Do riders need to be symmetrical?
What is more important, a sound balance seat or being symmetrical? It's hard to believe, but these can be two different things.
You may have been told previously that being symmetrical is key to being a good rider, but as a health and movement coach working with both able bodied and disability riders, I can assure you that this is not the case. Many para riders cannot be symmetrical, but they have the ability to learn to be functional and ride just as well as able bodied riders.
The emphasis needs to be placed on function. This means being in an optimal position which is unique to the individual. This is why I don’t recommend online programmes or set protocols. Each individual body needs to be assessed. If this isn’t done, you could be creating more issues rather than correcting them.
I had a client who followed an online programme. Because I had taught her to be aware of her movement, she realised that she could not perform a lunge evenly. Rather than persevere, she contacted me straight away and we stopped her doing the exercise until we could review the movement. Unfortunately, some people will persist, putting unnecessary strain through their hips[SW1] as the hips are the most heavily loaded joint in the human body. If the hips are not managing load correctly (which they aren’t in a large percentage of people), this can potentially create more issues.
Many riders do not self assess how their bodies are moving before they get on the horse or even more importantly when they have finished a training session. Are you limping? Feeling stiff or have any pain or discomfort in the body?
Without understanding how you are moving and getting on the horse you may be causing incorrect loading through your seat to the horse.
Wouldn’t it be better to assess you, as a balanced but more importantly functioning seat is key to improving your riding. You may even need to do a warm up and definitely a cool down.
What is a functional seat I hear you ask?
If the body has “tightness”, “weakness”, lacks coordination, or lacks the capacity to make a muscle work, our brains take over as they are hard wired to complete the task. Other muscles are then recruited to take over from the ones that should be working. This can contribute to the asymmetry. Asymmetry can also be caused by poor diet, digestive problems, hormonal issues and stress to name but a few. I will discuss these topics further in future articles. It is fair to say that in most cases there is always a structural dimension, always a biochemical dimension and always an environmental dimension, and what we need to do is ascertain which is driving which.
So how does dysfunction show?
● Saddle slipping to one side
● Inability to keep heel/s down
● Hands constantly moving (always been told to keep hands still)
● Easier to ride on one rein than the other
● Horse doesn’t stand square but does when rider in not on it
Knowing where your sitting bones are is key to a good seat.Most riders understand where they are but they may not be able to feel if they are sat on them. It’s not until a rider starts to understand movement are they able to feel where their sitting bones are in the saddle and whether this position is good or dysfunctional, as it is normal for that rider. This can lead to frustration, as if they have a dysfunction, their brain and body think they are doing what the instructor has asked, but in reality the body is finding another way to compensate.
The instructor may see from the ground if you lean, collapse or sit twisted but all this tells you is there is an issue, not what is happening at the muscles which are creating the issue. It is important to find how the body is adapting to it. It might feel like tightness or weakness but these terms are meaningless. They are nothing more than adjectives we apply to feelings in our muscles. There are different kinds/types of tightness and different kinds/types of weakness. In order to know what should be done to help, we need to know the types. Just diving in and stretching a tight muscle might not be the right thing to do. Likewise, just diving in and strengthening a weak muscle also might not be the right thing to be doing. Until we assess to work out the “types” at play, we cannot know what the correct intervention is.
As a movement coach I find some riding instructors have been taught to look at how the horse is moving, and as long as the horse looks ok they don’t look at the rider. When the rider needs to learn new, more complex moves, rider dysfunction can then trip up the rider and slow down the learning. Without addressing the root cause of the dysfunction, you can switch instructors, change horses and watch videos as much as you like, but you won’t be able to change how your body naturally wants to move.
If you have muscles seemingly pulling the pelvis forward on one side, apparently lengthening the leg creating a dysfunction, the riding instructor may try and correct this by getting the other leg to lengthen (the one that is actually working properly) to put the heels down, but not address the dysfunctional leg and therefore reducing the ability to control the seat and the horse.
The more you understand about how and what influences the way you move the easier it is to become body and movement aware as a rider.
It is important to ask your instructor how the move should feel and what body parts should be used to achieve the move; Body awareness is the first step and better communication with your instructor is the second and when that fails seek the help of a movement coach.
I have a saying what you do for your horse, should you be doing it too? https://ipcoach.co.nz/