Get “Equestrian Fit” and Move Faster, Stronger, and Mindfully
Each month, we feature a new WAV move that targets key motor functions. This month’s move discusses movement mechanics from a physical therapists point of view. Not a professional? Our moves are easy to follow so you can improve your performance at home, at your own pace.
This month’s move is an effective brain-body exercise for becoming a better horseback rider. Lily, one of our WAV trainers, is an award-winning equestrian in both competitive jumping and dressage. Her expertise and study under renowned sports psychologist, Dr. Ken Ravizza, helped shape this training approach.
If, at this point, you're thinking. “I’ve never ridden a horse before! The closest I’ve been to a horse was the petting zoo on my tenth birthday--”my motion is strictly limited to my own two legs,” don’t let that stop you from trying this month’s powerful WAV exercise that targets the coordinated biomechanics required to ride in alignment with a horse.
We created this move knowing that the swing of a horse’s back encourages similar dynamics in our pelvis when we walk.
It’s No Horseplay
Perhaps in no other sport is body awareness and movement control more apparent than in horseback riding. For equestrians, communication is done primarily through precise and nuanced physical techniques, often yielding in specific results from the horse. Together, horse and rider build a language based on pressure, release, balance and trust (among others). Being a successful and effective rider requires a heightened proprioceptive sense to be in tune with your body’s subtle changes that are necessary to maintain dynamic balance. What does that mean for you?
Improve Your Seat
Experienced riders know the importance of having an effective seat. For non-equestrians, an effective seat means having your pelvis positioned so you can use your body weight and placement in the saddle to communicate with your horse. When an equestrian hasn’t developed sufficient dynamic balance to transition from trot to walk without relying on the reigns, it’s clear he needs to work on his seat. The rest of us could tell if we might not have an effective seat if we have trouble transitioning from sitting to standing, something important in our everyday lives.
The key to improving your seat--or dynamic balance and movement transition--is strengthening hip joint mobility and core stability. Good hip flexibility means freeing up any restrictions that may limit your hip motions. Riders, like the rest of us, can benefit from understanding the causes of hip tightness. We can all use new ways to improve range of motion for greater stability in the saddle or on the street.
While in the saddle or walking about, your pelvis should be in a neutral position. What does “neutral position” mean? It’s the posture when your pelvis is perpendicular to the ground--not tipped forward or backward--when walking or standing. Maintaining this position is much easier with good posture, body awareness, and the strength that comes from core stability.
Poor positioning, reinforced through many of our daily activities, weakens our neutral position. Sedentary lifestyles (including long commutes and desk jobs) can cause decentration (or stressed joints), corresponding muscle activation, and relaxation imbalances. If you drive for long periods, you may even notice a hip/pelvic imbalance as a result of the repetitive motions of using one foot on the gas and brake pedals. Other seemingly harmless choices, like wearing high high heels or holding a baby or toddler on your hip may also cause hip tightness.
If you’re ready to flex your hips, the following video and steps will help you add the Seated Hip Mobility Move to your workout routine. Its concepts will not only enhance a horseback rider’s performance, but will allow you to gain insight into the precise and challenging nature of the equestrian sport. Even if you’re an everyday mover walking for fitness or a trainer hoping to help clients be their best, give it a try and let us know how you felt. Grab your WAV and move along with the video or follow the step by step outline below
Sit with your left leg bent behind you and your right leg bent towards the left. (In DNS its referred to as a modified 8-month position).
Keep your arms at your side with elbows bent. Maintain an underhand WAV grip while keeping it steady.
Bend at the hip over your right leg and tip the WAV.
Return to center and repeat.
What am I doing?
Positioning for stabilizing and dynamic functioning.
What am I mindful of?
Do I feel the outside bone of my right knee connect with the floor?
Bend at the hip to move over your right leg.
Press through your right knee and extend hips to come to a high kneel position.
Tip the WAV gently left and then right twice.
Sit back a bit and tip the WAV twice.
Maintain smooth movement control as you come back to an upright sitting position.
What am I doing?
Activating your hip muscles.
Improving dynamic stabilization.
What am I mindful of?
Am I maintaining a neutral spine?
Am I keeping a relaxed grip?
Do I feel the elongation in the back of my hip?
Repeat Step 2 with your eyes closed.
What am I doing?
Challenging your proprioception.
What am I mindful?
Am I remaining mindful of my body’s movements?
Am I maintaining good posture?
Switch legs and repeat Steps 1-3 on your opposite side.
Like we said, a regular hip exercise and dynamic balance challenge will help you not only in the saddle, but with any daily movement patterns that require subtle position changes.
This move can be practiced several times a week in combination with an existing workout routine.
If you’re ready to take it to the next level, check out our Facebook page for more mindful motion tips, tricks, and insights!
As much as we love interdisciplinary fitness theories, we didn’t invent them. For more information about the relationship between human and equine movement, read more here:
- From the American Association of Hippotherapy:
Evidence-based practice and clinical reasoning in the purposeful manipulation of equine movement to engage sensory, neuromotor, and cognitive systems to achieve functional outcomes.
- Human pelvis motions when walking and when riding a therapeutic horse, Human Movement Science, Feb 2015.
- Sonoma Horse Journal
- Daniel Stewart’s equestrian fitness work served as an inspiration for this month’s move and philosophy. Lilly would like to personally recognize his Ride Right Coaching certification program, which she completed several years ago.
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