Instructors, here is the truth about yelling “Shoulders back” at your riders. It doesn’t work. And it isn’t that it doesn’t work because the rider is ignoring you or isn’t trying. It doesn’t work because tightness in the riders body is CAUSING the shoulders to be internally rotated and weakness in the abs is further building on this problem.
This is not something that can be fixed in the saddle.
What causes a hunched position
Clients come from a variety of backgrounds BUT the one thing many have in common is the fact that they do either a lot of time sitting at a desk (student, office worker) OR they do a lot of time driving. Both of these positions cause tightness in the front of the shoulder and chest, also known as the internal rotators.
The more someone sits with their shoulders rounded forward the tighter the internal rotators get, however this isn’t the end of the problem! This position also causes the back muscles to weaken and lengthen. The very muscles that would maintain a tall position and shoulders back.
This position further impacts the rider with a weak core, tight hip flexors and weak glutes. For the purpose of today we are focusing on shoulders.
Here is a graphic for the problems hunched shoulders create:
What does this mean for the horse?
When you have hunched shoulders your core is weak, forcing you to sit on the back of your pelvis. Sitting in your chair right now sit up tall with a strong core then allow your shoulders to hump forward and stop any contraction in your core. Do you notice how you go from sitting evenly on your pelvis to the back of your pelvis? Your body literally folds forward from pelvis to shoulders.
Now, sit up tall again, core tight. Force your shoulders back by pushing your chest forward. If you have naturally tight internal rotators right now your chest will naturally pop forward to accommodate the shoulders being forced back. Notice how your lower back arches and you shift to the FRONT of your pelvis? THIS is what happens when you tell a client “Shoulders back” and they force them back with tight internal rotators.
Here is a graphic to illustrate what I just described:
We require a neutral seat to not only have a strong and balanced position but to also properly influence the horse with clear aids. Imagine how FRUSTRATED your horse is when you are giving unclear aids and they are trying to interpret what you want!
Riders, and coaches, if the shoulders are being forced back, causing an exaggerated arch in the lower back this is the position you are in:
Forcing the shoulders back, despite the tight chest and weak core is causing extreme rounding of the lower back. Notice how this position is also forcing the legs forward and the rider is unable to properly get the heels down, so the toes point out. Without fixing the root cause you are only causing issues downstream of the “issue” you have fixed.
Further, notice how the horse has dropped his back and lacks impulsion. This is the immediate effect of sitting on the front of your pelvis. Your horse will drop their back and be unable to push from behind. You will lack impulsion and the ability to give clear aids from this position.
By correcting the body tightness and weakness you see an immediate improvement in the rider and horse:
Where to go from here
To start you must stretch the tight tissue and strengthen the weak tissue. I highly recommend beginning with yoga, particularly Yin Yoga. The long holds of 1-2 minutes not only properly release the muscles but also the connective tissue.
Next you need to identify your weak areas are strengthen them. Make sure to do 2 back exercises for every 1 pushing (push up for example) exercise.
I offer a fantastic 80 day program to my riding clients that helps to address postural imbalances and weakness. This program is an essential base to have for a balanced and strong position.
It is no longer acceptable to say “This is just how I am!”. The horse depends on us treating ourselves as the athletes we are. Postural imbalances in us can also lead to lameness issues in our horses.
For more information on the programs I offer to riders please feel free to fill out the form below:
Happy Wednesday friends!