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It is essential for all ridden horses to maintain suppleness in their back and loins. By contracting the horse’s abdominal muscles, the back will stretch. The abdominal muscles (rectus abdominis, internal and external abdominal oblique) as well as the hip flexors (iliopsoas) are responsible for lumbo-sacral and hip flexion. When these muscles contract, the horse’s bottom line is shortened while the top line is lengthened. The hindquarters become more engaged, the horse becomes more comfortable to ride, and his weight-bearing capacity is improved.

The lumbo-sacral joint is very important, as keeping it supple will help create engagement and develop power, improving the horse’s athletic ability, such as increasing his capacity to lengthen stride. This joint is also important for the maintenance of balance.

 

Here are the trunk and loin extensor muscles and their functions:

Trunk Extensors

 Spinalis thoracis extends the thoracic vertebrae.

Longissimus thoracis extends the vertebral column.

Iliocostalis thoracis extends the vertebral column.

Multifidus thoracis and lumborum twist the vertebral column.

Serratus dorsalis caudalis extends the thoracic vertebrae.

 

Loin Extensors

Medial gluteus extends and abducts the hip, but with its connection to longissimus lumborum extends the loins.

Accessory gluteus assists the medial gluteus.

Longissimus lumborum extends the lumbar spine as well as the hip through its connection to the medial gluteus.

All these muscles are interconnected from the croup to the poll. Contraction of the abdominal muscles will lead to stretching of the entire group of extensors. During the contraction of the abdominals, the horse’s back becomes rounded, the loin flexes, and the hindquarters are drawn under the body.

 

3 Active Stretch Exercises for the Trunk and Loin Extensors

In order to stretch the loins actively the iliopsoas (iliacus and psoas major) and the abdominal muscles have to contract.

 

1   Walk and trot over 6 to 8 ground poles, encouraging the horse to stretch his head and neck down. Keep the first and last poles spaced a little closer than the middle poles. If the distance of the first two poles is too long and you do not bring the horse close enough to the first pole, he will take an extra step in the first or second space. If all the poles are of an equal distance and the distance is too long, he will take an extra step in the last space. By putting extra steps in, he will thus shorten his stride instead of lengthening it.

 

Walk and trot over ground poles. Note that the first and last poles are placed closer together.

Walk and trot over ground poles. Note that the first and last poles are placed closer together.

 

2  Incorporate backing-up (rein-back) exercises into your riding session. Start with a few steps only, then slowly build up to 6 to 8 steps. Next, back up a slight incline—note that this has a very strong stretching effect on the loin extensors, so start with only one or two steps then increase the amount slowly. Do not repeat this exercise too many times as it may cause muscle strain. Backing up is physically difficult for the horse, since he has to lift his hind legs one at a time without putting his weight on his forehand. This means that the one hind leg has to carry the horse’s weight while the other is moving backward, and vice versa.

 

Backing up a slight incline has a very strong stretching effect on the horse's loin extensors.

Backing up a slight incline has a very strong stretching effect on the horse’s loin extensors.

 

3   All transitions strengthen the abdominal muscles and the iliopsoas and therefore stretch the loin muscles. Start with trot-walk-trot transitions and progress to trot-halt-trot transitions. To perform these correctly the horse will have to bring his hindquarters more underneath him. Move on to canter-trot-canter transitions and when the horse can master this with balance and ease, do canter-walk-canter transitions. The latter exercise develops the most power in the bottom line muscles and stretch in the top line.

 

 

StretchExerciseshcspFind more excellent and easy-to-do stretch exercises to help prepare your horse to perform better, as well as keep him healthy and happy in STRETCH EXERCISES FOR YOUR HORSE, available at the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE TO ORDER NOW

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A few weeks ago, I began taking a Pilates class in my building. I haven’t take a group exercise class since I decided to learn how to box (I was 22 and living on my own in a strange city…I thought it was a pretty well time-tested form of self-defense), but I’ve long wanted to see what this Pilates thing is all about. Sure, the references to Jennifer Aniston’s streamlined body and the credit Sex and the City’s Samantha gave to her fabulous form provided temptation to sample the trend years ago. But it took us publishing and distributing not one but FOUR books (and a DVD) on how Pilates can help you ride better to finally get me on the mat.

In one class, I was a convert. I couldn’t believe the parallels between what my Pilates instructor was saying and the cues riding coaches and clinicians had given me over the years. One particular moment comes to mind: I remember circling dressage rider Tuny Page for the majority of an hour, without stirrups, as she had me practice initiating transitions from my seat, using a lengthening (or “lightening”) of my body and tightening of my abdominal muscles to move up or down, to lengthen or shorten stride. (I also remember barely being able to stand up when I finally dismounted following that lesson.)

On Monday, my Pilates instructor had me practicing these very same concepts as she moved me through a number of preps. The whole session I kept thinking, “I’m going to be SUCH a better rider next time I get on a horse!”

Of course, I’m not fool enough to think this is the magic ingredient guaranteed to make the very complex concoction that is riding horses both easy and always good…but I am thoroughly convinced that for those who can incorporate the basic concepts of Pilates into their regular fitness regimen, better, more confident, and more subtle riding WILL be attained.

To boil it down for you, here, courtesy of the TSB bestseller PILATES FOR RIDERS, are five ways doing Pilates makes you a better rider:

1  RELAXATION  Awareness of tension and knowing how to release it is an important part of Pilates practice, and riding without tension ensures you can be in tune with your horse and communicate clearly with him.

2  ALIGNMENT  Pilates aims to align your body correctly so all the systems within it can function properly. You need to be aligned correctly in the saddle in order to communicate clearly with your horse.

3  BREATHING  Much of Pilates practice is focused on breath and using a breathing method that strengthens the abdominals and energizes the body. Proper use of your breath on horseback ensures that you move with your horse’s movement.

4  FOCUS & PRECISION  Pilates teaches you to focus on individual parts of your body in order to gain maximum benefit from the exercises. Isolating sections of your body in the saddle enables you to apply aids independently and with a good sense of timing while maintaining proper position.

5  CONTROL & STAMINA  Pilates teaches you to build an awareness of muscle control in every part of your body, and builds muscle endurance particularly in areas of spinal support. Greater control over your body, and the ability to maintain position even when you aren’t thinking about it, makes you far more able to influence your horse’s balance and movement.

Check out TSB’s selection of books that show you how to use Pilates to become a better rider—all titles are available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is always FREE. And don’t forget our BLOG BONUS!!! Enter the coupon code TSBBLOG15 at checkout and receive 15% off your entire order!

PILATES FOR RIDERS

PILATES FOR EQUESTRIANS

PILATES FOR DRESSAGE RIDERS (Book)

PILATES FOR DRESSAGE RIDERS (DVD)

A GYMNASTIC RIDING SYSTEM USING BODY, MIND, & SPIRIT

 

–Rebecca Didier, Senior Editor

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