As riders, we need an intact core to balance ourselves on top of a moving base of support. Riding also requires us to drive four corners of a horse in order to create both straightness and lateral movement. Both horses and riders can develop asymmetries that affect our ability to support our horse’s movement. Previous injury can create compensations in our own motor patterning which can affect our core stability, and thus our ability to achieve this symmetry.
Our muscles work in a system of slings in varying directions, which we use differently to stabilize as dictated by the activity. Lateral work with a horse requires us to maintain our core while using anterior (front of body) and posterior (back of body) diagonal slings. This allows us to stabilize against rotational forces and maintain a balanced and effective seat while asking for balanced lateral movement in our horse. We need our inner thigh working with the opposite obliques (diagonal abdominals) to create this stability in ourselves to achieve lateral work with our horse.
There are certain muscles in our back that tighten up if the anterior part of our core isn’t “online” or functioning optimally. In order to test your body for compensatory dysfunctional movement patterns, start with a partner standing a few feet behind you. Stand with your back to your partner, feet together. Rotate one direction as far as you can comfortably, then repeat to the other side. Your partner should easily see your opposite shoulder and uniform rotation throughout your body. If this requires effort, is painful or asymmetrical, then it is important to get assessed by a movement specialist in order to ascertain if the issue is a problem of joint mobility, tissue extensibility, or dysfunction in the motor programs.
This exercise is used to activate the anterior diagonal stability systems in your own body. It should be preceded by a 30-second back stretch in the form of child’s pose or a hamstring stretch, or wherever you feel tension during the rotation test.
Hold right elbow to right knee (6 reps for 5 seconds), and repeat for right elbow to left knee, left elbow to right knee and left elbow to left knee. Make note if any variation of the hold is more difficult. The initial stretch tells your nervous system to relax muscles that tend to hang on for dear life, and the immediate activation tells your system what you should be using to stabilize.