I ran a riding stables for 15 years and through that time I taught a lot of people how to ride, I brought people back into riding after time out and I coached people for competitions, and one of the many questions I was asked regularly was, is there anything else I can be doing off my horse to improve my riding?
For a long time I didn't really have an answer, running improved cardio but in my opinion it also tightness the muscles around the pelvis due to the shortened stride which then meant that I'd spend hours trying to release peoples hips to be able to move once more.
Gym work improved strength, but again tightness would then form in the shortened stronger muscles and so these riders were more blocks that fluid for the horse to move under. Even the process of yard tasks builds strength yes, but not necessarily evenly on each side and more often that not causes tightness through the back and shoulders, because we end up lifting things that are heavier than we can safely manage and doing this is a way for speed and not comfort.
For my once a week riders, one thing I could suggest was mental revision of what we were doing in each session, which at least allowed an element of visualisation and muscle memory, a subject I'll come on to at a later date, but as the physical side went I was stumped.
The thing is with riding yes you need to have a strong centre, you need to have good cardio, but you also need to be able to move and flow with the horses movement.
If you ever watch a horse move without a rider on its back, just a saddle you will see how mobile the saddle is, how it rocks and rolls with the horses back muscles and we as riders need to be able to follow that movement, whilst maintain balance and not clinging on with our limbs.
A lot has been made of "core strength" and yes this is required, but I like to call it a strong centre as I feel that makes us think more of the body as a whole with a central point rather than the core as the only thing we need. In the past though, when trying to get a strong core, I negated the flexability and became even more rigid, I had a six pack and looked like I could hold anything but that's not the core required for riding, its the deep internal muscles that aren't seen from the outside that do the most work, these muscles support our spine whilst allowing us to move, they constantly tense and flex to help us stay balanced and these are the muscles to really connect us to our centre.
So whilst discounting most other forms of exercise as things to really help your riding, I found myself poorly, and thorugh searching for ways to help myself I started to do yoga regularly. The side effect of this was not only did my health improve but so did my riding, the niggles that had blighted me my whole life started to disappear and my position was so much better with what seemed to be little effort.
This got me thinking, and then the proof came when I was too poorly to ride for a few months but I kept up a basic yoga practice, when it came to get back on I fully expected to be unfit, weak and ready to start building up from scratch, but instead, my centre strength as there but I was also supple enough to move, weirdly (or that's what I thought at the time) I felt a better rider from having 6 months off than what I was before. And the biggest thing was I was suddenly aware, aware of all the little bits of me that were out of place, tight or blocking my horse.
So this is where the seed of matwork for equestrians was born, taking yoga postures and making it relevant to the way we ride, using yoga postures/matwork to help improve our riding without over doing the horse hours, and if nothing else just keeping on top of our own body awareness so we can then help the horse as much as possible when we are on board.
Since doing regular matwork I am not only strong but also flexible, I like to think we aim for long and strong muscles rather than short and powerful, the whole focus is on becoming aware, using the breath as an aid and finding the strength in the places its meant to be whilst relaxing the rest of the body.
Through doing this on the mat this traches us to apply one aid at a time rather than, for example, thinking a squeeze of the leg and the rest of the body squeezing too.
So if you have any particular positional bug bears or things you know you need to work on but haven't been able to get to the nub of the problem, send me a message and I'll happily show you some postures to hopefully help you.