The Way We Move

Stumbled across this video that gives us an inside look at our body’s workings when we ride.  It’s easy to imagine what happens to that movement when individual or groups of muscles are either tightened (like the lower back), or under utilized (like the core), or there’s lateral imbalance with one side being more flexible than the other (which can be from general one-sidedness or injury).  Take it one step further and think how that can also affect the horse.


16 thoughts on “The Way We Move

  1. That is so cool! The only thing I can add is that on a recent ride my horse seemed off. Since he is off ordinarily in the hind end anyway, I was thinking maybe my saddle pad had slipped, but no, it was OK. As I was riding, one side of me was dipping down, and looking at this video, I could see how it was affecting my whole bone system. No wonder it felt so weird!

    As to the horse, turned out I had been letting him turn around in the trailer to unload, something I know better than to do, and he recovered in a few days. I think it was a muscle sprain.

  2. I think the movement is exaggerated on purpose, but the basic movements seem accurate. More like belly-dancing than you might expect! A good friend of my has been diagnosed with mild scoliosis in her 30s that had gone undetected up to now, and after getting some concentrated therapy on herself, her seat is finally improving. Interesting that she had a lot of position problems that really didn’t seem to have a direct link to her physical problems, but were in fact linked to it. Your hands or your heels or leg position can be off because of balance problems in your seat, but what the average riding instructor would see would be the hands or heels, not the core problem.

  3. Great visual! I recently began some Heller bodywork treatments, and in the first session the therapist worked on my right ankle quite a bit. I don’t know how many times I’d sprained that ankle playing soccer, but it was pretty tight with scar tissue. I always noted it while riding that it just felt… locked. The difference I felt the next day (and ever since) was profound. Not only was my ankle able to flex normally, but it affected how my knee could bend and my hip move. Just yet another example, to me, of how the seemingly smallest things have such a huge impact.

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge Mercedes. I always enjoy it, and learn from what you share.

  4. In addition to injuries and physical limitations getting in the way of riding, I’ve also been thinking about the question of basic body type. As a teen, I thought the wonderful thing about riding was that body type (in the human) didn’t matter; skills were everything (this is an empowering thing for a teenage girl to think, about anything). Most of the people around me were not very skilled, so I never saw anyone get to the limit of what skills could accomplish, and be held back by body type. Also few adults, and nobody who was seriously overweight by today’s standards, rode back then in our community, so I was mostly looking at other teenage girls. And I never stopped to consider that what looked like skills might also be the effect of having a more inherently athletic body.

    As an adult, though, I can see that there is a body type that makes riding inherently easier, which is (a bit disappointingly) the same body type that makes everything in life easier 🙂 : for women, a couple of inches above average height, with the extra height in length of leg, naturally slim, and with good overall muscle tone (in addition to being basically fearless). I teach college in the exurbs, and every year I have a couple of students who have got quite far with their riding and competing as teens, but have made the decision to put that on hold for a few years to get university degree and a career (I would say a wise choice for almost everybody who isn’t actually en route to the Olympics). It occurred to me after a few years that they all had the same basic body type: not overweight, but big thighs and butt. Strong and solid build. I wasn’t seeing any students with competition backgrounds who had the long and leggy build.

    It seems to me that big thighs and butt would be a really good build for a working student or a groom, anyone doing a lot of labor, and might also also give you strength and stability in the saddle, as you’d have a low center of gravity. But I’m guessing it might get in the way a bit later on, as you start to need a longer leg, or a lighter seat. I’m thinking it’s possible these students all had bodies that were a strength advantage at the start, but maybe posed some limits as they advanced, which is why they are not “following their dreams” into the horse world (which might be where the long and leggy girls are, rather than in my composition classes). I don’t think I see this build too much at the higher levels, but my exposure to the true higher levels is mostly through Youtube video clips 🙂 so I haven’t seen a lot of the riders on the ground, walking around, etc.

    Anyhow, I find this a rather depressing thought, as I liked my old idea that unlike every other sport under the sun, riding wasn’t dependent on having a particular body type. And it is true that skills makes up so much of riding that this is not a roadblock any rider will face for a long time. I also wouldn’t say this out loud to teenage girls, as it just plays into the same pressures they face everywhere else in our society. And, like anything in riding, skills, dedication and obsession are the deciding factors. I am sure there are many girls with “ideal rider build” who have their pick of sports and dance, and won’t put in the hours required to be a good rider, when the rewards seem easier in other sports.

      • I’m weighing your post and have somewhat of the same reaction – I really want to believe that riding is a sport open to all body types, and really, for all but the elite levels of the sport, it is. Even at the top levels of the sport, there’s still a fair amount of body diversity, more so than a lot of sports. I don’t think riding is a sport where one needs to have won the genetic lottery just to have a shot at the top (unlike say, gymnastics or basketball or track).

        I can observe that top level riders are generally slim… but not ridiculously so. Take Beezie Madden, 137 lbs at 5’6″… that’s a healthy fit weight, not a fashion model weight. I am confident that top riders are slim and fit in large part because they are professional athletes and care for themselves accordingly. I read an interview with Beezie about how she keeps herself on a careful diet, exercise (outside of riding) and sleep schedule, to maintain her fitness and healthy weight. That’s important information; if you aspire to ride like her, you need to know that she doesn’t just have a genetic gift but works hard to have that body. (Side note: I like it when I can find riders’ heights and weights in their stats just like hockey players, baseball players, etc. It is good to know what size people actually are, to know how readily their body type is achievable by people with aspirations in the sport).

        So for your girls with the big thighs and butts – did big thighs and butts stop them from going up the levels in riding, or do they have big thighs and butts BECAUSE they stopped going up the levels of riding? I say this as someone who, in my teens and early 20s, had that riders’ build… tall, leggy, slim. I stepped back from riding to build a career (as you say, I was never going to the Olympics anyway). After years of university and years at a desk job, I’m still tall and leggy, but now I have that big butt and big thighs. I think that’s a fairly common way for women to carry additional pounds. Maybe if I had pursued a career as a professional athlete my body would be different today.

    • I was reading a graduate student’s thesis paper the other day which attempted to study the affect of the weight of a rider on a horse’s gaits. It was small sample, not particularly sophisticated, but again not exactly funded research either. Nevertheless she picked stance phase/ungrounded phase measurements, how long a particular foot was on the ground versus in the air, as her measurement to assess the affect of a rider’s weight. She started with three quarter horses of similar size, three riders at about 130 pounds and a vest system to allow her to add weight in 20 pound increments. She then measured the horses ridden in normal arena setting at the trot. For two of three horses, each 20 pound increase in weight saw significant (statistically significant) increases in the stance phase of a foot versus the ungrounded phase. Horses compensated for the weight increases by leaving each foot on the ground longer in the trot diagonals and less time off the feet. One horse did not react to the additional 20 pounds by altering the time of stance versus ungrounded feet, but did react to the 40 pounds by increasing stance time. The student noted that the horse that had been trained to lift its back and noticeably did not increase stance time with the extra 20 pounds. So clearly weight can have an affect on the horse’s gait but up to a point a horse can compensate if it adopts ‘weight bearing posture’ by rounding up the back.

      So heavier built students probably are at a disadvantage. Skill obviously in training a horse to lift its back and move correctly can compensate up to a point.

      Another article I have read recently was on the pressure as measured by a pressure plate of a skilled rider versus a beginner in a horse at walk, trot and canter. An unskilled rider caused the horse to land with significantly more pressure than a skilled rider, at a walk a skilled rider increased pressure by a factor of two, but an unskilled rider a factor of four. So skill can make a large difference to what the horse’s feet and joints must absorb when being ridden.

      So I would think that within a range of weight and body length distributions that are pretty close to normal, skill is going to make more difference than weight. I would think that very heavy upper body and longer than normal torso might be more of a disadvantage than slightly heavier legs and butt if the upper body/leg ratio is pretty normal. Short legged, long bodied females with big busts, probably not a good thing to be. Mostly, near normal weight ranges, normal body shapes and skill, I think would make you better than most people.

      And when you think of Tom Dorrance and Bill Dorrance, old, half-crippled, they could still ride horses better than most people.

      • Jrga, very interesting! I like that the student added weights to the same rider, so the skill level or individual riding style wasn’t a variable. On the other hand, a weighted vest *might* change the balance of the rider. Also, I think you’re right that big butt and thighs wouldn’t be as much of a problem as a longer torso.

        The basic difference between skilled and unskilled rider I think we’ve all observed, though there are things a reasonably “skilled” rider might do that would also cause pressure: trying to sit too big a trot, trying to “drive” with the seat, trying to two point at the canter but slamming butt into saddle, etc.

        When I chat about ouchy backs, horse chiro, crippled hocks, etc., to my sister she always shakes her head and asks what’s going on with horses these days, because we rode like demons all over the place as teens and nothing ever went wrong, certainly nothing chronic. I remind her that she was about 100 lbs on a 16 hand horse bareback, rubber snaffle loose rein, who was basically given his head to bomb up trails and walk when he needed a break, and he was never schooled circles in an arena in his life. Her riding him was probably just about next to running free.

        It’s a bit sad to realize that yes, they feel even that extra 20 lbs, but I suppose the race horse people have known this forever, which is why jockey’s weights matter so much.

        • “just about next to running free”
          Am not going to hijack this thread, because a lot of very interesting facts have been brought up, but thank you for writing these words. Perhaps we could have another discussion on this.

          • I know there is a school of thought out there that riding bareback hurts the horse’s spine, and it could be true with a big adult bouncing around up there, especially if they trot a lot. But I never saw any damage from kids riding bareback walk, jog and bolt 🙂 and lots of muscled double backs, on the horses. Certainly I think it hurt the horses less than a badly fitting saddle, especially a badly fitting English saddle.

  5. Don’t be depressed. The “sport” of horsemanship is mostly figuring out the horse. I see so much of the “I wish I could ride better” theme, but if you want to ride better, figure out what motivates your horse.

  6. I think most riders don’t pay nearly enough attention to ourselves as athletes, our bodies, our body issues. We’ve had drilled into us that riding is hard work and we think the solution is always to just keep training. But for many of us if there is something that we are struggling with, it may well not be that we simply aren’t trying hard enough… our own body issues may be getting in the way.

    I work with a physiotherapist who specializes in working with equestrian athletes, and it’s been illuminating. I have had several injuries to my hips from falls off horses and from snowboarding and was left with a lot of difficulty in closing my hips smoothly, and with one leg that always slipped back due to weakness in that hip. So many problems in my riding flowed from that; most obviously, throwing my upper body around trying to make up for the lack of movement in my hips. But coaches could yell at me until they were blue in the face to close my hip angle and put my leg at the girth… it didn’t matter… I physically couldn’t do it.

    I’ve posted about my experiences with my equestrian physio before because it’s so important to look into these issues! Getting regular treatment for my hip issues and a dedicated program to build strength has helped me much more than coaches and clinicians telling me that my leg was sliding back. A gazillion one-legged squats on the weaker leg helped. Active release therapy on the joint helped. A series of stretches to do in my office to keep my hips from seizing up while I sit, that helps. Those aren’t things you can learn from the traditional horse-world resources. But my riding is becoming so much better from dealing with my physical issues, while off the horse.

  7. Paint Mare, I was thinking more along the lines of “given his head” and “next to running free”.

    ChestnutMare, your comments about getting treatment helping you more than coaches instructions is very instructive. OK, that sentence does not make much sense, but I hope the meaning comes across. Horse and rider have to be kind of in “sync” separate from each other to be able to be in sync together.

  8. I took another look at some of the girls I had in mind when I said “big butt, big thighs” and actually I think what I am seeing in them *is* a relatively long torso, the pear shape, even when they aren’t really overweight at all. The butt just seeming relatively lower to the ground. This is different from someone who has long legs, but has put on weight over time. Interesting, I realize I have very little framework for doing functional conformation analyses of human beings! Presumably a swim coach or a baseball coach can see the right build in a young prospect. But as far as having functional standards for humans generally, it’s all appearance: we judge young men like halter quarter horses, and young women like halter Arabians, and the more extreme the better.

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