Tag Archives: equestrian fitness merseyside

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!

Control your Wandering Nerve

There’s a nerve in your body that is linked to almost every part of you-the vagus nerve! It’s the longest Cranial Nerve starting from the base of your brain travelling through the throat, ears, face right through your all of your organs -think heart, lungs, stomach etc. 

This means it has a huge impact on so many functions of your body. 

One of the most important things I think for Equestrians is Gut Instinct. As mentioned above, the nervous system really is connected to your gut. It’s why you can feel sick with nerves.

With Horses as we can’t directly speak to them our Gut Instinct can tell us so much about what is the right answer for our horse. We just have to learn to listen. Check out Dr Susan Fay if you want to learn more about that.

In relation to your own performance as the Vagus nerve affects so much of your body it can have a huge impact.

As the Vagus Nerve is part of your Stress Response learning to manage it can be crucial in your life with horses. Horses aren’t stressful are they??

This time of year can be stressful too. You may have so many other things on you try and rush through your horse stuff too. Then they don’t go to plan because your horse picks up on this and it escalates.

This is when the Vagus Nerve is on high alert and we’re in flight mode. Our horse senses this and more than likely decides he should be in flight mode too. You’re stressed, he’s stressed…….

Sound familiar?

Just breathe.

Sounds simple but being able to focus on your breath, to tune out the busyness of your brain and be fully present with your horse can change your interactions as well as your training sessions. So often we can be creating tension in ourselves and our horse just because we aren’t breathing. Make this your first step. 

As the Vagus Nerve is connected to your ears, listening to soothing music or something like ASMR can lower your stress levels transferring that soothing effect through your ears to your whole body. This is why I like to listen to music when I’m with my horses, if I’m relaxed my ponies are more likely to be relaxed.

Movement can lower your stress levels. That’s why often we find a focused schooling session can make you feel on top of the world, but if your brain isn’t there other forms of movement can help you. A walk somewhere quiet, yoga or whatever helps you zone out can help you calm your Vagus Nerve and take you out of fight or flight mode. 

The more we can be aware of how our bodies are responding to their environments and how this effects our performance and our horse the more we can focus on improving that and  improving the partnership with our horse.

I have a feeling this is going to be something I’ll be focusing on in 2022.

Challenge Your Coordination

One of the key things in riding is coordination and quick reactions. 

The whole inside leg, outside rein, steer, change gait all whilst being on top of an animal with a mind of it’s own and your body’s reaction to all of that; it’s a lot huh!

Your reaction time isn’t just relevant for the oh sh!t moment’s, it’s the whole ride with your body adjusting and adapting to the horse underneath you. A quick reacting rider can prevent a horse falling in or out, they can react to an unbalanced horse and help him out or deal with any change in tempo.

One thing that is super interesting about children that do lots of different sporting activities whilst they are young, is that as adults they find it easier to pick up new sporting activities even if they’ve never done them before. So those kids that did football, hockey, tennis, skied etc. then go to the gym as adults and take up something technical like Olympic lifting and they are more likely to pick it up quicker than someone who only did one sport.

This is because the nervous system is primed to respond to lot’s of different patterns, not just one pattern of movement.

Which tells us that in order to improve our coordination on horse we do not necessarily need to make it riding specific. 

So, just have fun with it!

If you want to start adapting to movement underneath you, sitting on a gym ball is a good place to start. You can just sit with feet on the floor then once you’ve got that you can try lifting your feet. 

If you want to try improving your coordination, you can start simply with throwing and catching a ball-you could do that on the gym ball if you fancy a bit more of a challenge.

You could try a funky shaped reaction ball, that when you bounce it fires off in a random direction.

You could also do exactly what the kids do. Try a different sport! Kick a Football, try a dance class whatever you like. 

In order to be a better Equestrian Athlete you need to be a better all round Athlete.

PS. Keep an eye out for an exciting upcoming partnership with Stephanie Dootson Veterinary Physiotherapy starting out with an Advent Challenge designed to improve both you and your horses performance across 24 days with help and support along the way.

Glutes for a good seat

We’ve been talking booty’s a fair bit this week! 

Not for aesthetic reasons; although a solid peach is no bad thing! The Glutes are the biggest muscle in the body and are a huge player in stabilising the pelvis and the spine. That means they are a huge player in managing pain and injury in these areas and also an absolute necessity for a stable position whilst riding. 

If your glutes are able to work effectively, absorbing the movement of the horse underneath you they take the load off your joints, in particular your spine. This is hugely beneficial for back pain. 

Also, if your glutes are conditioned enough to work well without becoming over stressed or tense this gives you a much better chance of having a stable but relaxed seat.

Basically building a booty is an absolute key element for riders.

So, rather than sell you on it’s benefits just trust me and let’s get to it!

Here’s a little circuit I’d love you to add into your routine 2 - 3 times per week and you can start ti feel the benefits building a booty can bring!

Bridge-Harder option put your feet on a bench or gym ball


Hyper Extension -Harder option do on a gym ball

Training for Pressure

I spent Wednesday listening to a talk by Charlie Unwin and Jason Webb. Charlie said some interesting things about athletes during a game, about to start a race etc still being in a stressed state but being able to think clearly and perform well. 

This makes sense as anyone about to go into a competition will have a level of adrenalin and that is not necessarily a bad thing, but you need to be able to perform with that high state of arousal and not let it overwhelm you.

This gave me some ideas for training this in the Equestrian without having to continuously go out competing. 

As I predominantly work with riders off horse I thought of some fun ways this skill could be incorporated into a gym session.

Here’s some ideas I’m thinking of testing out with my clients.

Reciting Dressage tests whilst doing something else.

On the Rower-Row to a point at which you start to breathe fairly heavy but can still talk, continue rowing whilst reciting a Dressage test. If you can keep an eye on your stroke rate try and keep it the same!

You could use any cardio I’m just basing this around what I’ve got in my gym.

Performing stability and co-ordination exercises whilst reciting a Dressage test. So, maybe standing on balance pods or kneeling on a gym ball, throwing and catching a ball. 

It doesn’t have to be a Dressage test it could be a jumping course you talk through or a X Country round you memorise and talk yourself through the flow of the course, the striding etc whilst doing something else taxing.

Obviously these activities won’t necessarily create the same adrenaline but going full Squid Game seems a bit harsh! 

Have you got any other fun ideas for incorporating this into gym work?

Are you going to have a go at one of these?

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.