Tag Archives: equestrian pilates

Why should you do Anti Rotation Training

As part of my clients training programmes I often include Anti Rotation or Anti Tip training.

This entails a movement that uses one side of the body which would encourage it to twist but instead you must resist those forces and stay straight ahead.

Why is this helpful for riders?

If your horse is asymmetrical it’s you as the riders job to assist with making him more symmetrical. So for example if your horse twists you to the right it’s your job to ride straight and encourage the horse back underneath you. Can you imagine how much easier this is if your body is already trained to resist an external pull and remain straight ahead anyway.

This also comes in useful when things go awry. If your horse shoots sideways unexpectedly your body is better equipped to maintain it’s balance under external forces.

Exercises I like to include to help with this are:

Plank Shoulder Taps

Landmine Single Arm Presses

Forward, Back or Side Lunges with the same side arm loaded.

Single Arm loaded Squat

Single leg Deadlift

Nail The Basics

As an Equestrian life can be pretty full on; yard jobs, riding, work, family etc all take time and energy. So much so that feeling constantly tired seems to be an accepted norm.

Yet, there are some people who seem to have boundless energy and possibly even thrive on this constant busyness.

From my experience of working with people from lot’s of different walks of life I’ve noticed some familiar patterns in those that seem to cram in an abundance of things into their life whilst still having the energy to sustain it long term.

They nail the basics.

That means they eat well, exercise and make switching off and getting enough sleep a priority.

Eating a diet filled with good quality protein, fruit and vegetables along with good hydration has a huge impact on your energy levels day to day and how your body feels in general. It doesn’t have to be elaborate or complicated but making the effort to have proper nutritious meals throughout the day and drinking more water instead of surviving on caffeine and mars bars will not only improve your energy levels but will also improve your body’s ability to perform and repair-read ride better and injure less!

If I’m not going to have time to sit and eat I use protein shakes and fruit to get me through a day. Otherwise it’s porridge or granola, maybe a salad or soup at lunch then salmon or chicken with vegetables or rice in the evening. I take hydration tablets in my water and I have herbal tea in place of caffeine from lunch time onwards.

I think it’s finally getting main stream that riders should exercise off horse to improve their performance on horse. However there are multiple other benefits to fitting exercise into your life. If your body is stronger it will find your every day tasks easier, meaning those yard jobs won’t seem such an effort. You will to move better so you won’t be feeling quite so stiff and achy all the time which again boosts your energy levels. Exercise can also boost your mental health, so when you’re having a tough horse day having another outlet can really help. I mix up strength training, with cardio and yoga preferring 5-6 30 minute workouts per week rather than 3-4 heavy sessions but it’s trial and error to find what works best for your body.

Rest can be an interesting topic to tackle with people, often what people can perceive as switching off isn’t really having the desired affect. So many people spend hours staring at a tv, whilst scrolling through a phone thinking that’s down time. The blue light from devices can disrupt our sleep patterns, often it means we struggle to go to sleep or if we do sleep we don’t get the deep REM sleep we need to fully recuperate. Aiming to get 5-6 hours of good quality sleep can be much more beneficial than 8-9 hours of restless sleep.

Switching off also doesn’t have to be just sitting down doing nothing. For me, taking the dogs for a walk clears my head, listening to a funny podcast – Buck off Banter …… So you could be combining the exercise and the switch off maybe with a Yoga session. You’ll find what works for you.

I have a wind down routine that involves listening to something light-hearted on my drive home to take my brain out of work mode, then putting my phone away as soon as I get in so I’m not tempted to scroll. (that’s why you get ignored if you’ve messaged me after 9pm!)Then I shower and go to bed, pretty much out like a light! If I skip some of this routine or maybe do something on my phone it’s definitely harder to get to sleep so the system works!

I think this can often sound like a lot to fit in, yet I can assure you the busiest people I know are doing this (myself included) and it’s what enables them to be on the go from 5am to 9pm every day without hitting burnout.

You don’t need to be quite so full on in your own life, but I guarantee if you start to nail the basics of nutrition, rest and exercise whatever the demands of your life they’ll start to feel a bit easier.

What are your feet doing?

Lucinda Green MBE shared a great tip to stop you pushing off your stirrups whilst jumping as this puts you in front of the movement. She suggests jumping without stirrups then retaking them and jumping exactly the same way.

What I found great about this is that very often even during flatwork people are pushing into their stirrups which causes tension in the lower leg, and can encourage the joints to try and lock out; which sends your lower leg forward.

I think many people are doing this because they have misinterpreted the “weight in your heels” instruction. They then try to push their weight down.

As a rider you need to focus on being in your own self carriage. That means you aren’t excessively pushing or pulling in any direction. Any push from your body should be equal front to back, left to right-Symmetry!

So, what should you do with your feet?

You want a connection with your stirrups, that means equal weight in your feet, but that weight doesn’t push down it supports itself. You should be able to feel the stirrup across the whole width of the foot and be supporting your heel and aware of it’s position.

This is why I like to do exercises that improve the connection to the feet.

Bringing awareness to the feet can be done a number of ways depending on where you are in your exercise journey, and how connected you are to your feet already.

An initial awareness can be brought by rolling your foot on a ball, either a smooth ball or a prickly physio ball. Standing on the floor barefoot after this will give you new sensations and connections to your feet.

When doing regular exercises such as squats, tuning in to whether you have equal weight in both feet, whether you have your full foot in contact with the floor can all help to increase your awareness of your feet.

Working on unstable surfaces such as balance pods can give you an extra insight to how equal your weight is. Are you tipping one way more than another? Maybe your toes tip forward or your heels drop down -fine as long as it doesn’t tip your whole weight back.

Transferring this to your riding, now you have more awareness do your feet feel equal in the stirrups? If your horse drifts left or right can you correct it by gently increasing the connection to your opposite foot?

Our feet play a bigger part in our riding than we realise and it’s not about force or big efforts, just by  improving our brain body connection and awareness to them we can make big changes.

Exercise for Meditation

I was listening to a podcast about Yoga this week, and the Yogi in question talked about how Yoga isn’t necessarily about Yoga, it’s about allowing and controlling movement through your body. It’s about connecting with how it feels, focusing your brain and fully immersing in the practice. And then being able to carry that flow state throughout your daily life. Flow State is when you effortlessly focus on what you’re doing, sort of like meditating with movement.

This can be said of other forms of movement too. Any high level athlete of any sport will tell you that in the moment they are fully immersed in their body in tune with it’s movement and how it feels. This then transfers to other areas of life or indeed other sports.

This is why I think different forms of exercise can be beneficial to your riding.

Taking part in exercise that encourages you to become fully immersed in your body whether that is Yoga, Dance, Weight lifting, Boxing or whatever else you fancy will help you to become more aware of your body in general. Being able to do this without the extra distraction of the horse with you allows you to fully immerse and find your flow state.

Once you’ve got a little more mastery of your body, you’ll be able to transfer that awareness and control to your riding and maybe all the stars will align and you’ll find your flow state there too. When you do it's Magic!

What aids are you giving?

As you’re riding your horse you’re communicating with your seat bones. If you’re tuned into them you can give precise aids without looking like you gave any aid at all.

However as often we aren’t necessarily tuned into our seat bones they could be giving aids without us realising. Or if we are using them but aren’t necessarily fully tuned into exactly what they’re doing they could be doing different things right to left.

So, here’s a little exercise for you to try out on a gym ball.

Firstly sitting on the ball, can you feel which direction your seat bones are pointing? Forward, back, different each side? Ideally they should both be pointing straight down as if you could plug yourself in to the ball with them. 

Then imagine there are pencils on the bottom of them, draw a circle with them one at a time. Are your circles the same? 

Now, sitting on the ball imagine a set of buttons in front of you. Slide alternate knees forward to push the button-or start to move your seat bones as if you’re in walk on your horse. Are your left and right seat bones doing the same thing? 

How about in trot?

Then move on to Canter. If you’re on right canter just follow the canter with your right seat bone, how does that feel? What shape does it make?

Now try the left. Is that the same or is it different?

By this point you’ve probably realised you’re more asymmetrical than you thought…….

Think about how that impacts your horse, your riding and your saddle. Of course no horse and rider will ever be 100% symmetrical but being as close as you can get will have a huge impact on your riding aids, as well as your horses symmetry and the wearing of your saddle. 

What did you find when doing this exercise? 

It’s for your horse

I, like many of you watched Badminton last weekend. Anyone else need a stiff drink to cope with all the drama so early on?

What I think is clear, is to get around Badminton you have to be a serious athlete! Having a good horse isn’t enough, even if that horse is at peak fitness you still need to be a stable ninja (new project name there maybe?) to ride that course. Strength, stability, quick reactions and endurance are some of the most obvious qualities required. Having done some social media research/stalking I'd say most if not all of those riders do work off horse to be fit enough to perform at their best.

Then I saw a post from a friend who had been to a yard demonstration at Carl Hester’s. All of the riders; who were pupils of Carl’s did work off horse to perform their Dressage best for their horse. 

These are the people many of us are aspiring to. 

If you’ve ever heard the phrase “ dress for the job you want not the job you have” we could flip that for riding (or any sport) to say “Train for the level you want not the level you have” I will say that’s a little more complicated with the riding bit but I’m not talking about that. 

If the people competing at higher levels are busting their ass in the gym, or doing Pilates, Yoga etc then surely that’s what we should be doing too if we want to improve our riding. 

If you’re not naturally inclined to do any exercise other than horse stuff, just think of it as an extension of that. 

It’s about ensuring you are fit and balanced enough to support and manage your own body weight, that you are as symmetrical as possible to prevent asymmetry in your horse and you’re fit enough to help him out if he needs it. It’s about your horses welfare. This isn’t about how you look etc, it’s about appreciating the fact you are sat on top of your horse and it is your job to make that as easy for him as possible. 

What do you do to make help your horse carry you?

Can you connect the muscles

Something I ponder when writing programme for clients is how this will benefit their riding.

I think that it’s possible to become very fit and it not improve your riding that much. Once you’ve reached a basic level of fitness and stability I think you need more than just more fitness. 

It’s not just as simple as building the muscles. You’ve got to know how to connect to them and how you want them to work when you’re riding.

If you’re exercising mindfully and really focusing on the muscles as you work them you’re a step ahead; but I also think it’s important to understand what role those muscles play in your riding position.

I often explain to my clients why we’re working the obliques or the rotator cuff for example- and if I don’t they can definitely ask and I will have an answer!

So, if you don’t already really connect with all of your muscles as you’re working them, check in on how different parts of your body operates singularly and together. Then ask yourself- or your trainer if you have one how the work you do translates to your riding and I’m sure you’ll start to see those little annoying riding habits tidy themselves up!

Why Neutral?

When we talk about rider biomechanics we talk about being in neutral. You will move in and out of it slightly as you move with the horse but it should always be your set point.

But why?

Is it because it looks nice? Is it tradition as so many things are with riding?

Actually, there are proper legitimate reasons for riding in neutral. When I refer to Neutral I don’t just mean the Pelvis. 

Neutral refers to all of the joints of the spine stacked directly on top of one another in perfect alignment, with relaxed, moveable joints in the limbs.

This enables them to absorb movement more effectively which means you will sit much stiller with more stability. This enables you to move with your horse and give clearer aids. 

It also means you are completely in line with the pull of gravity. Creating just one line of pull for gravity to act on as opposed to being out of alignment means there is less chance of gravity getting the better of you!

Neatly stacked joints also avoids putting extra strain on the supporting ligaments, tendons and stabiliser muscles as they do not have to fight to keep joints safe if they are already aligned. This therefore helps to prevent injury through strain or pulling of those ligaments, tendons and muscles. 

So, how do you apply this to your riding?

Here are a couple of tips to get you thinking neutral.

Imagine stacking yourself up in boxes. Your pelvis is one box, your rib cage another and then your head the top. Your aim is to stack all of the boxes directly on top of one another.

Starting with your Pelvis. Have your Seat bones pointing directly down as if you could plug yourself in to the saddle. With your Pelvis level then imagine there are 4 corners to your pelvis and rib cage with dowels on like flat pack furniture and slot them together so your rib cage is directly over your pelvis. Then sit your head directly over your spine with your ears in line with your shoulders.

As mentioned, Neutral is not a rigid position, you will move gently in and out of it as you move with your horse but you continue to pass through it each time as your central point. 

If this is new to you just give the stacking up process a try and see how it feels! 

Think of it as part of your anti fall, injury prevention and effectiveness tool kit!

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….. https://www.equestrianfitness.co.uk/online-classes/

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. https://www.facebook.com/110251518143961/posts/149872854181827/?d=n