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  • Sandra Oxtoby

"You're going to say I'm fat..."

"You're going to say I'm fat..."

I have riders express hesitation to come in for physio, personal training, or even riding lessons, because of weight concerns.

To be an efficient, beautiful, optimal, harmonious rider, you DO NOT need a six pack. In fact, it is better if you DON’T...

An overactive six pack (rectus abdominus) leads to increased flexion of the trunk on the pelvis (which creates leaning on the horse's forehand) and decreases the elasticity of our athletes to diaphragmatically breathe (indirectly decreasing horse's stride length) - which is NOT what we want for riding.

In the 2015 study by Nankervis et al. (2015) looking at the comparison of elite and non - elite riders during competitive show jumping, they highlighted the statistically significant differences involved the HIP and the THIGH angles during the approach, suspension and landing over verticles and oxers.

Photo: Figure 1 taken from Nankervis et al. 2015 article, looking at joint angle variance between elite and non elite show jumping equestrian athletes.

The summary was the HIP angle of the elite riders was greater (rider not tipping forward and staying more open) on the approach and suspension phase (especially over the oxer as compared to the verticle).

The TRUNK angle was smaller (rider NOT tipping forward) during the suspension over the oxer than the vertical.

In order to ride more like your coach or Eric Lamaze, it is not the ability to do hundreds of sit ups but instead to have power with control. A common exercise given to riders at Equus is demonstrated below. The 'Jumper Burst' exercise is the ability to keep your upper body quiet while bursting into squat position similar to the one held over the jump. This does not require a six pack, but it requires self carriage and balance with power.

At a recent conference in Toronto for the Canadian Physiotherapy Association, we discussed paediatric (child) physio and the development of a baby’s core through major movement milestones (e.g. rolling over, sit-to stand, crawling and first steps).

Now…..many of us know the five year-old kid in the barn who rides like a little pro.

Balanced, controlled and symmetrical. And guess what? She has a soft as can be belly. How can that be? Why do adults need this “strong” core to be better riders, but kids don’t?

Reason: Kids have a recently awoken the NEURAL connection to a ‘deep’ core .

The real-time ultrasound literature is pretty doom and gloom for adults, stating that one mild back injury in your life turns off your brain's neural physiological connection to your deep core.

“No matter how small, or how long ago the injury,

it imprints on us”

- Perry Nicklestein

So when you come into Equus for back pain, SI joint imbalance, pregnancy, pelvic floor issues, or simply monthly athletic tune-ups, we will spark your deep core “activation”. We are going to teach you how to turn on your transverse abdominus (TA), the deepest of the four abdominal muscles. This is the one that acts like a corset around your whole back and belly to protect you when riding AND carrying water buckets. This is the one muscle that you can't strengthen at the gym or through pilates without first learning and solidifying long term biofeedback (AWAKENING).

“Long term consistency, trumps short term intensity”

- Bruce Lee

By having an activated core, you will be able to do the 'Jumper Burst' exercise.

Do not worry about your weight or what you look like. Because when you discover your body’s worth and capabilities, you will find it hard to be around people who don't.

About the Author:

Sandra graduated from the University of Alberta with a Masters of Physical Therapy which was preceded by a Bachelor of Kinesiology with a major in Mind Sciences from the University of Calgary.

Sandra's strengths include being a NCCP certified Competition Coach in English riding through Oxtoby Equine. She is a Grand Prix dressage rider, who has competed internationally and was long listed for the 2015 Pan American Games in the small tour. She has also competed at the highest level at the World Championship of Western Dressage, coming home with a reserve World Championship and Top 5 title.

From a physio perspective, she has her Level 1 Manual Therapy from the Orthopedic Division of Canadian Physiotherapy. She is certified in Biomedical Dry Needling and has a special interest in, but not limited to: biomechanical interaction of rider and horse, shoulder injuries, and SIJ dysfunctions. She is the Past Chair (2017 - 2019) of the Animal Rehab Division of the Canadian Physiotherapy Association, working on advocacy of physio for animals. She also is the Knowledge Translation (KT) representative, which connects researchers internationally in animal physio world with clinicians in practice. In May 2019 she now sits on the board of International Association of Physical Therapists in Animal Practice as the secretary.

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