50/ JULY 2018 THE RIDER Rider Fitness: Improving Leg Control and Balance

By Heather Sansom Shifting your hips and lean-

ing on turns? More shifts won’t fix the problem. You need to ad- dress your leg stability. Leg sta- bility will improve your balance. Recently I had the privilege

of visiting a hunter-jumper train- ing farm where they run a school and many shows in the year. As one of the students cantered by, the discussion shifted to the im- portance of staying balanced on the centre of your horse. The trainer described the rider’s com- pensation as ‘motorcycling’ the turn. She had shifted her weight and was leaning in to compen- sate. She was also squeezing with her legs, shutting down the horse’s movement. Although riding with your seat out of the saddle is not my personal favourite place to be (my passion is classical dressage), I do get re- ally interested in all the ways

that a rider needs to use their body for different dis- ciplines of riding. Seated riders have the same prob- lem: weight shifts, leaning and gripping with legs to compensate. At the end of the day, we are still a human on a horse, and the biomechanical rules don’t change because you changed the saddle, leg length, footing, and direc- tion of movement. The issue is common across riding disciplines.

Part of the reason stems from the sitting issues common in our populations. We are not helped by a lifestyle where we sit in cars, sit at computers…you get the picture. The tension and weakness patterns from that lifestyle are a really hot topic across all sports concerned with functional fitness. Riding is one of them. So, how did I jump from weight shifts to legs? In a nutshell, a tight inner leg (adduc- tors) causes the rider to clamp on to the horse. It can be very sub- tle, and completely unconscious. The location of the clamp changes depending on which parts of your leg and thigh are most in contact with the saddle, based on your discipline. Riders with seat out of the

saddle have contact in the lower gastrocnemius (calf/Achilles area), and the knee. Dressage riders and other seated riders

instructor in addition to a nation- ally certified riding coach. Peo- ple in other sports don’t try and fix problems like this ‘in game’ (while doing their sport itself)- they go to physiotherapy or a gym. They develop some daily habits to have a mechanically more balanced body, which they then bring to their sport practice. That is classical sport condition- ing. Once you’re sitting in the saddle, you can’t very well start raising your legs out to the side to strengthen the outer line, while you’re riding. To keep it simple, the anti-

have contact in the upper thigh, and ideally, the upper calf area if they are applying leg aids. In ei- ther position, the ideal is the abil- ity to have a neutral leg, with a body that is positioned by bal- ance, not by clamping onto the horse. Besides shutting down the horse’s movement, gripping the horse ruins your feel for bal- ance. It puts you out of balance.

So, instead of balancing their way around the turn in alignment with the horse, the rider uses other tools like a seat shift and a lean. If the rider is small and the horse is large, a rider can get away with this pattern for a while until the height of the jump, precision of the movement, horse soreness, or an eagle-eyed coach hold up the Whoa! sign and flag the issue. The issues are more com-

plex than simply strengthening adductors: they affect the whole muscle and ligament system on the inside and outside of your leg and hips. A mechanically unbal- anced leg and thigh system can- not suddenly be fixed by mindfulness exercises, Centered Riding type work, thinking or breathing into the right part of your body, massage, chiropractic, or yoga on horseback. I respect all those things and their place in helping a rider move, balance, and ride better. I practice several of them. I am a Centered Riding

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dote for this problem is a process of introducing more flexibility on the inside, and more strength on the outside. When I am working with clients, the precise workout plan always depends on the indi- vidual I’m working with because everyone has a unique combina- tion of habits, imbalances and riding goals, not to mention body type, workout activity prefer- ences and riding discipline. Nev- ertheless, I have some standard methods and approaches that I

end up recommending right across riding disciplines. One of them involves using exercise tub- ing or bands to develop lateral strength. In the picture here, the exer-

cise is demonstrated standing. You can look up lateral work and find many examples of exercises lying on your side. They are good too, but if you are able to balance on one foot, I like to encourage riders to do the standing exercise because it forces you to use your core and standing leg stabilizers to keep an upright position. You want a band or tube with enough tension that you feel you are pushing against resistance to left your leg to the side, and also hav- ing to resist while slowly bringing your leg back to position. If it feels too easy, get a stronger ex- ercise tube or double it up. Once you can do the exer-

cise simply as shown here, it’s time to work more on balance and knee stabilizers. You can do this

a few ways. Two that I like are either introducing movement, such as moving between the leg raise and a squat. If you are reading this article

online, there is a Youtube video that I found which has some good technical

instruction: v=5oewij3YnA0 . Another way you can tackle

it is to introduce more bend in your knee with resistance that is stable. To do that, tie the band or tube around your leg near the knee, and off to the side (across your body so that you have to push your leg slightly out to pre- vent it from being pulled inward). With some tension on the bend, drop into a split lunge (the front leg that is bent, is the one with the resistance tube). You will really need to focus on your hip and knee stabilizers to prevent your leg from wobbling while you do this exercise. There is a very good instructional video here: YmwV6Zo5I . Generally, the right amount

of resistance is dictated by what you can handle without finding that you are wobbling, or com- pensating with weight shifts and leaning, for about 10-15 repeti- tions of the exercise on each side. If you are a fit person, and the issue discussed this month is still speaking to you, you might be surprised at how little resistance you need for this exercise to chal- lenge you, compared with the weight loads or types of activities you otherwise can do. You have more potential

than you realise. Happy riding and training!

© Heather R. Sansom, Fitness, biomechanics and riding instruction. Online Coaching Available Check out the 9 week rider fitness plan book- available in print or as a



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