rider biomechanics
Rider Health & Performance

Body Work: It’s Not Just for Horses

“Not a sport” is something we’ve all heard from those who’ve never ridden seriously, yet all evidence truly points to the contrary. Not the least of that is the immense physical demands that riding places on our bodies. That’s why body work is as important for successful equestrians as it is for horses.

Maintaining prime condition for riding is difficult because not every muscle activated in the saddle is as easily accessible in the gym. Yet strength and conditioning, in addition to proper self-care, are vital to increasing competitive skills and confidence in the saddle.

Marny Bell benefits from Britta Pederson’s unique approach to body work for riders. PC: Sally Spickard

Common “problem areas” on a rider’s body?

Britta Pederson is a registered Senior Physiotherapist and Equestrian-specific Performance Trainer based in San Diego County’s Del Mar. She works one-on-one with riders from all backgrounds. Interestingly, she notes several physical commonalities among riders, regardless of their discipline. Britta, who has competed at the top levels of both eventing and dressage, knows how much riders put themselves through the proverbial wringer. This is why she began teaching unique lessons, using part of the time for riding instruction and the other part for bodywork and identifying a rider’s individual “problem area.”

Through body work focused on correction and strengthening, riders will have more effective aids in the saddle.They’ll also feel more comfortable and confident in the saddle. This is possible without a full gym or a seven-day-a-week training regimen.

Common Causes of Riding Challenges

  • Weak core stabilizers (including lower abdominals, obliques, glutes, mid-back, and deep neck muscles)
  • Limited hip mobility and range of motion.
  • Overactive quads and psoas (hip flexors)
  • Lower limb neural tension
equestrian biomechanics
Looking for symmetry & strength. PC: Sally Spickard

How do these manifest in riding?

Weak Core

  • Difficulty sitting the trot/canter
  • Difficulty maintaining proper equitation and jumping positions (ex: falling to one side over a fence)
  • Difficulty administering effective half-halts
  • Back soreness
  • “Crookedness” in the saddle (collapsing one or both ways)

Poor Hip Mobility:

  • Difficulty applying leg aids
  • Difficulty sitting the trot/canter
  • Lower back and/or hip pain

Overactive Quads and Hip Flexors:

  • Knees rising above the knee roll of the saddle
  • Difficulty lengthening leg and dropping heel
  • “Tense” seat – inability to relax seat and hips
  • Low back pain

Lower Limb Neural Tension

  • Always feeling like the hamstrings are on fire
  • Tight erector spinae muscles (muscles up either side of your spine)
  • Trouble maintaining a lengthened leg position
  • Calf tightness
Britta Pederson
Britta in her heyday as a competitor. PC: Main Event Photography

It takes a true investment of time and education to understand how a rider’s body can best perform in the saddle. Horse owners are well-known for investing much money into the wellness of their horse. However, they often they shortchange themselves in the meantime, sacrificing their comfort in favor of their horse’s. Britta wants more riders to understand that it doesn’t have to be this way.

“Having a proper understanding of how our bodies work in the saddle is important to improving the riding itself,” Britta explains. “By correcting the weaknesses we all have, we can get to a place where putting ourselves in the right position doesn’t feel so uncomfortable.” That’s what body work for equestrians is all about.

Through attaining a more thorough understanding of the body and how these biomechanics affect a rider’s effectiveness in the saddle, it becomes easier to value the benefits of regular attendance to one’s own health needs. Working with a physical therapist – especially one with equestrian experience and familiarity with riding muscles – can be a way to integrate the concept of rider health into everyday riding and training. As riders build up their own bodies, their strength and mobility in the saddle will increase – and so will their performance.

Thank you Arroyo Del Mar serving as the photo shoot location.

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