We are all asymmetrical to a greater or lesser extent; we may have one ear lower than the other, carry one shoulder higher or have one hip further forward than the other – this is our norm – and we think what we feel is correct and that we are level.
Unfortunately for us our proprioception system is very good at lying to us. Sometimes called the sixth sense, proprioception, is the body’s ability to sense itself. Information about where our body is goes to the brain from receptors in the muscles, joints, and bones, although none of this is really ‘conscious’ thought. Your proprioception capabilities can be impaired when you injure a joint, break a limb or sprain a ligament as you deliberately avoid weighting the damaged limb. In addition your proprioception can be damaged by regular misuse of the body such as spending a long time in a certain position, for example slouched at a desk or driving a car. Our brain adapts to the incorrect position and treats the misalignment as the norm.
A common symptom of reduced proprioception is poor balance, another is poor posture. Most people understand that poor balance can be a result of poor proprioception. However, less people realise that their posture is governed by their proprioception. Your spine has a proprioception component that tells you whether or not you are sitting or standing upright. Good posture therefore is no more than perfect spinal balance!
Side to side issues are particularly problematic for riders. Nothing is more damaging for the horse’s back than us sitting permanently to one side with our saddle offset. In addition, our horses pick up on our imbalance and over time try to compensate for it, and then their brain in turn will start to accept the crooked way of going as the norm.
If we want our horse to go well, then we must make sure we do our best to solve our own asymmetries. You can improve both your proprioception and balance with body awareness and balance exercises such as Pilates. Regular Pilates, Yoga or Feldenkrais can help your brain demand alignment rather than accept an uneven uncooperative body
You can check on your own body asymmetries and how well your proprioception system is working with a full length mirror and the help of a friend. Wear tight fitted clothing so it is easy to see the body form.
Stand with your feet a hip-width apart, arms by your side. Note the position of the joints; are your shoulders level, is one in front of the other? Are your elbows level? Are your wrists level? What about your hips, knees and ankles, are they the same height as each other? How level are your ears? Note any discrepancies.
Now stand with your feet a hip width apart, arms stretched out to the side. Shut your eyes. Bring arms together in front of you and see if you can touch your index fingers together. Did they touch or miss? Note any discrepancies.
Finally stand on one leg for 30 seconds, and then change legs. Was one leg easier?
The ultimate test for side to side irregularities is of course a session on PI, (the posture and balance assessment electronic horse). The first ‘programme’ assesses your seat, balance and position. When you are correct the left/right/forward/backward displays show green. When you are not quite right they indicate amber and if you are seriously out, either side to side, or front to back, they go red.
Basically to correct your asymmetries and proprioception you need to work on your flexibility, core strength and balance. The best way to do this is to join a Rider Seat Course or regular Pilates class either LIVE or a pre-recorded class on-line.