Do you feel like you just aren’t making the progress you want/desire with your horse?
Are you spending endless money on instructors and lessons to try and improve but somehow, something is not jelling?
Does your horse have a constant sore back, even though you have had the saddler and the chiro out to check? Or perhaps your horse is often/constantly going lame?
Maybe it’s time to look at ourselves and how we may be impacting our horses
This post will share with you the many reasons and benefits why training yourself out of the saddle will make you a better rider and will benefit you in more ways that you can imagine. Now, you might be thinking that training yourself as a rider out of the saddle is counter productive as it’s the partnership of you and your horse which needs to improve (and that also involves the horse).
Yes, of course, you need to train on your horse, but as with any sport (and as a rider, whether you believe it or not, you are an athlete), there are often many pieces of the puzzle that are important for creating the most optimal outcome. Fun fact - Did you know the Norwegian ski team spend 90% of their time training off skis, I realise it’s not directly comparable but it is worth noting.
Training yourself to move ‘optimally’ as a rider, is just one of those key pieces of the puzzle.
If we put this into context with any other sport - think about how much time athletes in other sports spend training themselves off the field or away from the sport e.g in the gym, with sports psychologists, breathwork coaching etc, comparably to how much the athletes actually spend in direct training.
So let’s now apply this to your riding. I’m going to ask you a question.
How much time do you spend training yourself ‘off’ your horse?
The answer we often hear is, not enough. Does this also ring true for you?
The point I’m making here is that the time you spend training away from your horse is equally, if not more important than the time you spend on it.
Let’s get straight to looking at the 5 key reasons why as a rider why it is essential to train yourselves out of the saddle:
REASON 1: First and foremost, your horses welfare
I don’t think I am speaking out of turn when I say most of us ride because we are totally and utterly obsessed with horses and absolutely dote on our four-legged friend and would as a result, do anything to make sure they are happy and comfortable to be able to perform at their best.
Consider how much we spend on saddlers, physios/chiros, farriers and vets every year and what do you spend on yourself for your horse? In summary we spend most of our time and money trying to make sure we aren’t causing our horses any unnecessary pain or discomfort without looking at ourselves. As a result, this includes making sure that we aren’t causing them any unnecessary pain or discomfort. If we are not able to hold our own balance and be in our own self-carriage off the horse, then you can be absolutely sure that when you get on board your favourite four-legged friend, and add in a moving being beneath you, you certainly aren’t going to manage then and science will happily back this up in relation to gravity and force.
Therefore if you want to ensure you have the most sustainable and long partnership that is possible, between you and your horse, would you rather not just ensure you take yourself out of the equation when it comes to potentially causing them harm or discomfort. And of course, only you can answer this. But hopefully that’s made you think; read on for some studies in relation to this.
REASON 2: Pain reduction
In a study conducted by Hartpury College with elite dressage riders, it was shown that 74% of the riders were competing while experiencing pain, 62% of this pain they were experiencing, was classed as chronic pain and 76% of the riders who had the pain stated it was in the lower back. This is hugely common. You can read numerous elite level riders across multiple disciplines notably dressage and eventing, riders such as Carl Hester, Harry Meade, Bettina Hoy who have experienced stiff, tense and painful backs for years.
Not only can pain, especially if chronic, just impact you physically, but also mentally in terms of your ability to concentrate, but it can negatively affect you in multiple other ways, including increasing fatigue. Therefore riding with pain is inevitably going to reduce the performance for you as a horse and rider combination. When you tire, it means your horse has to do more (tying back to point one above) and you automatically make them work harder to compensate for your downfall/fatigue.
A notable influence from research on pain in riders appears to be poor posture. Therefore, training yourself off the horse in order to work on improving your posture and thus balance, stability and suppleness will have profound impact on the pain you experience both in and out of the saddle.
REASON 3: Injury Prevention
Injury prevention I would say is pretty up there when it comes to a good reason to train yourself out of the saddle. After all, who wants to be injured?
When we are not well integrated through our entire core container (this includes everything from your cervical spine to your pelvic floor) and do not move optimally from a foundation of optimal postural alignment, we are opening ourselves up to the potential of injuring ourselves through the ability for compensations to creep in.
Think about it. When you get in the saddle, any sub-optimal postural or movement pattern you have mapped in your body out of the saddle, will be exacerbated 10 fold when you get in the saddle. Mainly because you have a moving being beneath you, making it even harder for you to maintain an optimal position. If you then add in the fact you might not be strong and stable in your core container, which would allow you to have your own self-carriage, independent of your horse, you are more likely to succumb to the forces of gravity and also the horse’s movement that are acting on you every single stride
As we all know, an essential part of being what is classed as a ‘good’ and effective rider is the ability to keep our spine supple and mobile. That’s what makes us look ‘effortless’ when on a horse.
If you fail to keep your spine mobile, you will start to feel the impact, as compensations, in other parts of the body. These have a habit of literally creeping in without you really realising/noticing, so spinal mobility is key to not only effective riding but also general wellness.
The more time you spend in the saddle, the more time you need to focus on your back out of the saddle to avoid tension building up. We have had riders working with us who initially said but I ride 8 horses a day I don’t need to train out of the saddle, but this would be exactly why you do need to.
Compensations, as we all know, over time lead to injury. And I’m sure, like us, you don’t have to think too hard to come up with riders you know who have neck and shoulder pain, back pain, hip and groin pain and even knee and ankle pain!
REASON 4: Better Balance
The definition of balance goes as the following: an even distribution of weight, enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady. As such when we apply this to the riding scenario, balance, first and foremost, helps you stay on the horse.
However balance isn’t a given. It is something we must develop and in order to do this, we must therefore train it. The great news is that balance is very trainable!
This is where training off the horse comes into its own. Why? Because balance when on board is everything.
As Kyra Kyrklund mentions: “You cannot have control over your horse’s balance until you have control over your own balance. When you are balanced, you are the leader who oversees your horse’s length of step, speed, rhythm, and direction. To be balanced, you need to have a correct riding position—you need to be sitting equally on both of your seat bones, centred in your body and strong in your middle part”.
If you are able to keep your own balance, when your horse is moving beneath you, it allows the horse to move freely beneath you, in its fullest movement expression. Something that as riders, is our ultimate goal.
However in order to do this, it is paramount that we have a strong, stable and adaptable core container to allow us to be the most balanced rider we can be. Cue, another great reason why as riders, we need to train our body out of the saddle.
Reason 5: Better self-carriage of your horse
Now if you haven’t yet subscribed to our mailing list, you might not have seen our email we sent on the importance of us balancing our own superficial front and back lines that as humans we naturally have in our bodies. Our horses have their own set of superficial back and front lines too. And in order for horses to be in true self-carriage and for that balance to then be maintained, these superficial lines in our horse’s bodies must come into balance. We can very easily negatively impact them (the horse).
However, when a horse is out of self-carriage, it is much harder for a rider to find their own balance, and therefore bring the balance of their horse back into self-carriage.
It therefore requires a rider to find extra stabilising tension in their front or back superficial lines to help regain the balance and as Mary Wanless says in her book Rider Biomechanics, “it is only a resilient and responsive rider” who can overcome this as it requires a certain strength to do so.
This all then ties back to the reasoning/raison d’etre of why better self carriage of your horse is the positive outcome of paying attention to your own training out of the saddle (detailed in the five points made above).
If we become strong enough to maintain our own balance, even when it is challenged, it allows us to then communicate this balance to the horse. In turn positively impacting their superficial front and back line leading to their expression of a balanced movement pattern.
In summary, these are just 5 key reasons why as riders we should be training our bodies out of the saddle with the top reason being to look after your horse if for no other reason. However, as you will hopefully have seen above, there are a great many other valuable reasons to train your body which will directly impact your riding (and your wellbeing) and also your horse’s way of going, helping you to become your desired, ultimate riding partnership.
If you’re interested in helping improve your own balance, supporting your horse’s way of going, reducing your pain and preventing injury to you and your horse, come and join us for a live class by signing up using the link below and see how you find it.
Use the code - 5reasons20 to get 20% off your first class with us.
We look forward to helping you in your quest for happy, healthy and confident riding.
Love, Bella and Taisie xx