Equine, Horse & Rider, Injury Management

Equine Joint Supplements

The area of supplements for horses is quite a minefield and its difficult to know what to give or not to give your horse. I know as a horse owner I have looked at many a product wondering whether it would actually benefit my horse. I have a 19 year old horse and have often looked into joint supplements but its hard to know which are beneficial or not. This post will hopefully help you as an owner to make a more informed decision on the matter

Horse joints

The main areas of focus would be the joints of the legs as they are predominantly weight bearing and therefore undergo a lot of wear and tear. Synovial joints are the most mobile so are often affected the most. Synovial joints are generally composed of a joint capsule with articular cartilage on the surfaces of the bones that meet. The synovial capsule allows fluid to be retained in the joint helping with lubrication and the articular cartilage is a smooth surface that allows the bony ends to glide over each other. These structures can become damaged over time through repetitive use and traumatic damage. Osteoarthritis (OA) can also develop which can cause painful and stiff joints.

Risk factors of joint damage and OA

  • High intensity activities
  • High volume of exercise
  • How many years training at a high level
  • Training surfaces- training on hard ground would have an impact on joints
  • Type of training- Jumping exercises would carry a much greater impact than leisure hacking
  • Conformation- how a horse is put together will affect stress placed on certain joints
  • Hoof balance- How a horse is shod and trimmed will also affect load on joints

From the above list it can be seen that as an owner you can reduce the risk to your horses joints by making decisions not to gallop, canter or jump your horse when the ground is to hard. Making sure you have a balanced training plan that allows recovery time. Allowing your horse to have regular bodywork sessions to reduce any muscle tension and to help with any conformational issues. Having a good farrier or foot specialist. Also a well balanced diet. All these can help reduce the impact to your horses joints without having to spend lots of money on specific joint supplements.

Joint Supplements

Above I mentioned what you can do to reduce the risk, which is the long run can be a cheaper way to maintain a healthy active horse into old age. However you may feel your horse needs a helping hand so what should you be looking for in a joint supplement. Below are some of the key ingredients that should probably be present for it to have any benefit.

Chondrotin Sulphate

Chondrotin sulphate is anti inflammatory, helps protect joints, controls water content in cartilage and reduces friction in a joint. There is some research to indicate that it can be absorbed allowing it to have some bioavailability to horses and helps with osteoarthritis. Combined with glucosamine it is thought to be more effective.

Glucosamine

Glucosamine helps with collagen synthesis, and reduces joint degradation. It has very good availability to be absorbed in the gut

MSM

MSM is available in the horses natural diet and provides sulphur which helps repair collagen, however through processing and drying this can be lost. It is anti inflammatory and has analgesic properties. As horses get older then their levels of MSM decrease so supplementing them may have some benefit.

Omega-3 and -6 fatty acids

Omega-6 fatty acids are considered pro inflammatory due to the fact that they are involved in vital body functions such as blood pressure, blood clotting and immune responses which are needed in the body.

Omega-3 fatty acids are deemed anti inflammatory because they decrease blood clotting and inflammatory responses as a result omega-3 can help to reduce inflammation in joints. Good sources of omega-3 are from linseed and fish oil.

So the above products in a supplement can potentially have a beneficial affect on joints but more research needs to be done. One thing you do need to look out for is the quantities of each ingredient in some products. If the product doesn’t have enough then it is pointless and you will be wasting money. Chondrotin sulphate glucosamine and MSM are not cheap ingredients so expect to pay a lot of money for a product that will be effective. Adding Omega oils to a well balanced diet and reducing the risk factors of joint damage will probably be a much more cost effective and simple way of keeping your horse fit and healthy into old age.

Anatomy, Equine, Injury and Rehab, Injury Management

Equine Acupressure: To the point of it!

You may be asking what is acupressure and how can it help my horse? If so then the following post will help answer this question.

Equine acupressure has the same roots and theory as acupuncture. It involves the application of pressure from fingers rather than the use of needles making it safe and noninvasive (acupuncture in the UK can only be performed by equine vets). It can be used as a stand alone treatment or integrated into a sport massage to help support your horses health.

Acupressure is based on traditional Chinese medicine, which offers a method of natural healing by trying to maintain the innate balance of the body. Acupressure uses invisible lines of energy flow called meridians, and along these lines are specific points which can influence the body when pressure is applied. There are 14 meridians connecting organs with other parts of the body. It is thought that energy (Chi) that flows along these meridians can get blocked causing symptoms to develop. By applying pressure the balance and energy flow can be restored. Chi (energy) is composed of Yin and Yang, which are two dynamic forces that are the opposite to each other. Yin is seen to be represented by water, wet, cold, nourishing, and dark (to name a few), whereas Yang is fire, dry, hot, active, red and consumes. When Yin and yang are in balance chi is flowing harmoniously and the body is healthy, however when they are not in balance there is disharmony and disease develops. Acupressure can help restore balance and act as a preventive.

Acupressure can have the following benefits

  • Releases natural occurring pain relieving chemicals in the body
  • Reduces inflammation and swelling
  • Increases blood flow allowing an increased rate of recovery from injury
  • Increase energy levels and wellbeing
  • Decrease anxiety
  • Encourage relaxation
  • Help joint lubrications and movement

When working on equine clients I often integrate acupressure points into my bodywork (massage) sessions to help create a bespoke and more holistic approach. I frequently find horses relax hugely with use of acupressure by their eyes softening, heads lowering, muscles relaxing and often dosing off. This allows me to be more effective in treating areas of discomfort as well as supporting the horses overall health.

If you would like to discuss the potential use of acupressure in your horses treatment then do contact Pollyanna using the form below


Anatomy, Biomechanics, Human, Injury Management

Feet the foundation of movement: Part three keeping your feet happy

In the the first blog of this series we looked at anatomy and function of the foot and then proceeded to discuss some common injuries in part two. This part looks into exercises that can help keep your feet supple and strong for everyday life.

Video on exercises to help keep your feet supple and strong

I hope the video was helpful if you have any questions then do please get in touch

Biomechanics, Equine, Horse & Rider, Injury and Rehab, Injury Management

Horse Pilates: Encouraging core engagement through movement

In the run up and during lockdown my clients and friends have increasingly been using the words Horse Pilates to describe part of what I do to help horses move better. To the point that even the Daily Telegraph have used that term in an article published recently. So I thought a blog post about Horse Pilates was needed.

What is Horse Pilates?

Human Pilates was developed by Joseph Pilates. He develop it when in the UK to help injured soldiers from the War to recover. Pilates believed that mental and physical health are closely linked and this is something that can be taken and applied to horses. Pilates is a low impact set of exercises aimed at strengthening muscles while improving postural alignment and flexibility. Any fitness level can benefit and Pilates exercises should be part of any training or rehab plan for a horse.

The focus of Pilates exercises are on the core. However it should also include other areas such as the hips, abdominals, back, inner and outer thigh. The core is the foundation and these other areas are all connected and need to be able to function as a whole.

In regard to horses what we term carrot stretches were a series of movements developed by Hillary Clayton and Narelle Stubbs and can be coined as the first form of Pilates exercises for horses. These exercises help develop the deep core and spinal muscles. They are a combination of stretches, stabilising exercises and lifts which are the first port of call to develop core. However with any exercise caution should be taken that it is the correct exercise for your horse and therefore consulting a professional to help is really important.

Intermediate & Advanced Pilates

Hilary Clayton and Narelle Stubbs exercises could be termed your beginner Pilates for horses as with human Pilates beginner exercise should still be practiced by intermediate and advanced students as it makes sure the deep core muscles are functioning and that the global muscles have not taken over, which often happens in very athletic inviduals. If this happens then the individual is more open to injury and it would be the same in the horse. However a horse can be stretched further so including straight line pole work and walking backwards would be the next step up. The horse can be progressed further by introducing raised poles (cavelletis) and lateral movement such as stepping under. Pole work on circles and in trot would progress things even further, shoulder in from the ground all increase the demand and complexity of the movement.

By working with your horse from the ground you can also develop your partnership with your horse. You don’t want to be doing lots of reps. This isn’t about increasing cardio fitness but about developing finer movements that are controlled. As the horse is able to control their movement through the use of its core muscles then its ability to work under saddle will greatly improve. Their balance will be better and there will be improvement in dealing with a rider on board. This is also a key time to work on yourself and develop your core strength. Your horse will appreciate this hugely.

So every horse can benefit from Pilate type exercise being added to their exercise regime. However professional help should be sort to guide you as the owner as to what would benefit your horse. If you would like to discuss things further do contact Pollyanna.

Anatomy, Biomechanics, Human, Injury and Rehab, Injury Management

Stress Fractures

You may have heard the term stress fracture being used before and wondered what makes it different from other types of fractures. In short stress fractures are not caused by a specific impact or trauma to the site of the injury but rather a repetitive overuse of that area forming micro trauma, inflammation and superficial cracks in the bone. Stress fractures form over time but can be prevented. Read on if you want to know how to prevent stress fractures forming.

How do stress fracture form?

As mentioned above stress fractures occur over time. Naturally our bodies go through a cycle of bone remodelling, where bone is reabsorbed by the body and new bone then laid down to replace it. When this process is disrupted then stress fractures can result.

Generally a sudden increase in activity is the main reason for the disruption in the remodelling process. This can be an increase in load, frequency, intensity or duration that doesn’t allow the body time to adapt. As a result the bone is reabosrned by the body quicker than bone is laid down causing bone weakness.

The majority of the time the bones affected are weight bearing such as the bones of the feet and lower leg but other bones can also be susceptible. In sport it can be common in high impact and endurance sports such as running, basketball, dance, gymnastics and tennis. In sports like rowing stress fractures can occur to the ribs due to tight muscles that repeatedly pull at the surface of the ribs.

Risk factors

  • Sport- certain sports as mentioned above can have a higher risk.
  • Sudden increase in activity- this includes increase in intensity, load, duration and not having enough recovery time.
  • Being female- abnormal menstrual cycles can affect bone density
  • Foot problems- flat feet, high or rigid arches can affect the ability of the foot to absorb impacts.
  • Worn footwear- footwear that doesn’t support the foot correctly can place undue strain on bony structures.
  • Weakened bones- osteoporosis is a condition that affects bone density. Certain medication can also have an affect.
  • Previous stress fractures- if you have had them before then unfortunately there is a higher chance of developing another one.
  • Lack of nutrition- not taking enough calories in can affect bone remodelling as well as deficiencies in Vitamin D and calcium.

How to reduce the risk

  • Eat a well balanced diet and get advice from a nutritionalist
  • Don’t restrict calories when increasing intensity and volume of exercise
  • Increase intensity of exercise gradually
  • Increase volume of exercise gradually
  • Make sure you have enough recovery time between training sessions
  • Replace equipment regularly and don’t let it get to worn
  • Look after you feet

If you suspect you have a stress fracture then seek medical advice from a doctor. Often stress fractures do not show up on x-ray when they initially occur so you may not initially get offered one. Once stress fractures start healing they become more apparent on x-ray.

Anatomy, Biomechanics, Human, Injury and Rehab

Feet the foundation of movement: Part two Injuries

In the last blog we introduced the anatomy and function of the foot (Part one anatomy and function). With this knowledge it can be seen that the foot is quite a complex structure and with so many components you would think quite a lot can go wrong. If you think how often you walk, run or jump and the forces going through your feet it is quite immense, and yet our feet seem to tolerate this on a daily basis. However there are occasions where trauma occurs or our feet just can’t recover as they should. Below are some common injuries your feet might experience.

Plantar fasciitis

Plantar fasciitis is one of the most common forms of foot pain. It is common in runners and older adults. It is often associated with biomechanical issues due to excessive pronation or supination. It is an overuse injury and what we would term a tendinopathy. You may have experienced tennis elbow or Achilles tendinopathy. Which is a similar condition just affecting a different part of your body. Tendinopathy in short is when the tendon is not healing in the normal manner, it can fray, become thickened and be painful.

Flat feet or high arches can increase the risk of plantar fasciitis. Tightness in the calf muscle, hamstrings and gluteals can also increase the risk. Plantar fasciitis has a gradual onset of pain which is often located on the medial aspect of the heel and experienced after activity. However when it becomes more severe pain can be experienced when weight bearing and on activity. Periods of inactivity during the day can also increase the pain when commencing activity again. Stretching the foot and fascia also can cause pain.

Stress fractures

The common bones in the foot that can suffer stress fractures are the calcanous, navicular and metatarsals. Calcaneal stress fractures are common in runners, military personnel, ballet dancers and sports that involve jumping. Having poor heel cushioning, overstriding and a heavy load can all increase the risk. The onset of pain is insidious in nature and aggravated by weight bearing. There is localised tenderness to the medial or lateral border of the heel.

Navicular stress fractures are the most common stress fracture in the foot. It can occur in sprinters, jumping sports and hurdling. It is an overuse injury and is thought to be due to training errors and impingement of the bone between other tarsal bones. Decreased dorsiflexion in the ankle is thought to perhaps bring about an increase in compensatory dorsiflexion in the foot increasing the stress placed on the navicular. Individuals often experience a midfoot localised ache, radiating along the medial aspect of the medial longitudinal arch. It often gets better with rest.

Metatarsal stress fractures occur with excessive loading of the forefoot and muscle fatigue. Forefoot pain is experienced and aggravated by activity. Pain gradually worsens with activity and tenderness over the metatarsal is present. Stress fractures don’t always present themselves on x-ray straight away so can be harder to diagnose than a complete fracture. However if one is suspected then management strategies can be implemented until diagnosis is confirmed

Metatarsalgia

Metatarsalgia is an inflammatory condition of the metatarsal phalangeal joints. It is caused by excessive pressure over prolonged periods of time. It is associated with high arches, excessive pronation of the foot, clawing/hammer toe, tight extensor tendons of the toes, prominent metatarsal heads and Morton’s foot. Pain is aggravated by forefoot weight bearing and affects the mid stance and propulsive phase of walking. Pain is gradual in onset and local tenderness over joints is present. Passive flexion of the toe causes pain and a v shape between toes can also be an early sign.

Bunion (Hallucis valgus)

This is when the big toe deviates laterally, it is more common in women and older people. There are a number of factors that can lead to the development of a bunion constricting footwear like high heels, excessive pronation of the foot, long first metatarsal (big toe), trauma to the medial and plantar ligaments and trauma to the medial sesamoid bone. As the deformity develops so does the pain over the medial border of the big toe this can be relieved by removing footwear or wearing wider shoes.

Toe Clawing

Toe clawing is not necessarily a painful condition but suggests that the long flexor tendons are tight. During the propulsion phase of gait the long flexors contract to stabilise the toes, if the foot is unstable the long flexor tendons excessively contract causing the toes to claw at the ground to maintain stability. If this continues then it could affect other areas of the foot or body as they compensate.

The above are just a few examples of injuries that can develop with feet. There are many others. The majority of the above injuries can be avoided by performing exercises and taking other everyday precautions. Part three of this series will address these solutions to help you maintain happy feet.

If you have concerns about your feet then either consult your doctor or Pollyanna would be happy to answer any queries you might have where she can

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Biomechanics, Equine, Injury and Rehab, Injury Management

Case Study Part Two: Road to Recovery

Willow Road to Recovery

In part two we discussed Willows history and issues that were causing her complex lameness, which you can find more detail in Case study Part One: Complex lameness. In this part we are going to discuss what treatments were used and Willows progress.

Treatment

Willow’s treatment was started very gently. In this case less is more. Willow is also a very receptive and expressive horse, which as a therapists is brilliant as she leads her own treatments. It is so important to listen and respond to a horses reaction. In this case Willow directs me on duration and areas she needs working on. Willow is also very responsive to acupressure points.

Her treatment began with Bladder 25 to help strengthen her lower back, address any stiffness or pain in this area. Willow responded by lowering her head almost to the ground and softening her eye to the point that she almost went to sleep. This allowed me to massage through her hind quarters to release further tension and relieve pain. Willows neck and poll muscles were also released through a number of soft tissue techniques. As well as her adductors on her inner thigh. This caused increase tone and activation through the TFL and quadriceps.

To finish of the session 5 gentle dock pulls were included on both sides to help strengthen and activate the TFL and quadriceps. A number of belly lifts were also performed to help activate the core muscles and stretch through the back.

Initial Outcome

Just from the above treatment and exercise Willow showed immediate improvement. Firstly her TFL (tensor latae fascia) and quadriceps started to activate. Had increased tone and secondly she was far less sensitive through her back and hindquarters. Her movement seemed eased but was still showing signs that were present on initial assessment. However the goal of making Willow more comfortable was achieved.

Continued Treatment

The original plan was to come and treat Willow little but often to allow her body to make small adjustments and to not overload her system with change. So visits were made twice a week for about two weeks. During this time I was fully aware that the country might go into lockdown and that I wouldn’t be able to come up to physically treat Willow. So Willow’s owner was taught how to do some of the key techniques that were helping Willow the most and given equipment to allow progress if I couldn’t be there. Willows owner was also doing some of acupressure points on a daily basis in between my treatments.

So in the second treatment acupressure point Bl 25 continued to be used along with the introduction of Bl 21 which helps with atrophy, gastrointestinal issues, edema , back pain and general weakness. Each session I added a new point Bl 11 (helps strengthen bones and joints, nourishes and facilitates blood flow, benefits joint problems and also helps neck and spinal pain), Bl 19 (helps with hip pain and gastrointestinal issues) and lastly Bl 23 (helps with general weakness, lower back pain and estrous cycle). The owner was also taught these points as treatment progressed. Willow responded well to all these points

Massage through Willows back, hindquarters, neck and poll were also carried out to help activate muscles and release tension that has developed due to compensatory mechanisms. Again Willow responded well over the two weeks

Exercises

Initially dock pulls and belly lifts were introduced. Gradually the number of repetitions were increased and this was something Willows owner performed between sessions. In the second treatment weight shift directed through the shoulder was introduced this along with dock pulls were to encourage Willow to use her stabilising muscles. To start the main aim was to develop Willows core to give her a stronger foundation to develop more global muscle strength.

Willow was introduced to some foot pads. Just one placed under a fore foot to start and then moved to a hind foot. The foot pad was placed under for as long as Willow would stay. This was often a couple of minutes. This was again to encourage Willow to use the finer muscles to stabilise herself.

Before I got to progress Willow further lockdown occurred. However with guidance Willows owner was able to progress her exercises gradually. Walking over a pole in straight lines was introduced then progressed over a week to a figure of out over a pole. These progressions occurred over a 3 week period from initial treatment.

Willows owner continued with all the above acupressure points, exercises and pole work by week 4 she was walking over 2 poles in a row with several repetitions. By week 5 Willow was introduced to slightly raised poles done in hand exercises. Willow is also on a track for the summer months so poles and obstacles to step over were introduced to encourage her to use her hind quarters more throughout her daily life. By week 6 straight line trotting in hand was introduced. By week 7 3 poles on a circle at walk was performed with no ill effect.

Progress

Walk up 3 months after initial assessment

Willow showed great improvements in her walk and confidence by week 2 of initial treatment. She was also getting increased turnout time. By week 3 she was back out on full turnout and her Bute had been gradually decreased as well. Within a month Willow was out 24/7. Willows feed was also changed to help increase weight and muscle mass by phasing in Copra and Speedi beet into her seaweed, brewers yeast, lucerne and chaff. Gradually the lucerne was phased out and replaced with Agrobs Leichengrass. There were two aims with these changes one was to reduce any feed stuffs that might cause increase in inflammation (hoof friendly) and to help increase condition.

The above photographs show a vast improvement in muscle mass and posture. The video further up also shows huge improvement in movement patterns. Willow will always have some sacroiliac issues but with careful management she should be able to lead a happy and comfortable life.

If you have any concerns about your own horse and lameness then do consult a vet or contact Pollyanna with any queries and she will try and help the best she can.

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Anatomy, Biomechanics, Human

Feet the foundation of movement: Part one anatomy and function

Feet are an important part of our lives. They continuously absorb a lot of force to allow us to move and balance in a number of ways. When feet are doing their job life is great but if there is something wrong then daily life can be affected hugely. Do you take care of your feet, understand how they work or want to know more about these incredible structures then continue reading?

Today we are going to discuss the anatomy and function of the foot. Part two will look into problems that may arise with feet and how they can affect the rest of the body. In part three and to conclude the series then ways to keep your feet healthy for pain free movement will be discussed.

Anatomy of the foot

The foot is quite a complex structure compared to the rest of a human body. It is made up of 26 bones, 30 joints and over a 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments all working together to create an apparatus that allows movement, and stability while bearing the weight of the whole body.

The foot is separated into three regions the hindfoot, midfoot and forefoot. The hindfoot is made up of the talus and calcanus. The talus articulates with the fibula and tibia to form the ankle joint (talocrural joint) and the calcanous is your heel. The midfoot has five tarsal bones, which are wedge shaped and help form the arch of your foot. The forefoot contains the metatarsals and phalanges which form your toes.

Function of the foot

As noted earlier the foot bears the weight of our bodies. When walking the pressure on the feet increases twofold and then fourfold when running. This is a huge amount of pressure in such a small structure. As a result the foot needs to be able to absorb and distribute weight. It also needs to be able to help with propelling the body forward in our chosen gait. The foot has three arches the medial longitudinal, lateral longitudinal and transverse arch. These arches allow weight to be distributed throughout the foot as well as allowing the foot to make adjustments to uneven terrain. The medial longitudinal arch is the primary load bearing and shock absorbing structure of the foot. It forms the instep of the foot.

The plantar fascia makes up the primary passive component (along with the bony structures) of the medial longitudinal arch. It covers the sole and side of the foot. Active toe extension stretches the fascia which adds tension to the medial longitudinal arch. It helps stabilise the foot especially in the push of phase of movement. Other structures such as muscles help stop the arch from lowering to much when weight bearing and likely protects against stress related injuries.

The foots ability to repeatedly transform from a flexible and shock absorbing structure to a rigid lever type structure is really important in our ability to move and weight bear. If there is a problem in the foots structure then our ability to weigh bear and move is compromised and our everyday living is profoundly affected. In the next post injuries that can arise with feet will be discussed.

If you have any queries about injuries to your feet then don’t hesitate to get in touch to discuss your concerns or book an appointment

Biomechanics, Equine, Injury and Rehab, Injury Management

Case Study Part One: Complex Lameness

Willow the complex case of lameness

This case follows the assessment and treatment of a 19 year old horse, Willow. It shows the complexity of a case that has multiple factors interacting together and that by viewing the horse as a whole all these factors can be addressed in an efficient and effective way. This first part introduces Willow’s history and the problems that were being experienced by her. The second part will discuss treatment used and the outcome.

History

Willow is an Irish cross (possibly thoroughbred with some Arad), she is 19 yrs old, 15.1hh in height and of a slight build. Willow has had hock surgery and been owned by the current owner for 9 years.

I have been giving Willow bodywork session for the last year and she also receives McTimoney chiropractic treatment from a very good practitioner. Willow has exhibited an unlevel pelvis on a number of occasions. This is potentially linked to an underlying issue within her sacroiliac joint, which could be a result of previous activities or injury. Willow had been ridden western style and potentially barrel raced in the past. With her current owner she is hacked and schooled at a low level. Willow has been barefoot for the last year.

Willows issues

Over the winter Willow lost a bit of condition and then the mud came. Willow seemed to find the mud particularly difficult to deal with. Willow developed some heat in her right fore and lameness. After a vets visit an abscess was ruled out. However it was noted that her gait was abnormal. Not just in her right fore but the hind legs as well. The vet placed Willow on restricted turnout on a firm flat surface for 4 weeks with Bute and then review her progress.

Willow’s owner asked me to come and help make Willow more comfortable. On initial assessment Willow showed a complicated lameness, by this I mean there were a number of potential issues going on. Firstly you had the forelimb lameness which was likely to be secondary refered lameness. There was also axial lameness going on, which can be harder to identify. Willow also showed left non weight bearing lameness in her hind due to the flight pattern and placing it along her midline when stepping through, this also affected her cornering to the left. She was also hesitant to place her left hind hoof down. Willow also walks on 3 tracks and has a slight head bob down suggesting a hind limb lameness. Lastly Willow’s right hind has a slight wobble when transferring weight onto it.

Willow on initial assessment

Closer look

On palpating, Willow showed a decreased tone and atrophy in her hind quarters specifically the quadriceps and gluteals bilaterally. Willow also showed decreased activation through her tensor fasciae latea and quadriceps on her right hind, this would explain the shaking through this leg when starting to weight bear. Willow was particularly uncomfortable through the lumbar and sacral area when palpated. Her neck showed tightness bilaterally but more so on the left.

The above introduces the issues that Willow has experienced. In part two we will discuss treatments and how Willow progressed. If your horse presents as lame always consult your vet before getting hold of a bodyworker. If you have any questions or concerns then please do get in contact with Pollyanna.

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Horse & Rider, Human

Balanced Rider

When we ride our trusty stead, we try and develop balance, straightness and suppleness in our horse so that they can carry us more effectively and efficiently. However, how often as a rider do you develop your own balance, straightness and suppleness? I would hazard a guess, not as frequently or diligently as you do your horse. With the winter almost over and spring on the horizon, now is a really good time to begin focusing and developing yourself for your horse. They will appreciate it!

We often hear the words “balanced rider” being banded around but what does this really mean? A balanced rider can encompass so many things. Here are just a few to consider when talking about a balanced rider

Force Balance

When the word balance is used, most people will automatically think of the ability to balance against gravity, for example, when standing on one leg or on a beam in gymnastics. This is balance and does play a huge part in riding a horse. If you are not balanced then gravity unfortunately takes control and a rider may fall off or come close to it. If this component of balance is something that you find difficult, think how that affects your horse’s balance. If you are carrying a child or small animal that keeps moving and wriggling around, you have to make adjustments so that you don’t drop them and sometimes this ultimately doesn’t work and a fall occurs. The consequences could be injury to both parties and a feeling of letting someone down. This is something that your horse could experience when you are not balanced and fall off. So to help your horse, working on your basic balance would go a long way to helping to make their job of being a ridden horse easier and less stressful for both parties.

Strength Balance

When I talk about balance of strength, I am referring to muscle strength. This can be left and right dominance. The majority of people are right-handed and are therefore stronger in their right hand or arm. Balance of muscle strength can also refer to agonist and antagonist muscle pairs. If there is an imbalance between these then injury can occur. While this is really important, for this blog it is not of focus but something that will be addressed in the future. So going back to left and right dominance, it is a natural occurrence but it is something we can decrease by working and training our non dominant side. This will even our strength out from one side to the other making our aids more consistent side to side when riding. By doing this a rider can further balance their horse out and be more supportive on their horse’s non dominant side.

Tension Balance

Muscle and soft tissue play a huge part in movement biomechanics for horse and rider. If an area is tight this will affect the body globally and also affect how your horse moves. You may not think this is so, however you may be shocked at how much you actually do influence your horse’s movement.

About 5 months ago, I injured my back playing field hockey. I had pain in the right side of my lower back which resulted in a huge decrease in range of motion, strength, force absorption and suppleness in my hips and back. However, I still attempted to ride and it was definitely an attempt. In walk I was not too bad, nor was my horse but going into trot was another story. My horse looked lame on both reins, feeling pretty low at being injured myself, having the prospect of my horse being lame as well, just would have been the last nail in the coffin. I was lucky enough to have my instructor present and being an equine bodyworker myself, we got to work straight away to fix him. Firstly we lunged him still with tack on and were happily surprised to see that he was not at all lame but instead moving rather well. It was therefore put down to rider influence. This surprised me hugely. While I know we influence our horses, I didn’t think by this much. Let me put this into a little bit more perspective. I am a small rider standing at 5ft2″ and 53kg. If my horse was small perhaps this would be understandable but my horse is 16.3hh, maybe a little taller and probably weighs near if not more than 700kg. So you can see that we can influence how our horse moves quite considerably, even minor things that we don’t realise could have an affect.

Soft tissue tension can affect mobility of the body causing decreased movement in various areas. It can also affect how different muscles activate, for instance, when there is a lot of tension in the iliopsoas muscle (hip flexors), this can affect your gluteus medius (one of your many butt muscles). The gluteus medius helps stabilise the lower back so will really kick in when performing rising trot. When the iliopsaos is tight it causes the gluteus medius to become stretched and it doesn’t like it. As a result it doesn’t activate as effectively, thus not stabilising through the lower back. No matter how much you try and strengthen the gluteus medius, it won’t make a difference until the iliopsoas is released and the gluteus medius is no longer stretched. Once this muscle can activate, then strengthening can occur and the body can function as a unit.

Anatomical Balance

Unfortunately, sometimes the way we are built means that we will have some differences from side to side or back to front. We were born like this and this is something we can’t always change, or we may have sustained an injury causing an anatomical difference. However, we can give ourself the best chance possible by being aware and doing something about it.

How do we develop ourselves so that we become the balanced rider that is talked about so much? Well there are many ways and here are some ideas below.

Massage

A massage is not just a luxury or something at a spa, a good sports massage will help with the following

  • Reduce muscle tension
  • Increase flexibility
  • Improve circulation and recovery
  • Help activate muscles
  • Reduce injury risk
  • Improve wellbeing

A good massage therapist will be able to help with improving posture off and on the horse. It is also good practice to be seen around the same time your horse receives bodywork so that one of you doesn’t undo the hard work put in. So when your horse is next scheduled for a session also schedule yourself in.

Pilates

Pilates was developed by Joseph Pilates to help rehabilitate soldiers during the war. It is used now to help people strengthen their core. However it is a bit more than this. Pilates does focus on your deep core muscles but it also develops better movement patterns by encouraging co-activation of deep core muscles and global muscles. I work with athletes and non athletes and while the athletes look strong, they tend to not use their deep core muscles but their global ones. They therefore find the more advanced Pilates exercises often easier but when you take them back to just using their deep core muscles they find this very difficult, unlike non athletes. Due to this, athletes that favour their global muscles will sustain injuries. Pilates teaches people to activate and use their body in a more functional and long lasting way.

Pilates is brilliant for horse riders as it allows a deeper understanding of one’s body. Equipilates™️ was developed specifically for horse riders by Lindsay Wilcox-Reid and is a combination of Pilates and other movement therapies to develop that body awareness and allow a rider to have a deeper connection with their horse. If you have an Equipilates™️ instructor near you, it is worth signing up to regular classes. Over time you will notice a difference. However, if you do not have an Equipilates™️ instructor close by, a normal Pilates class will still make a huge difference.

Things you can do when you ride

There are many things you can do without spending extra money or too much extra time. These include videoing yourself. This will highlight whether you are sitting evenly and what posture you adopt during all gaits and can be quite an eye opener. Often we are unaware of little things like this due to our bodies adapting and normalising them. It feels wrong when we correct them but in time your body will adjust to this being normal. The next step to really highlight any issues would to be to do regular no stirrup work. This will allow you as an individual to lengthen through the leg and hip and work hugely on balance force, especially when transitioning down. As you progress, using Franklin balls would further develop your awareness, balance and connection with your horse. Lastly, and this does cost a bit of money but having lessons with a riding instructor who understands core engagement is worth its weight in gold. Having someone tell you when and how you need to activate and seeing the results transfer to your horse in real time, is a huge learning curve and something you will then use throughout your riding, even when hacking.

So the above are just a few things you can do to become that balanced rider. There are others but the above would be a good first step in the right direction.