Sunday, June 28, 2015

Rider Imbalance and Weaknesses

I really must remember to write my blog post ideas down - I think of so many throughout my day working with the horses and teaching, then when I sit down to write my mind draws a blank. But now I'm forced to start remembering as I'm on a day off, stuck in my boyfriend's house waiting for him to get back from teaching a circuit class which I'm far too hungover to participate in. So this is my attempt to do something more productive than watching Sunday Brunch.

My teaching has increased quite a lot recently and I'm noticing that a lot of people have the same weaknesses in their body that creates unevenness in the horse. The most common problem (and one I too am guilty of and am forever working on fixing) is collapsing the right side of the upper body and having a weaker or ineffective left leg. Of course not everyone has this problem, and everyone has their own history of injuries and body weaknesses, but this one in particular I feel will speak to a lot of people.

I can only assume that our horse's natural weaknesses (stiff to the left, curling on the right) leave us riding like this, and so a cycle is created where they push us into this unbalanced position so they can avoid using themselves properly. It is up to us, the riders, to strengthen ourselves to resist the horse's imbalance and train them to work correctly and evenly. The more aligned and symmetrical we are in terms of strength in our bodies, the more we will be able to recognise the weaknesses of our horse.

So how do you know if you're weak in a particular area if all you've ever known and felt is what your body is like now? Try these really simple exercises:

- Side Stretch: Simple reach one arm overhead and stretch to the opposite side to stretch out the side of your torso, where your oblique muscles are. Stretch to both sides and feel if one side feels tighter than the other. Because I can collapse my right side, I know that side will always be tighter because the muscles are used to being held shorter.

- Side Plank: Lie on your side with knees straight. Prop yourself up on your elbow and forearm and lift your hips up to form a straight line from ankles to shoulders. You can hold it for however long you want (or can!) but after about 30 seconds you should be able to feel a slight burn, one side perhaps more than the other. The side you sooner feel more burn will be your weak side, which means you need to do some work to strengthen your obliques and perhaps your lats and lowers trap muscles on that side.

- Single leg squats: Simply squat down on one leg while holding the other one off the floor, knee bent. Do a few on each leg and feel which one struggles more.

By trying these exercises you will bring awareness to areas of your body that might be failing you when you ride. Even simply being aware of your weaknesses will help you understand why your horse is uneven or falls/drops to one side. If you're determined enough to fix it, you can do some research on strengthening exercises (but make sure your technique is correct or else you will be doing more harm than good!), start going to pilates classes or do a few personal training sessions (if finances allow) and explain to him/her what you feel your weaknesses are and they will help you fix them. Or of course book a lesson with me and I will go through with you what to focus on and think about when you ride to help even you up!

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