Lets create some heat!

I love this stuff! It really works, and once again, it has proven itself in my students.

Just last week during a teaching session, I created a tailored “off the horse” warm-up for a group of my students that proved highly effective in improving their riding. I am excited to share this sequence of poses below.

What was the impact?

  1. Awareness of the major muscle groups
    1. Allowing them to focus and warm these major groups
  2. Great warm-up with the result of greater elasticity in their body
    1. Physically preparing them to be more effective during their lesson
  3. Improved Performance
    1. I can say enthusiastically that it changed their performance that day

A note on Awareness:

Awareness was the key with these students. They had never identified the four large groups of muscles that profoundly effect our riding.

In case you are not aware of what I believe to be the four major muscle groups, here they are: Hip Flexors, Legs, Abdominals and Back.
Please refer to the “Sassy F.L.A.B.” Handbook.

A note on the Warm-up:

Each student experienced the benefits of being warmed up and ready for an athletic experience. In the past, you may have read my harpings on riders who do not approach their riding as an athletic sport. Sorry folks, but riders don’t just sit and occasionally squeeze with their legs (Yes, I have been accused of only doing just that up there! I won’t share my response of this particular accusation!). We are on a moving object (sometimes violently moving…yikes!) multitasking to the moon to get all our aides coordinated in a way that makes sense to a very large creature with whom we cannot speak English. So, with that said, we must approach our rides much the way any athlete would approach their training. Warming up, doing some mental preparedness and then strengthening and creating a little heat.

Heat? Yes, the best part of the warm-up of course.

When we spend a bit of time doing bodywork off the horse, as our muscles warm up, heat that allows for our beloved elasticity, develops… you know, the stuff that allows for mobility, grace and speed! You will feel a heat brewing deep within the muscle that external devices cannot create (heat pads, hot tubs etc…) It feels so great, it can be addictive. I find I don’t want to get on unless I have done my bodywork! But better than it feeling great, it is effective! It prepares the body for the work ahead. Rather than beginning cold, stiff and feeling less than athletic, you start your ride prepared, loose and feeling at ease.

So, with awareness of the major muscle groups and the need for a great warm-up in mind, I recommend this sequence of exercises that worked so well for my group of students.

A rider's Warm-up Exercises

Poses that target the major muscle groups to aide in warming up before you ride.

For more poses and complete explanations for each poses, please see “The Sassy F.L.A.B” Handbook.

* As always, never continue a pose that causes any form of pain, please consult your health care provider before proceeding.

Oh, to ride like Mr. Zeilinger

I’ve just spent some of my morning watching Rudolf Zeilinger clips. Anytime I can watch him ride, I do! He is the quintessence of an effective rider. Because rider bodywork is all about supporting the body’s effectiveness on the horse, it seems watching Rudolf Zeilinger ride from time to time is a must.

Here, Rudolf is riding the dark bay along side a student:

One attribute I admire about his riding is his supportive use of the body. In this instance, the use of his upper and lower back stood out.

As you know, I have spent some extra time posting poses that open the upper back and help to stabilize this area of the body. Developing stability in the upper back allows the rider easier access to the use of their lower back while in the saddle.

How does this work?
When engaging that upper back, opening the front body and pulling the shoulders down and back, we automatically align our spine which makes it that much more stable and effective in using the rest of our body.

Why does this matter?
Because the use of the lower back gives the horse a great deal of information. It also give the rider a great deal of stability.

An overview of benefits of an open upper back that connects well with the lower back:

  1. Clearer communication with the horse
  2. Stability in the saddle
  3. Effectively keeps the horse in front of the leg
  4. Allows for effective use of the aides

Here is a sequence of 3 poses that serve two purposes. Taken from the Sassy F.L.A.B. handbook.

1. First, to open and stretch the front body

2. Second, to strengthen and stabilize the upper back

Pose for stabilizing the upper back.

Great sequence for stabilizing the upper back.

The de-stress pose.

This is a pose that is super to do just before you ride, but also is easy to do during the day when you need a de-stress breather…enjoy!

The pose: Table Top

Its great for your riding because is targets 3 areas of the body while relaxing you before you get on.

3 targets for the rider’s body: 

1. Opens the upper back

2. Stretches the front body

3. Lengthens the back of the legs

2 de-stressing actions: 

1. In order to get a deep opening, the pose requires long, deep breaths to truly get the most from the opening of the pose.

2. Lowering your head to or past waist level is a great relaxer.
I use this pose when ever I feel tight, stiff or just wrung out with work or other such stresses.

Directions:

Stand with feet shoulder distance apart. Hold onto a rail close to your hip height. Bend at hips to get a 90 degree angle. Focus on keeping your abs firm to support your back as you open your chest and press your shoulder blades together.  With each breath allow the lengthening of your hamstrings.

Table Top Pose - The de-stress pose.

Table Top Pose – The de-stress pose.

5 poses to correct posture problems while at work.

Ouch! Nothing worse than a rib that pops out of place.

After many days of necessary work done at my computer, I have been spending less time riding the horses and more time flying a desk.

After two days of overlooking incorrect posture at my desk, it got the best of me and now my upper back has had enough. In response to such atrocious posture, my rib has displaced itself.

Our lives and our jobs have a tendency to send our bodies in a forward motion. Hunching over your computers while progressing through a pile of work, walking to your next task, leaning forward in your car while trying to get through traffic and even riding a circle trying to figure out an exercises your instructor just gave you are all examples of this. In our attempt to focus, our bodies tend to cave a bit in that focused intensity.

Forward is good! However, hunching into your forward work is not. As you move forward through your tasks during the day, think about opening up as you move forward. You may find you enjoy the scenery around you as your focus opens up as well.

I have put together a few very simple poses to do in-between desk workouts for you professionals out there having difficulty getting away from your computers.  (I know, I’m clearly not at my office desk. But what good is a picture without a horse in it anyway? Meet my lovely Penelope.  My 4 yr old dressage hopeful!) These poses work best for me when I do them every thirty minutes or so throughout my computer working days. They are designed to open up your upper back, stretch your lower back and legs and remind you to engage those abs!

5 poses to correct posture problems while you sit.

Defeat the desk job slump! Open up while working.

1st Pose – A stretch for the Flexors

With introductions to the Sassy F.L.A.B. rider bodywork out of the way I’d like to move on to some basic exercises found in this handbook that are quick to do and fit in between your basic routine.

This is the first exercise out of the SF handbook coming your way. (hoping to get one out every week or so) I have favorites that I’ll cover with you folks, you can always pick your own faves out of the handbook. For now, these freebies are for you to experiment with. -Always remember to stop if you feel pain of any kind-

The pose: Crouch

This is my all-around favorite. A chiropractor actually introduced me to this one. You may wish to do this pose in many places other than just the barn before you ride. I began this exercise when I was driving a lot. I learned to stop the car, get out and do this stretch to protect my lower back from car injury. It just plain feels good, and for me, feels therapeutic.

Directions:

Find a solid fence post. Hold with both hands as you gently lower to a crouched position.  Rock back on your heels while holding yourself up using the post. Allow your hind end to lower as close to the ground as possible while reaching with straight arms to the post. As you breathe, allow your lower back to release deeper into the stretch.

Poses to stabilize the rider's body.

1st pose out of Sassy F.L.A.B. handbook

Benefits to your riding:

A good warm-up stretch, loosens the lower back, thus allowing the lengthening of the flexors and muscles of the leg (as found under the “Stretching the Flexors” in the SF handbook)

Location in Sassy F.L.A.B. handbook:

Chapter 4, Section 1 “Stretching the Flexors”

Disclaimer of Liability:
The author shall have neither liability nor responsibility to any person or entity with respect to any loss or damage caused or alleged to be caused directly or indirectly by the information contained in this book. While the book is as accurate as the author can make it, there may be errors, omissions and inaccuracies.

Introduction to Sassy F.L.A.B.

After being asked many times to put together a program for riders using the bodywork exercises I use daily, I have finally come to the table with Sassy F.L.A.B. In a nut shell I have put together over 45 poses in a specific order that work to stabilize the rider’s body for the advanced levels of riding. This doesn’t mean you have to be advanced to do them, it means they will help you on your journey to becoming a rider working toward the advanced levels of your chosen discipline.

Surprising name at first. Who wants to associate themselves with flab!?!?! Knowing my students and myself, I knew a certain crowd could handle it. Laughing at our foibles is much more fun than stewing over them, or worse, being self conscience about them!

So, I decided to take a tongue in cheek approach to my rider bodywork program. It has little to do with actual flab and much more to do with specific parts of the body that I recommend riders evaluate and work to develop.

This is a bodywork program for riders. The program helps the rider identify 4 major areas of the body that effect the ride the most and then gives them a short program (under 15 minutes) to do just before they get on that works to stabilize those 4 areas. These four areas are as follows:

F: Flexors (hip flexors)

L: Legs (hamstrings, inner thigh)

A: Abdominals (all layers therein)

B: Back (upper back muscles)

Sassy F.L.A.B. Stability Poses for the rider
Four area’s that tend to be weak in many riders.

Once your area of F.L.A.B. has been identified, it is time to address the solution. The solution lies within three areas of athletic fitness.

S: Stretching

A: Body Awareness and Focus

S: Strengthening

In a nutshell, the weak areas of the rider are first identified, then the solution is the stabilizing strategy under all three categories of S.A.S. You will be stretching those areas, mentally engaging through “mind to body” techniques, and finally adding more challenging corrective exercises to improve your stability as a rider.

 

 

Stretching, Awareness and Strengthening Poses from Sassy F.L.A.B.

There are two inspirations for Sassy F.L.A.B. First the results I have seen in myself and riders after following the program. These results are stability in the saddle and an independent use of the aides along with a mental preparedness for the tasks at hand. Secondly, the need for a tool to prepare the rider for advanced work with an instructor. Being physically prepared allows them to benefit the most from instruction, thus saving them time and money. Too often I work with riders who simply are not fit enough to get through a lesson. If they would strengthen their bodies just 10% more, the effectiveness of the lesson would go a long way and they would expedite their learning.

Becoming an Athlete

“Nobody’s a natural. You work hard to get good and then work to get better. “  Paul Coffey

Cross training is how I have developed as an athlete, not just a rider. (And yes, the first exercise is at the bottom!)  In what other sport do you find athletes only willing to practice their particular sport with the expectation of achieving a fully trained and complete specimen.  Shoot, we don’t even expect our horses to be complete dressage athletes by solely practicing dressage!  We trail ride, hack, jump, gallop and what have you, all as a means of developing the well-rounded athlete.

So I must remind riders that if they expect their mounts to be an athlete, and they certainly should, then as the leader of the dancing pair they must first become athletes.

Merriam Webster definition of an Athlete: a person who is trained or skilled in exercises, sports, or games requiring physical strength, agility, or stamina

The words I take from this definition aretrainedphysical strengthagility andstamina, all words that require an action to develop.  Put another way, its not so much talent, but hard work that develops the athlete.

What?  Dressage riders must commit the act of physical work to develop as an athlete?  “Wait a minute”, one might ask… “whatever happened to the sport of dressage that I picked because of its grace and ease?”

Lets not forget that to get grace and ease, we must “crack some eggs” as Dale so kindly puts it.  And as Kourtney King-Dye put it “You go through a lot of ugly to get pretty”.  The process of egg cracking takes athleticism folks!

Training the upper levels of dressage proves that dressage takes balance, a certain amount of strength, agility and the endurance to “stick through a tough spot” for the duration until you and your horse can wade out of your particular situation.  This all takes physical fitness.

As a fellow area trainer complained to me in exasperation: “I’m just getting them (out of shape student) started when they look at me, out of breath, and ask to take a break.  How are we to get any real work done?!”

So this is my aim, to develop myself and other riders with the result of attaining physical strength, agility and stamina resulting in a trained athlete that has worked hard and achieved the highest level of the sport possible to them.

On to the first exercise for the dressage athlete.

Before we ever begin any real work, it’s a must to loosen the body and breath. So the first exercises is simple yet very important.  This is an opening exercise, and great to do just before your ride as it begins your deep breathing, gives you a chance to focus on the ride and get rid of any “extras” running around in your brain from that days chaos (no thinking about paying bills, chores that need to be done or family troubles!).  Your ride becomes your “happy” place. When you enter the barn, you are problem free!  I find that riders need to take a specific action to clear their mind and enter this place of calm, so this is why I picked the “Standing Opening” as our first exercise.
stand

With your shoulders square to your hips and your hips square to your feet, raise your hands directly overhead. This motion in itself stretches and opens your chest.  Pull your shoulder blades together, keep your back straight and engage those abs. Now, with your hands directly over head reaching up as far as is comfortable, sink your arms deeper into their sockets and begin deep breathing.  While you breath, begin to focus on the ride ahead and stop thinking of the “extras”.

My disclaimer:  I am only sharing what has worked for me and fellow students.  Exercise at your own risk! If done incorrectly, injury is possible.  Please consult your physician first, and especially if you have any previous injuries, back pain etc.  Some of these exercises may not be recommended with previous conditions.  Always stop all exercises if you feel pain!