Tag Archives: rider’s position

From the Top Down: Upper Body Stability for the Rider by Kathlyn Hossack (sequel to How NOT to pull on the reins)

Since the How NOT to pull on the reins post has now reached over 12k views and sparked some questions I didn’t feel fully qualified to answer, I asked someone who has the proper anatomical knowledge to pitch in and write a sequel ūüôā Here we go!¬†

Happy reading and please don’t hesitate to comment and ask questions!¬†



From the Top Down: Upper Body Stability for the Rider

Many riders struggle with poor shoulder posture; often this is from both habit and from muscle weaknesses/amnesia in the upper back. If you find that you tend to use movements at the elbow to pull back or have trouble balancing during transitions (and as a result tend to pull on the horse’s mouth instead) instead of using steady resistance (as discussed in¬†Aspire Equestrian’s article here) and slight hand/finger motion to accomplish a smoother (in look and feel) transition– you are likely not activating the¬†lats¬†the way you should.‚ÄĮSimilarily, if you experience trouble maintaining a strong shoulder and upper back posture, and/or experience pain in between the shoulders, neck, and upper back..¬†you¬†likely have forgotten how to use the rhomboids, traps, and¬†lats¬†properly.

Don’t fret! It’s a common problem with a simple fix for anyone willing to work at it!


ÔŅľThe¬†latissimus¬†dorsi¬†runs from the front of the shoulder, down to the pelvis.¬†It’s‚ÄĮtextbook function is to help with shoulder movement with their composite action being a pull-up, or a front crawl type movement at the shoulder. They also¬†stabilise¬†through the back. For the purposes of the riding athlete, the¬†lats¬†are stabilizer of both the shoulder and the back. We don’t require big movements at our shoulder or arms, but what we do require is a stable shoulder girdle and spine to create resistance and allow movement of our elbows, hands, hips, and ankles.

Another important part for the¬†riders¬†upper body is the¬†stabilisers¬†between the shoulder blades.‚ÄĮThe rhomboids run between the¬†interior¬†border of the scapula or shoulder blade to the spine and function to pull the shoulder blades back towards one another and stabilize the upper back. The trapezius is a diamond shaped muscle running through the neck, shoulder, and upper back and has many movements on the shoulder blades and spine- but again, for us it aids in keeping us stable and upright in the tack. As riders we want everything from the top of our rib cage (this starts at the base of the neck) down to our pelvis to be one stable unit, while our hip joints and elbows allow for fluidity and functionality at the hands and lower legs. To do this we both need a stable core and a stable upper back/shoulder area.

The first step is teaching you how to properly establish a connection and feeling for these muscles on the ground. If you need a reminder for how your shoulders should be sitting in a proper posture, simply have your hands at your side and rotate so your thumbs are facing outwards. Feel how that immediately puts you into a more open, tall posture at the shoulder?

Now, let’s start with those rhomboids and traps between the shoulder blades. Standing, or sitting in a good, tall posture bring your arms up straight in front of you until the shoulder is at about 90degrees. Here, keeping the arms straight, you are going to retract the shoulders (or bring the shoulder blades closer together). Remember to keep the arms straight. Hold here for about 5seconds, and then relax forward. Repeat this at least 10 times, and do it as much throughout the day as you want. This is a very small, simple movement..¬†but¬†some of you may find that it takes more concentration then you’d think it would. This is a rebuilding exercise to get your brain reconnected to controlling those¬†muscles,¬†from there we can begin to build stability in the shoulder.


ÔŅľMy next¬†favourite¬†exercise to teach riders about postural¬†stabilisation¬†through movement in the¬†lats¬†and arms is called a Wall Angel. For this, you need a wall. Start in a half squat position with¬†you¬†back against the wall and feet slightly in front of you. Now, flatten out everything from the pelvis up to the neck/head against the wall. This may be the most challenging part for some. Many riders like to hinge from their mid back, and this can often be a source of pain or instability within the spine. Getting into this “flattened against a wall” posture brings us back into a neutral posture and allows us to begin rebuilding¬†stabilisation¬†(using the¬†lats¬†and other shoulder¬†stabilisers) through the torso and upper body. Now that you’re in that half squat against the wall with every part of your spine against the wall, or as close as you can get, bring your arms up as you see them in picture A. This is the second challenge. You may find your back now wants to pop off the wall, or that your shoulders are too tight to bring back to the wall. If the latter is the case, some¬†pectoralis¬†major stretches may be in order for you. If you can’t get the arms so they are pressing flat (or close to) the wall, instead bring them in front to a similar position to the retraction exercise we discussed earlier. Now, back pressed flat, neck straight and head against the wall with arms up and also against the wall, you are going to slowly slide them up as far as you can keep them flat, and then back down to the start position.

wall slides

ÔŅľRepeat this between 5-10 times, a few times a day. I like to have riders do this before they get on their first horse, in between horses, and after their ride to encourage that tall, strong posture. This also helps to teach activation of the¬†lats, strengthen all the postural muscles in the upper back, and build postural awareness.

Fitting these into your daily routine is a great way to begin rebuilding your ride in the saddle. I also like to have my riding clients ride with their inside hand behind their head, pushing their elbow back. This creates a tall posture, and encourages activation of the¬†lats¬†to¬†stabilise¬†in the back, and the shoulder¬†stabilisers¬†in the upper back through movement on the horse. Try it out next time you’re on and see what it does to your position!

  • Kathlyn Hossack¬†has her BSc. Kinesiology and is soon to be a certified Athletic Therapist. She started¬†Katmah¬†Training (www.katmahtraining.wordpress.com) to help equestrians train and move like the athletes they are. She consults athletes and riders at all levels on position/biomechanics, injury recovery, strength and conditioning, and improving their movement to better their performance.¬†

Gain control over your leg position, joints suppleness and weight distribution through the seat

You will need fluffy socks for this one.

It was Mariana who first shared this exercise with you on here and ever since I’ve been looking forward to trying it with a suitable “rider-subject” ūüėČ It’s ingenious in its simplicity as it simply takes rider’s awareness of the stirrup iron – ball of foot connection to the next level.


You might think, stirrups are not that important for the good seat, but there is this curious desire in many riders to let that very seemingly unnecessary stirrup dictate their leg position.
When the rider becomes tuned in to the placement of the stirrup iron, they can in turn dictate the position of the stirrup leathers and the iron through small changes in weight distribution through the thighs and lower leg.
The other benefits include improved suppleness through ankle joints and a better command of the foot in general.
I loved the effect this exercise had on my rider.

Genius and simple.

If you do try it, please share your observations – there are many little aspects of joint use that become apparent in this exercise ūüôā¬†


#NoStirrupsNovember with a difference!

No stirrups exercise

Just a little video exercise for you today! It helps with mechanics of rising trot, with rider’s balance, stability, core strength, symmetry, independence of stirrups in case of loss of balance/loss of stirrups to name a few benefits.

If done correctly, the rider should not grip with the thighs. Thigh muscles remain snug against the saddle but don’t exert inward pressure. It’s the outer thigh muscles that are the dominant stabilising muscles.

It can be done on a quiet, well balanced horse on the lunge but I really like doing it on a simulator because rider’s struggles have no adverse effect on the horse ūüôā

How to do it: 

1. Start in sitting trot without stirrups. Make sure you sit in neutral pelvis position with your spine just naturally elongated and core muscles engaged appropriately to your horse’s trot movement (flat moving, smooth trotting horse doesn’t require much effort from core muscles of the rider but big moving, happily swinging horse will give a rider a run for their core if they are to look as if they are doing nothing)

2. Starting from your knee, move your lower leg too far back from it’s normal position. Feel as if you were kneeling on the imaginary stool, one under each knee (your seat weight should feel nicely distributed into left and right thigh i.e. evenly onto horse’s ribcage)

3. Start rising ūüôā It will feel very alien at first but try to simply use the bounce of the trot, the leverage of your thighs and up-forward movement of your hips to maintain the rise.

Emma rides on Aspire’s Development Programme and makes this exercise look easier than it is for a beginner or novice rider but rest assured, it can be done by¬†all levels of riders with great results ūüôā

Happy practice!

The language of aids – are we making things unnecessarily difficult?

Just a quick-ish post today on something that I’ve been pondering on for the last few years when analysing different teaching methods and tweaking my own.


I am going to hazard a statement that the only truly difficult and time consuming skill of all the riding skills is the development of a functional and horse friendly seat. Once the rider sits well (not just visually well – although let’s not¬†discount that – but functionally well), the rest is down to hours upon hours, weeks upon weeks and years upon years of patient and well directed practice of imagination, understanding of horse’s locomotion, common sense and body awareness in motion.

My image of technically good seat is like a well put together watch where all the turbines and screws do their work as if by magic. From my experience and observations riders become frustrated most often by an inability to perform certain movements well or get certain amount of effort out from the horse. It’s not so much that they don’t know what to do…sometimes they even know vast amount of theory on exactly how to do what they want doing.

To make things picture rich, let’s assume a horse has that “seat” to master too…the horse’s seat (way of carrying oneself, way of shifting weight from side to side and from front to back) also develops over time and is most difficult skill for him. Not the moving away from the leg, not halting square, not stepping under upon leg cue. It’s the “seat” – the basic ability to remain in own balance with rider’s weight on board in all gaits, all turns, all circles – that’s potentially most difficult skill.


The issue arises when the rider (or horse) attempts something they have no turbines and screws for in the first place – in own seat and also in horse’s “seat”…Putting together the latter takes time and in horse riding language that equals hours in different saddles, on different backs, on differently pushing hindlegs. Similarly, the horse develops his posture through being ridden by rider with a better and better seat, the weight he carries becomes his best and intricate balance indicator rather than a burden. Eventually, the horse can potentially achieve better precision, rhythm, cadence, quality of steps with the rider than without one…

You know the old dealer trick that rider can make any horse look lame (er) or sound (er)? If we agree that skilled riding was about precise and effective weight shift, the rider’s ability to create (or damage) certain movement pattern shouldn’t surprise anyone.

Language of aids

All that seat development is like nursery,¬†pre-school¬†and primary school put together. Rider and horse work on their “seat” in similar ways to us learning to write letters, then sentences. From time to time, there would be a child out there who writes beautiful poems, play extraordinary music, wins professional golf tournaments and maybe even writes stories at the age of 9. However, we wouldn’t¬†change entire schooling system to match that benchmark…From time to time, there are riders and horses that seem to flow together without apparent effort, time investment and long practice. Should this mean that hundreds of other riders and horses ought to jump the 2-3 or so years of decent¬†seat development?

As riders and instructors we can make things very difficult both for our horses and our pupils by asking them to speak a language they have no words for. We can also make things extremely frustrating for ourselves…

Seat differences

Sometimes I am asked what I think about that and this riders’ seat and although a beautifully sat rider with even body proportions might always look nicer on a horse than one with very short legs and long torso, it’s not that visual seat development that I am chatting about here.

bridle and gym ball

Some people have terrible hand writing yet write beautiful stories…Some have incredible calligraphy that never produces more than a pretty looking word…Good seat and language shows in the quality of work of the horse and in the harmony between horse and rider.

We might have different levels of that work and different levels of that harmony from a beginner to an advanced professional but when I start teaching someone I look at building those words first (seat skills) rather than ask for essays. This means I like to explore many avenues of skills acquisition and I might ask more experienced riders to do seemingly unrelated exercises but it’s really interesting to see the results of well thought out play ūüôā

So, how’re your aids’ language skills? Do you know why some riding sessions are frustrating for you?¬†

All the best,



Mixing Disciplines to Improve as a Rider

Kate racing2

We often say¬†that for a horse to be athletic, healthy and interested in his work he needs variety in his training. However, we don’t always apply this to ourselves as riders and tend to carry a label of a “dressage rider”, “jumper”, “eventer” (the latter having probably most varied training routines from all) and stick to certain schooling patterns.

I have experienced the benefits of cross training myself having tried different disciplines and riding styles so I am very keen on developing my courses in a way that allows for many different elements to be included. Ever since Pippa joined me to work with me I knew I wanted her to bring in her racing experiences and knowledge into our training mix. Race riding requires fitness, balance, stability and mobility all in one and when done within reason can have a fantastic results on riders who struggle with the above in their usual discipline or riding style.

mixing disciplines
Pippa demonstrates different variations of racing seat on a cantering simulator

In the same way in which we can’t improve a horse’s trot or canter by simply trotting or cantering more, in the same way many aspects of specific¬†ability needs wide lenses and multidisciplinary approach when planning improvements. It makes learning fun, interesting and challenging – both for riders and for the instructors ūüôā

What discipline do you focus on? Do you mix and match different ones to develop as an all round capable rider?

What are your plans for 15th of September?

Hello All!
Another of our Intensive Training Days is coming up on 15th of September. There are maximum of 4 places available (1 booked already so maximum 3 left) and the cost includes hire of horses, Racewood Equine Simulator, all facilities hire, all coaching, video feedback and some cookies if you deserve them ūüėČ

15th Spt Poster
15th September

All levels welcome but most suitable for those riders who want to improve their skills and effectiveness.

Video from equine simulator session from our last Training Day at the venue:

Approximate times: 10am-5pm

Venue: Cullinghood Equestrian Centre (www.cullinghood.co.uk)
Cost: £200 per rider per day (BRING A FRIEND OFFER Рrider who books with a friend receives £15 OFF each).

Message Wiola on aspire @ outlook . com for more information and booking. If you have never trained on Aspire Intensive Training Days and have any questions please email away, always happy to advise if this is suitable Day for you.

Feel free to share with friends!

To see some photos from the same venue from Aspire June Intensive Training Day see here. 

How to get the most out of your your riding videos. Part 1: How, What and With What to Video!

camera blog 3

I’ve never been a greatly talented rider and had to work hard to develop my own skills. To this day I learn best by feel because this is how I learnt in my early days when nobody who taught me knew how to explain what to do to improve for example your seat in sitting trot or canter.

At 14 I saw a local instructor who was cantering his horse in the arena and I remember being amazed that he did not bounce an inch. I was determined to be able to do so too so would go in a field with a horse and would canter forever for weeks on end until I could get that absolute feeling of being connected to the saddle. I dread to think back now what these poor horses had to go through with me but to this day, to learn something I like to be described how it feels so I can seek that feel.

I also watched plenty of videos, shows, other instructors and can appreciate the educational help this provides.

Whatever way you learn best, you can significantly upgrade your skills via visual feedback. This 3 part series will hopefully help you get the most out of one the least expensive, fabulous training aid out there:  video analysis.


Continue reading How to get the most out of your your riding videos. Part 1: How, What and With What to Video!

“SITTING PRETTY” – is that really the point? Pondering on body position vs body use

A few days ago I received an email enquiry from a rider interested in my lessons. I read with interest about issues the rider has with her horse and then I arrived at the sentence concluding the enquiry. The person writing had heard I work a lot on the rider, their position and way of riding and wanted to make sure this wouldn’t be the case with her as she wanted to work mainly on the horse.

Photo taken during Aspire Coaching weekend at Cullinghood EC

This email made me think of other riders who perhaps think the same so I would like to clarify a few things.¬†Although I do put a lot of emphasis on rider’s seat it is not at all to achieve a pretty picture. In fact, my increasing interest in posture and seat of the rider has very little to do with visual outcome. My greatest fascination with rider’s biomechanics is due to an incredible effect a correct body use can (and does) have on communication with any horse.

Continue reading “SITTING PRETTY” – is that really the point? Pondering on body position vs body use