Why look at the rider position? Does it really matter to the horse?
Shout out to all of us Wonky Riders.
We’re not going to go off on one about the correct use of the word Wonky. We all love the word wonky and it’s a word that just nicely rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?
Quick English lesson here:
Wonky – Informal, Adjective (Oxford Dictionary)
1) Not straight; crooked or askew.
3) Not functioning correctly, faulty.
None of these descriptions fill any of us with a huge amount of joy, do they? However, it’s
something that needs to be said when we’re discussing the way that our position effects the way that our horse goes.
SO LET'S JUST DISCUSS THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
We’re all wonky to some degree or another. You’re not special in your wonkiness. You’re special in other ways but being uneven isn’t unique to you. Sorry about that. Even Sune is wonky! Just probably a little less asymmetrical than most of us. Why is that? Because Sune is aware of her asymmetry and how to counteract the affects that this can have on a horse. And it's this bit that is IMPORTANT. Being aware what your body is doing and knowing how to strengthen it.
Now for the Biology Lesson:
So, what affects does asymmetry have on the horse?’
Horses are remarkable creatures. Not only are they able to spy a crisp packet a mile away, they’re also able to cope and adapt to our asymmetry when they’re being ridden. This isn’t a good thing. Just like us humans who always have one bicep bigger than the other because we prefer holding our mucking out fork in one hand rather than the other, horses develop asymmetry in their bodies from us. In posh terms, horses develop a locomotor strategy to compensate for discomfort and imbalance which has been caused by their riders. This is then exasperated by a saddle, causing uneven distribution on the back (uneven pressure), which flows down to the loading of the limbs and BAM! Compensation occurs. Compensatory asymmetry in the horse creates soreness, imbalance, a reduction in its range of movement and we’ve potentially got a whole lot of trouble brewing. Although horses can compensate for a while, compensation eventually halts when their ability to cope with their workload becomes too much. And then we’ve got trouble.
There have been a couple of notable studies done on both saddle distribution forces (2) and rider asymmetry on the locomotion of the horse (1) credit to both these studies is at the bottom of the page if you’d like a read of them! They’re actually super interesting reads 😊
And Now a super quick Maths Lesson:
Asymmetry + Increased Saddle Pressure = Discomfort
Rider Straightness = More Equal loading of limbs
See, we said it was a super quick maths lesson.
None of us likes to think that we are the reason for our horse being in discomfort. Now, this isn’t all doom and gloom here because there is a way to sort out our asymmetry. Being aware of it, is the first step in knowing what you’re dealing with. Being aware of what your body is doing, whether that’s sitting slightly to the right, left, or tipping forwards. Whether you’ve one elbow that just wants to turn outwards, maybe it’s a sticky hip? Our own muscles are pretty spectacular in that they remember. This isn’t always a good thing, but they can also be taught how to forget. Just like a bad film that we want to forget.
SO, WHAT DO WE DO ABOUT IT?
Rider Analysis Clinics are a fabulous and affordable way of knowing exactly what your body is doing. This awareness that comes from knowing where your asymmetry lays can be beneficial for injury prevention measures but also from a performance increase aspect. As we’ve already covered rider asymmetry has a knock-on effect to the limbs and back area of the horse. The straighter the rider, the more equally loaded the horse’s limbs and back are. This is something that we should all be striving for, to create a happier, more willing partnership with our horse.
1. MacKechnie-Guire R, MacKechnie-Guire E, Fairfax V, Fisher M, Hargreaves S, Pfau T. The Effect That Induced Rider Asymmetry Has on Equine Locomotion and the Range of Motion of the Thoracolumbar Spine When Ridden in Rising Trot. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science. 2020;88:102946.
2. Gunst S, Dittmann MT, Arpagaus S, Roepstorff C, Latif SN, Klaassen B, et al. Influence of Functional Rider and Horse Asymmetries on Saddle Force Distribution During Stance and in Sitting Trot. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science. 2019;78:20-8.