So last week we looked at releasing the shoulder blades to enable them to absorb your horses movement through the reins.
To establish a soft but stable rein contact we must also have a stable shoulder joint.
This can be difficult when as mentioned last week we spend so much time in poor posture. This can result in lengthened and weak back muscles and very tight and therefore dysfunctional upper shoulder muscles. This is why the first part of this section was to release the shoulders as they will be unable to correctly strengthen if they are tense.
So why is our rein carriage important when we ride?
Essentially if you are unstable you will inadvertently pull on the reins, which will make your horse resist you by pulling back which leads to you essentially holding each other up. If one of you let go the other would fall. For example if your horse drops his head you will fall forward. So, in order for our horse to be in self carriage we also have to be in our own self carriage.
Part of this does come from the core and much has been spoken about this however as the arms are attached into the shoulders think of the shoulders as an extension of your core. In order for your arms to be relaxed and giving they need their stable core to support them i.e the shoulders.
I see a lot of riders with large upper trapezius muscles (top of the shoulders and neck) and biceps yet with very little muscle throughout the rest of their back. This tells me that they are relying on their arms for their rein contact and their shoulders are tense due to the force.
So, how do we correct this?
One way I find really useful whilst riding is to imagine that your elbows are stuck to your sides directly under your shoulders (so there would be a straight line from the tip of your shoulder down to your elbow) This actually has two positive effects.
Firstly it keeps you in alignment and promotes neutral spine. Secondly the action of holding your elbows there will activate your back and shoulder muscles –which is exactly what we are after!
Unfortunately this can be quite difficult to maintain for a full hours ride so to help you improve quicker I have some exercises you can do out of the saddle.