The horse riding posture uses all the posture muscles as well as all the stabilizing muscles.
These muscles must be in balance for a rider to ride well. These muscles must be in balance for a person to function well. It is important to look at a rider as a person before fixing any riding problems. Good posture both on the ground and on the horse starts with good alignment. A vertical line dropped down from the ear goes through the shoulder, hip, and heel. The shoulders are relaxed and down, not forward, though, the pelvis is in a neutral (vertical) position, and the legs are under us.
When the body is in good alignment, we need a minimum effort to stay or sit upright. Because we have to keep our balance on the moving horse (which is a task in itself), we need to train all the riding, muscles for posture as well as riding. The ideal static and dynamic posture has a balance between all the front and back muscles.
Because we have to keep our balance on the moving horse (which is a task in itself), we need to train all the riding, muscles for posture as well as riding. The ideal static and dynamic posture has a balance between all the front and back muscles. The Pelvis should be in a neutral (vertical) position. If it is in a forward tilt the back will be tight and arched.
This creates stiffness in the spine. If it is tilted backward, the spine will be flattened, this creates a round shoulder posture and a bent spine in the rider. The pelvis will move in and out of these postures, though, as the rider applies aids. The pelvis is controlled by the lower back muscles the hamstrings the glutes and the abdominal muscles. The stability of the pelvis and spine is controlled by the core muscle, (transverse abdominal muscle).
These muscles must be strong to be able to ride well. The core or Transverse Abdominal muscle is the single most important muscle to train, use, and control in horse riding. This muscle is the key stabilizer for the spine and hence the body and all posture. The Applied Posture Riding Membership Program has a huge emphasis on training this muscle.
The shoulder blades and neck are controlled by special muscles around the shoulder and upper back. The long back muscles also hold the spine vertically so the scapular can remain in a good position. The shoulder muscles control the movements of the arm. If the balance of the shoulder blade muscles is strong and stable then the arm and hand can apply independent aids.
The Applied Posture riding program will teach you this. The hamstrings control the knee and lower leg as well as the amount of weight in the seat. If the hamstrings are not engaged then the lower leg is not useful as an aid or as a stabilizing tool and most of all, the rider is not safe if the lower leg swings. The calf muscle is not used in riding and should always be in a stretched position.
Muscle imbalances are very easy to recognize. Our lives are very repetitive and we do things in a certain way over and over again. We feel very comfortable. This comfort creates our crookedness and unevenness. For example, if you are a right-handed person then you will use your right hand for just about everything you do.
You will use your right hand to carry things, mix horse feed, clean your gear, at work, throw a ball, etc. All these activities require your right side to be very active and become short and tight over years of repetitive use while the left side has a different function. Tightness will develop in the muscles as well as stiffness in the joints, this is what creates the muscle imbalances. Unless a rider knows their own problems they cannot fix them.
Muscle Imbalances In The Upper Body
The most common problem is round-shouldered posture. This posture is not only a result of muscle imbalances but also habit and laziness. When a rider looks down their head follows, then their shoulders, and their elbows move away as the wrists round as well. The poking chin and rounded shoulder posture are now evident. This is a common problem and riding instructors are always trying to fix it by telling their pupils to “sit up”… “sit up” again and again. This posture fault must be addressed out of the saddle. The Applied Posture Riding program looks at the cause of this imbalance and how to fix it.
The Applied Posture Riding program looks at the cause of this imbalance and how to fix it.
Stretches as well as strengthening the weak muscles is a good start. Learning how to use the shoulder independent of the body as a movement pattern is key to using these muscles for riding. A good rider is able to keep the body stable as they apply a rein aid or use their seat or legs. This is the idea of an independent deep seat.
Common Muscle Imbalances in the Lower Body
The pelvis and lower back are stiff in nearly every rider, riding actually promotes stiffness in the back. A stiff lower back will block the horse in all movements and add to pain in the back as well. Lifting, hours sitting, age, and repetitive loading will harm the back. The joints wear and the muscles react. Stiffness is an easy problem to fix. Lower back disc pain from wear and tear or a herniation or a prolapse, other injuries, as well as childbirth all, affect the riding posture. All these problems create pain and weakness.
All these problems need to be attended to out of the saddle. Pain has a huge effect on a rider. It creates tension, fear, and pain inhibiting the use of the core muscle. If a rider is returning to riding after childbirth or injury they must pay very close attention to the core. I find this is neglected and many riders set themselves up for problems.
A riding instructor is not the person to turn to fix these problems. A Physiotherapist is probably the best professional to speak too. I am able to teach you all of this. The abdominals are often weak and the core is in many riders not functional. The core must be trained individually and then a rider must learn how to use their core for riding. This can only happen if the rider has enough flexibility from stretching.
The hips are another point of imbalance. Again our lifestyles and our age are the cause. The hips are always tight in the same direction and often weak in the opposite direction. This causes the rider to swing their legs and toes in the wrong position. The rider will find it very difficult to keep their knees and toes in against the horse’s side.
Dressage riders, in particular, need to stretch their hip joints. Weak glutes, hamstrings, and or adductors all create problems in the saddle. The rider must be symmetrical. The rider may tilt to one side, with more weight in one seat bone. I always check this as part of my posture rider assessment. Unless the rider has a leg length discrepancy or scoliosis or a medical condition that creates these imbalances then the rider should be symmetrical. This is a whole topic on its own.
Compensating for these imbalances in the saddle will affect the way your horse responds to you. Leaning on the bit, rushing through the aids, dropping the shoulder, lameness, evading the legs, not “getting it” are not all horse problems. Look at yourself before you blame your horse.
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