What Equestrians Most Want to Change
by Elaine Heney
“Only the rider who is free from any contraction will have a horse equally free from contraction. A team such as this is the ideal.” – Nuno Oliveira
Modern life can be a challenge. We all deal with stress on a daily basis and many people routinely juggle multiple tasks at once in order to get it all done. In addition, years of bad posture in school and work hours spent hunched over computers and desks has led to unhealthy habits such as slouching, carrying tension and shallow breathing. We are often unaware of these habits, as life seems to rush by without stopping.
Horse riders easily bring our habits with us when we ride, often unaware that stress and posture directly affects our horses. Habits like holding tension in our bodies, slouching, not breathing properly, work stress, a lack of fitness, unhappiness, worry and constant rushing are issues highlighted when we get in the saddle.
Over the last few weeks, Honest Horse Riding surveyed over 100 riders from a range of disciplines. We asked each person what their #1 bad riding habit was. Here are the results. Interestingly, every rider surveyed had bad habits they wanted to fix.
The # 1 bad habit, according to 19.6% of riders surveyed, was looking down while riding. Leaning and tipping forwards was the 2nd most common bad riding habit people wanted to fix. 10.3% of riders surveyed said that their worst riding habit was holding tension in their bodies and forgetting to breathe.
“I’ve loads of bad habits that I am probably not aware of, but the main thing is tensing up, so my heels go up and I am subsequently less stable in the saddle than I would be if I just bloody sat there like a sack of spuds. Oh, and over thinking. It’s all part of the old confidence problem, body reacting no matter what the brain is saying.”
Ray Hunt, a famous American horseman, said: “You’re not working on the horse, you’re working on yourself.” We put a lot of time and energy into our horses. Perhaps you get regular lessons, go to clinics and events, compete, train at home and learn through books & DVDs. That’s in addition to the daily tasks to make sure the horses are happy and healthy. Horse riding is a 50/50 partnership. We invest time into our horses to improve a performance together. Equally, we should not forget how much our minds and bodies influence our horses’ way of going. Investing some time and energy into ourselves can lead to huge improvements in the saddle.
Four Ways to Improve Your Riding
Posture. Become more aware of daily posture habits. Do you slouch at your computer? Hold tension in your arms and shoulders? Do you look down at your feet when walking? It’s been proven that 1 hour in the gym in the evening will not counterbalance the damage done by 8 hours of bad posture at a computer during the day. Good self carriage is not just for horses, it’s for riders, too.
“Engaging my core, putting my shoulders back and correcting my posture whilst driving and working encouraged muscle memory for correct posture when I ride.”
Lifestyle. Experiment and see if you can change how you react to events. Changing thinking can often change our world. Evaluate your routine to see if you can swap times or batch events together to allow for more quality time with your horse.
“Having more patience (I probably still need more, but it’s a start) and the ability to embrace change and go with the flow to accept things rather than try to change something I can’t … and learning to breathe properly (still working on that one).”
“(I’m) re-arranging my schedule so that I can ride during the week and work when it is dark.”
Fitness. Create a plan to get fit, supple and healthy. Start walking in the evenings or join a local fitness class. Yoga and pilates can also be wonderful to help with suppleness, awareness, breathing and balance.
“Keep fit. You can’t just train the horse athletically – you need to be strong and healthy too. Yoga, regular exercise, and building your core and overall strength are great.”
Stress and Relaxation. Slow down! Realize that life is not an emergency and work on living more in the moment. Focus less on worries related to the past and future. Instead, enjoy and put love and passion into what you are doing right now, whether it’s enjoying time with friends or spending time with your horse.
“Learn to switch off and be in the moment. It sounds corny, but it’s too easy to focus on all of life’s stresses at once and become tense and overwhelmed. If you can focus on one thing at a time and be in the moment you can learn to relax and deal with what’s happening in the here and now. Therefore, when you get on your horse you’re not bringing your tension and baggage with you.”
Honest Horse Riding also asked riders what part of their life they would like to change/improve, with the goal of improving riding and their relationship with their horses. Changes included many things such as developing confidence and learning to trust their horse more. The top change, however, was simply to ride: 21.05% of all riders surveyed said the most important change they wanted to make was to ride their horse more often.
~ Many thanks to all of the horse riders who shared their experiences & also to Hot Blooded Highland (facebook.com/Hotbloodedhighland)
Originally Published December 2014 Issue
The Northwest Horse Source is an independently owned and operated print and online magazine for horse owners and enthusiasts of all breeds and disciplines in the Pacific Northwest. Our contemporary editorial columns are predominantly written by experts in the region, covering the care, training, keeping and enjoyment of horses, with an eye to the specific concerns in our region.