Rider Biomechanics is not just about sitting in a pretty position it is about understanding the forces put on your body by your horse’s movement and the forces that your body put upon your horse’s body.
Sitting well on a horse is much more difficult than a non-rider can possibly imagine. The most important thing for us, as riders, to understand is that it is our responsibility to have an awareness of our own body and to know whether we are sitting in alignment, or out of balance. For example: are you aware if your right hip is dominant and you sit more heavily to the right? Are you able to follow your horse’s movement or do you block his back with your seat?
Really good riders who seem to expend very little effort while sitting on big moving horses aren’t up there doing nothing, they are able to mirror their horse’s movement and enhance it. Just as an elite figure skater makes her routine look easy or a professional dancer on Strictly Dancing seems to float across the floor an excellent rider can appear to be absolutely motionless whilst her horse performs superb extensions across the diagonal or intricate lateral movements. They are all athletes who have to work hard on their own bodies to ensure suppleness, flexibility and core strength.
All too frequently riders are happy to spend hours schooling or exercising their horses but aren’t prepared to spend anytime exercising or schooling their own bodies. Pilates is ideal for horse riders as it not only helps improve your flexibility, it promotes suppleness, strengthens the core and encourages a greater awareness of the body’s alignment. Fortunately there are now a plethora of on-line exercise classes aimed at riders, so not having time is no longer a valid excuse.
Making sure that you can sit on your horse with your spine in alignment when your horse is at a halt is a good place to start. You will need to check that you are lined up vertically from ear, through shoulder and hip to heel. This basic position allows your pelvis to be in neutral with your seat bones aiming directly down; and your lower back neither rounded nor hollow. Your abdominal and lower back muscles (core) need to be toned enough to keep your spine stabilised. Your vertebrae should not articulate to absorb the up and down of your horse’s movement this should be done by a vertical bilateral movement of your hips. Your thigh should be resting snugly, inwardly rotated on the saddle, so you can use your thigh or knee as an aid when required. The angle of your thigh should ideally be between 40 and 45 degrees. Any shorter and you will find yourself forced into a chair seat and any longer can cause you to over-arch your back unless your hips are really supple. Your foot should rest really lightly in the stirrup, so that you remain soft and supple in the ankle joint. If you force your heels down you will lock the ankle, knee and hip joints. According to the old masters of the Spanish Riding School your foot should rest so lightly in the stirrup, the stirrup could be blown off by a breath of wind.
Once you start moving it is your hips and pelvis that should influence your horse. Be aware that your horse will always tend to move under weight, and that this can be used to your advantage or used against you.
To really see how well you are sitting get a biomechanics coach to access you. Alternatively if you live within travelling distance of West Wales book a session on PI the electronic horse.
This short article has only touched briefly on the rider. Asymmetry in the horse can have as detrimental effect on your position as much as our asymmetry can affect the horse. There is just so much to learn about biomechanics and the more I understand the more fascinating the subject becomes.