When I’m not writing about, thinking about or otherwise engulfing my life in horses, I can often be found running. Or at least, I could, until my ankle weaknesses caught up with me and rendered me out of commission for the foreseeable future.
After a few weeks of rest (sort of), I tested the waters gingerly with a short run. When I finished, it was my Achilles tendon that hurt.
“Huh, that’s new,” I thought.
I had recently begun working with renowned physiotherapist Britta Pedersen, whose use of resistance bands in her in-the-saddle teaching combined with her extensive knowledge of biomechanics has given me a new appreciation for my body and how it works. On my next visit, I brought up my Achilles pain, which registered exactly zero surprise after she asked me some more questions about the injury.
She asked if I’d been walking any differently to alleviate the pressure on my ankles. Yes, I had. She asked if my calf muscles were always tight - yes, they were. She asked if I had any corresponding knee or back pain - you guessed it, I sure did.
It seems like such common sense when you boil it down, but this real-life application of the concept that our body parts are all working together at any given time to, well, keep us upright and functional really hit home with me. It was then that I began to look at my body as a big picture rather than a puzzle of moving pieces.
And I think this is true when it comes to our riding and our horses’ way of going, too.
After all, how often have we all been focusing so hard on keeping our heels down that we don’t even notice that our reins have gotten long or our shoulders have rounded? Or maybe we’re so focused on unlocking our hips to properly sit the canter and don’t notice our lower leg swinging.
Relatedly, it’s likely you don’t notice some of the asymmetry you’re unconsciously encouraging in your body out of the saddle, too. Things like holding your baby on one hip one than the other, or carrying a purse on your right shoulder always or a backpack with straps that are too long. These may seem like tiny things to notice, but chances are these seemingly minute elements of how you use your body may also be contributing to the imbalance you might be feeling on your horse - or the imbalance she’s showing you.
Awareness of our bodies is a useful skill to hone. If you spend just a few quiet minutes doing a meditative scan over your body, chances are you’ll pick up on some sensations that you might not have ordinarily recognized. Some dull pain in your lower back or tightness in your shoulders. Tension in your hands, tightness in your quads or calves.
What about your daily actions? Take just one day and try to notate the different imbalances you pinpoint. Here are some examples:
- Carrying heavy loads (a purse, backpack, child, saddle, etc.) on one side of your body (usually your dominant side)
- Slouching in your chair at work
- Leaning on your window while you’re driving
- Sitting with your wallet in your back pocket
Believe it or not, each of these asymmetries cause your body to compensate in one way or another. Over time, the risk of pain and susceptibility to injury increases as your body becomes accustomed to carrying itself in an off-balance manner.
This is a three-part series focusing on rider biomechanics and how our bodies relate to our riding. The first step is to identify your own asymmetries. Make a list and call it to mind when part two is released next month when we move to identifying rider asymmetry in the saddle. Finally in part three, we’ll break down some easy exercises you can do to become a more balanced (and comfortable) rider.To learn more about Britta Pedersen and The Performance Refinery - including how to book a biomechanics clinic at your barn - click here.
Written by Sally Spickard
Sally Spickard caught the horse bug at a young age and can still remember her first trip to the Kentucky Three-Day Event, which subsequently afflicted her with the eventing bug. Sally spends her days in San Diego, California and thoroughly enjoys her career telling the stories of our sport and assisting clients with their digital marketing needs.