Welcome to the first guest blog on In Due Horse.
Over the past few years the topic of rider biomechanics has become more popular and lots of people are turning to it to help performance issues for them and their horse, but do you really know what it is, why it’s important and how it can help you and your horse?
What are Biomechanics?
Let’s take a closer look at biomechanics. If we break down the word into its ancient Greek origins, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, bios means “life” and “mechanics” refers to the study of the mechanical principles of living bodies, particularly their movement and structure. During sport, the laws of mechanics are applied to how a body moves in order to help us understand what is and isn’t working, and how we can change it for the best to improve performance and reduce injuries.
Now we’ve got that little nugget out of the way, let’s put this in the horse and rider scenario: Rider biomechanics looks at how the horse and rider move, both by themselves and in relation to each other. It looks at the tilts, twists and wiggles we all do and how they can be worked on to create a much better harmony between each other’s bodies, improving balance and flexibility. If we improve balance and flexibility, we can encourage better movement and directly influence performance.
Why are biomechanics important?
The short answer is that biomechanics can help us make sure our horse is as comfortable as possible when being ridden, and that they have a long and healthy ridden career, as well as ensuring that us riders are as balanced and easy to carry as possible.
Let’s put that into an example: If we sit more to one side when we ride, or if we alter our posture from the idea of “perfect posture” we significantly change how the horse has to carry our weight. If we ride a bicycle and we wobble to one side, we will topple to the same side until we correct our posture. Thankfully for us, our horses are very adept at compensating for our poor posture and balance. Our posture and balance can cause such significant problems for the horse that we can contribute towards issues such as shorter stride lengths and flatter jumping techniques, right through to influencing injuries and degenerative changes, just by forcing the horse to work in a posture that isn’t normal for it.
Let me just say at this point that despite it sounding horrific, most of these changes happen VERY slowly and there is a huge amount of other influencing issues that need to be taken into account in each horse/rider combination’s unique set of needs. We all spend money on physical therapy and saddle fitting for our horses, but we are one of the biggest influencers as to how our horses use their bodies, so we need to take time to look at ourselves too.
When both bodies are working at optimum performance, and that has to be optimum for the individual combination, whether simply hacking out, or doing 5* eventing, we can minimise injuries, train more effectively and correct poor performance before they ever become a big problem.
How will looking at biomechanics help my horse and me?
The horse carries 60% of its weight on its front legs and when we ride, we add to that weight load, so the muscles that hold the horse’s front legs to its body, the Thoracic Sling muscles, have to be pretty tough. But as we’ve discussed earlier, if we sit out of balance, we will have a bad effect on our horse’s posture and performance.
When we ride, there are 4 main areas we need to look at to potentially make changes to:
- Arms and Hands
Maybe you sit to one side, drop your chin forward, have a wayward hand or a leg that likes to grip up, maybe you lose one stirrup or constantly battle to keep your reins equal lengths: These are all signs that you have biomechanical issues going on that can be changed.
A biomechanical assessment as a rider will look at little niggles like this and try to work out where they are coming from to then make positive changes. Surprisingly, most issues can be linked to our seat and making subtle changes to how we sit in the saddle can correct a variety of other issues!
On that note, it’s worth talking about saddle fit. It’s a topic of hot debate, but a saddle that is out of balance from pommel to cantle, too big or small for either the horse or rider will imbalance the rider and cause pain for the horse.
There is such a huge array of fun exercises that can help riders and with the added use of gym balls, therapy bands, small inflatable balls and the like, that everyone can enjoy exercise, so we improve our overall balance and posture. This can also help any niggly aches we have in day to day life and help us to combat repetitive habits we have; Yes, they also affect your horse!
We owe it to our horses to be fit enough to ride, but that doesn’t mean we all have to take up running! By changing repetitive habits, making sure little things like stirrup length and saddle fit are right, having the occasional lessons to work on us rather than the horse and keeping up with our overall body strength we can make enough subtle changes to help our horses work to the best of their abilities and with as little discomfort as possible – an all-round win!
About the Author:
Georgina Bull is a registered Osteopath in the UK who, alongside treating horses and humans, takes a special interest in the relationship between how horse and rider move together. Georgina is a rider herself, owning 2 horses and competing in Endurance riding and she has worked with the Team GBR Elite Endurance Squad travelling with the riders to European and World class competitions. Georgina runs her own clinic in Northamptonshire and regularly runs rider biomechanics workshops.
To find out more about Georgina and what she does head to her website and be sure to check out her blog.