Learn What You Love: Symmetry in the horse and rider
Have you ever thought that your horse drifts to one side? Is ignoring signals? Or has an uneven muscle build no matter how evenly you feel you work them? Then think of this, instead of looking purely at the horse, have you ever sat back and considered your impact when riding. This is where rider symmetry is of great significance. The concept of rider symmetry has been largely ignored over the years with focus on the horse as a single unit. However, this as most riders recognise is far from the truth- with them working in combination with the horse in order to achieve optimal performance.
It is often quoted that our horses are our mirrors. Resistance, lack of balance or crookedness can be traced to the rider. Thus, highlighting the importance of alignment. Schamberger (2012) found 3 common rider positions: the perched seat, the lordotic back and the armchair seat (all well recognised positions for any trainer or riding instructor). The result of uneven weight distribution and rider position leads to performance issues, for example in the perched seat the hip is rotated leaving the leg too far behind the girth, causing uneven communication from the leg. If the rider has not considered that their position is the cause of the horse’s inability to understand the aid, welfare implications may occur with the rider using stronger bits or longer spurs to get the horse to ‘understand’ (Symes and Ellis, 2009).
O’Brien et al (2010) discovered that up to 95% of the population have a leg length discrepancy. This means that one leg is slightly longer than the other; if both stirrups are level this causes the upper body to compensate and twist. This links to another common misconception of making the stirrup irons equal, when tacking your horse up, the stirrups are normally put on the same hole on each side for example the 5th hole on the left and right stirrup leathers. However, this does not take into account leg length discrepancy and can cause unevenness, creating back pain in the rider, which can then be reflected in the horse.
Nowadays, the majority of riders have become adept at using other fitness structures. Asymmetry not only links to the legs or the seat, but also from upper body torsion, which can cause for uneven rein tension or even something as simple as handedness. Handedness is the term for being dominant in one hand, for example the majority of people are right handed. Faouën and Merkies (2014) found specific riding differences according to handedness, with left handed riders showing a better general seat position than right-handed riders, who have the tendency to lean forward and carry their legs further forward. Once again, when riding the rider should use mirrors or an instruction to correct positioning so that they are not blocking the horse’s movement.
To enhance their own body equilibrium, creating balance is key when on the horse. The most common form of training and perhaps best suited to riding is Pilates. This form of exercise increases rider body awareness, improving freedom of movement, balance and coordination. These components are necessary for all equestrian disciplines.
Third year BSc (Hons) Equine Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation at Writtle College
Faouën, A. and Merkies, K., (2014) The influence of rider handedness on rider position. http://www.uoguelph.ca/ccsaw/documents/CCSAW2014Program_FINAL.pdf (accessed 12th December 2015).
O’Brien, S., Kernohan, G., Fitzpatrick, C., Hill. J. and Beverland, D. (2010) ‘Perception of imposed leg length inequality in normal subjects’, Hip International, 20 (4), 505-11.
Schamberger, W. (2013) The Malalignment Syndrome: diagnosis and treatment of common pelvic and back pain (2nd edition). London: Churchill Livingstone.
Symes, D. and Ellis, R., (2009) ‘A preliminary study into rider asymmetry within equitation’, The Veterinary Journal, 181 (1), 34-37.