Rider's ribcage during riding. It's dynamics.
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Thursday, March 19, 2009 07:29 PM
No one is going to argue that horse's movement affects the rider's torso. The question here is how? Lets look at the relationship between rider's pelvis and ribcage. Rider's pelvis is in the saddle and rider's ribcage is above the pelvis from 3 inches at the closest location (low ribs to wings of ilium at the back) and more than one foot at the farthest location (end of breast bone to the pubic bone in front). This long distance in front creates a weak link between pelvis that stays in the saddle and a ribcage that is "suspended" above it. The most disturbances happen in the sitting trot and three-point canter. A horse constantly pushes off the ground and lands during trot and canter. The dynamics are different between the gaits but the principle is the same. The horse pushes the rider up in the air and that push reaches our pelvis first and then transmitted to our ribcage. Technically rider still goes up when the horse started to go down. Our pelvis being in the saddle starts to come down before ribcage does. If nothing holds them together ribcage with arms and the head will be constantly late, especially, in sitting trot. There will be uncomfortable wobble or shaky feeling in the body which our body perceives as dangerous for it's health and tries to fix it by holding the breath, locking the hip joints, gripping with the knees, arching lower back, pushing off the stirrups, stabilizing the upper body by holding the reins, etc. Riders who were told to absorb the trot movement in their lower back will lean slightly backwards to dump the up/down forces or they will hold their ribcage stable with the reins (especially in extension).
What can rider do to improve his/her body control during trot or canter? First of all correct breathing and core strength must be developed. Click here for more information on anatomy of core and exercises. However, this is not enough. Forces of trot, especially extended one on a big horse are so great that it requires very strong oblique muscles. These muscles are diagonally crossing our front like strapping devices. They are connected to several of our lower ribs from the spine to the center. The bottom parts are connected to the pelvis from the wings of ilium to the pubic bone. They are part of the core. However, they require targeted training. When they are engaged they are very effective in keeping our ribcage stable. This eliminates wobbliness in the lower back and inertia of the ribcage. The rider's job is to pull the ribcage down with oblique muscles without actual movement of slouching. The idea that muscles must be engaged without visible action is very hard to understand and execute. For more information read a blog on muscle tone. Click here. When you properly engage your oblique muscles during sitting trot it feels like still rods or a pair of hands are hooked to the ribs to prevent the ribcage from flying up. The feeling is amazing, great connection to the horse, there is a feel of ease and relaxation because nothing is bouncing and nothing is gripping neither legs, lower back, or hip joints. Hands are free to communicate to the horse's mouth and not to hold it.
You cannot simply decide you are going to use these muscles and they start working for you during sitting trot. First of all, our muscles must be strong enough for the job, otherwise different ones will jump in and we will not even know it. Second, muscles need to "learn" what to do. Because riding is dynamic balance muscles constantly adjust the strength to cope with the forces. At the beginning muscles apply more force than needed or not enough, and they constantly late at adjusting. It is the best to train your muscles off the horse. You can focus on the breathing and correct execution when you do not have to deal with so many distractions that happen when you ride and substantial forces of trot and canter that can trick you into the habitual patterns of coping with them.
Next time I will describe several exercises to target these muscles. I want to show you some that is especially useful for riders.
Happy riding...
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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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