Is Your Horse Telling You “You’re Unbalanced”?

Are you struggling to bend your horse in the corners or during shoulder-in and haunches-in?  Do you find it difficult to create a balanced trot down the centerline?

After trying multiple methods and trainers are you ready to give up on your dream to advance with your horse to the next level? 

You are not alone!

The horse’s biomechanics can only accommodate for so much when the rider is struggling with their own physical alignment issues.

Too often, riders overlook their own muscle imbalances or joint limitations as reasons they could be struggling to build a strong top-line, complete a correct haunches-in, or create a balanced trot down the centerline.

Working with a Doctor of Physical Therapy is a great way to learn more about rider muscle imbalances or joint limitations that may impact the horse’s comfort and balance.

A way to see if you need physical therapy for equestrians is to look at your horse. Does your horse have difficulty picking up or holding a particular canter lead? Does your horse have difficulty with straightness? Does your horse’s shoulder fall into the circle? If the rider is struggling with movement patterns due to biomechanical limitations, it will show up in the horse’s movement patterns as well. 

The Relationship Between Horse/Human Movement Patterns 

Understanding the relationship between horse and human movement patterns can give you an inside look at how your body impacts your horse’s development. A Doctor of Physical Therapy can help you understand these movement patterns.

Horses are so greatly influenced by minute movements of their riders that they have grown to mimic the human body position. For example, when a rider leans forward, the horse falls onto their forehand and loses the power from the hind end. Physical therapy for equestrians can increase awareness of your own body and minimize negative habits like this. 

Becoming a Skilled Dance Partner 

Think of horseback riding as dancing…
Imagine being dead weight on the horse’s back which moves like a sack of potatoes. If you’re dancing with a sack of potatoes, you can carry the weight, you can mold the weight, but you’re doing all of the work so it’s much harder. 

If you’re dancing with a floppy and poorly skilled partner, the routine will appear choppy and uncoordinated. You’ll most likely spend a large part of the dance stepping on each other’s toes.

After dancing with a poor partner, you may develop bad habits. You may start shuffling your feet to avoid getting your toes stepped on or looking down and slouching to watch your partner’s movements.

Now, when you dance with a balanced coordinated partner, those bad habits will stay with you and will be hard to shake. Your motor memory learned to dance that way and now it needs to unlearn it by identifying the imbalances and practicing the skill correctly– a journey made much easier with advanced physical therapy.   

Dancing with a skilled, coordinated partner should feel effortless and light. When developing the proper way of dancing, you stand up straight, look up, and move your feet lightly. Physical therapy for equestrians can help you unlearn incorrect movement patterns due to poor postural habits, pain, joint  limitations, or muscle imbalances to become a better dance partner for your horse.

The Case of a Twisted Seat   

I had one client whose saddle slipped perpetually to the left. No matter what gait they were in, what exercise they were doing, what direction they were going, the saddle continued to slip to the left. After first looking to the horse for an answer, the rider started to question if they were the problem. The rider saw many different equine practitioners before finding me, a Doctor of Physical Therapy for equestrians, specializing in movement analysis of both horse and rider. The rider described struggling with their pelvis twisting to the right, which caused saddle slippage to the left. After assessing the rider off the horse, the problem turned out to be a hyperextended right knee causing a twist in the pelvis. 

Due to the hyperextended knee, the right hip shifted back causing the left hip to move forward. The horse could feel this subtle shift and the grounding of the right hip. Because of this, the horse was moving its rib cage and hind legs around the riders right hip bone. Over time, the horse developed a strong muscle memory of going around in this haunches-in position. 

The horse’s motor memory is a powerful tool that requires significant correcting if allowed to go on for too long. With the help of mounted video analysis, rider physical therapy assessment, prescribed exercises, and balance retraining, the rider was able to overcome the hyperextension and correct both themselves and the horse. 

The Horse Cannot Lie 

Your horse’s muscle patterns can tell you a lot about your own biomechanics. Overtime, your way of riding (which is directly impacted by your posture, joint flexibility, and muscle strength) molds your horse’s body.  When you use video motion analysis and advanced physical therapy to assess you and your horse’s biomechanics you can tell how your riding may be affecting the horse and vice versa. 

For example, my saddle gives me a clue as to how I sit unevenly. On the cantle there is a slight lowering of the left seat, encouraging my already imbalanced riding to cause my horse to lead with her right shoulder.  As a Doctor of Physical Therapy, I knew it was important to figure out how to improve my seat to help my horse use her own carriage correctly. I found a physical therapist that I traveled to New York to see. He was able to correctly identify my postural and muscle imbalances and give me exercises. This has helped me to accommodate the imbalance and minimize the impact to my horse. 

A horse with an unbalanced rider is like a dancer with an unskilled partner. They may develop bad habits such as picking up the incorrect lead or falling into a circle. If you look at your horse and notice one shoulder is much bigger than the other, a lack of top-line muscle, or tiny hindquarters compared to a massive shoulder, you know that imbalanced riding could be causing incorrect muscle development. 

One of the best ways to solve this is to assess yourself first. Take advantage of my expertise as a Doctor of Physical Therapy and a skilled equestrian. I can help you understand the hidden truths about your biomechanics and how they impact your horse. Physio Equine Solutions offers video motion analysis, physical therapy for equestrians, and treatment strategies to increase performance, optimize muscle development, and help you build a better partnership between you and your horse.

If you are ready to discover the truth about your riding biomechanics, schedule your free consultation at 443-883-0724.

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