By Emma Douglas, para dressage rider
What is balance, and how does it affect us when riding?
Balance is a term used to describe the body’s ability to maintain equilibrium against the force of gravity. In HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biomechanics” \o “Biomechanics”biomechanical terms balance is the ability to maintain a centre of gravity, often likened to maintaining a vertical line through the body. This central alignment provides a base of support which minimises postural sway and keeps the body upright and in control.
The centre of balance is found within the inner ear but the muscles and joints contribute to stability as well. The muscles provide strength whilst the receptors within the ear; the vestibular system, and the eyes; the visual system, provide vital information to the brain and body. The somatosensory system which allows us to sense touch, pressure and pain offers us “proprioception” which passes sensory messages to the brain to ensure the body responds appropriately.
Balance and core strength
Though horse riding keeps you fit it is important to also be “fit to ride”! Having good core strength is fundamental to quality horse riding and goes a long way to promote a balanced, stable and effective riding position. Your balance and core strength contributes to the position of your hips, seat-bones and shoulders and allows you to cope with the horse’s variation in pace, jumping, not to mention when they spook, leap or throw their heads up!
So which muscles are involved in core strength?
The abdominal muscles are the main muscles associated with good core strength. These muscles include the rectus abdominus, the abdominal obliques, the diaphragm, and the iliopsoas. The abdominals control your pelvic movements and allow you to flatten or brace your back, and follow equine movement. The iliopsoas attaches to the front surfaces of our lumbar vertebrae and coccyx as well as the inner surface of the pelvis. This muscle contributes to pulling the seat bones forward and helps you to flatten your lower back, providing strength and stability.
So how can you improve your core strength and balance?
Adding “out of the saddle” core strength development exercises into your daily routine will help to improve your balance and your ability to maintain proper alignment and posture in the back, chest and abdominal muscles whilst riding. These exercises can include such as stability and co-ordination activities, sit ups, knee tucks, abdominal crunches or leg presses.
Emma Douglas is a grade two Para dressage rider, as a result of L1 spinal injury resulting in incomplete paraplegia. She is an advocate of the RS-tor rider safety aid, which helps riders gain confidence in the saddle, boosts stability when riding, and helps prevent a rider being unseated. Visit www.rstor.co.uk