Just being right or left handed makes us develop more muscle on one side and repetitive chores like mucking out where we often only twist one way can exaggerate our physical imbalance even more.
We spend a lot of time and money on training and bodywork to help promote straightness, suppleness and balance in our horses. We get saddle, bit and vet checks done to ensure our horses are comfortable and happy with their workload, but how many of us look at ourselves as the potential cause to our horse’s stiffness or lack of impulsion on a particular rein?
Of course it’s really helpful to have a set of extra eyes from the ground to see if you are riding straight at all times, but often this isn’t possible and so can create a significant barrier to your schooling progression. So here's a few easy steps you can take to check your own balance and see what effect it may be having on your horse.
Firstly stand in front of a full length mirror in your underwear with your eyes shut and try to stand straight. Then open them and see if one shoulder is higher than the other. Next put a flat hand on the edge of each hip bone and see if one is higher than the other there too. Take a good hard look at any differences from one side of your body to the other.
Note the pressure points on left and extra movement on right. This is a rider I know sits heavily to the off-side!
Don’t underestimate the usefulness of a dirty numnah! As annoying as it is to untack, carry our saddle back to the tack room and get a forearm full of sticky scurf, this could be a great eye opener as to how your horse is building up his muscle. Unattach the numnah and lie it flat on the floor scurf up. Now look at the patches and ask yourself 'are they symmetrical?' Ideally you want to see complete scurf symmetry either side of the middle stitching that runs down the horses spine. If one side has significantly more scurf than the other, then you will find that this is the side you are bearing more weight through, riding stronger through and consequently have a horse which has a bad rein.
Learn to assess your horse’s symmetry and let him be your mirror. Tie your horse up on an even surface, untacked and unrugged. Then having got him or her to stand as square as possible. If they find it hard to stand square then this is the first indicator that they are uncomfortably one-sided. Then stand directly behind your horse and look towards the wither (you may need to stand on a mounting block to get high enough). Now look down both sides of the wither, is the muscle symmetrical down both sides of the wither travelling down towards the shoulder. You will find if the horse is weaker on one side, the muscle will not be as pronounced and will not mirror the other side. Equally while we are in this position we can check the symmetry of the muscle build up of the hind quarter and by placing our hands on the hip bones, as we did with ourselves,we can see if they are the same height or if one is in advance of the other.
Now, relate this back to the assessment you made of yourself in the mirror.
Good old fashioned no-stirrup work is a great way to highlight your imbalance as you will find that you slip more so to one side than the other. Closing your eyes in walk and really concentrating on the tension you hold through your seat and other parts of your body is also worth doing while without stirrups. You should have relaxed buttocks on both sides and you should feel the same amount of contact with the saddle on the right and left seat bone. And like your horse, feel if one seat bone feels in advance of the other. If you feel confident to do so, bareback work is even greater for highlighting this.
Of course horse and rider imbalance, can be a bit of a chicken and egg scenario and it can be hard to tell who is affecting who but like I said at the beginning, very few riders are truly symmetrical, so if you believe that you may be having an effect through the saddle, then a simple trip to a human bodyworker or physio will help straighten you out and give you some valuable exercises to do at home.
And, if you’re short on cash I really recommend some home yoga as well as lots of bareback or no stirrups riding as they will certainly aid your symmetrical strength and posture for future happy schooling.
There is no doubt we all know that YOGA helps you to be a BETTER EQUESTRIAN .....physically it improves balance, aligns the body and builds up your core strength....emotionally it can make you a lot more at ease with yourself more "comfortable in your skin"... emotionally and physically you will be a better equestrian if you do Yoga.... The issue though for many is how do I get started? It's so daunting. Or is it?
Starting Yoga is no different to starting any other activity - like learning to ride a horse for the first time. It can cause a little uneasiness at first until you get into the hang of it - everything is strange - the lingo is different - as are the muscles you are being asked to stretch - the positions look impossible...why should I have to feel like I'm a pretzel?!!
So here are 5 practical tips to help you get over this initial hurdle - tips that are passed on to you from others that have trodden this path overcame the pain and got to the gain.
Those who have come to fully understand how YOGA and equestrianism work perfectly to improve yourself and your riding abilities in all kinds of ways.
1- Go with the flow - Accept it may be a little confusing for the first couple of classes: Many times when you just accept "confusion" as the prevailing state of mind it suddenly becomes a lot less threatening - in fact,dare I say it can become FUN...I remember reading a story about a couple whose Sunday afternoon pastime was to drive out into the countryside and deliberately get lost....once they had got totally lost - the game was to see how long it would take them before they knew where they were again....ENJOY the emotion of being confused.
2- Have patience and be like the rest of us "a happy work in progress" - You are asking your body to do different things to that which it has done before...Muscles and joints get comfortable doing the same things even if they aren't good for the rest of the body. Often times in YOGA you are asking muscles to RE SET themselves - resetting is good for you but in the immediate time the muscle will resist " Why are you asking me to do this differently?" Be kind to your body - accept that decades of muscle alignment one way will take more than a few sessions to RESET themselves. Accept you are a work in progress and a HAPPY one at that! What's the point of being an unhappy work in progress?
3- Appreciate NOBODY is looking at anybody else ( apart from your instructor !) - they are all too busy trying to sort themselves out. I have personal experience of this - In one of my first sessions I was late and the only place available was right in front of the class - right in front of the instructor who was very very FLEXIBLE . I was very very INFLEXIBLE and I thought how embarassing...all these people knowing what they are doing and me not having a clue.....as the class progressed... I soon realised my focus needed to be on the YOGA ....I also realised ( when I managed to get a second or two to look at the others in the room) that nobody else was getting it right and that nobody was in the slightest bit interested in looking at this NEWBIE.
4- Compete primarily against yourself not against others. In all the classes I've attended you will find people who are stronger, weaker, more flexible , less flexible than your self in all the different muscle groups that are being worked.- Legs, Arms, Torso, Spine - everybody is different and inevitably most people have hangs up about themselves somewhere or other ....The truth is everybody is different, everybody has their own story to tell.
The beauty of YOGA is it can help everybody and anybody for the good.
5- Always remember It's all about having FUN and keeping a Good Sense of Humour ...understanding your self, your body and how it all fits together ... You get to understand biomechanics - what alignment means, how to stack your spine, how one piece of the body is attached to another , which muscles extend when others flex and how you can use this insight when you are on a horse....what having an independent seat really means....great knowledge to take on board even better when its done in a spirit of humour.
Enjoy!And that is all there is to it - go for it and make that first move - it can really change your life...seriously : )John B
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