How often have we, as riders, heard our coaches tell us to sit up straight, put our shoulders back, and stop leaning forward? It is a constant daily battle for us to maintain good balance and posture in the saddle. If we are unnaturally balanced, this will, without a doubt, transfer to your horse and affect his own movement and muscle development.
Do you often wonder why your horse bends better to one side than the other? Why does he find certain movements or transitions more difficult than others? We repeat the same exercises in an attempt to get him straight and strengthen his weaknesses. It can be frustrating for everyone, including your horse.
A LOOK IN THE MIRROR
Take a moment to look at your own posture in a full length mirror. Do you carry one shoulder higher than the other? Is your head tilted to one side? Are your shoulders round and forward? Because all of these components affect your riding, we must question how they will transfer to your horse.
Being stronger on our dominant side is natural and apparent when in the saddle. Right-handed riders may carry more pressure in that hand and arm than on the left. Perhaps this is keeping your horse bent through his neck or preventing him from accepting the bridle evenly.
Another example that affects the straightness of a horse is if the rider collapses at the waist and leans to one side. The horse will try to balance himself under the weight of the rider. This can lead to muscle weakness, severe pain, joint dysfunction and potential behaviour problems.
As a therapist, I treat those musculoskeletal conditions in horses, trying to undo what the rider has unintentionally created. However, if these conditions continue to occur, I will eventually look to the rider’s own posture and habits of daily living. Many times, the rider will have the same physical issues as the horse I am treating. The horse truly is a mirror of his rider!
Even professional equestrians can struggle with their riding positions. Each horse they ride moves differently from the last. So they must accommodate each horse but maintain their own balance and posture. For riders who have other jobs, their musculature resists the change from sitting compressed at a desk or driving a car to becoming longer in the saddle. An easy rule to remember is for every 50 minutes you sit, get up and move a bit. Breaking that stagnant sitting posture will help break the cycle of tension and be easier for you to adjust to your position in the saddle.
DEVELOP YOUR POSITION
There are numerous things a rider can do out of the saddle to develop a much straighter position. Stretching before you ride will help alleviate some restrictions. Massage therapy lengthens tight muscles while chiropractic care realigns joints. Yoga is not only relaxing, it physically tones, strengthens and aligns the body through a series of poses. Pilates is another option to develop a stronger and more flexible frame. Occasionally, a visit to a personal trainer for strength training to target those specific weak muscles may be necessary.
One final piece to gaining a harmonious balanced horse and rider combination is to look at the tack. It is best to have the saddle checked on a regular basis. If the flocking has shifted or is compressed, it may throw the rider off to one side. The rider then has to overcompensate in her own body and the entire cycle is repeated.
Now that you have assessed your equipment and evaluated your natural posture out of the saddle, focus on your actual riding position. While it is extremely beneficial to have someone correct you from the ground, it is imperative that you see exactly what is going on while you are riding. Mirrors are helpful; a video is invaluable. Watching yourself and your horse in motion allows you to have greater body awareness so you can make those necessary corrections. A video also gives you a starting point so you can track your and your horse’s progression.
Improving your own body posture will take time. Eventually, you will notice that your horse is also straighter, stronger and more balanced. He has become the mirror image of his rider.
Christa Veinotte has been a Registered Massage Therapist since 1999. Specializing in equine rehabilitation, she has completed more than 16,000 treatments and is Canada’s first kinesiotape practitioner. firstname.lastname@example.org