New Year's resolutions: There is 1 exercise that if you can do 10 reps of, a few times randomly throughout the day, this WILL help your riding. Most riders do 100+ squats in the tack every ride. Just count how many times you go up down in the rising trot in one lap of the arena?
Squats are my #1 go-to for horse riders and here are my top 5 favorite variations, and a description of why they benefit riders.
5 may seem like alot, but did you know there are 542 different variations of exercises on the squat? Ones with toes up, down, out, in, resistance bands, kettle bells, walls, balls, etc etc etc. Lets keep it simple though…“Ready, Set, Squat” - Authour Unknown
If you have an interest in understanding off-horse fitness training, let’s dive in a little deeper into this exercise. If you have a personal trainer, a gym buddy or a magazine article screaming at you the mantra “no knees over toes in your squats!” - before you blindly follow, let’s think about being a rider and what happens in the tack.
The ideal EQUITATION (ear, shoulder, HIP, HEEL alignment from the side) is important in many of our equestrian disciplines because it places the least stress on the horses back and the rider is in their most balanced centre of gravity. Which means you need to utilize this position in your cross-training off the horse. If you avoid coming over your toes with your knees, you are training too much into the chair seat for riding, which will cause the lower leg to be driven forward in the stirrup and can cause bracing and tension
We need to recognize there are so many variables. The height of a rider, the barrel/shape of the horse, the type of saddle, the fit of the saddle, etc. The list goes on and on, and each topic could have an entire blog written about it. Here is a case in point.
Same rider, different tack.
Notice how the toe is in front of the knee in the Western (above), but the toe is behind the knee in the English tack (below). The style of squat you choose to do in the gym, will depend on the discipline you ride!
DISCLAIMER ALERT: The literature states that there is increased translational (forward) forces of the femur on the tibia (your thigh bone on your shin bone) when knees are pushed over the toes. So if you already have underlying osteoarthritis, meniscal troubles, ACL breakdown, pain etc.etc.etc., please consult a professional first before experimenting with squats.
OR better yet: Come in, good knees or bad, and let Equus teach you the ideal rider squat for your body, horse and your riding discipline. Let’s keep up with those resolutions in the the off season of riding.
Written by: Sandra Oxtoby, Physiotherapist, Grand Prix Dressage Rider, EC English Competition Coach
Photo Credit: Hoofbeat to Heartbeat Photography