Posture is a Connection Between Time On and Off of the Horse
I'd love to get students to connect their riding goals to the things they do every day. Take posture for instance. Have you ever considered how much a student's normal or learned daily posture influences how they ride? If students were aware of this even when they’re not on a horse, it might not only influence their riding. It may also order add a thread of continuity from lesson to lesson. Becoming aware of your posture can have a direct effect on how you ride.
A large share of the time, I can tell how a person will sit on a horse by how they sit in a chair, sit at their desk in school, stand when they are visiting, or when they are walking. I have a pretty good idea of how you’re going to sit in the saddle as I watch you drive your car up my driveway. And the riding instructor in me cringes when I see drivers on the highway who are obviously leaning on the console and spend much of their driving time in a crooked position.
Why? Because posture is a strongly developed physical behavior that carries over to your riding.
Notice I’m not talking about good posture or bad pasture. That’s because, either way, your posture reveals how you will initially sit, how you use your muscles, and how you line up your body. Check out my blog post Teach Horseback Riders to Use Their Head.
Training Your Posture Muscles:
Most kids spend about 6 hours every weekday sitting at a school desk or hauling around a heavy book bag that’s crammed full. After school the average kid spends 3-4 hours either in front of the TV, at a computer desk or on the sofa with a video game; or all three. That totals 9-10 hours every weekday, training muscles to a particular form of posture.
Adults have all the posture training accumulated from childhood plus the time they've added since school sitting in front of a computer, driving the car, sitting at a desk, and other activities that are part of adult life. We have a lifetime of training our bodies on a daily basis, for hours at a time, to our special posture. Then we arrive at our weekly 1 hour riding lesson and our instructor wants us to sit up, sit evenly, and control our body with “core” muscles.
We’ve created a dilemma for ourselves that isn’t going to be corrected by a few hours at the gym. The first step in changing how your normal posture effects your riding seat is - awareness.
Experts say that poor posture while sitting has become something of an epidemic in the United States. Eighty percent of Americans will cringe with back pain at some point in their lives, and back injuries are the top reason for missed work, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Let’s face it. Most of us have poor posture to some degree.
Poor posture leads to back pain, neck pain, poor breathing technique, head aches and weak stomach muscles, all things that effect your seat and strength during riding.
The core body muscles, which include the muscles of the stomach or abdomen, are important in posture because they work in tandem with the muscles of the back to hold the body in correct alignment. Weak stomach muscles caused by excess fat, obesity or a lack of physical activity can cause incorrect posture. Conversely, poor posture can weaken these core abdominal muscles. Slouching and hunching over a laptop or desk does not use these muscles correctly, causing them to become slack and weakened over time. Poor posture contributes to multiple health problems. Read more: http://www.livestrong.com/article/105010-consequences-poor-posture/#ixzz0tUJzH7P1
Make a Posture Evaluation
Personal evaluation is a matter of being aware of what your body is doing. When you sit at your computer, do you feel yourself sitting heavier on one seat bone than the other. When you walk do you lead with one side of your body? When you sit in a chair do you support yourself with your stomach (core) muscles or do you roll on to your buttocks and round your back? When driving do you lean to one side or the other? When you sit at your desk do you lean on one or both arms?
Try this: Stand with your back and hips touching the wall. Does it take the same effort to touch both shoulders to the wall? How about the hips? Hang a piece of butcher paper on the wall and ask a friend to mark your shoulders. Are they even? When standing, do you support your body with your core muscles, or do you let your back sway as your belly juts out?
Also evaluate your stiffness from side to side and forward to back. Are you one sided? A lot of crooked riding is the result of a natural crooked tendency that has never been addressed off the horse making it almost impossible to change in the saddle.
The whole posture topic hit me between the eyes when I saw myself on video. We were documenting my work with Reno, a BLM mustang. Since Reno was just a yearling I got an eyeful of myself on foot. Head down and humble, as I worked non aggressively, I realized I lived watching my feet and rounding my shoulders. I always thought I had pretty decent posture until I saw myself on tape, and until I was evaluated by a physical therapist. She rated my posture at only 85% because I jutted my head forward instead of holding my head over my body. Physical therapists are one of the best helps to your body for riding because they evaluate, give selected stretches and exercises, and then they evaluate again.
You can’t have very strong core muscles when your head is down and your shoulders rounded. Try it. Living in the vertical fetal position spits in the eyeball of good posture.
Who hasn’t heard a variation of, “Open up your chest”, “Put your shoulders back”, “Let the shoulders relax downward”....or in my case “Shoulders Back! Pick your head up!”. It’s amazing how the head follows and the “fetal posture” begins to disappear.
But here’s a surprise... you can’t effectively put the shoulders back or open the chest if your body is tight and unyielding.
Love me- I heartily support riders having a massage.
Getting a massage is not going to correct your posture all by itself but it is a wonderful way to start to identify knots and loosen up muscles. And what hard working riding instructor or student doesn't deserve a massage? I’m always amazed at how much more easily I can get my foot to the stirrup for mounting once I’ve had a massage. A monthly massage is a great investment in your body and your health. Knots don’t stretch well.
Stretching is an important key to flexibility, good posture and muscle control. A wise horseman will start stretching now and continue forever. You need to stretch as badly (maybe even more than) your horse does. There is a direct relationship between the stretching and contraction of muscles. The older you are the more careful you need to be when you stretch but also, as a general rule, the older rider will recognize the benefits of stretch sooner than the young person will.
The book, “Stretching” by Bob Anderson is one of the best informational tools on stretching that I’ve ever found. It is easily worth its $19.95 price tag. Anderson gives you guidelines for basic stretches, stretches for particular parts of your body and then a stretching routine for activities such as gardening or sitting in front of your computer. What I like best is that there are 2 pages devoted to stretches for Equestrian Sports. I love the way this book shows you how to stretch each leg on the side of your car. If you’re serious about stretching, look for “Stretching” by Bob Anderson. You can find it online or even at your library.
Here’s Your Homework
So, here are my recommendations for riders and instructors this week: Do something good for your body. Take time for yourself by scheduling a massage and follow it up with a good stretching routine. Then as you go through your day, whether you’re sitting at a desk at work or standing to teach a riding lesson, give your posture a quick check over. Can you make a little change such as bringing your head back over your body, rolling your shoulders back and down, or stretching and tightening your core muscles? If you do this, even once an hour, you’ll begin to improve your posture, which can improve your riding.
And while we're considering posture, take a look at The Best Exercises to Help You Keep Your Heels Down.
Please let me know in the comments how you help your students' posture or let me know if you love getting a massage!
Thanks for reading!
Barbara Ellin Fox