There’s a common theme I see in equestrians. We are absolutely obsessive about our horses’ health, wellbeing, and fitness. So much so, that we often spend more time conditioning, treating, and maintaining them than we do ourselves.
Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily, but as I like to remind riders in almost every workshop and session I do, our horses’ bodies are directly impacted by our own. Any compensation we have in our movement will directly affect their movement. If they have to compensate for our lack of balance, coordination, strength, or poor fitness, we are then causing a myriad of tiny compensations in their musculoskeletal systems. Those tiny changes they have to deal with will affect their performance and health over time.
As an aside to all this, riders recovering from injuries really like to skip appropriate recovery and jump back into the tack too soon. I repeat: any bad habits you form in your movement due to compensations left over from injuries, or develop from riding in pain WILL cause deficits to your horse. Not to speak to what it can do to your own health long term.
A common problem I’ve seen is horses being excessively tight in their necks, polls, and mouths because a rider doesn’t have the core and upper body stability to balance their hands appropriately, and ends up unstable. Usually the rider will have pain in their upper body or lower back, and the horse over time will lose mobility in their jaw and poll creating higher occurrences of tension, pain, and even performance deficits.
Stiffening in the horse’s wither and spine is also common, because the rider is chronically stiff in their pelvis and rib cage due to lack of core control, poor hip and upper back mobility, and lack of balance. What does this mean? Your horse has a higher chance of developing arthritis in their lower joints, higher chance of knocking rails, decreased cardiovascular ability due to spine and rib stiffness, and/or not as much movement ability in their shoulders.
I sometimes do sessions where I assess only the rider and am able to tell exactly the source of their issues in equitation or the problems their horse has – things like one weak side, slow to pick up one lead, cross-firing, knocking rails, trouble with orders off a diagonal, etc
What we do with our bodies is vital to how our horses are able to move theirs.
We can spend as much time conditioning and pampering our mounts, but when it really comes down to it, how we function in the tack will do a lot of damage – or benefit – depending on how we treat and condition ourselves.
So, the next time you’re thinking of skipping a training session, a mobility session, or your own rehabilitation session, think of your horse first!
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Kathlyn Hossack is a Certified Athletic Therapist and Kinesiologist from Winnipeg, Manitoba dedicated to helping riders improve their movement.