Sorry I left you without some reading last week, was a bit under the weather and decided to take a rest.
Now you may remember a few weeks ago I mentioned I was off to the Movement Convention where Lindsay Wilcox-Reid probably the best Equestrian Biomechanics trainer and founder of Equi Pilates was speaking. I was really excited because I’m actually going to study with her in January.
Lindsays’ talk centred on what is known as the “Riders ABC”. Which stands for Alignment, Breating and Core.
So for now we are going to start with A=Alignment.
It has become something of a pet subject for me as I have struggled massively with my hip alignment in the saddle as I have a tilted pelvis. To be honest although day to day I am aware that my right hip is not as balanced as my left it does not affect anything that I do to a huge degree.
However, when I get on a horse it becomes a huge problem. Basically is it is at such a position that when on the left rein my right hip is pushing the horse left-so I’m basically asking for a leg yield but I’m then trying to keep the horse straight inevitably jamming on the right rein and well I don’t think you need further info to imagine this abomination of riding practice that occurs!
Now as well as being a general un pretty sight this is actually damaging for my horse.
Think about this, I am sat uneven every time I get on a horse, to the point that a more forgiving horse may try to compensate by shifting his own body around to accommodate me. So now the horse is moving uneven, and second to that I am wearing the saddle unevenly, so over time the saddle is also un level on the horse back. So again the forgiving horse will shift around to maintain his balance in doing so actually making himself more crooked.
So I’m hoping you have gathered by now that an uneven horse will inevitably create a lame or back sore horse-not good, not fun and not cheap to fix!
So we had better take the better and much cheaper option and fix you! Sorry if that sounds like I’ve just referred to you as cheap! You are an Equestrian and I’m sure have parents/partners etc to attest that you are anything but cheap!
There are actually lots of ways to fix alignment and no one method will work alone. So I’m going to start with a basic (not necessarily easy!) option that will help you to see if/how wonky you are. It is also a good core and balance exercise so worth doing even if you are a level devil.
It involves a gym ball if you have one, they can be bought pretty cheaply off the internet but try to buy a good quality one if you can-less chance of a puncture!
Basically I want you to first sit on the ball with your feet on the floor, feel where your seat bones are, are your feet both flat on the floor with the same bend in the knee?
Now try taking your hips from side to side, is one side easier than the other?
And then for your “piece de resistance” take your feet off the floor! You will probably see the look of concentration on my face! I have to focus really hard to do this-but I couldn’t do it at all 12 months ago!
If you can’t do this-firstly you probably have mal-aligned hips. But don’t worry, try building up to it holding onto something first.
Now this exercise alone won’t fix a wonky pelvis but it will definitely help, along with helping you become aware of how sitting level should feel, i.e. really weird if you aren’t used to it!
I will upload some other exercises without the ball to help with wonky pelvis (technical term) over the next week or so –keep your eyes peeled!
This weeks Horse and Hound reports that a study conducted by the University of Edinburgh showed that riders who participated in a core fitness programme significantly improved their symmetry in the saddle than those who did not do core work.
Now I have actually already got a piece winging it's way to you later today about why it is important to be symmetrical in the saddle, but if you may have already read Horse & Hound and are now raring to go here is more details on some core exercises.
So First up.
Bridge. Lying on your back, knees bent, feet square, tilt your pelvis and roll your back up to create a straight line with your knees, hold and then roll back down. 10-20 reps
BirdDog.Kneeling on all fours, raise your opposite arm and leg-right arm-left leg, keeping your middle still, core engaged, back flat. Return to start and repeat other side. 10-20 reps each side.
Half Plank. Lie flat on your stomach and raise yourself onto your elbows form a straight line with your torso but keep your knees on the floor . Your core should be engaged . Hold for 30-60 secs
And if Half Plank is Too Easy
Plank.Raise up onto your elbows and toes maintaining a straight line in your body back stays flat. Hold for 30-60 secs
Happy Planking Folks!
And as always if you want a little more help, have any questions or comments drop me an email: email@example.com
So following on from last week, how many of you have been stretching your chest out???
Good, now we have to work on strengthening those back muscles particularly those that hold your shoulder blades back-The Rhomboids and The Serratus Anterior.
The rhomboid major (there is also a minor) helps to hold the scapula (and therefore arm) onto the ribcage. This means it helps you to keep a good upper back posture. Also involved in this are the serratus anterior and the pectoralis minor* (*this is what we stretched out last week).
Both major and minor rhomboids retract the scapula, pulling it towards the spine. If your Scapula is not held towards your spine, your elbows will stick out when you ride– think chicken wings!
The Serratus Anterior Muscle help us to move our arms multi dimensionally. Think of these as the muscles that help you to give and take with the reins. They originate in the upper ribs and insert into the scapula. As they are attached to the ribs they are also used when we breathe, enabling the ribs to open out fully to draw in more oxygen.
So as you can see if these muscles are not activating correctly, you will struggle to keep your shoulders back, your elbows may stick out and you will find it more difficult to communicate down the reins to your horse’s mouth. You may also be breathing more shallow and taking in less oxygen. Oxygen powers your brain, muscles, organs e.t.c and I’m sure many of you know that your breathing rate has a huge effect on your horse too-Shallow Breathing =Tense Horse.
So now let’s get them activating!
The Shoulder Drops Exercise.
Lying on your back, knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Put your arms straight up in the air, palms facing each other. Reach your right arm up as high as you can, and then let it drop. Repeat on the other side. Do 10-20 reps each side. This really helps to loosen off the shoulder blades.
So I'll be honest this is a little bit of a pet hate of mine. Not that I'm saying I am some far superior rider that has no faults whatsoever-far from it! But, I suppose it's because it is one that many people try and fix the perceived problem with their horse usually with gadgets e.t.c.
Many riders struggle to get their horse off the forehand and therefore working properly from the back end- all that power lost from those delicious rump muscles on your trusty steed! Anyway, usually to fix this there will be all manner of gadgets, attached to various ends whilst on the lunge and ta dah the horse comes off his forehand. Rider gets back on board...........................
When I attended Jon Pitts Coaching course he did an excellent demonstration of this utilising event rider Emily Phillips. Emily trotted her lovely and obviously well schooled horse around, we took note of his outline, where the power was coming from in his trot-most definitely from behind, and then analysed Emily's position. As you can imagine she was sat upright, shoulders back, looking straight ahead. Then Jon asked her to round her shoulders a little and look at the floor. Literally on cue her horse went rolling onto his forehand! She sat back up.........horse lifts back up. It really was that apparent. I found this a really powerful lesson. The reason for this as Jon explained is that as our shoulders round the weight of our head transfers to the front of our horse, and that is actually quite a lot of weight! The average human head weighs around 10-11lbs, and we've just lumped it on our horses neck and wondered why he's on his forehand? You try wandering round with 10 bags of sugar on your chest!
So, do you have rounded shoulders? Unfortunately, many of us will spend most of our day sat in front of a desk or standing for long periods depending on our jobs and no matter how much we know we shouldn't, we slouch. I am guilty of this also!
So, there is quite a lot of things we can do to help correct this, namely stretching out the chest and then activating and strengthening what are potentially weak back muscles. So I won't bamboozle you with a hundred new things to do immediately I will set you just one task for now-call it me setting you homework if you will!
We are going to start with stretching those chest muscles out.
I want you to try doing these stretches every day and particularly before you get on your horse and see if it helps you to keep those shoulders back.
Find a wall or a door frame. If you stand next to the wall with your left arm closest to it, place your hand and forearm on the wall, stand with your feet slightly astride I.e left in front, right slightly behind and then look away from your arm, twisting your upper body but keeping you forearm flat to the wall as if trying to look over your right shoulder. You should feel a stretch deep in your chest, hold for 30 secs to 1 min and then repeat on the other side.
Clasp your hands behind your back, arms straight (if you can!) Take your shoulders right up to your ears, roll your shoulders back and imagine trying to drop your shoulder blades down into your back. Do this 5-10 ten times depending how tense your shoulders feel.
Voila! A loose chest (oh er!) should now be yours, and hopefully your horse will have appreciated your effort and lifted his/her front end accordingly.
Let me know how you get on!
You can email me: firstname.lastname@example.org or comment on the Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/equestrianfitnessnicola
So what are the benefits of training out of the saddle? Well firstly, there is no horse to be controlled. You can focus solely on your own body, what it is doing, how it moves, feels and reacts.
Any areas of tightness or tension can be dealt with better on the ground, additional aids may be needed i.e straps for stretching, massage equipment like foam rollers or trigger point balls to release muscular tension.
Performing additional core work off your horse will have a huge benefit when you get back on board, and particularly if you are a leisure rider and perhaps only ride a couple of times per week, think of all those extra hours you could spend honing your muscles to perform better when you ride.
If your stamina is an issue, say you run out of puff during your lessons, mid way across country or out with the hunt, then additional cardio vascular training will improve this without your tiredness having to impact on your horse.
Of course a full, structured exercise plan will have the most benefit, but if you aren't up for that just some basic stretching exercises to work on your own body's areas of tightness could take 10 mins per day yet transform your riding.
If you would like some help feel free to contact me, basic plans can be tailored exactly to your needs for just £30!
Biomechanics, Posture and Performance for the Equestrian