The Power of Specificity Training: A Non Rider Helping Riders
“...finally that the horse often compensates for the rider”
I have been involved in sports my whole life including volleyball, long distance running, swimming, rugby, weightlifting, and most recently CrossFit. However, equitation has never been in my wheelhouse so while working at Equus Physio- a clinic that specializes in equestrians, I have seen compensation patterns common in riders that I couldn’t quite get my head wrapped around!
After discussing these patterns with my coworkers, the Equus team decided it was time to get me on a horse in order to educate me.
I consider myself a strong and fit person, so initially I felt confident in my ability to ride a horse and I thought I would do well. As soon as I hopped into the saddle I realized my mistake. My usual weightlifting activities had made my hips incredibly tight in this new position. Once I was in the saddle, the Equus Physio team started analyzing and correcting my posture. She instructed me to sit tall, to pull my shoulders back and keep my elbows at about 90 degrees, to hold the reins in a controlled but relaxed manner, to maintain a neutral pelvis ALL while still moving with the horse, and to keep my heels down.
After I was feeling comfortable in the saddle, she taught me how to get the horse to walk and turn. Once I had a decent handle on directing the horse we tried some posting exercises, but I found that the muscles necessary to post properly would not engage. The front of my thighs (quads and tensor fascia latae (TFL)) were working SOOOOOO hard to compensate for my absent glutes! It only took about an hour before my legs were shaking so badly that I had to call it a day.
The second time I went out, I was on a mission to get the horse into a trot. This horse needed a lot of coaxing to maintain the trot, and I would only be able to squeeze for about 10 seconds at a time before my legs gave out. My inner thighs (adductors) had no endurance! Again, the front of my thigh (TFL) was on fire compensating for my glutes. While I spent all this time focused on my lower body, I was reminded that my upper body was not in an ideal position. I was told that I was sitting off to one side a bit and because of this subpar positioning the horse was compensating for me. He slipped a couple times because my position in the saddle was throwing him off and he was just trying to accommodate my unbalanced body weight on his back.
Again, I only lasted about an hour before my legs were so tired they were shaking and I was unable to continue. Even though I train almost every day, I do not have the strength, endurance, or motor control necessary for riding!
In these two sessions I experienced first-hand the compensation patterns that I had previously witnessed: Your hip flexors (TFL) readily compensates for glutes, one side of the body can compensate for the other, and finally that the horse often compensates for the rider. I also learned that it’s hard to keep an engaged core without rounding through the shoulders, and that my inner thigh could really use some work! So my overwhelming take-away and advice is that no matter your sport or fitness level it’s always a good idea to examine and address your compensations to prevent injury and improve performance.
About the author: Lydia Carter, PT
Lydia graduated with a Master of Physical Therapy from the University of Western Ontario in 2018 after obtaining a Bachelor of Arts Honours Specialization in Kinesiology in 2014. She joined Equus Physio in 2019.
Lydia currently holds certifications in: Orthopedic Division Manual Therapy- Level 1, and Introduction to Canine Rehabilitation. Lydia has plans to expand her practice by completing her Equine Rehabilitation and Canine Rehabilitation education, advancing through the levels of McKenzie Method® of MDT®*, and obtaining her acupuncture and dry needling certifications.
She is passionate about improving the quality of life of her clients and helping them reach their goals. Lydia strongly believes that clients need to have an active role in their recovery, so her treatment techniques focus on education and exercise prescription. She also includes manual therapy and therapeutic modalities specifically suited to each client.
In her spare time, Lydia enjoys spending time with her dog Jackson Mortimer, friends, and family; she is always looking for an adventure, loves traveling, cycling, hiking, and baking. She is a cake pop extraordinaire!
*Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy