Applied Posture Riding - how to deep seat dressage

  • Age Injury Pain Fear The Damaged Horse Rider


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    The older rider just needs a little bit of help in certain areas.

    Age affects our strength, our flexibility, our physical endurance. Age gives us experience, hindsight, knowledge, and drives our passion. The older person takes less physical stress, less impact to create more damage, poorer healing, and a longer rehab and then, of course, a loss of confidence.  When I was young, I was strong, confident, and skilled.

    I had very few falls, I broke a few bones and they healed. I never suffered fear or a loss of confidence. Now I am Injury is affecting me as a rider. Shoulder tendon tears, lumbar herniated discs, and broken limbs in the past affect me now.

    Age Injury Pain Fear, A New Experience For Me?

    I did not expect old age symptoms to affect until I was old. It has snuck up on me, though. In 2013 my horse got bogged in the dam and struggled his way out. I grabbed for the neck strap but he went one way and I went the other way as I was flung out of the saddle. I landed next to him but I had ripped my shoulder apart.

    This was a simple bad luck fall. My age was the problem, my tendons just tore apart. Maybe 10 years younger they may have just stretched???

     I had surgery repaired my shoulder did all my own exercises and fully recovered, the fall was not a confidence hitter,...... just bad luck. I returned to riding, after 3 months of rehab, strength was good, confidence was good, all was good, then bang! The horse hit a bank, hit the deck, and rammed me into the ground, shoulder first. I suffered a grade 3 rupture of my AC joint in the same shoulder.

    Just bad luck really! Age or bad riding? 6 weeks in a sling more rehab but to no avail more surgery needed.

    Well, while planning surgery dates protecting my shoulders I did ride, gentle safe riding, I didn't lift anything just kept riding while waiting for a surgery date. Bang the other shoulder is ripped apart lunging a horse....2 shoulders needing surgery now. The right one to re-repair the torn cuff and the ruptured AC joint and the left one needing a cuff repair.

    Well, the left has been done and soon the right shoulder is to be done.

    I still have another repair on the right shoulder to look forward to.....Time off work, many $1000 for medical expenses, pain, time to heal, time to think, time to plan. Time to worry about what else may happen, and of course everybody suggesting it is time I gave up horses!!! I now have experience of age, injury, pain, and fear. I also have others telling me to give it all up.

    This is a scenario I get emails about nearly every day. Riders returning to the sport after a long time away.....scared. Riders returning to riding after having children..scared. Riders returning from a major injury..scared! Riders new to the sport, taking it up at a later time in their life..scared. Well as you can read the history is similar, that is, an injury, trauma, older bodies, pain, weakness, and a loss of confidence. Me at the moment.

    Recovering From Injury and Fear

    shoulder injury websizeI am physically accepting time for healing. As a Physio I have knowledge. I will start a range of movement stretches soon, once I have the range I will start gravity-free exercises. From there I will add strength and movement pattern exercises. Core exercises have never been stopped as well as posture movement pattern exercises. I  will then pick up all the Applied Posture Riding Movement Patterns and plan to get back in the saddle within the next 6 weeks.

    I have to address my fear, though.

    The past  18 months have been filled with bad luck, pain, expense, and time healing. Before my first fall in the dam, I was a strong confident, skilled, and very safe rider. I practice safe procedures, I wear a helmet, chaps, a neck strap, my gear is always well fitted and safe.

    I understand the horse I am riding and the stage of training he is at. I warm up correctly and don't take chances on anything. I have been in this industry for a long time.

    Well, my bad luck continued and I had to put my horse down due to a bad luck injury, so now I am in the position do I start again or do I retire and just teach. Well, I still face one more surgery on my right shoulder, I have to buy another horse. I am recovering physically I am suffering financially and psychologically. I don't want to just be a trail rider. I want to ride and train and compete at a low level and teach.

    I revisit 18 months ago and focus on my skills, my strength, and talents as a rider. I respect my age and luck. I plan to buy another horse and start again. I still have passion and time to enjoy. If fear is going to inhibit me I will look internally and gain confidence from knowing I am skilled and ready. I have given this advice, so now I will use it. The Applied Posture Riding Movement Patterns are still my principal routines to follow.  

    I don't want to just be a trail rider (no offense to those who do). I want to ride and train and compete at a low level and teach. I respect my age and luck. I plan to buy another horse and start again. I still have passion and time to enjoy. If fear is going to inhibit me I will look internally and gain confidence from knowing I am skilled and ready. I have given this advice, so now I will use it. 


  • Core Exercises For The Horseback Rider

    Rider core strength is essential to develop a better riding position, skills will develop faster you will gain a better response from the horse and more value from your instruction. Correct riding posture requires strength in the core muscles – the deep abdominal and back muscles that support, engage and protect the spine. Instruction is vital for every serious rider, even the best rider’s benefit from knowledgeable ‘eyes on the ground’. 

    MOvement pattern Hands compressedEvery rider’s position needs improvement and or adjustments to be able to get the best from their horse. Often, though, the instruction can seem like an ongoing expense that goes nowhere; lessons are repetitive, and the rider – and instructor - may feel frustrated that the same issues keep arising, with little or no improvement.

    Constant calls of “shoulders back”, “sit still” and “sit up” seem ineffectual. In most cases, the rider can’t maintain these postures and slump back to what they are capable of.  The calls are repeated. Riders become frustrated with themselves and the instructor is limited and unable to progress. Some riders blame their horse and buy a new one.

    A new horse to blame or a new instructor to try. I believe that in all reality, the problem usually lies with the rider. Instruction fails because the rider simply can’t do what is being asked of them. But why? “The rider is often the neglected element of the horse-and-rider team,”   Is one of my quotes, another is  “So many riders have difficulty with their posture in the saddle because they have poor posture out of the saddle”.

    The other point being riders do not truly understand the muscular skills involved to be able to ride well. Riders are told to strengthen their core for riding; every Instructor now knows this is important, but very few know where to direct their pupils. Many horse riders have no idea where to start, or how and why it’s so important. Riders need to look at training themselves as well as training their horse.

    DSC 0137We want and train our horse to be correct, supple, flexible, strong, and obedient. We choose an expert (professional) to instruct us and we pay a lot of money for this. We must do the same as a rider. Choosing an expert (not an amateur) to teach us out of the saddle is just as important. Heading to the gym, attending Pilate’s classes is not enough. These exercises are general and not specific to the horse riding posture. Core exercises must be specific.

    A strong core is the starting point to address all posture problems.

    Weak core muscles result in poor balance and control of the body. Riding skills will never improve, the seat will never be strong and secure and pain and injury are likely to occur. Mothers after childbirth and for those having suffered a back injury, weak core muscles are inevitable. The good news is that whether the weakness is due to childbirth, injury or a simple lack of tone, the strength, and function of these vital postural muscles can be restored.

    The importance of the core muscles

    Just as a horse’s back and belly muscles must be toned in order to give a comfortable ride and engaged paces, so too must the rider’s trunk muscles. The rider’s body is as much a part of the riding equation as the horse; if the rider isn’t fit, toned, and strong in the back and abdominal muscles, their seat will not be strong enough to engage the horse or follow its movement sufficiently and correctly.

    The Dutch, UK and USA riders are emphatic in seeking information to train their own riding posture and skill. The dressage horses they ride have enormous, expansive movement and these riders understand that they need to train themselves to ride this huge movement. They know they need better flexibility and the strongest core to balance and control their riding posture on these brilliant-moving horses.

    An overseas rider at Equitana was heard saying that his horse was ready for one time changes, but he wasn’t...he was learning to control his posture so he could stay with his horse. The alternative is that the horse won’t go to the next level, or will be sold to a better rider. Humans are very one-sided; we develop that way, we work that way, we rest that way and we accept we are right or left-handed. Horse riding is NOT one-sided; we want our horses to be great on both reins, we train it, we practice it, and we expect it. We want the horse to be symmetrical, and the rider must be the same.

    The Core is the absolute key to strength, symmetry, and skillful riding

    How does the rider train the core muscles?

    PFM with diaphram 

    In this image, you can see the structure of the Transverse Abdominal Muscle, the Multifidus Muscle, and the Pelvic Floor Muscles. These are the core muscles.

    Well, it isn’t just a matter of start core exercises...this is where many fail to get it right. It is important to understand the workings of the muscles and HOW to engage them, HOW to Test and How to train for functional use.

    The transverse abdominal muscle is the primary core muscle. The multifidus muscle is primarily the muscle to support the lower back and tilt the pelvis forward. The pelvic tilt is essential for higher class riding. The functional use of these two muscles controls back pain by stabilizing the joints and controlling movement.

    How to Test the Transverse Abdominal Muscle.

    This has been documented a number of times, but it is very important to learn to isolate these individual muscles and test them and train them. This is one of many muscle tests in my Applied Posture Riding program. To feel this core exercise properly, some people find it easier to close their eyes. Most just need to slow it down and feel the movement. When doing it, think of the phrase used by instructors - to feel the movement of the horse. If you can’t feel when your hips are moving, how can you control the movement when in the saddle?

    This test movement is not so much about strength, it is more recruitment of fibers and a practiced movement pattern - the first of many a horse rider can do out of the saddle, to train their riding posture. Movement patterns exercises and unique ball movement patterns will gain better core strength and flexibility specific to the

    DSC 0029Movement patterns exercises and unique ball movement patterns will gain better core strength and flexibility specific to the horse rider. By adding in thera-band – a length of rubber tubing used in physiotherapy –the weakest muscles to train can be isolated. But don’t forget it is also important to test the strength of all the major horse riding muscles as well as the core. The core is the key but a rider must also identify their other areas of weakness and overuse.

    Testing for flexibility and range of movement is another area neglected. A rider will not have strength if they are stiff. A rider will not be able to move with their horse if their back is not flexible.  These are very generic and easy tests to self-apply. If you want more information then look at the Applied Posture Riding Program.

    The next part of training is strengthening the core When teaching core training, I start with simple floor exercises and progress to the ball. The  ‘Swiss’ ball is an excellent tool for the horse rider because it can simulate the horse riding posture (to an extent). The movement patterns for riding can be trained and learned with symmetry and precision before getting back in the saddle. The ball will teach balance and control...if used regularly.  I teach a core crunch with a posture crunch.This is the first movement pattern of many I teach.

     Riders need to be able to apply aids with the hands and legs and keep the seat deep and strong at the same time. This skilled ability is the single most important skill to develop as a rider. So many riders lose their seat or upright position as soon as they use their hands or legs. Or alternatively, they use their hands the balance because their seat is not stable.  The control of the transfer of weight from the seat to the stirrups is a problem many riders have in the rise-trot; there is a simple exercise to train the balance and movement for a stable rise trot.

    The control of the transfer of weight from the seat to the stirrups is a problem many riders have in the rise-trot; there is a simple exercise to train the balance and movement for a stable rise trot.  

    To train the sitting trot is more complicated but can be started the ball and controlling the breathing pattern. I teach riders to breathe correctly as they tighten the core at the same time do a simple exercise on the ball. This is a complicated movement pattern but a good one for sit-trot training. The ability to move the pelvis with the horse and remain still with your trunk and legs in the sitting trot can be trained on the ball. To control the movement and move with the horse is one of the key principles of being able to sit the trot.

    Releasing stiffness

    A stiff rider will block the horse in many ways. “Soften Your Back... Soften your Hands....these are familiar terms to all riders. The answer is to STRETCH STRETCH AND STRETCH - there is no other way! I have not talked about back pain or headaches here. Many riders suffer back pain. The exercises I teach are all good for back pain but I do recommend riders see a physiotherapist know they are doing the right thing for themselves. There are many causes of headaches, but horse riding and bad posture are certainly one cause. Again I advise riders to see a physiotherapist for the right management.

    There are many more exercises that can help riders to tone, strengthen, and stabilize their core to make riding more comfortable, effective, and successful. I would like to encourage all riders to look at their own posture, symmetry, flexibility, and strength, and to absolutely know how to test, train strengthen and USE their core, not only for riding but for daily work and play.

    A well-toned rider is also lighter and easier to carry, reducing the need for equine massage, chiropractic treatments, and veterinary bills. There is little need for whips and ancillary gear to help ‘train’ a ‘stubborn’ horse when a well-toned rider can do the job with far more ease and sympathy.

    To find out more about my Applied Posture Riding Membership Program follow this link.

  • The Mystery Of "Use More Seat" When Horse Riding!

    How To Use Your Seat Correctly is the Question?

    Training a rider to use their seat is not natural! Why?

    Why do riders rely on their reins for balance?DSC 0028websize

    Your seat is your buttocks and this is not a body part people focus on or use to move or to function. (Except for the obvious).

    People don't think or focus on their seat during their daily lives (as a rule). We use our eyes, our hands and our feet mostly for performing our daily tasks. We sit on our seat.

    Our eyes give us a target to go to, our feet take us there and our hands then perform a function. Our seat is just a body part. The seat is a follower of movement, not the leader.

    So when a rider is asked to "use more seat" what does this mean? If your seat has only been used to sit on then how does it suddenly become a leader of a movement when riding. The default first movement is usually the hands and hence the reins.

    To most, it suggests they should wriggle or vibrate or jump around in the saddle.

    To some it means to change the direction of weight through your seat bones, to others it is a pelvic tilt and to many, they have no idea!

    Riding Instructors use this term all the time "more seat".

    DSC 0101websizeHOW ? is the question?

    The seat if a follower of movement and not the leader of a movement. The anchor for the seat is the hands unless it is trained otherwise. This leads to an unbalanced horse and rider which then leads to a horse heavy through the front end and possibly a bridle lameness.

    However, you can train it to become the leader and learn HOW to use more seat in the saddle.

    The HOW is what riders want to know. It is not an isolated answer or a matter of a few exercises. Like all new skills, it takes an understanding, time and training.

    Rider Biomechanics has become popular but many "experts" do not fully understand "Human Movement".

    We all have habits, age-related changes, muscle imbalances and scars that affect our body. These do not go away when we ride. The knowledge of clinical reasoning is the missing knowledge of so many rider experts.

    The existing body problems riders have needs assessing and dealing with long before a rider can "use more seat".

    A rider with a painful, stiff lower back or weak hip muscle will try anything to get their seat to move? This creates more problems, and many are then transferred to the horse. An injury may have created a muscle inhibition resulting in a muscle not firing off when needed.

    The core group is the chief to all stability and without it, you cannot use any of your leading points efficiently in or out of the saddle. Your hands (reins) will be used for balance, mostly you will tip forward and your lower leg will swing around. Sound familiar?14934490 horsewoman in uniform at a jumping show

    To change HOW you ride is a matter of working through the steps.

    Once your core is trained to be used on demand you can then train your lower leg to be solid and stable. This skill will allow you to use your hands and feet for effective reproducible aids. Once you have established this you can then train your seat to follow and become your primary tool for riding.

    Pilates will not teach you this. Why? Pilates is a lifestyle routine for strengthening your core in "neutral spine" horse riding requires so much more of your core than sit to stand ect. Riding requires "active flexibility" through the pelvis and spine. The pelvis does not remain neutral!

    Applied Posture RidingAnnette WillsonTraining Riders To RideRiding With Your Core 1

    Think beyond your instructor, beyond your Pilates Class and beyond your own Physio, each has knowledge of what they do. Do they have knowledge of what you do?

    If you want to change the way you ride and the way you train your horse then have a look at my way of training. 

    Applied Posture Riding Program.

    Contact me with any Questions, I can start your new way of thinking and training now.

    Look Good Feel Good Ride Well.