Hello, It's great to see how many people are practicing some off-horse fitness activity during the week to help their riding. You've posted some encouraging comments. If you recognize yourself in some of the photo examples- that's great! Don't be shy about sending in your photos or posting some video footage of your ride. I won't be analysing your riding overall...just providing feedback on things you can do in your off-horse time to give you the more balanced self-carriage and the stamina you want in the saddle.
If you're thinking about show season, then now is the time to think about your cardio-vascular conditioning, flexibility and strength training. You can't improve those areas overnight, but you can make great strides in small steps on a daily or weekly basis.
So, I would really encourage you to send in those photos and descriptions of the riding issues you would like to have some help with. This online clinic is completely free. Here's what you do:
1. Send a photo of you riding- send a few if you can, add a video clip if you can (but it's not absolutely necessary). If you are a hunter/jumper, try and include a facing photo of you landing after a jump.
2. Describe the ways in which you do not feel balanced riding, areas you feel strain, or other issues you can identify such as tight areas, low back pain, not getting the horse to bend the same on both sides, or having your horse 'fall in' on one side more than others, or always pick a certain lead after a jump.
If you don't have any photos, but you do have some things you'd like some help with, send in your description anyway. Chances are there are other people out there with a similar experience who might also have a photo...and we can go from there addressing a common issue.
Please remember that observation from photos is not the same as live clinic observation, and that exercise recommendations should be modified or discontinued if they are causing discomfort.
I just got back this week from doing a live clinic in Newfoundland. Back here where I'm based near Ottawa, it was almost 10 degrees Celcius all weekend. Where I was for the clinic, it was minus 20. In spite of the chill, we had a really great turnout of riders from different disciplines from Western to hunter jumper to dressage. Because the last two Ride Better blogs were focused on two English riders, I thought it would be fun to include a Western rider here today.
This week's rider, also named Heather (no, it's really not me) rides mainly for pleasure. She is in her 30's and rides a few times a week. Her key concerns were a) getting more balance in the saddle so that she could feel more secure, especially at greater speed, b) seeing what she could do about leg tightness which may be affecting her riding, c) get a deeper seat and d) 'not interfere with the horse' as she put it and be able to sit canter properly. She was observed in clinic at all gaits, and with changes of rein and transitions, and some stretching tests were performed revealing a lot of tightness in her shoulders.
Heather's posture is exactly opposite in ways to that of the two previous blog participants. Whereas our two first riders showed a tendency to a forward pelvic tilt (anterior), Heather's back is rounded out behind her in a slouch, and her pelvis is in a posterior angled tilt. The posture of her back mechanically caves her chest and abdominals in a bit, and shoves her knees forward. She has to bring her lower leg back a bit if she doesn't want an exaggerated chair seat. Because of her longer stirrups, this results in a toes down/heels up tendency. If she were an English rider with shorter stirrups, her heels might still be down, but ahead of her pelvis.
When a rider's back is slouched, the seat is scooped with the pubic bone pushed forward. It is very difficult in this position for a rider to have a deep seat, or effectively absorb the motion of the horse in the hips. The combined effect being that it is really difficult to sit anything faster than a pleasure jog. As Heather's trot became more animated, she was less in control of her balance. Rather than balance on a neutral seat on top of her seatbones, she had a tendency to grip the horse with her lower legs, heels riding up even higher. In canter she bounced right up out of the saddle with each stride due to her pelvis not following the motion of the horse.
1. Hip Rock & Roll: To get Heather sitting more upright, and develop more movement in her hips, I recommended sitting on an exercises ball, and rolling it with her seatbones forward and back, and side to side several times a week. Rolling it around in circles would also be good.
2. Squats with Overhead Press: To develop a straighter body posture, more vertical balance and shoulder strength to offset the tight chest muscles, Heather's program includes performing wide leg squats holding 5lb weights. Squats also strengthen the glutes, which are frequently very weak on a rider with a tucked-under seat. On the down motion, the weights are held at the shoulders. On the up motion, the weights are pressed upwards with arms going straight overhead past her ears. It's a good idea to do this exercise with a mirror handy to help you maintain straight side alignment.
3. Back Bend over Ball: This exercise opens up the chest while simultaneously assisting the back and stomach muscles to flex and stretch in the opposite direction from their natural tendency. Simply drape your body backwards over an exercise ball so your head hangs down the other side, and hold your arms alternately out to the side to stretch your chest, or behind your head to open up the shoulders.
I hope this week has been helpful, and really look forward to your comments and pictures for next weeks' clinic.
Heather Sansom, Equifitt.com Equestrian Fitness Training