Abdomen
If you look at how people carry themselves you will start noticing lots of rounded shoulders, hunched backs, dropped abdomens, and rotated pelvises. If we walk and sit like that the whole day there is no way we will be able to change our posture for one hour in the saddle.
Look at the photos above. Photo 1 is a correct posture. Spine is in a good alignment, pelvis is in a neutral position, and the abdomen is firm. In photos 2 and 3, I have completely relaxed my stomach muscles. That sagged my spine down and made it easy to round my shoulders and to push my pelvis in any direction I wanted. In Photo 2 my pelvis is rotated backward. In Photo 3 my pelvis is rotated forward. I had a very unpleasant sensation in my lower back after assuming those postures. I measured my height, and I found out that I was 2 inches taller in the good posture!
To improve your posture, first of all you will need to focus your attention on the abdomen area. If we look at the torso part of the human skeleton (see picture below), we cannot help but notice the emptiness between the ribcage and the pelvis. This emptiness contains the abdominal cavity filled with internal organs (intestines, liver, stomach etc). These organs weigh approximately 11 kg (24 pounds) and contain mostly water (~98%). Fat deposits will create extra weight. All this weight is inside of a muscle sack. The walls of the sack are formed by abdominal muscles. The top is your diaphragm, and the bottom is the pelvic floor.
Let's imagine that you have to carry around 24 pounds of water. Would you put it in a balloon or in a jug? Which one is more stable and easier to carry? Not a difficult question to answer. The balloon swivels and has a lot of inertia - very hard to move from place to place compare to the jug. When you ride a sitting trot with weak abdominal muscles it is like you have a balloon filled with water right in the middle of your torso. The inertia of your internal organs produces sheer forces that wreck your lumbar spine (lower back, where most of the back problems exists). Firming the abdominal muscles is like replacing this balloon with a jug. Our abdomen has to be firm and stable in order to ride safely and in balance.
Do not pull your stomach in trying to achieve the firmness in your abdomen. It would be like pressing on one side of the balloon and pushing all the liquid content to the side. In the human body, the internal organs would be pushed up into the diaphragm and would create a feeling of weakness and emptiness in the middle. Try it! Look at the photo to the right. I'm pulling my stomach in and trying to lift my chest at the same time. Looks familiar, doesn't it! Many riders are working on achieving that. At that moment on my horse I have felt so weak and tense. I felt that my upper body was separated from my lower body and could sway around on its own accord.
To create real firmness, we have to learn to breathe with our diaphragm and to engage deep abdominal muscles. These muscles are called Transversus Abdominis (TA) and their fibers lay horizontally. They envelop our middle like a corset. A sedentary way of life makes the deep muscles idle. They do not engage as they should. We use these muscles without noticing while coughing, grunting, and laughing. When they are properly active, these muscles can stay engaged at about 30% of their maximum strength for hours without tiring. A nice tool to have, isn't it?
When these muscles are engaged, they squeeze the liquid content of our abdomen. Since liquid cannot change it's volume, it becomes pressurized and pushes from inside. I call this an Abdominal Push. Look at the red arrows in the picture on the left. This pressure supports your ribcage, connects your upper body to your lower body and makes it a one stable unit.
First you need to learn how to breathe with your diaphragm. Click here for a series of exercises to develop diaphragmatic breathing. Then you can start working on your abdominal push. Click here for a series of exercises to activate your deep abdominal muscles.
Irina Yastrebova, Riding Instructor and Trainer.
My blog is about teaching, riding and training. I share what is important to me in my work with horses and riders. The writing helps me to think things over and have a better understanding of training ideas and priciples.
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