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 Groundwork Exercises for the Rider

Have you ever watched an expert rider sit easily on a horse and just flow with the horseís motion? Have you wondered how the some riders are able to get even poorly trained horses to move off their legs or stop a horse without touching the reins?

While some riders are naturally talented and learned to ride at an early age, all of us can improve our riding by develop our core strength, balance, and coordination. Unfortunately there is no magic pill that will help us become better riders. Even with the help of the best riding instructors, we benefit very little from riding lessons if we are not physically able to follow instructions. If you want to be a better rider in 2006, itís time to face the music and get yourself in shape.

Personal training can improve a wide variety of riding faults, including:

1. Balancing on the reins.
2. Collapsing on one side of the body.
3. Rolling forward with the shoulders.
4. Riding with your legs too far forward or too far back.
5. Leaning on the inside or outside of the saddle.

Letís take each of these faults and analyze what causes them and which exercises can improve the situation. Once youíve taken thorough stock of the areas you would like to improve, a good physical trainer can guide you through the right exercises and keep you motivated.

1. Balancing on the reins.

Although most of us cringe at the very thought of hanging on the reins, we canít avoid this riding fault if we lack the strength in our lower core abdominal muscles to keep us stable in the saddle. To develop these muscles, lie on your back on an exercise mat and put one hand under the small of your back (this is to ensure that your back stays in contact with the floor and that you donít use your back muscles for this exercise). Ensuring that the small of your back stays in contact with your hand , bring your knees to your chest. Next, keep your knees bent and lower your feet until they almost touch the floor. Finally, bring your knees back to your chest again. This exercise isolates your lower abdominal muscles. As you gain in strength you can increase the number of repetitions you perform and eventually, for even greater resistance, you can hold a weighted ball between your knees.

2. Collapsing on one side of the body.

Collapsing in your ribcage will cause the horse to do the same thing to escape the pressure of your seat bone on the collapsed side. To improve your posture, work on you core muscles in the lower abdomen and your oblique muscles (located on either side of your body at waist level). To work your oblique muscles lie on your right side with your shoulders off the mat and your right elbow on the mat directly under your shoulder. Bend the right leg but keep the left leg straight. While keeping your chest, waist, and hips in a straight line, raise your hips off the mat using your oblique muscles (keeping your left foot in contact with the floor). Do several repetitions, then switch sides. To increase the difficulty of this exercise, increase the number of repetitions you do or hold yourself off the ground for longer periods of time.

3. Rolling forward with the shoulders.

This is the human equivalent of letting your horse fall on the forehand. To stretch and strengthen the muscles at the front of your chest, bring your shoulder blades back and down. Bend forward at a 45 degree angle from your hips and hold a 5 to 10 pound weight in each hand with your thumbs pointing forward. While keeping your elbows tucked close to your body bring your hands straight back as if you were trying to touch your shoulder blades together.

4. Riding with your legs too far forward or back.

For correct balance in riding you want a straight line from your shoulders through your hips and heels. Do squats to strengthen your legs so that they remain stable under your body. Besides building strength this exercise will show you where you have restrictions in your joints. This exercise was difficult for me at first because the scar tissue in my right ankle prevented that joint from bending. To do a squat, stand with your feet wider apart than your shoulders, with your toes and knees pointing slightly outward. Hold a bar behind your neck so that it rests on your shoulders. Make sure that the bar does not put pressure on your neck and that your shoulders stay back. As you lower your body into squatting position, shift your hips back and keep your lower abdominal muscles tight. As you raise your body by straightening your legs tighten your lower abdominal muscles and your seat (gluteal) muscles. Go deeper into your squat, add weight to you bar, and increase the number of repetitions as you get stronger.

5. Leaning on the inside or outside of the saddle.

Leaning to either side of the saddle is a sign of poor balance. To improve your balance, do step-ups. Find a sturdy ledge or bench that is about 18inches tall. Step up onto the bench with your right foot, heel first. As you step up, take the weight off of your left foot. Use your abdominal muscles as well as your leg muscles to raise your body up and stay balanced (itís fine to move your left leg freely as needed to maintain your balance as long as the right leg remains stable). Hold your balance in this position for a few moments, then gradually lower yourself back down, shifting your weight back to your left leg. Watch that your hips donít shift backwards or to the side as you step up. If you find it difficult to maintain proper form as you step up, lower the bench. Switch sides for a balanced workout.

Spend 20-30 minutes on these exercises three to five times a week and notice how much your riding improves. Your horse will thank you with smoother movement, better balance, and an improved attitude!

Contributed By: Madalyn Ward, DVM

Holistichorsekeeping.com and Freedomfoods-tx.com and all content thereof copyright © 2002-2004 Madalyn Ward and Bear Creek Veterinary Clinic. All rights reserved. http://www.holistichorsekeeping.com/  

 

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