I have been quiet for a little while! Usually I blog after a competition, but having had two falls in a row at Gidgegannup and then again at Wooroloo, I hadn’t had the inspiration. In hindsight, this was just the topic I needed to write about.
Falls. There are a huge number of reasons why you may have a fall riding. Sometimes there isn’t anything you could have done differently, but for others, a stronger core and an independent seat may have helped with a quick save.
Both my falls couldn’t have been predicted, in fact, Denny stumbled after a jump launching himself awkwardly to regain his balance and I fell over his left shoulder. There is no doubt in my mind that if my core had been stronger, I would have saved the landing.
I work on my core 2-3 times a week and incorporate it into all training sessions, whether for me or for my clients, however, after having a baby, I wasn’t quite as strong and ready as I needed to be for cross country.
When we don’t have a strong core, or have one that fatigues too easily, our body shifts the work to other muscles in our body and we may not even notice. This is not ideal for our riding position and reduces stability in the saddle.
I want to try explain to you what happens, because everyone says ‘engage your core’, ‘use your core’ and, ‘hold your core’…. But who actually really gets what this means?
When your core fatigues, the arch in your back collapses a little and you can no longer hold the proper upright posture. This results in a heavier position on your horses back (whether you realise it or not). Your horse will feel this and also struggle to continue to lift his own core. He then fatigues and begins to hollow. This is a great photo that shows the arch in my back and how my weight is forward over this horses shoulders.
When your back arches, your knees slightly roll outwards and your hips follow this shift. This can activate your calves to grip for balance and reduce the contact of your seat bones with your horse. As all this happens, our pelvis stiffens to brace and support the lower body. Our horse feels this stiffness and feels blocked by your body. The hollowing of his back continues and his momentum and nice back swing fades. The harder you work to keep your horse together, with both you and him now using incorrect muscles, the more you both fatigue.
Lastly, our shoulder blades that were compensating for our weak core and trying to maintain our upright posture also fatigue. You slump forward, changing the position of your neck. Suddenly your centre of gravity has shifted forward over the horse’s forehand. We know horses carry 60% of their own weight on the forehand so more weight here is exactly what we are trying to avoid in riding and training. Scroll back up to that picture and look at my shoulders and head position! I’m not embarrassed to analyse myself here because I want to get my point across and use my journey as an example.
So back to talking about falls, there is no doubt in my mind that I was fatigued and slightly forward over Denny and this contributed to my recent falls.
So, I did what all we riders do. I got back on and got to work on my core. This photo is from just yesterday and you can 100% see the difference in my position and core.
Before I tell you all about what you can do to improve I want to paint the final part of the picture. A lot of the energy for our horse’s movement is generated by the thrust of the hind-legs. However our horses ribcage naturally swings side to side and this dissipates the energy from the hind legs laterally, then the hollowing of the back results in the horse pushing out behind instead of underneath their body.
Our role as a rider is to use our bodies to limit these two main losses of forwards momentum in the horse’s movement. Our horses don’t trot or canter around the paddock with their cores lifted in a collected frame so it is so incredibly important that we are the first part of the picture. Too often we have lessons, equine bodywork and stretch our horses not realising that we are the initial contributing factor to creating a well-balanced conditioned riding horse.
Take the time to add a few minutes a day to your core routine. There are simple and easy exercises such as the bridge, clams and superman planks that are easy enough to do in your pyjamas in front of the TV.
Download a free basic guide to get you started Foundation Core Exercises – Muscle Sense.
There are so many different resources around to help people improve their fitness and it doesn’t have to be expensive, but the first step is realising it’s something you need to do for your riding.
Lastly ensure the work you do with your horse has some focus on strengthening their core too. Make sure you read Equestricares blog on building fitness first and then work on incorporating hill work, back up, long and low and pole work. These teamed with belly lift stretches and some carrot stretches is a great start!
This is a great article from British Eventing Life to check out and of course Equestricare have some affordable owner guides for download and they are one of the best equine education organisations around.
Working my core as we speak and prepping for Moora ODE!
Jem and Den!