#Hack1000Miles, in partnership with Wintec
It’s easy to mount up, hold the reins at the buckle and wander off the yard for hack. When the weather is nice or you’ve had a long week at work, a chilled ride on your horse along a bridleway can feel like the perfect way to enjoy yourself. But even if you’re just popping out for a quick ride around the block, you should check in on your posture. Biomechanics coach Hannah Irons explains why it’s still important to think about your position when you’re riding outside the arena.
“I think sometimes we use an opportunity for a hack just to relax, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But equally, if we’re hacking out a lot, it’s easy to get into bad habits,” says Hannah. “For example, if we’re not moving correctly and your horse suddenly spooks and shoots sideways, if you’re sat like a sack of potatoes then you’re probably not going to be able to move with your horse as effectively as if you’d been sat correctly.”
It’s not just staying on board that having a good posture can help with — it’ll also protect you from aches and pains.
“The horse moves a lot underneath, and if we’re not tuned in with them then we’re not absorbing that movement and force, so it can cause us to tense and strain,” explains Hannah.
Correct posture for riders
So, how should we be sitting on a hack?
“Firstly, the most important and often misconstrued thing is being relaxed,” says Hannah. “We know we should sit up tall and have our shoulders back and down, but if you do that you may feel very tense or hollow your back. So when you sit up it should feel like a natural posture and not forced.”
If you’re holding yourself bolt upright then you’ll be too tense and unable to absorb the motion of the horse beneath you.
“The ear-shoulder-hip-heel alignment is important,” adds Hannah. “It’s a good guide for all riders, no matter their discipline.”
Riding with one rein or two?
Riding with the reins in one hand is a beneficial skill for horses and riders, but over time it can change the way you sit in the saddle, and how your horse moves beneath you.
“It’s really important to have those moments to allow your horse to have a long rein and relax, but sometimes it becomes a habit,” says Hannah.
“You see a lot of riders hacking out with the reins in one hand, and typically it’ll result in both rider and horse twisting to one side. When you’re doing it consistently you’ll almost always have a slight flexion one way, and it will have a whole horse effect because they won’t track up correctly and have stronger muscles on one side.”
There’s no need to completely stop riding this way, confirms Hannah, but do consider carefully how often you do it.
“Riding one-handed is expected from the BHS for when you’re using hand signals or leading another horse, so it’s a very beneficial skill,” she adds. “Just remember to have some awareness so that you don’t end up having that knock-on effect through the body.”
3 ways to improve your posture on a hack
You don’t need to be in the arena or mirrors to improve your posture. Hannah explains that there are small exercises you can do before you leave the yard or on your hack to help you feel more secure in the saddle.
1 Check in
“A really good thing for riders to do is check in with themselves,” says Hannah. “If you’ve ever done mindfulness, meditation or yoga, then you’ll have an idea of what to do. Do a ‘body scan’ and run down from head to toe to see how you feel.”
Ask yourself questions like:
- How does my head feel?
- Am I tilting to one side?
- Do my shoulders feel level?
- Am I equal through my seat bones?
- Have I got the same weight through each stirrup?
“It’s really useful to do the with your eyes closed, but it’s hard to do whilst riding a horse for safety reasons,” adds Hannah. Practise on the ground with your eyes closed, and it’ll help you get better at doing it with your eyes open once you’ve mounted up.
2 Loosen your shoulders
If your day job involves working behind a desk, chances are you’ll be sitting still for a long time and this can make us feel stiff.
“There’s a saying ‘movement is medicine’ and it’s true,” says Hannah. “Simple things like shoulder rolls get everything moving. You can do this on a long rein.”
Roll your shoulders forward and then backward a few times. Next, shrug your shoulders up towards your ears, hold for a few seconds, and then let them drop back down. Repeat this a few times.
3 Mobilise your ankles
Stretching your legs and ankles can also make you feel more comfortable. For this exercise, you’ll need to take your feet out of the stirrups. Practise this before you leave the yard or in the confines of an arena — somewhere you feel safe and in control — and just do one foot at a time, if you feel safe to do so.
“Take your foot out of the stirrup and do some gentle stretches,” says Hannah. “Flex your foot up and down, do some circles in each direction. Repeat on the other side, and you’ll be good to go.”
Meet the expert: Hannah Irons is a biomechanics trainer, riding instructor and confidence coach. She is a Franklin Method Equestrian Level 1 Educator and BHS Stage 2 Foundation Coach, and teaches private lessons, clinics and mechanical horse lessons covering the Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Warwickshire and surrounding areas.