How much do you think a horse’s back moves?
If you have never done it before, grab hold of a small-ish horse (one you can walk next to with your hands placed on his/her back on each side of the spine). Get someone to lead the horse whilst you walk next to it with your hands placed on muscles exactly where the rider would sit (not far behind the wither). How much movement is there? Is it a forward movement? Is it a side – to – side movement? Up – and – down?
If you had a go please let me know 🙂
Next put your hand nearest to the horse flat on his/her spine as you both walk. How much are the vertebraes moving? would you say the movements could be described in mm or cm/inch?
Now it’s time to move towards the hips of the horse (only do this with a suitable horse that is used to being touched all over). Put your hand just on top of your horse’s point of hip (above the protruding part of the hip bone) – is horse’s pelvis moving more or less than his/her back?
You might conclude, that there is very little motion in actual back of the horse and much more in his/her pelvis. Your job as a rider is to replicate this in your own body.
The more athletic the horse is the more stable he is able to make his spine (through the use of deep abdominal muscles) and more controlled movements he is able to execute (through superior balance). As a rider, you work on eliminating the wobble through your upper body, on stabilising your own spine whilst allowing for great elasticity through your hip joints.
How can you start learning the feel for stability?
You can ask your friend or instructor to hold the back of your t-shirt gently down and to the back of the saddle as they walk next to you. This slight restriction creates more awareness of the upper body movement and makes it possible to become aware of any suppleness issues in your hips, lower back, knees or ankles.
When riders move their upper bodies extensively they often do this to compensate for stiffness somewhere else. At times, you might feel that by being “loose” in your upper body you encourage your horses to be relaxed but in fact, this will cause the tension of the horse’s muscles around his spine as he tries to stabilise himself and you.
When you stabilise your own spine without tension you will make yourself “one” with the horse’s spine. It’s not an easy task to achieve especially if you generally have low muscle tone . However, it’s very important for your riding progress and something I work a lot on with riders.
The first step is to build your own feel and awareness of how much you move in the saddle and how much does the horse actually move…
Being held by your T-shirt might bring a realisation that to maintain a reasonably stable upper body you need to engage many more muscles than you previously thought…More about this soon 🙂
Feeling for the shape of the horse’s back
If you have your own horse and you have an equine physio coming to the yard, ask them to give your horse a belly lift to your horse with you in the saddle.
If you ride in a riding school and your instructor knows how to do it, go ahead and ask them to show you. Below you can see me doing it and the rider’s broad smile as she experiences for the first time a feel of a horse whose back is coming up towards her and fills up the saddle rather than the feel of a horse that sucks his back down.
The angle of the photo doesn’t show you how much this horse can actually round his back when contracting own deep abdominal muscles but the difference between his habitual way of going and one that is much healthier for him is substantial.
I strongly believe we learn quicker through awareness and in my training I combine visual awareness (video analysis) with kinaesthetic awareness (creating exercises that stimulate rider’s senses to figure out where their bodies are in space) . I’m one of many trainers who use these methods so if you think you might like it do search around!
What training methods have you experienced? Anything that stayed with you and really helped you accelerate your progress?