Annette Willson

 

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Introducing one of the most passionate people I know who is an authority on the Riding Posture. 
 
Annette Willson
 
How and why do people do what they do? 
What makes one person strive for a lifetime to present ideas and solutions for a group of people who are unknown to them personally? 
 
If you are reading this then you are a passionate horse person and you understand the power and the love for the incredible equine friends we have in our lives! You get it!
 
Annie Willson also gets it, but her journey has not been smooth or easy. Her riding career has spanned nearly 50 years and has been filled with great success and marred by chronic injury. For many of us, that would be the end, but her passion and her determination to solve the problems ensured she was able to ride and compete successfully again.
 
She is highly educated with a B.App.Sc (Physio) and a Masters Degree in Physiotherapy. She is also a Rider Biomechanics Specialist and a Functional Core Stability Teacher. These credentials along with her elite riding skills and experience in her methodical but down-to-earth teaching style has set her up to write this incredibly targeted “Applied Posture Riding” Program. 
 
Annette Willson – a bit about me and what motivates me?
 
I’m a country girl born and raised in the Clare Valley.  I have 4 brothers and sisters including a twin sister. Both my parents were Veterinarians and as a family, we all rode horses, went hunting, attended Pony Club and participated in all and any sports on offer. Community, family, and friends contributed to and created the wonderful chaos we called childhood.
 
I have three great kids, including my special "Nico", and as a single mum they also were 20160720 115435 websizebrought up and survived in a similar and perhaps even crazier environment than I did, because they had my horses to compete with!  
 
I’ve never been one to sit back and wait for others and results are what motivate me. I have a huge passion for horses and a curious and enquiring mind.  My dream and passion as a horse rider were to target team eventing selection and represent Australia at the Olympic Games. 
 
I had two very talented horses and a fire in my belly that could take me there. I had moved from the Clare Valley to the Adelaide Hills and started Teachers College. I had a part-time job and the plan was unfolding with strong eventing wins and notoriety with selectors. It was all coming together beautifully.
 
The next bit really sucked….a back injury with severe nerve damage and a chronic pain that changed my world! 
Off to the non-horsey surgeon who had no understanding of my passion or my dreams and goals. His advice was "give up riding forever"! I was 21 years old for Christ sake – I had a dream, I had plans…this guy must be joking… I just had a sore back?  
 
The reality check was a shocker as you can imagine, suddenly I was faced with permanent disability and my love, my passion, my future was out of my control. I suddenly had no purpose, no drive, no direction. Sadness, shock, anger and all the emotions of the grieving process overcame me all at once! And worse still my two talented mates were sitting in the paddock doing nothing!! Grrrr.
 
I chose not to have the surgery and opted for time and healing. Teachers College was no longer an option and being the determined person I am, I chose to work my injury and situation into a positive outcome and perhaps resolve my own problem by studying Physiotherapy.  I thought Physio could ultimately provide me with a better understanding of my injury via a thorough and complete learning and the gaining of knowledge of anatomy and physiology.
 
The healing process was a combination of pain management, time along with protecting myself from more damage. Pain management included wearing a Back Brace and working isolated muscle groups. The damage to my nerves was a long-term proposition and would require time and patience. Pain heal time rest cost, all four lettered words we all hate and I still use these today in my work.
 
I managed to regroup by adopting the old adage – “if it’s going to be it’s up to me”! An oldie but a goodie and oh so true. Once I took this new determined attitude on board and with a positive and focused mind the dream of riding was alive again. I plunged into my studies and applied the pain management theories to my riding and my posture! I could say right now the rest is history, but it was a long and difficult road ahead still…
 
My passion for riding now became my obsession. I had to learn to ride again. I watched and I learned. I scanned magazines, I looked at riders Apr photo AMWpositions in the saddle, dressage, jumping, even strappers and handlers were under my watchful eye. How did they balance, what muscles did they use, where was their center of gravity?  I went home and gave myself rider lessons. I had to teach myself to ride, we didn't have access to Instructors in my day and certainly not in the country. The photo here on the right is not one of my better styles.
 
I graduated as a Physiotherapist in 1987 and while I didn’t know it at the time, I had actually discovered my now famous "Core Crunch” Movement Pattern, helpful to not only horse riders but every upright being on this planet! I discovered riding in an upright posture was better for my back, it was also better for my riding.
 
Physiotherapy had given me the knowledge to develop my own training program to get me back to riding. I also started teaching Riding Posture. I certainly created a skill and a sharp eye to identify Rider Posture problems, that is unique from other coaches and other riders.   I believe the horse is only as good as the rider, so the rider needs training before the horse can be trained properly. This concept did not take off for years to come. The feature of all lessons was (and is) the horse.
 
Riding Instructors became more available and more trendy. I was offered instruction from local, state and international instructors. I found the focus was always on the horse and never a comment on my riding posture. I decided yet again I had to figure this out for myself.
 
I continued to watch the top riders intently at every opportunity and studied their riding style. I also studied the bad ones and in my mind, I gave them a rider lesson. Some riders were beautiful to watch, were in harmony with their horse and others were not. I wanted to be in harmony not in hell.
 
before and after APR
 I studied every rider examining the way they rode and how I wanted to ride myself. I would get home from each event and copy what I had learned. I  combined what I had seen with what I would learn from a lesson and my Physiotherapy knowledge, but comments like “keep your lower leg still”, “soften your hands”, “keep your shoulders back”, “relax through your back”, “squeeze gently”, “don't bounce”, “look up”, baffled me. 
 
How? 
 
 
How do you do all this at once? All the lessons focused on the horse: “You need more impulsion”, “flex him more”, “control the bend”, “slow the pace”, “not enough”, “ask for more”, “put his hindquarters here”, and so on.Showjuping websize
As I applied my own training out of the saddle (applied posture) and mimicked my mentors, I developed a better lower leg position with good stability and strength. I no longer used my hands for balance and my seat became quite useful.
My back pain also settled as I rode with less bounce.
Each year my balance and posture developed, my stability improved and became established. I progressed through to higher levels of competition with confidence and success. My (secret) goal was getting closer!
 
Somehow I also had three children.
 
My back pain was under control I was riding exceptionally well, my first 3DE event win and I had another exceptionally talented horse. 
Well, as life goes, my relationship broke up and my youngest son was diagnosed as intellectually disabled and I found myself single with three children under 5 years old. My best ever horse had to be sold to international buyers.
 
 
I moved back to SA to be closer to family and especially my mum.
Working, and being a full-time carer for my son took up all my time my energy and my money. My mother was a godsend and became my babysitter, strapper and my savior. I started again with horses given to me. One of these had the talent to go far and with luck and success, I finally achieved a spot on the SA Olympic Training Program. before and after APR.jpg jumping
 
Being on this squad required commitment and my life full  I was not set up to leave my business, my home, my children and travel 3 hours for training camps. I just could not get there.
My horse developed a splint, it was removed and within a week I had a dead horse, post-surgery colic.
 
 
 
Scan 20170713 31 websizeTwo years later my mother died and I felt I had reached the end of everything (2001).
 Lots of tears and frustration and grief.  My mother was my rock and she was as passionate about riding as I am. My mother always saw the positive in life so I reset my dream.
I thought of all the frustrations I had gone through in life and my training and how I could change that for others. I knew I could teach my style of riding to others. 
My new plan transferred from riding to rider training.
 
 
First up I started to review the value of a riding lesson.
 
Riding instructors seem to have knowledge of training the horse but very little knowledge in training the rider. It seemed the rider had to acquire these skills “naturally”.  Are all riders “natural riders” or do many have the same confusion I had? 
 
I had that “Aha!” moment at Equitana in Melbourne in 2001 of how I could train riders. While watching a demonstration given by an Olympic dressage rider Anky Van Grunsven, I realized riding instructors only teach you about the horse. There was nothing about the rider. Even at the elite level, there was no mention of the rider's posture.
 
I watched her instruct a number of riders whose horses were at various levels of their education. The riders Anky was instructing were very good riders; they were not beginners or novice riders. They were also riders who were experienced in riding a big, moving horse. I was impressed of course. She is a world champion rider and trainer. The lesson progressed and Anky suggested anyone of us could ride her Olympic horse and get him to perform at her level.
 
This was my "Aha" moment. I suddenly saw how I could teach these riders and train them to ride with better stability, better balance, symmetry and apply independently isolated aids. I could see all the work I had done was valid and teachable to train riders to ride. 
 
I disagreed totally with Ankys' statement. Why? Because Anky is a natural rider with extreme talent and I'm not sure she understood her skills were not universal. To ride a horse with big paces is a skill of its own. To apply aids with precision and accuracy is an even greater skill. It requires excellent balance and coordination. It requires suppleness and flexibility in the rider and it absolutely requires independent isolation of all body parts to apply the aids correctly.
 
I thought to myself, she could not teach any rider to ride her horse, but I could. At that instant, I knew my knowledge was what other riders and instructors did not have or maybe did not use. I knew then I could teach any rider to ride because I know rider biomechanics. Back in 2001 no-one had even thought of rider biomechanics.  
 
46By learning how to balance and use muscles individually and in pre-determined movement patterns and coordinate your posture, you can learn to ride better and more effectively and look good too. This must start out of the saddle though.
 
Our posture and control of our muscles on the horse are essential to giving accurate, consistent aids. The control and training of this skill cannot be achieved by riding only. How many lessons have you had only to repeat the same problems.
 
I went back to University in 2002 and achieved a post-graduate degree in a Masters of Physiotherapy. My knowledge of anatomy and muscle movement patterns gave me a huge advantage over instructors, to teach riding posture and mechanics. I developed a training program to train “independent isolation”. I believe a rider needs less focus on an independent deep seat and more focus on learning and training independent isolation of every body part. 
 
I combined my passion for riding and applied my knowledge of physiotherapy and designed a series of exercises and muscle Movement Patterns to do just that - apply posture to riding. It is purely a process of learning how to use your body.
 
So why do we find it so difficult to stay balanced in the saddle at the various pace and especially the sitting trot? Instead of maintaining our upright posture and moving with the rhythm of the horse, many riders tend to bridge against the movement. They then squeeze themselves up out of the saddle and bounce. By learning how to coordinate your breathing and being aware of your muscle groups, you can move with the horse and appear to be still.
The isometric postural nature of riding makes stretching extremely important at the end of each day. Our resting posture becomes tight and stiff if we don’t stretch. The postures we use at work and play can all contribute to our posture on a horse. When sitting in a chair, how many times have you heard, “sit up straight” as it is good for your back?
 
I have developed a deep passion for training the rider. I have discovered a severe lack of knowledge in instructors has left a hole in the training of the horse and rider. Certainly, Pilates exercises have been recommended and have helped numerous riders. Pilates does not train the rider to ride though. Many riders who do Pilates do not learn how to use their new strength in the saddle. The skill is not transferred. Pilates trains in "Neutral spine" my program will train you in "Neutral and Non-neutral Spine" and teach you how to use your core in the saddle. This is the difference in my program and Pilates.
 
 Many Personal Trainers are offering exercise classes for Horse Riders. Certainly, exercises are great for fitness but as with Pilates, the transference of strength to the saddle and into skills does not happen for many. The term "No Pain No Gain" is dangerous if the person pushing through pain does not know what the pain is. Pain is a signal, not a challenge. As a Physiotherapist, I have knowledge in pain.
 
I train riders how to use their core on demand and use it for riding.  I also rehabilitate injured riders or riders who have just had a baby or had a break from riding and need a complete rider program before they even step back into the saddle. I had to retrain myself to ride after my serious back injury. I repeated the program after giving birth to my three children. I have done the hard yards and I can teach you the same program that got me back to riding and achieving my dreams as a rider.
 
My Applied Posture Riding Program has been designed to teach functional core stability and independent muscle control. The pelvic tilt is an essential movement for horse riders. I teach this every day in my physiotherapy practice:  to control back pain, neck pain and headaches and other posture-related pain. Riding requires strength, flexibility, and coordination of individual movements. An independent seat is just that, independent of the other parts of the body. 
 
My Program teaches riders how to gain an independent seat, an independent lower leg, and an independent hand action. 
 
My life has settled into work, family, and horses. I have my own Physiotherapy practice, I teach Functional Core Stability to everyone in my work and I teach it to horse riders. I run Applied Posture Riding workshops and these changes riders lives. My children are adults now; my youngest son has been accepted into support care. I still ride and compete at a lower level, because it is my passion. I practice my own exercises every day. These exercises keep me fit strong and flexible to ride.
 
So what does all this mean to you?
 
Your biggest challenge is to change your thinking from training your horse to training you. I have seen this program change riders lives so now it is your turn. Get started, because once you do you will never look back and you will wonder why you didn't  do this training years ago.
 
 
What is Applied Posture Riding?
Applied Posture Riding 2 WEBSIZE
 “OLD WAYS WON’T OPEN NEW DOORS”
How often do riders continue spending money on lessons and training and get nowhere! I can guarantee if riders, past and present, chose to undertake this program they WILL see significant results.  They will look better in the saddle, they will see improved performance of their horse and most exciting their everyday posture and confidence will be improved generally. 
 
In recent years, I made a commitment to share my knowledge of pain and performance and apply this to the horse rider, initially via an unmounted floor exercise routine and then applying these strengths in the saddle. I thrive on helping people and the greatest thrill is when I can successfully bring the two together. How good is it when someone who’s been suffering pain and discomfort can ride again. When someone who has been working hard and getting nowhere makes a small change and just flies - it’s such a good feeling. Whether you’re a top performing rider, a beginner or a ‘re-entry’ the same principals and support is there and the same energy to help resolve your situation. 
 
Riders spend $1000s on buying a horse, saddles, bits and “bling”, but fail to even think about their own posture or skills. Applied Posture Riding is all about the rider. I cannot understand why a rider will spend $30,000 on buying a horse, but very little on themselves as a rider and learn how to ride what they have bought.
 
Learning how to use the core along with all your postural muscles is neglected in gym workouts. Applied Posture Riding has a whole program of movement patterns specific for horse riding.
 
 Every rider uses the same muscles to ride. The Olympic rider will use the same muscles as the preliminary rider: they just do it better. The new mother returning to riding after a baby will need to train the same muscles and movement patterns as the injured rider with poor balance and coordination. Each rider aims for the same posture and the same outcome when they apply aids.
 
Riding is one of the few sports that men and women compete in equally, side by side. The rider comes in every shape, weight, and proportion possible.MOvement pattern Hands compressed The horse does not discriminate who rides them. The common thing for every rider is the muscles we use and how we use them. Therefore, the movement patterns for every rider can be followed by all riders. 
 
The first part of the Applied Posture Riding Program focuses on riders testing their own muscles for strength, length, and function. Those who need strengthening will do more strength orientated exercises. Riders who have stiffness and lack flexibility will focus on stretching. Riders with poor balance and/or recovering from injury will focus on what they find deficient. The posture fixing exercises may well be different for each rider and the starting point may well be different, but once strength and flexibility have been gained then the riding movement patterns can be trained. This is unique to the Applied Posture Riding Program.
 
For example, the elite rider may well be strong in many groups but may well need to stretch more and focus on synchronization of their movement patterns. An injured rider needs to rehabilitate all their riding muscles. An unbalanced rider needs to fix their own muscle imbalances and train their lower leg for stability.
 
The Applied Posture Riding Program addresses all these riders’ individual problems. The journey to get here is the variation. There are many parts to the training of a rider. The personality and thinking of the rider, as well as all the body parts, needs to be trained. Each person will learn in a different form, either visual, written or verbal.
 
A rider requires more than an independent deep seat. A rider requires a skilled, independent, stable lower back, hand, arm and lower leg movements for precise application of aids. The ability to use each body part independently and in synchronicity needs to be trained. The movement patterns train riders to be symmetrical with their body and to practise the movements needed for applying aids effectively and efficiently. These are specific exercises within the Program.
 
Applied Posture Riding will teach each rider what is a good riding posture and how to train it. Top riders and instructors are able to identify riding posture problems but don’t have the skills to teach riders how to fix them. The Applied Posture Riding Program is supplementary to a good riding instructor, not a substitute. By applying physiotherapy knowledge to the postures of riding and then using specific exercises to improve these postures, all riders can benefit from this Program. 
I have discussed why is Pilates is Not Enough for the Horse Rider? 
 
Riding instructors are recommending riders strengthen their core, but the core strength is not transferred to use in the saddle unless the rider knows how to engage the core voluntarily. The movement patterns required for riding are not taught by fitness trainers or physios or riding coaches. The movement patterns in this Program are specific drills for riders to learn how to apply good core strength, postural stability, and coordination to their riding. I believe this is the uniqueness of my Applied Posture Riding Program. My Program also trains riders who have suffered injuries from a fall, from accidents or from childbirth. A minor injury may result in a simple confidence issue and riding skills can be compromised with fear.
 
winged scap websizeMy physiotherapy education allows me to support riders with questions about injuries and posture problems. Back injuries are a major problem for horse riders and create conflict between riders, their families, and their doctors. You need tools to train yourself. The Big Ball, the OOV, and the Body Blade are the three main tools used in this Program as well as a simple, elastic Theraband. 
 
The Program is separated into two parts. Part 1 covers all the anatomy, biomechanics and floor routines. Part 2 covers the horse rider lessons assuming the rider is able to ride and is knowledgeable of horse jargon and familiar with the aids required for the basic paces. In Part 2 you will learn how to apply what you have learned in Part 1 and apply the movement patterns to your riding and how to use your new found postural strength.
 
The writing of the book my book “Applied Posture Riding” developed over a few years due to my own experience and due to the demand by riders asking the questions. It has become very popular around the world particularly for prelim and riders recovering from injury.
I love riding, I love physiotherapy and combining the two I do get incredible results! 
 So if you are sick of being an average rider and want to be better, get started and I look forward to meeting you, getting to know you and ultimately the opportunity to work with you in the future.
 
My Credentials are as listed
• Physiotherapist
• Bachelor Applied Science Physiotherapy
• Masters Degree Physiotherapy
• Diploma of Nutrition
• Rider Biomechanics Specialist
• Elite Competitor (Retired) and Horse Trainer
• Specialist Horse Rider Trainer
• Pilate’s Trainer and Educator

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