This weekend I was lucky enough to do a clinic at Hi Point Horsemanship for the Western Dressage Assoc. From the first minute on I was met with pure enthusiasm and focused attention on my words on biomechanics, posture, and my rebuilding the equestrian project. As someone who is new to being a clinician/speaker.. it still amazes me sometimes how word of new ideas travels fast, and how dedicated the athletes in our sport are to bettering themselves however they can. I didn’t give myself too many guidelines to follow for this event, as it was the first time I’d worked with this many people in a day and I wanted to let the experience guide me a little. After giving a short lecture on the basics of chronic pain, posture, biomechanics and the rider (similar to what I did earlier this month for the Dressage Assoc.), I demonstrated the first level of “rebuilding” exercises for the rider on the ground. It was great to see the riders excited to try these “simple” exercises out.. down on the barn floor and everything! We then moved on to the one on one sessions. Here I did a brief postural/movement screen of the rider before they got on and warmed up.
I was really interested to see how what I saw in the rider’s posture manifested into their ride. A common thing I saw in a few of the riders that day were rotations at the femur, which more often then not manifested as one of two things: a rotation at the foot (turning the foot to the outside in the stirrup), or a shift at the pelvis in the saddle.
The most common complaint from the riders was a history of low back pain, which didn’t surprise me. What I saw in many of the riders once they were on their horses and moving was a tendency to move more from the mid-back area then from the elbows and the hips. One rider in particular had set a goal for herself that day to improve her fluidity in the tack, especially in her upper body. When she started she tended to lean her torso forward, stiffen at her elbows, and in her posting trot was very quick and rigid. My first goal with her was to slow down her rhythm. Going back to the basics I asked her to just slow her posting until her and her horse found a more relaxed pace at the trot. From there we worked on visualising she was sitting in a chair instead of on a horse. This worked really well to help her decrease her hip angle and relax back into her posting rhythm. The next step was to get the elbows more elastic. What worked for her was picturing her elbows being in co-ordiation with her hips in the posting trot. As her hips extended forwards in her trot, her elbows opened slightly as well, allowing for a relaxed movement with the trot.. as her hips sank back into the saddle, her elbows lightly flexed following the movement. Slowing the positing rhythm was a big part of the equation for a few riders… everything else gets much easier to control when we’re not moving at hyper speed in the saddle!
Another cool moment for me was working with one of the last riders of the day who overall had a good position. She did have a slight shift to the left in her torso (collapsing at the rib cage and hiking the hip up), so to help build awareness of this I had her raise her left arm straight in the air. In this position while moving it’s next to impossible to let the rib cage collapse into the hip. It’s a good warm up for the rest of the ride if this is a known problem. This next thing with this rider was practicing getting a neutral spine while at a strong trot and canter. This is where some magic happened. Being a rider who is very aware already, both of us noticed this right off the bat. When she focused on getting her posture right: tucking the belly button towards the spine, sitting tall and keeping her shoulders back, with her eyes ahead.. her horse’s trot transformed from really nice to powerful and gorgeous to observe (and I’m sure sit on!).
Every rider I worked with had unique postural stuff going on, on and off the horse.. and it was inspiring to see how hard they worked and took my advice to correct it. I spent about 30-40 minutes with each rider, and by the end they all had red faces and increased breathing rates.. which tells me they were working hard and focusing on them through the simple exercises we did.
I got lots of practice making my voice loud and talking at a pace that was fairly audible for normal human ears, and as well built my tool-box of things to build a rider’s awareness and improve their ride. For example, the one arm in the air to help with a collapse in the torso was a complete experiment earlier in the day. After it worked on every rider after that.. it’s proved to be a good tool. Same with the “sitting into a chair” visualisation. I used that one two of the riders at this clinic, both immediately responded to it. I feel like I learned as much as the riders did this weekend. And I’m addicted to this feeling. Hoping that I have the chance to work with many more dedicated riders soon and continue to build my own skills.. and “rebuild the equestrian”!