Why worry about the rider?

lexy1Biomechanics is the study of the functioning of the body in movement using mechanical principles. It is highly relevant to riding because in riding the human’s body and the horse’s body, each with their own normal way of functioning, come together to influence each other.

In order to bring about the right biomechanical dynamic of the two systems working together, we need not only to understand the biomechanics of the horse, but that of the rider as well, for it is the rider who can change the dynamics from something unbalanced to a harmonious partnership.

Many riding instructors and trainers choose to ignore the role of the rider’s gymnastic use of their body, preferring to focus entirely on the horse. The problem is that correct horse biomechanics can only be brought about by correct rider biomechanics and for the rider to achieve this requires her to work on her own body equally as much as she works on her horse’s training.

Basically for us to sit correctly we need to sort out our foundation (feet & seat) first. If our feet are not correct then the rest of our body can not find the correct biomechanical position and if we can’t find ours the horse can’t find his. Now, I can hear you say – but I thought the foundation was the seat, and yes it is – but we cannot correct our pelvis when we are on the horse unless our feet are correct and we can’t correct our feet unless we have enough movement in our hip joints. So basically we sort our hips out with exercises on the mat and our feet out whilst mounted.

five_ballsThe horse’s natural way of moving and balancing (which is on the forehand) is not conducive to carrying a rider in balance. And if the rider doesn’t sit correctly she compounds the problem. The rider must therefore train their own body to be able to meet these unbalanced forces generated by the horse’s movement and channel them into something different.

Just as horses don’t naturally possess the postural strength, straightness and suppleness in their joints to be able to carry a rider in consistent engagement, the human body is not naturally set up to perform the skills required by good rider biomechanics, the skills that bring about the unique transformation to the horse that allows it to engage its haunches and have self carriage.

pull_thighsIf you have spent any time reading books or watching DVDs about dressage or good riding, you will probably have noticed that although the ideal way of how the horse should go is usually fairly consistent when it comes to how the rider should achieve this there are a great number of different and conflicting opinions. So why is there so much conflicting advice about the rider’s position? In part this is down to trainers using different analogies or words to mean the same thing but a great deal of this is down to confusing the finished article with the means of getting there. So many trainers are brilliant riders and they just cannot understand that for most of us becoming a good rider is a process that takes time and effort.

When we look at a footballer, gymnast or a ballet dancer perform we just see what looks like an effortless performance, we don’t see the endless hours of hard work and sweat it has taken to build up the muscle strength, suppleness and muscle memory. So it is with rider biomechanics, if we want to sit correctly and be able to ride our horse to the maximum of its potential, we have to put in hours of effort and training into our own body.  So if you aren’t already, start attending Rider Exercise classes, join a Pilates or Yoga group or start working out on a Swiss Ball.

ll_standHowever this is a fun exercise that will help improve your riding that can be done on your horse. Although the exercise is very simple, it can be seriously hard to do. It is therefore a good idea to have a helper to hold or lead your horse initially to ensure your safety.

Basically we need to stand up in our stirrups, ensure that our fleshy part of our inner thigh is pulled outwards and backwards and stand up as tall and erect as we can. That means you will need to bring your pubic bone over the pommel of the saddle and take your torso upright. There are 2 other things you have to ensure:

  1. that your stirrups are of the correct length and
  2. that you keep your knees bent.

Once you can do this exercise at a halt, progress to walk and finally a trot. The most important thing however is not to get disheartened if you fall back into the saddle (make sure your reins are long enough to not jab your horse in his mouth). It’s feedback, feed back that your lower leg is too far forward, feedback that your lower leg is too far back, feedback that your heels have crept up or feedback that one or both your toes have turned out. Once you have mastered the basics introduce your arms – take one arm up straight to the sky so it is by your ear, palm facing forward. Hold it out in front of you – your middle finger should point to your horse’s ear on that side or take it to the side, palm down – your middle finger should be in line with your ankle knobble!