California Riding Magazine • November, 2008

Fit To Ride
Release and pull exercise boosts independence
in a rider's upper and lower body.

by Sylvie Quenneville

Our body perception and muscle awareness is crucial to feel where we tend to evade and how we have slid into a loose seat. Sadly, we all have our own body crookedness, whether it’s from birth, injuries or simply poor posture and bad habits.

In most sports, athletes can get away with slight body asymmetry but, unfortunately, not riders. Feeling or being aware of our position, with all its crookedness, is important to better riding. We can often observe how our upper body and lower body move against each other. We are frequently told how we rotate or lower one hip or shoulder more than the other. These subtle imbalances and asymmetries affect what happens under us.

This following exercise is my personal favorite to help riders connect better with their bodies and understand the concept of independent upper and lower body while maintaining a perfect seat. Try to improve awareness, posture, stability and a secure seat.

The rider’s symmetry and tendency to have a rounded back or the difficulty to correctly sit with good posture and a hollow back can be difficult to correct. Riders often lack a stable seat base, the pelvis evades the horse’s motion to the front, and they sit in front of the motion with a tendency toward the fork seat. The deep back muscles frequently lack the ability to lengthen and fail to offer support. Weak glutes (buttocks) are unable to combat that forward pull, causing the lower back to arch into a swayback position.

In this case, riders need to work on a consistent loading of the triangular seat base both on and off the horse with strengthening exercises. By working on these movements off the horse, you can develop a better form and seat without worrying about your influence on what’s under you. Remember, the quieter you sit, the less you will disturb the horse and the more clearly the horse will be able to feel the weight aids.

This exercise will help control the “feel” of the horse’s mouth, to concentrate on an even contact, to adjust the line between the hands and elbows to the horse’s mouth, and to use your upper body independently of the lower.

equestric 1

equestric 2

The Exercise

  • Find a well-anchored object at chest height. Thread the resistance band through or around it.
  • Grasp one end of the band in each hand. Position yourself so there is some tension on the band to start, and there will still be tension when you fully extend your arms forward.
  • Set your feet horse-width apart and bend your knees at an 80-85 degree angle.
  • Keep your knees bent and your weight on your heels at all phases of this exercise.
  • Start: Extend your arms forward with the palms facing each other, thumbs up, feeling a back stretch. Keep your head up and eyes looking forward. Don’t look down!
  • Finish: Pull straight back, keeping your elbows close to your body, ending the backstroke when your elbows are at your torso. Keep your shoulders relaxed (down), you will feel your shoulder blades squeezing together in back.
  • Keep your back upright, slightly arching your lower back and pushing your shoulders back for good posture at the finish. Don't lean backwards on the backstroke and keep your pelvis rotated back.
  • Tighten your abs and exhale on the backstroke, inhale on the forward row.
  • Repeat 12 to 15 times for each set. Perform three sets with 45 to 60 seconds rest in between each set.
  • Tip: Try to do this exercise in front of a mirror to see your body position throughout the exercise, especially the finish phase.
  • Progression: Try one-legged release and pulls to add a balance component to this exercise.