Feeling tense, stiff or lop-sided in the saddle? If so, the way you muck out could be to blame. Here we talk to therapeutic bodywork practitioner Jo Greenfield how to wield a fork and broom correctly and ensure you’re sitting pretty…
In addition to taking up a form of gentle, body-boosting exercise, there are practical steps you can take to ensure you’re on the straight and narrow, both when you’re doing yard work and in the saddle.
Go Continental. “On the Continent, riders are taught to muck out on both sides to help even the body up,” says Jo. “Give it a try and you’ll soon discover it’s difficult to muck out to the side you’re not used to. But swap sides for just a few scoops of the fork every day and it’s a reminder of how one-sided you are – and may shed light on any problems you’re having in the saddle. Above all, it’s a good exercise in self-awareness.”
A lunge lesson, especially if you can ride without reins and stirrups, will highlight any areas of tension or one-sidedness in your body. A good instructor can then help you formulate a plan to remedy it.
Consider the type of bedding you use – and the amount. “Shavings may be more absorbent than straw, but this makes them heavier, putting more strain on your forearms and upper body,” says Jo.
“Wood pellets are the best to work with, being both absorbent and light. I’d also recommend rubber matting as this reduces the amount of bedding you need to use, as well as mucking out time.
“Finding a tool that works for you is also important – go for the lightest fork or brush you can find.”
Be conscious of your mucking out technique, keeping your shoulders in line with your hips as you turn, and following the shoulder-hip-heel principle as you would in the saddle.
If you feel a twinge, take heed as it’s your body’s way of telling you to rest for a day or two.
But if it’s more serious seek the help of a remedial massage therapist, osteopath or chiropractor, depending on the nature of the problem.
Accept your limitations. “If yard work’s taking its toll you must make changes – and then take up a type of exercise, such as yoga, to support those changes,” says Jo. “But you can only work within the limitations of your own postural quirks. There are some things you can’t change, so it’s all about understanding your body’s make up and working with what you’ve got.”
And finally, breathe… “Tension in the lower back often has a great deal to do with how a person uses their breath,” says Jo. “If, when they lift a bucket of water for instance, they hold their breath, they create tension in the chest and shoulders in order to get power behind the lift – but neglect to gain power from their hips. This may be OK for body builders, but is not so good for riders where freedom of the lower back is necessary to enable them to move with their horse. Instead you need to gently breathe out when you’re lifting – if that isn’t possible, then the weight’s too heavy for your body to cope with efficiently.”