Rider Physical Issues – Does it matter — YES

By: Dr. Mike Guerini (www.dunmovinranch.com)

Over the past month I have been able to work with a few people who have some physical limitations.  Looking at these folks you would not see anything unusual…but the horse tells all.  One lady has a weak right leg, another lady has a hip issue that takes away from her flexibility and ability to sit straight, and another lady has a shoulder issue.  I also recently spoke to a friend of mine who has scoliosis.  All of these ladies love to ride — in fact, they ride daily.  But some were getting frustrated with how things were going with the horse or with their rides.

We took a step back in a few of these cases and figured out the problem.  The lady with the weak right leg was having lots of trouble picking up the left lead for cantering.  The lady with the hip issue was actually sitting on both her seat bones as she should — but this was making her crooked in the saddle and the horse was not smooth during the flying lead changes.  The lady with the shoulder issue was actually bracing that arm and not having any flexibility or rein give and take and the horse was starting to push its nose towards the bad arm.

These ladies and I worked together to come up with some solutions that I will share here with you all.  Then I will share some ideas about preparing to ride.

1) The lady with the weak right leg who had issues with her horse picking up the left lead.  Well that right leg has limited feeling (from an old back injury and subsequent surgery) and the lady never knew if she was giving the horse enough aide to help push the haunches to the left (away from the right leg) to help with the left lead canter departure.  In this case, we solved the problem by having the lady begin to use a bumper spur just on that leg.  The horse felt that added “aide” and immediately the problem is solved and we have left lead departures.  As we continue to work we are going to see if we can take that bumper spur away and have the horse begin to understand the weak leg aide from the rider.  Solution came in the form of changing a piece of equipment.

2) The lady with the hip issue. — Well she actually was sitting crooked.  So we are working on a solution here to help her develop a new balance point so that she stays upright yet flexible for moving with the horse.  This lady was always off-balance — more towards the left and it impacted the rollbacks, cow turns and lead changes of the horse.  In fact, the horse would tell us it was a problem during flying lead changes since we would see a tail swish and sometimes a kickout of a rear leg.  Now — we focus on having a “spotter” work with the rider to help her find the balanced point where she is not leaning.  Amazingly — lead changes are 10X better, horse is more balanced and lighter on the front end.

3) The lady with the shoulder issue — well again we are using a “spotter” to tell her when she is pulling and I have also helped the rider learn to read the signs the horse is giving her.  When she braces with the arm with the bad shoulder…we noticed that the horse traveled with its head higher and with the nose tilted in the direction of the bad arm.

So as you can see — some issues are solved with a piece of equipment being changed, some are solved with the help of a “spotter” and others are solved by listening to the horse.  When things are going poorly — the horse lets you know and you must take a breath and read the signs.

Preparation of the rider is just as important as preparing the horse for a ride. For people with or without physical limitations it is very important to prepare for the ride.  Get limber and stretch before you ride.  Relax and warm up your muscles. 

I have found a variety of exercises that help me increase my flexibility and allow me to be more limber in the saddle and I share them here.  Now one important note — if you have any question — make sure you consult with your doctor about what and how you should prepare to rider…always seek appropriate medical advice. I personally use Yoga and Tai-Chi to help me prepare for riding and there are numerous resources out there to help you as a rider utilize these techniques. Some of the exercises I use to make sure I am limber and ready to deliver my aides with the lightest amount of effort and with proper balance and feel by me.

Stretches shoulder, middle back, arms, hands, fingers, wrist

1) Interlace fingers and turn palms out, 2) Extend arms in front at shoulder height, and 3) Hold 10 to 20 seconds, relax, and repeat.

Relaxes hamstrings, stretches calves, Achilles, and ankles

1) Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, 2) Keep heels flat, toes pointed straight ahead, 3) Assume bent knee position (quarter squat), and 4) Hold 30 sec.

Stretches calf (Leg lunge)

1) Place right foot in front of you, leg bent, left leg straight behind you, 2) Slowly move hips forward until you feel stretch in calf of  left leg, 3) Keep left heel flat and toes pointed straight ahead, 4) Hold easy stretch 10 to 20 seconds, 5) Do not bounce, 6) Repeat on other side, and 7) Do not hold breath.

Stretches middle back

1) Stand with hands on hips, 2) Gently twist torso at waist until stretch is felt, 3) Hold 10 to 15 sec, 4) Repeat on other side, and 5) Keep knees slightly flexed.

I hope this helps you and that next time you get ready to ride…you take a few minutes to warm-up your own body before you get on your horse.  Your personal warm-up routine can help you be a better rider.

Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at http://www.dunmovinranch.com. Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (www.hydrot.com).

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