By Lissanthea Taylor, The Equestrian Physiotherapist
It might sound a little bit like I'm blowing my own trumpet, but I’d like to see that all horse riders have a Physiotherapist/ Physical Therapist to assess and treat their body. Your horse’s health and training will be worth it.
If you’re not straight, your horse can’t be straight. At the higher levels, this becomes more subtle, more important and better still, likely to be your secret weapon in getting good marks. A Physio can tell you if you’re straight, and can assess the likely reasons you’re not. And it is much easier to treat you, as a conscious thinking person, than it is to treat a horse with a sore back that is limping from an uneven rider!
If you’re not able to sit with soft control and stability, and move with your horse then you’re not really able to speak his language clearly. Bracing, holding and breath holding will confuse your horse- even if you’re straight. He’ll be wondering what’s wrong. He can’t be soft if you can’t. And you can’t be balanced if you’re not able to control your position using good co-ordination between your deep muscles and superficial muscles. If your deep muscles aren’t working, you’ll have to brace your big muscles, which means you can’t breathe, you can’t move lightly and gracefully and you can’t go with your horse.
Have you ever wondered how a horse looks completely different with a more skilled rider? The same horse that has gone in the same frame for you for years, now looks completely different. Is it the horse that is different? Not likely. But the skilled rider allows the horse to move freely, to express his movement and to be confident in the contact. The way to change the way your horse goes is to change you, then you can work on him. And if you have ridden in the same way for years, your brain tells your muscles to use certain patterns and strategies, and to re-wire those patterns requires fundamental changes to the way you use your body, which are too complex to learn on the horse. To change you need to break it down, re-learn the movement and integrate it back in to your riding.
A Physiotherapist is also the person who can tell you if there is actually a reason you can’t make the corrections to your position and riding because of muscle shortness and tightness. Perhaps you physically cannot put your heels down, sit evenly on your seat bones or pull your shoulders back because your body doesn’t have the flexibility that these tasks demand. If you cannot actually do it, all the metaphor, reminders and ideas your instructor gives you will come to naught, except for frustration! Physiotherapists are EXPERTS in movement analysis, and in working out WHY you can’t do a movement beautifully- and sometimes it isn’t immediately obvious. There are factors of pain, time and compensating for other areas that show up in one area that come from other areas of the body. Sometimes pain is detected by your brain in other areas than the true source of the pain, which can be very confusing to the person experiencing it. These are the questions that a Physiotherapist will answer for you and give you a path to change it.
Physiotherapy traditionally has strong associations with all forms of sport, with music and dance, with various occupations that have physical demands but Physiotherapy is not something that is yet strongly associated with Equestrian Sports, and this puzzles me. Riders are athletes and they have incredible and unique movement demands to sit on and guide a horse, and to influence the horse enough to be accurate and in control, and then be secure and strong enough in their own position to keep out of their way and let them shine! It’s a pleasure and a challenge to bring my riding knowledge together with my clinical experience and expertise, and in the very near future add some meaningful research to allow us to train smarter and make meaningful changes to riders quicker.
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