step you probably phone the Physio, maybe get him a massage. If your horse does get injured, you have experts on the case and a full return to work rehabilitation programme.

If you get injured? A hot bath and some ibuprofen…….and if it’s really serious maybe a couple of weeks on light duties too.

Yet, I see so many riders with multiple areas of tension, dysfunctional movement patterns and a whole heap of pain issues all related to a full fax roll of incidents they’ve had throughout the years. At every stage they did nothing to restore equilibrium in their bodies, which means it never got truly restored to its original function. Add onto this the next injury and the next injury and we’ve got a body full of unresolved issues.

If you want to be the best rider you can be for your horse, it’s time to start unravelling those issues and restore equilibrium.

We can do that with movement. We can release fascia with resistance stretching, we can restore function through body weight movement patterns, and we can build future robustness with weights.

It takes time, patience and hard work but that’s everything with horses, isn’t it?

You wouldn’t let your horse be the lame, wonky half of the partnership, so don’t let it be you either!

Teensy bit of space left for dedicated Equestrians to work with me 121 in person or via Zoom. If you’re ready to restore Equilibrium in your body let me know!

Foundations before Sexy

The majority of my clients’ programmes don’t look “rider specific” for the most part.

That’s because in order to be better at sports specific movements you must be better at regular movements. That means initially we build a solid foundation of movement patterns such as squat, hip hinge, push and pull. Along the way as it’s intended to be sports specific, I will explain why certain muscles or movement patterns are required for riding; for example, building strong glutes with squats and deadlifts will improve hip and therefore seat stability.

Once we’ve got movement patterns, we work on force absorption. Your ability to absorb force whilst maintaining stability without rigidity not only enables you to ride better it also minimises injuries.

We still do the sexy looking stuff, but it only forms part of the work. Often, it’s not about training a movement but more about understanding how our bodies currently move during that movement without having to focus on the horse at the same time.  Using a gym ball to create movement and instability or a band exercise to look at tension under movement can help you to figure out that you tip left or that your right hand is stiffer etc.

We can teach soft, balanced weight transfers or finite movements in the snazzy looking stuff which can be game changing in some instances but that’s only possible if we’ve built the foundations.

So, if you’re looking to improve your rider fitness instead of focusing on the overly specific stuff, first establish whether you have a good breathing and core activation pattern, how you hip hinge and how well your shoulders work in conjunction with the rest of your body. That way when you go to do the sports specific stuff there’s a better chance of you nailing it.

Want some help with your rider fitness? I’ve got just a couple of spaces left for in person or zoom 121 training.