Athletic Therapy, Chronic Pain

Breaking Down Unhealthy Movements

Many riders out there already are quite adept athletes, and train themselves on and off the horse appropriately. In this case- why is it still common to see fit, athletic, riders with positional issues, pain in the saddle, and chronic pain in their daily lives?

I’ve talked about movement patterns many times before, and this is exactly what it comes down to when diagnosing what’s up with a riders problems- whether those problems are pain, sloppy transitions, getting one lead, keeping the horse balanced around turns, etc. Unhealthy movement is not necessarily a cause of low fitness levels or health- it’s bred by patterns and habits we’ve formed over time.

Subconsciously you might have formed different movement patterns that stick around long after the initial injury did. A gait change because of a lower body injury and resulting compensation can continue long enough that it becomes a unconscious habit. The neuromuscular connections (how our brain and nervous system control our muscles) may have formed in alternative ways and become established in incorrect or inefficient patterns not noticeable to the untrained eye.

Think about it this way… you know when someone tells you to sit up straight and you all of a sudden notice how slouched you were actually sitting? Then a few minutes later you suddenly realize you’re back into the same slouched posture without even having noticed your shift in position? That’s a unconscious movement habit. Without a conscious thought, your body slipped into an inefficient posture because it the good movement habits and appropriate muscles haven’t been retrained to do their jobs.

Now, if you work hard to keep yourself fit and agile in and out of the tack, but still find yourself always being corrected on little postural habits you have in the saddle.. as hard as you train your fitness, it may not be doing you any good. This is why when someone puts you in the correct position it feels like a lot of work to sustain it. Likely you have those little movement deficiencies throughout your day, especially when you’re training, which means they are being trained to continue through all your movements. Which means anything outside of those well-used patterns is going to be harder to maintain both physically and mentally. Riders I work with often complain that their brains get tired just from focusing to keep new, correct positions. Further to that, a rider’s emotional state shows through their movements. Fear, anger, confidence, happiness are shown in our posture. Body language is a big part in our sport, as it’s what our horse’s can translate best as soon as we hop on.

You’ve probably noticed that many of the exercises I demonstrate in these posts are very simplistic movements… for the exact reason of breaking down someone’s movements and building them back up again correctly. It usually takes bringing someone, as athletic as they may be, back down to the most basic level of movement to see where their issues are coming from and rebuild them from there. Much of my job consulting client’s movements comes down to doing just that. How they move presently is often a result of things that have been perpetuated in their past. Many of them come to me with problems their horse has (“he won’t pick up his right lead”, “he always falls in”, etc) which usually disappear once we source out what or what they aren’t doing within their own bodies.

Never underestimate how much you influence your horse, or how simple it can be to fix with the right assistance!

The first step in improving this in riders is bringing their awareness back to the problem. Having someone tell you over and over what you need to fix only goes so far if you’re not aware of what you actually are doing incorrectly. My first suggestion when coaching a rider’s position is first to show them in a mirror or by resetting their position so they can feel and see the differences. Then, while I’m verbally reminding them what they are changing through their movements, I ask them to think about it themselves every 4 or 5 strides during their rides, and periodically throughout their day.

Teaching Shot 1

Try using these self-reminders throughout your day and ride:

  • Everytime you check my phone you’re checking your posture
  • Before every upwards or downwards transition set and activate the core and sit up tall.
  • Every second repetition of an exercise in the gym checking your form.
  • At every corner doing a self-position check.

Doing those simple tricks throughout your day will encourage your brain to rebuild it’s habits in your movements. Soon, you’ll become more aware of your faulty postures… and once you’re aware you can begin to correct them. Before too long you’ll find you’re sitting up straighter, moving better, and finding chronic pain dissipating without having to constantly remind yourself!

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