As horse riders we know that a huge emphasis is placed on our body’s alignment. From the moment we have our first riding lesson we will have been told to sit up tall, pull our shoulders back and balance on our seat bones. But what is alignment and why is it so important for our riding?
Anyone who has experienced a session on PI (my electronic horse) will have seen how sitting even slightly out of alignment can have a huge impact on how our weight is distributed over our horse’s back.
If you imagine your body is made up of building blocks, we basically want to be able to stack each block on the one below. When you are riding, your bottom building block is the pelvis, the next block is the rib cage and shoulders and the final block is the head and neck. If each of these blocks are stacked correctly then we will be in balance, but if one of these blocks isn’t sitting correctly on the one below or is crooked then we are out of alignment and out of balance.
But why is alignment so important and why does incorrect alignment affect not only our riding but our health as well?
A great analogy is your car. When you get your car serviced, it’s wheel alignment is checked. This is essential not only so that the tyres perform optimally, but that you can drive safely in the direction you want. When the wheels aren’t aligned correctly your car will pull to one side and the tyres will wear badly.
The same is true for us. If we aren’t aligned properly or stacked correctly, then our horse may well veer in the direction of our weight (falling in or out), and compromise our own back and joints through unnecessary wear and tear. Add a horse’s movement underneath you and you’re going to create even more stress on your body. The impact and force on joints that aren’t aligned properly can be immense and over time can reduce the length of your riding career. Even worse is the fact that if we are seriously out of alignment to can cause major damage to our horse’s back and legs.
Correcting our alignment starts with the position of our pelvis. When we’re riding, we want to make sure our pelvis is stacked up correctly and we’re on our seat bones evenly. It is only when we have a neutral pelvis that can our hips move freely. If our pelvis is positioned too far forward (anterior tilt) we restrict movement in our lumbar spine and can create vulnerability in our lower back. If our pelvis is positioned too far back (chair seat) our legs will have a tendency to creep forward and upwards, leave us behind the movement and frequently causes our horse to sag his back behind the saddle. If our alignment is off and we’re sitting to one side, we’re going to create more stress in that hip, and compromise our horse’s back.
Once we have got our pelvis sorted out we need to ensure our torso block is also stacked correctly. Although the placement of each block effects the placement of the others, it doesn’t always follow that because you have your pelvis right, the rest of your spine will also be in ideal alignment. The ribcage block can be tilted to the front, to the back, to the side or even rotationally shifted! Our torso can It’s also important to make sure our spine is stacked up correctly and we’ve developed a strong core with a neutral spine. Good shoulder posture comes next. If we’ve got a blockage happening in our upper body, it’s going to affect what’s happening with our hands and reins, ultimately affecting how the horse moves and responds.
Good alignment is not just about creating a visually pleasing picture. It’s not even just about making sure you protect and look after your own body, its about looking after both your body and the welfare of your horse!
This is where Pilates can really help riders. One of the cornerstones of Pilates is alignment. From a Pilates perspective good alignment helps your whole body to function correctly. It’s really hard to for us to correct our body’s alignment when we’re sitting on top of our horse as we have to contend with the force of the horse moving underneath us. We need to improve our posture by working on ourselves while we’re off the horse!
For an online class dealing with this subject please click here.