Have you ever been told or thought to yourself that you ought to work on your core stability? If so, how do you know when you are strong enough? How do you know if you are too strong..? Is it that you look at your horse’s way of going to determine your success in this area? If so, which aspects of that performance do you focus on?
I am sure each one of you will have some answers to the above questions, please share in the comments! I shall share with you my take on it and how I evaluate the riders who come for training with me 🙂
Just to be on the safe side, let’s look at the definition of core stability:
CORE STABILITY, noun; the capacity of the muscles of the torso to assist in the maintenance of good posture, balance, etc., especially during movement. “skating requires great core stability—strong abs, back, and hips for all of the one-legged moves”
How does it work for riders?
The way I see it, rider’s core needs to be strong enough to maintain neutral pelvis position during motion…The reason for it is similar to the one why we need our joints in middle positions…Neutral pelvis allows for most efficient movement absorption through hip joints and lower back. As such, it gives rider a skill of a dancer – the ability to feel, follow or lead as and when required.
It seems pretty straightforward but you will I am sure notice how great influence horse’s movement generally has on rider’s body. Every contraction and release in horse’s back will cause reaction in the rider’s back, pelvis and legs. Think about sitting on a horse that rests one of his hind legs at halt. Think back to how this tilts your pelvis, angles your shoulders, changes the “length” of your legs…The same happens to any rider in motion as each hind leg moves off the ground. The difference is that it happens quickly and to lesser degree and so often passes unnoticed or simply feels like one big mess 😉
Don’t let him move your torso
The answer to how strong is strong enough lies therefore in question: how much strength do I need and where so I don’t allow the motion of the horse dictate what happens to my upper body…If your horse’s walk, trot or canter causes you to lean forward, hollow or round through your back, grip with your thighs or knees, lose basic side – to – side symmetry then you are very right to investigate which parts of the core you need to address…
Some riders indeed need to strengthen their abdominal muscles but this is not as common as it might seem…many have theirs abs in good enough shape to ride at the level they wish to ride but might have, let’s say, dominant pectoral muscles which happily slouch their shoulders effectively putting the rider “on the forehand”. There are riders that are strongly one-sided and it’s the crookedness that stops them from remaining unmovable through the torso. Some have very low muscle tone in general.
Investigate…my suggestion is to try to find own individual needs, weaknesses and strengths. Generic advice might not cut it here. That’s when waking up your awareness comes in…
Can you lift your eyelid using your calf muscle…?
You might be going to the gym four times a week and build yourself fantastic six pack and flat belly to have breakfast in bed on but if these are not the muscles that you actually need to strengthen no amount of effort will bring lasting, desired results. Instead, search for any exercise routine that builds awareness of own movement as that’s a great part of riding training. If you feel how to change your weight distribution and postural alignment off the horse you are much more likely to be able to have your eureka moment in the saddle.
Here are some questions I ask myself when evaluating a rider during training and planning improvements:
– do they need to use their shoulders and lower back in rising trot to rise well in the rhythm?
– do they need to move their upper body forwards in canter transition to go with the movement well?
– is the horse able to move their seat bones backwards/forwards and hollow/round their back in transitions?
– do they lean or collapse one way or the other on circles and turns?
Yes? Then core stability might need a good MOT.
However and Finally:
– do they use their core muscles as they need to be using them? (you might be stronger than you think but are simply trying to open your eyes with your lower leg’s muscles…)
Next time you are told you need to “strengthen through your core” ask your instructor what will this improve specifically, how exactly they want to see you get better in that particular moment, what movement will more strength take to the next level…It might be you just need to know where to use the tools you’ve already got…
All the best,