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Posts Tagged ‘Heather Sansom’

neckmuscles

 

Many riders have neck and shoulder tension, which derives from the body’s reaction of “turning on” the trapezius muscle (see illustration above) in their daily lives. When there is a neuromuscular “highway” to an unproductive area such as the trapezius, there will be an almost automatic physical reaction, collecting tension in that area, regardless of what the rider is trying to do. Shoving tense shoulders back during a ride only makes the problem worse: Exertion used to “fight” a tense muscle area creates additional tension.

The answer is not to fight the muscles that are involuntarily tense, but to reduce tension with a) extensive stretching, and b) to learn to use the muscle’s “off” switch, which is found by training the body to make better use of other areas.

Believe it or not, stretching your neck muscles makes a difference. Stretching your neck actually stretches the elevator scapula as well as the trapezius muscles, in addition to neck muscles. If you carry tension in your shoulders and neck, this exercise is especially important, but if you are relaxed and supple, doing quick neck stretches on a regular basis can just be part of healthy spine maintenance.

Holding your arms down to keep your shoulders down, tilt your head from side to side, bringing your ear toward your shoulder with a deep breath each time.

 

neck stretch

 

You can also tuck your head forward as if looking under your armpit on each side.

Do not roll your head back because this compresses your neck vertebrae. If you have a lot of tension in your neck and shoulders, you can help release it by taking a free hand and squeezing your trapezius muscle or pushing down on it gently as you lean into the stretch. Do not hold the stretch very long before switching to the other side. These stretches should be done slowly and rhythmically.

A rider with shoulder tension can make a habit of doing this stretch, holding it longer, at the end of the day. When doing a deep neck stretch (any stretch can be turned into a “deep” one by holding it longer), it is important to use your hand to help raise your head afterward, since a deep stretch in the neck muscles will stretch the fibers and you can strain something by trying to lift the weight of your head using the same muscles that you just elongated.

For more from Certified Fitness Trainer and Riding Coach Heather Sansom, check out her bestselling book FIT TO RIDE IN 9 WEEKS!, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information.

 

 

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.  

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top10

One of the best perks of working for an equestrian book publisher (assuming you are just the littlest bit horsey) is the constant immersion in equine-related theory, philosophy, and how-to. There is so much opportunity to absorb the ideas of great horsepeople and to try their techniques and methods for oneself—or to come to understand their intentional lack thereof (yes, that happens, too). Because really, if I’ve learned anything in this job, it’s that there isn’t just one main highway to our destination. There are many, less traveled, circuitous back roads, and finding them, and being willing to venture down them to see where they go—that is the true journey of horse and human.

Here are 10 important lessons from some of TSB’s top authors:

 

10  When there’s not enough time, do 10 to 15 minutes of liberty.

“Many people don’t get to their horse in a day because they feel it is too big a task to gear up for,” says horseman Jonathan Field in his book THE ART OF LIBERTY TRAINING FOR HORSES. “So they don’t do anything. Short and fun liberty sessions can bring you out to your horse more often. You will be amazed at how your horse starts to meet you at the gate.”

 

9  Our own riding fitness enables the horse to perform what we ask of him.

“The way a rider uses her body greatly impacts the way the horse is enabled or blocked from using his,” explains certified personal trainer and riding coach Heather Sansom in FIT TO RIDE IN 9 WEEKS! “The relationship is biomechanical….both species can impact one another. This is why the rider’s role of leadership through physical contact is so important, and why a rider who is fit for the task can ride better—and with greater resilience or prevention of injury.”

 

8  Sometimes, don’t ask for anything.

“The horse follows you with a lowered head and filled with a spirit of freedom…the result of your not asking for anything, just being, even if only for a fleeting moment,” writes renowned horseman Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling in THE MESSAGE FROM THE HORSE. “To be devoted without asking for devotion in return, to be friendly without demanding friendship…that is when the horse can give us trust and closeness.”

 

TSB author Jonathan Field. Photo by Robin Duncan.

TSB author Jonathan Field. Photo by Robin Duncan.

 

7  Control your emotions.

“Try not to go overboard,” recommends Grand Prix dressage rider Yvonne Barteau in THE DRESSAGE HORSE MANIFESTO. “Don’t gush, fuss, and fiddle about…Be quiet, polite, and still, inside and out. Clear your head and self from all that troubles you, and give your horse your undivided attention.”

 

6  Invest in self-kindness.

“When you miss a lead change in a pattern or test or forget to schedule the farrier before your horse throws a shoe,” explains author and horsewoman Melinda Folse in RIDING THROUGH THICK & THIN, “extend to yourself the same warmth and understanding you would to a close friend who has suffered a setback….If you’re not enjoying yourself, you’ll probably struggle with riding to your true potential.”

 

5  Use all your senses to observe and explore your horse’s body.

“Be on the alert for symptoms such as body soreness, uneven gait, a tight neck, a sour attitude, explosive or resistant behavior, stocking up, and pinned ears,” writes equine expert Linda Tellington-Jones in DRESSAGE WITH MIND, BODY & SOUL. “All of these problems, and others, can be avoided by alternating your training schedule with trail riding, ground driving, or other types of cross-training…expand your training routine, and keep your horse interested and engaged in his work.”

 

TSB author Yvonne Barteau. Photo by FireandEarthPhoto.com.

TSB author Yvonne Barteau. Photo by FireandEarthPhoto.com.

 

4  When it comes to the show ring, be flexible.

“One of the risks of competition is becoming so focused on achieving success that you miss the signs that your partner is unhappy,” says psychotherapist and riding instructor Andrea Waldo in BRAIN TRAINING FOR RIDERS. “Horses have different rates of development and different levels of stress tolerance. Just because one horse is ready for a particular level at age five doesn’t mean that the next horse will automatically do the same. Some horses can show every weekend without a problem, but some horses need to compete less often.”

 

3  Be okay with “eventually.”

“Everything moves so fast in our modern world,” say horse trainer Susan Gordon and veterinary pioneer Dr. Allen Schoen in THE COMPASSIONATE EQUESTRIAN. “Our expectation is to get instant results. Creatures of low technology, such as our animals, suffer the most for our desire to have everything happen in a virtual instant. On one hand, you need a quick, flexible mind to respond to a horse’s instinctive prey-animal tendencies during training, but it is also important to understand the value of repeating those responses with a lot of patience and consistency.”

 

2  Use dynamic friction instead of static friction.

“Whereas static friction relies primarily on force, mass, and energy to first stick an object before moving it,” writes world-renowned horseman Mark Rashid in JOURNEY TO SOFTNESS, “dynamic friction relies on establishing subtle movement first, then adding energy to build on that movement…establish contact with the horse, followed by the development of subtle movement to establish a flow of direction, and finally put the proper amount of speed into that flow so as to accomplish the desired task.”

 

1  Be willing to have a two-way conversation.

“When you are truly in a dialogue, you can never predict how a horse will answer you on any given day,” explains Sharon Wilsie in her groundbreaking book HORSE SPEAK. “Many of you value your relationship with your horse as much as you value his performance. Deeper bonds of friendship will blossom as you show your horse you are willing to listen and learn his language instead of just expecting him to respond to yours.”

 

 

For more information about any of these books, CLICK HERE to visit the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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fit2ridebackside

It’s the point that comes in contact with the horse and the saddle (and sometimes the ground)…the part of our bodies we eye with disgust in the tack shop mirror when trying on breeches…the area we want the fringe on our chaps to accentuate when we’re young and camouflage when we’re…not-so-young. Our bottoms, our backsides, our glutes—the butt can’t be an afterthought, as much as it might trail behind us. Its shape and its state of “flab or fab” matters—to our riding and to our horses.

In her new book FIT TO RIDE IN 9 WEEKS! certified fitness trainer and riding coach Heather Sansom explains that the rider’s “backline” includes the gluteals, hamstring, and calf muscles, and all of these are necessary to a balanced, straight, and supple equestrian who can communicate clearly and efficiently with her horse.

“Due to our seated lifestyle,” says Heather, “these muscles are often undeveloped, causing them to be short and tight, which has a negative impact on the rider’s position and her ability to have tension-free, full body usage.”

So does this mean we have to ramp up our rump work? Heather says it isn’t just about conditioning this area of the body, it’s about doing it the right way for riding.

“The large muscle on your seat, the gluteus maximus, is a primary muscle responsible for powering human movement,” she explains. “It needs to be strong and powerful for nearly all sports because you cannot run or transfer energy or motion up through your body without strong glutes. It is common for exercise trainers who are not riders to think that posting is just the same as performing squats, lunges, or pliés, and that the engine of the motion is in the rider’s leg and seat as it would be for all other similar looking movements where the rider is springing from her feet. In actuality, the energy from posting only partially comes from the rider’s leg and hip. The rest comes from the momentum of the horse transferred to the rider through the inner leg contact.

Certified Fitness Trainer and Riding Coach Heather Sansom shows us how fitness can improve our abilities in the saddle, enabling our horses to perform their best.

Certified Fitness Trainer and Riding Coach Heather Sansom shows us how fitness can improve our abilities in the saddle, enabling our horses to perform their best.

“For a rider, gluteal strength is important, but not for the reasons often supposed (such as above). The strength in the gluteals is not for powering motion so much as it is for first, supporting rising-seat postures, and second, anchoring back positioning muscles as well as controlling leg-aid strength. Unfortunately, most riders spend a great deal of their day sitting, which causes this large and important muscle to atrophy. Also, since riding itself is a more or less seated activity, riding does not condition the muscle sufficiently.

“Many riders have weak ‘glutes’ accompanied by tight and short hip flexors. The combined problem creates a chair-seat leg, and when the rider tries to correct the chair seat by force, it creates a locked-down hip due to muscle tension. It also makes it difficult for the rider to hold her spine neutral when the hip flexors (psoas and iliacus muscle), pulling on the lower back, and weak glutes provide no counter-support. The gluteus maximus is included as a core muscle because without tone in this area, the rider’s hips cannot be supple and straight, and the torso has no base of support.

“Many exercises that train the gluteus maximus also often train the hamstring muscle. I like riders to use bodyweight exercises such as lunges because they train proper folding at the hips, and use of the hamstrings along their length (as well as gluteals). Although popular in fitness gyms, exercises using machines or equipment to target the hamstrings alone are often not as useful for riders or others training for application to movement (functional training), because they do not train the hamstrings functionally. In some cases, they train just one small segment of the muscle, which creates a ‘bunchy’ muscle that is not useful for riders.

“Generally, I don’t recommend exercises for riders that create ‘bunchy’ muscles since these can cause issue with proper seat and leg position, as well as with proper body usage in riding. A rider can be quite strong, and should be if she also does farm work since strength training protects joints from strain. But bulky or unevenly developed muscles get in the way of the rider and also don’t engage efficiently.

“I do not recommend that most riders do exercises like leg presses (lying backward on a machine and pushing great amounts of weight with your feet), for example, because the weight loading can far exceed the rider’s bodyweight. Besides creating a risk of hip injury, this type of exercise creates bulk which, again, is not functionally useful, and may even impede a nice leg position.”

To find out the simple ways you can get fit to ride for your horse in 30 minutes a day, 3 days a week, for 9 weeks, check out FIT TO RIDE IN 9 WEEKS! by Heather Sansom, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE to download a free chapter or to order.

 

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.

 

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Even when you are already fit and an active rider, tension can gather in specific muscles in your body, ultimately affecting your horse.

Even when you are already fit and an active rider, tension can gather in specific muscles in your body, ultimately affecting your horse.

Are you out of breath after a long trot session? Are your muscles sore the day after a lesson? Are there some days you’re just too tired to clean the barn, never mind get on your horse? Certified fitness trainer and riding coach Heather Sansom (founder of Equifitt.com) has developed a new fitness training program that caters to the unique needs of the equestrian. Even better, it doesn’t require huge scheduling sacrifices: just 30 minutes, 3 times a week, for 9 weeks!

Even if you are already a fit person and ride regularly, in all likelihood you have issues with balance, symmetry, and straightness on occasion, and perhaps deal with tense muscles in certain areas of your body. All of this is communicated to your horse, of course, and translates into compromised performance, or even discomfort on his end. Luckily, Heather Sansom’s FIT TO RIDE IN 9 WEEKS! program is intended to help anyone who rides horses—regardless of fitness, preferred discipline, ability, age, or experience level, you can improve your partnership with your horse while helping your own body be the healthiest it can be with specialized retraining.

“Making muscle areas that carry tension more supple and relaxed is only half the equation in achieving a more consistently neutral upper body,” says Heather in her book. “First, it involves training the muscles that have become weak and less toned as a result of infrequent stimulus; then it’s about teaching the brain to trigger tonality in different muscles, instead of the ones that carry tension.

“One way to think about the retraining is to liken it to teaching vocabulary. To get the brain to use other ‘words’ (pathways to different muscles), it has to learn them. Otherwise, the brain always resorts to the ‘words’ (muscles) it knows best, especially when under tension. Increasing your neuromuscular vocabulary of response involves activities that also build strength. By building strength through exercises targeting the balancing muscles, you are also wiring or widening the pathway of response to that area. By practicing new muscle-engagement patterns on the ground, you increase the probability of your body using those new patterns automatically while you are busy focusing on riding tasks.”

 

Heather Sansom's FIT TO RIDE IN 9 WEEKS! program is designed to work for any rider who wants to improve her riding and her partnership with her horse.

Heather Sansom’s FIT TO RIDE IN 9 WEEKS! program is designed to work for any rider who wants to improve her riding and her partnership with her horse.

 

Find out how you can improve your riding while making your horse happier and more comfortable when you’re in the saddle in FIT TO RIDE IN 9 WEEKS! available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE to download a free chapter or to order.

 

F2Rhere

 

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small company based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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