A secure seat and feeling confident are key to success in the saddle. Here are some useful exercises to help improve your core strength and positionRead More
Riding in balance is essential for safe, effective riding and jumping. Event rider Paul Tapner shares his simple steps to a balanced jumping position.Read More
The Expert: Justine Davies - Justine is a doctor, rider and journalist, who understands jugling a busy working life with caring for horses.
Riding during pregnancy is a personal choice - it probably doesn't have any effect on a healthy pregnancy but there's always a risk of an injury.
Whether or not to ride during pregnancy really comes down to personal choice. Many riders, including Sylvia Loch, think it's too risky. However, in his report for the Hong Kond Jockey Club, Professor Michael Rogers - an obstetrician at the Prince of Wales Hospital, Hong Kong - writes: "In a healthy, uncomplicated pregnancy, horse riding per se does not cause any obstetric problems unless an accident occurs."
You can imagine the scene - you put your horse in the field and he gleefully trots over to his companion, mane flowing, tail raised. His friend asks why he's so happy and gets the reply: "My rider is pregnant - no work for me for at least nine months."
You, meanwhile, will probably not be so keen on giving up one of your favourite pastimes.
There are three main reasons why women are cautious about riding during pregnancy. The first reason is that horse riding is exercise and women are often confused about how much exercise to do during pregnancy. For at least 150 years, women have been advised that they should only do light, stretching exercise during their pregnancies and up until fairly recently, women were also advised to have a month of 'laying in' after giving birth to recuperate.
Nowadays, continuing to exercise during pregnancy is recognised as a good thing for both mother and the baby - but still, the majority of doctors are cautious and will only recomment that pregnant women walk, swin or do yoga.
Despite this, many women do quite vigorous exercise such as running and aerobics during pregnancy and doctors have found that, unless the woman has a history of early labour or miscarriage, more vigorous exercise probably doesn't do them any harm. So, from the point of view of horse riding being an exercise, it shouldn't cause you too much harm during pregnancy.
The second thing that concerns pregnant women is the percussive, or jurky nature, of horse riding - they worry that this and the open pelvis position that they sit in may cause miscarriage. No one has compared the rate of miscarrage in women who ride throughout their pregnancy with those who don't ride, so it's difficult to say whether or not horse riding can cause a miscarrage. But, if you do have a previous history of miscarrage, it's probably better not to ride during your pregnancy.
The third and probably most important concern of women who are thinking of riding while pregnant, is the risk of injury. There's no doubt that horse riding can cause injury and falling from a horse or being on the receiving end ofa kick may well put both you and baby at risk.
Fact - If you decide to ride while pregnant, but experience swelling of the hands, feet or face, seek medical help
Be kind to yourself
Although riding is part of our lives, we need to recognise that our horses are usually going to be skipping with joy if we have to take some time off riding.
For a horse, being ridden is like riding a bike and once taught they don't forget - although they may pretend to forget every now and again!
For this reason, if you do have to stop riding for a while, don't worry - you and your horse will soon get back into it.
The most important thing is that when you do ride, you make sure you're as fit as you can be so that both you and your horse have a great time and enjoy yourselves, whatever you're doing.
Your limbs can only be as strong, effective and independent as your core tone allows. Your core is not just your tummy – it’s your whole trunk –and controls the position of your hips, seat bones, shoulders and posture. So you can see why it’s essential to balanced riding.
Here's how to test and build your core strength.
Pilates is one of the most widely recognised core training systems and is used by elite riders. Classes are available in gyms and village halls around the country, and there’s a wide choice of yoga or pilates DVDs you can rent or buy.
Once you’ve got an idea of the basic posture adjustments you need to make, you must work at improving them. Workout time isn’t limited to 20 minutes a couple of times a week if you want to re-educate and realign your body for the good of your horse. But that doesn’t mean you have to slave away at the gym –spend time driving, shopping or mucking out working on your body alignment.
Have a go at balancing on an exercise ball in a riding position while working or watching TV. This technique is advocated by biomechanics specialist Mary Wanless, as it aids coordination and balance, improves core tone and will give you valuable feedback about your possible riding faults. For example, which way do you always roll – to the front, back or side? Which side? Which muscles do you consciously have to activate in order tostabilise yourself?
What is your horse telling you? Many apparent schooling problems in the horse, such as head throwing, not going forward, a trot that’s hard to sit to, a canter that breaks or a horse who won’t stretch to the bit, are actually down to the rider blocking the horse. Of course, there may be other health-related issues causing these problems, so do examine them first. If there are no underlying issues and you’ve been using gadgets to correct these problems, your horse may need body work such as massage and groundwork to release all of the bracing you’ve put in and give him time to recover.
One of the simplest ridden exercises you can do to develop your balance is simply stand in your stirrups – not hover in a jumping position or lean forward, but stand – straight up as if there were no horse beneath you, and maintain your balance. Start at halt and progress to walk, trot and canter.
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.”
We talk to fitness consultants Matt Hart and Anth Roland of Torq Fitness, who give their top advice on improving your own fitness and diet in a bid to improve your stamina and ability.
1. Plan your fuel (or food) as you would for your horse. To perform at any level, you need to look after your own energy levels.
2. Make the connection between your physical abilityand the level you can ride your horse at. If you’re fit, strong and well fuelled, this will have a massive impact on what you can achieve.
3. The better you look after yourself the better you’ll feel – and this will enable you to get that much more out of your riding.
4. Make time to eat and drink.
5. Drip feed energy in over the course of the day or event. If you are riding at high intensity or for long durations, aim to consume up to 60g of carbohydrate per hour.
6. Keep all snacks, food and drink as low in fat as possible. Anything over 6g of fat per 100g of product is too high.
7. Build in some form of exercise to your week. Aim tomake space for 20-30 minutes of exercise two to four times per week.
8. Be creative with exercise. Think about your daily routine and what’s around you. A couple of laps of the paddock before you leave means you can avoid the gym!
9. Visualise yourself achieving. Breaking down skills and techniques allows you to visualise what you need to do to succeed.
10. Mental alertness is key. If you’re a regular coffee or tea drinker, you’ll need a certain amount of caffeine to feel alert.