What is Neutral Spine?
Why do we need it?
How do I get it?
Neutral spine is when the spines natural curves flow gently into one another without postural extremes of being very rounded or arched in appearance.
If you were to draw a line from the top of the spine to the base of the spine that line would be vertical with only the slight curves away in between.
Neutral spine allows the whole skeleton to be a really effective shock absorber with all of the movement of the horse being transferred straight through the centre of your joints. It also means you are completely in line with the pull of gravity.
If you move away from neutral you do not absorb the movement as well and the strain can be passed to the soft tissue structures surrounding the joints-tendons, ligaments etc. And this is likely over time to cause some aches and pains.
Being outside of neutral also means you are less balanced as gravity has more of a pull on you and of course this means you are more likely to fall off. Obviously gravity is always pulling on us but when it is not being opposed by good alignment and muscle tone it has more chance of pulling you down!
Imagine your body as a stack of boxes.
Rib cage box
Each box can twist, tilt sideways, tilt up or down and shift sideways independently.
Your whole stacking pattern has an effect on your horse, not just your bottom and it can give your horse messages that he interprets differently to what you are intending.
Any box shifted to the left or right can be giving a weight aid -which you are then having to try and counteract with a rein aid. Any box stuck in a twist can put the horse on a particular bend and make the rein contact uneven.
Of course once in neutral alignment you may move out of it to give aids more effectively but you will then move back to neutral to make it clear to your horse that it was a single aid.
To help you maintain neutral whilst riding you can use your core stabiliser muscles-these work to keep the joint neutral not to hold it on when it’s not in neutral-that’s when the aches and pains happen.
So let’s start with the pelvic box.
Imagine the pelvis is a bowl of water. Tip the water out the front onto the pommel your back will hollow as you do this, you will feel your hip bones come forward and your pubic bone go back underneath you. Now reverse this and tip water out of the back onto the cantle you back will round your hip bones come back and your pubic bone will come forward. Now move between the two until you feel that the hip bones and pubic bone are on a vertical plane-this is neutral.
Step 2 check on the pelvic -can you feel your seat bones? Can you feel them equally? Re do the water tip if needs be to find them.
The rib cage box.
Imagine your chest is a pair of head lights-like the ones you have on your car.
Move the lights into full beam which will arch your upper back, now dip them to round your upper back and move between the points to find neutral. I also find it helpful to align my sternum with my pubic bone at this point to help.
Now close your elbows to your side. Can you feel exactly the same part of your waist,hips, rib cage on both sides or do they feel different? If you can feel yourself crooked whilst riding bringing the elbows into your sides and have them in EXACTLY the same place on each side and this should help.
Finally the head box.
I’m sure you’ve all heard this one or variants of it from riding instructors over the years and that’s because it works! Imagine your head is balloon gently floating up away from your body.
Put your fingers at the top of your neck/ base of your skull you should feel a little bony indent either side. This is the equivalent of your horses poll. Now flex your poll and then release it. When it is neutral it should feel like you can rest your fingers in the indent under the bone, when flexed the indent will flatten when extended it will close the gap.
Now recheck whether you think all the boxers are aligned.
This can be a nice exercise to run through when you first get on as you are just walking your horse around as it helps to set you up in good alignment for your ride.
Ok, so if anyone would like a little more detail on this kind of work for themselves I run a saddle horse alignment alongside a biomechanics assessment at my studio so drop me an email if you are interested in that.