There is a lot of discussion around seat and leg position in riding horses – the role of each, what one is trying to achieve etc. To strip away all of the detail what we are trying to do is sit on our horses back as lightly and relaxed as possible, to go with their movement whilst remaining in balance and not pulling them of one way or the other. If I were to sit on your shoulders and lean one way or another I would pull you around and possibly make you loose balance. This is what we are doing on a horse.
The aim therefore is to sit as lightly as possible using our legs, and stirrups to help us to stay on top of the horse, while using our core as our main stabiliser. Our own balance and stability keeps us there – we should not be gripping with our thighs and knees and hanging on to the reigns.
When we hang on to the reigns we are literally jabbing the horse in the mouth with the bit, which is at worst “cruel” and at best “not very comfortable”. This causes the horse to lift his head in the air sink his back and prevents him using his core and driving from the back end. I would hasten to go so far and pointing out that this can be a major contributor to soreness in horses backs.
Our trunk should be able to support itself. If we hold a weighted bar vertically it does not take much effort to keep it there – if we lean it even every so slightly we will have to grip onto it harder to hold it from falling down. This is the same as us leaning our body forwards from our hip joint (leg to pelvis) we will feel a substantial increase in core load as we do this – providing we remain straight and do not fold in the middle – as in the jump position in riding and to a certain extent going around a corner.
The second pointer is not to be gripping with our knees and thighs to hold on. If we look at various teachings we need to be at one with the horse, without being heavy. We need to be sitting around him and going with him without inhibiting his movement and “blocking” him. If we push into the stirrups we will lift our bum off the saddle and have a tense leg. Tension in our legs is hard and not comfortable for the horse, and one of the signals to slow a horse down is to “hold” or “block” them. To slow out movement and they will follow. With time the horse will become responsive to simply the movement of the pelvis as a sign to speed up and slow down.
We cannot be light on our seat if we are not balanced and clinging on. A good visualisation is that of our legs being like a clothes peg down each side of the horse and our body straight up. The area of strength is at the top of the arch, where the string goes through – our bum. So we stabilise from our bum. As the horse turns or we wobble we should be using out bum – our gluteus muscles to hold our torso above out centre, rather than centrifuging off to the outside of the bend. I think a good thought is to be pushing from the feet into the head – so lengthening the body and becoming lighter all the way through – not pushing up from the feet and lifting the seat off the saddle, but sitting taller and lighter. As if standing.
The key is in strengthening this core control so that we can hold our balance and be independently balanced on our horse. Only then can we use our hands and arms and our legs freely to guide and aid the horse with symmetrical actions.
“I want to thank you for the significant contribution you have made to my and my family’s life over the last year. I am looking forward to keeping up this level of flexibility, strength and ph
ysical confidence. I am absolutely sure that if it had not been for your input, I would not be in the significantly improved physical state I am in now. In case you need reminding, you are incredibly good at your job and I am so grateful and happy that our paths crossed, albeit for a second time!
This is an excerpt from a lovely client of mine – Emily Davidson.
Emily is an avid sailor and came to me a year or so ago after having had intensive physio for a back issue. She had had a herniated disc in her late teens and has had a partial discectomy, way back then. A year ago this was bothering her again, and led her to further scans and pain management etc, and a fear that she would not be able to achieve the family goal of sailing off into the sunset on their yacht was causing concern. Anyway the decision was not to operate, but to learn to manage this – her journey started with some physio and then we looked at her posture and the way she moved in life and around the yacht, which led to a year of hard work. The journey was probably helped by the knowledge that I have of sailing and the conditions that she is likely to encounter out there, a huge part of many peoples journey is regaining the “belief that they can do it”.
So here we are she has reached her goal and has now set sail for an amazing adventure with her husband Tom and two kids aged 7 and 5.
Emma has just finished assessing motion – she has added to her Biomechanics Coaching screening with “Gait Analysis” testing . Now we can be more thorough in testing the body both statically and in movement, and so get a bigger picture of the route causes of problems.
Testing is about looking at issues from all angles – ruling out possible causes to coming up with a plan of attack for either resolving discomfort or releasing the individual potential for top level performance. It is about searching for perfection – finding the most perfect way a person can move or function within the limitations of their body, their lifestyle, their creation and their ambition.
Intrinsic Biomechanics Screening looks at the function of the joints and the ability of the body to produce life and sport actions from a static perspective – what the ability is.
Gait Analysis specialises in the lower body and looks at the flow of the body in movement. If there is a lock up in any part of the chain then motion will not be as fluid as it could be.
The obvious place to look is at the feet – and all too often we use cushioning to alter this. That is fine as a short term solution when there is an injury but it is not a long term fix.
The question is – why does the foot not land straight? – not that – it is not landing straight so lets chock it up. We can see it is not straight.
But is it coming from the bottom of the leg or is it coming from the top of the leg? If the hip is not sitting in neutral are the strings (muscles) down the leg not out of kilter and in the wrong tension so therefore will pull the knee and foot out of alignment?
We still see person after person with issues. That are left until there is a major problem such as a knee injury or lower back pain. Not enough emphasis is put on correct posture and straightness in our children at school. This is where wear and tear begins.
I was asked this question when I bought a new horse in July and was planning on hunting it 3 months after settling him into his new home.
“How are you going to get him fit?” ….. How would I get a human fit I thought. I would write a training diary and regime and use the heart rate as a gauge as to how fit the animal was.
On looking into this I realised horses and humans are animals and whilst having the obvious differences they are essential muscle, fat, bones, organs and water. They need the same dietary requirements of protein, fats and carbohydrates for the same things. Food sources are different obviously. But we can learn a lot about ourselves form our furry neighbours – we find similar things too much as well – sugar, starch and fats … should be in limited supply. Protein – the big question is always how much because we have to get rid of what we don’t need which is where it taxes the system.
So on the exercise – how do I know how puffed he is – the perceived rate of exertion with humans is about talking to the client and seeing how fatigued they are. I can look at his demeanour or see how much puffing he is doing, but to really know I need a Heart Rate monitor, then I can see when he is getting anxious, when he is tired, what he looks like when he is concerned – I can learn my horse much quicker. So I spoke to a contact at “Polar”, we use their equipment in the gym. They have two different types of monitor, a belt like us – but this is actually quite hard to use with a girth and saddle or even a lunge roller. So they have devised a system with just sensors which you poke under the girth. I have yet to try that, but have definitely learnt the merits from using this equipment so far and can now make my training more meaningful and more specific.
For more info google “Equine Heart Rate monitors”, for use and how to etc.
“Strengthening from the core … a study has shown that an unmounted rider core fitness program can improve rider symmetry and equine welfare.”
Finally a proper study shows the importance of posture and rider core fitness work on the ground is important to improve riding posture and the posture and wellbeing of the horse. Something I have bee saying for months. How sitting up straight is going to help your horses performance and ability to carry himself proper. Read more in the “Horse and Hounds” magazine, page 8, 29th Oct 2015.
“In every exercise if you don’t start from a good postural position you won’t achieve optimum strength, you may use the wrong muscles and eventually something in your body will give” …
The Sunday Times on 1st Nov 2015 endorses the necessity to have correct posture before getting in to an exercise regime and in order to correct injury and rehab in a better more productive way.
It is everywhere – the recent Horse and Hound has an article saying the same thing reinforcing many of my comments on the Biospheric Performance Equestrian page about our posture and how it effects our horses back and posture too.
In brief if you can’t read this article it says there is little point in training without looking at posture and doing a proper postural assessment because you firstly won’t achieve the results you desire and second eventually you will hurt yourself.
Donna came to work with me about 2 years ago initially, but then life got a bit on top of her and she had a break for about 6 months. She came back to me in Jan 2015. Hear her incredible story in just 10 months how she has changed her life….