Category Archives: fitness

No stirrups November? No problem!

At first they thought I was joking…an entire month of lessons without stirrups? But why?

When I first started implementing “No stirrups November” a few years ago, I think most of my students lasted around 2 weeks before convincing me into letting them have their stirrups back. It’s not as if we didn’t practice without stirrups over the course of the year, but we never made it the full month. But this year, we ARE going to make it to 30 days!

I know it sounds scary (and trust me, I know how much it can hurt!) but riding without stirrups is a challenge, it takes us out of our comfort zone and it makes us better riders.

Most coaches would agree that riding without stirrups is necessary for all riders:

“Those looking to bring their riding to a higher level will benefit greatly by riding without stirrups. Riding without stirrups will help to make a rider more balanced, stronger and secure in the saddle. The most important reason to make it a consistent part of a rider’s weekly riding routine is that it will help improve your seat. By improvising your seat, you will improve your feel, and by improving your feel in the saddle, you will ultimately become a better rider. Once a rider has put in the time and effort to develop a world class seat, it’s equally important for the rider to maintain their seat by riding without stirrups on a consistent basis.” (USHJA certified trainer Scott Lico)

We are now into our 2nd week of “No stirrups November” at Foxwood. I have started all of my students off slowly, with each rider going without stirrups for a little bit longer at each lesson. For our beginner riding students, who are still working on developing their balance, no stirrup work may simply involve taking their feet out of the stirrups at a walk and then putting them back. A small exercise but with big benefits – not only improving their balance but their confidence.

Our novice riders are confidently riding at the sitting trot without stirrups and are building muscle strength to try posting trot without stirrups, while our intermediate and advanced students are working on bending exercises as well as cantering without stirrups.

So, what really ARE all of the benefits of riding without stirrups?

1. Strengthening the leg
Everyone knows that riding without stirrups is a common exercise used to strengthen a rider’s leg, so a month without them is a great way to focus on just that. The rider’s leg becomes stronger and more useful in the long run.

2. Improving leg position
This goes along with strengthening. Posting off of the stirrups is a common mistake that many riders make and they don’t realize that they are doing it. When there is no stirrup iron to balance off of, the rider must use their muscles to hold their leg in place in order to stay on their horse. This helps eliminate any instability of the rider’s leg and it improves correctness.

3. Preparing the rider
Any rider that shows may know that sometimes in an equitation class, they may be asked to drop their stirrups. It also prepares the rider for any situation, whether at a show or at home, that involves them losing a stirrup and then subsequently, their balance.

4. Building balance and improving a rider’s seat
It is easy to stay in the saddle when stirrups are there for support, but when there is nothing to rely on, it forces the rider to use their seat to remain balanced. A rider’s seat is an essential aid that becomes especially useful when riding “green” horses or more difficult horses.

5. Developing confidence
Not every rider is keen to ride without stirrups as there is always the fear on falling off. Working at their own pace, improving with each lesson without stirrups, gives each rider a sense of accomplishment.

We are going to be stronger by the end of November and who knows?
Maybe my students will suggest we continue it into December…and add some jumping WITHOUT stirrups;)

Until next time,
Robyn

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Still smiling after a “no stirrups november” lesson

Perfect posture for that perfect ride – equestrian fitness starts with standing tall

“Stand up straight. Don’t hunch” …I don’t know about you, but as a teenager, my parents were constantly commenting on my posture. It bothered me at the time but now, as I am getting older (not old;), I am realizing the long term effects that could arise from having a poor stance. A few years ago, I started taking yoga classes – not just to improve my riding posture – but my every day posture and my core strength. Several daily simple exercises, combined with stretching, have made a big improvement for me on the ground and in the saddle.

In the current issue of Wellness magazine, I read a very interesting article written by Gina Allan about posture and how it affects us while riding:

Why Rider Fitness & Posture are so important

You pay attention to your horse’s fitness program, but as a rider, it’s also important to understand how vital your own fitness it. It is your responsibility to ensure you have good body awareness and posture when you ride, so when you initiate even the subtlest movement in your position, you will know and expect your horse’s response. Horses can’t achieve good balance and self-carriage if their riders are unable to maintain their own self-carriage. Proper posture and understanding the dynamics of your seat and back, and how they affect the horse, are essential.

Back health issues affect up to 90% of the population and 66% of those affected are between 20 and 50 years of age. Muscles that are too loose and weak, or too tight, cause 90% of muscular and skeletal injuries; therefore, it is best to ensure that your posture, core strength and back health are in good condition before you set foot in the stirrup. Most injuries are due to muscles that are too tight or inflexible, or that lack sufficient strength. Injuries can also be caused by a fixed or repetitive motion with inadequate rest, or muscles that have not been properly warmed up prior to a workout.

Stretching for Strength
First comes the stretch, then comes the strength. Muscles are technically stronger than bones and act as the body’s pulley system, maneuvering and affecting the bones. The muscles determine the shape the body will take, so if you slouch, your muscles will pull the bones into that position, eventually shortening the muscles creating the constant slouching position. Once we have adopted poor posture, any attempt to use the muscles correctly will likely feel wrong. It will take time to make shifts in the body’s patterning and muscle memory in order to change it back. It is by using this awareness and patience that we can restore muscle balance and reawaken our underused muscles, gradually coaxing them to work harder. The “too strong” and likely “too short” muscles need to stretch and relax a little so we can restore balance and maintain good posture. This will enable us to ride with balance, ease of movement and athletic grace.

Common Postural Concerns
1. The hunched or rounded upper back, known as “kyphosis”, is a common postural problem. It can inhibit breathing, interfere with digestion, and cause tremendous stress to the discs between the vertebral segments of the thoracic spine. All this offers little support to your equine partner and often results in pushing him onto the forehand. Stretching through the front chest muscles and strengthening the mid-upper back muscles can help correct this problem as long as the kyphosis is not too advanced.

2. Another common postural problem is a protruding belly, or “lordosis”. It may result from tight hip flexors and poor abdominal strength. Although the “potbelly” may not necessarily be caused by weak abdominal muscles, the forward tilt to your pelvis will likely block your horse through his back, disallowing the hind leg energy to travel through his body.

With good posture, you will remain connected to the saddle and to your horse’s back at all times. With your feet rested properly on the stirrups, you’ll most likely feel a greater, more consistent connection to your horse throughout your ride”.

So much to work on but there IS hope for all of us…and help in the form of some very good exercises! I will share some of Gina’s exercise suggestions with you later this month.

For now, it’s off to do a little daily yoga practice,
Until next time,
Robyn

“You sit like a soup sandwich” George Morris

Gina is an Equine Canada Certified Level II Hunter/Jumper Coach, a Level III Theory Coach, and is pursuing her Level III Dressage Coaching Certificate. Gina’s vast experience includes three years studying and riding with former Canadian Equestrian Jumper Coach, Frank Selinger in Alberta before moving to Pennsylvania where she trained with International Dressage Clinician and author, Paul Belasik.

On the fitness side, Gina is a BCRPA Certified Group and Third Age Fitness Instructor, a Yoga Instructor and a Specialist Instructor in Pilates. She graduated from Capilano University where she majored in Lifestyle Counselling and Kinesiology. She has worked with Doctors and Physiotherapists to develop specialty modules including Back Care and Posture Assessment.

For more information, visit Gina’s website at:
http://www.ginaallen.ca