Horse and rider posture is often a topic of interest and debate amongst equestrians.
This article provides a balanced, educated, and unbiased viewpoint on horse & rider posture for equestrian disciplines.
The following will be discussed:
Before I begin, I would like to stress that the ticks and crosses displayed on the images does not mean that the posture displayed is good or bad 100% of the time. As living beings, we are designed to move in a range of ways and should not be limited to just one rigid posture.
However, there are some postures that are believed to be biomechanically more ideal, especially for athletic performance. The body functions best when its segments are in a balanced, neutral alignment which minimises the torque and stress on our bony structure. The nerves are unobstructed, the blood flows more efficiently, and the muscles work to their full potential. This position also relieves stress on joints and the skeletal structure.
Posture is just a position.
We usually refer to posture being the position of the body either during inactivity or movement.
Ideally, this position is constantly adapting to the environment to maintain some form of stability.
Some physiotherapists believe there is no such thing as “poor” posture.
I believe that we can classify some postures as “poor”, particularly those postures that are repeated habitually leading to unhelpful physical stress on the body’s structures.
You know the ones…you’ve been sitting at the computer all day, slouched with your head forwards and your back rounded. You are using the least amount of energy possible to hold yourself upright because you are so focused on the task at hand. Then towards the end of the day you are sore, tight, and stiff through the neck & shoulders and lower back, indicating that your nervous system has detected those postures as harmful to your body (your brain/nervous system only produces pain when it perceives threat or danger to your system).
Sure, holding this “poor” posture for a short amount of time is unlikely to cause harm, and is totally normal and acceptable. However, most of us know that it is not desirable to sit or stand in poor posture for too long.
Furthermore, these “poor” postures do not benefit our riding, where we are required to be balanced, poised, and in neutral alignment so our bodies can best influence our horses.
If poor posture is a position, that once maintained for prolonged periods could cause your system to perceive pain, what exactly does poor posture look like in horse riders? Below is a list of positions that could lead to poor posture in riders:
….so basically any deviating from a neutral position.
Keeping in mind that temporary deviations from the neutral position is not only acceptable, but necessary to maintain dynamic balance with your horse.
Remember that posture is dynamic when riding horses, that is, we don’t hold one static position. And if indeed we did hold one rigid position, we would lose our balance, as we would not be allowing out body to absorb the movement of the horse and thus balance appropriately.
Poor equine posture does not allow a horse good biomechanics in order to healthily carry the weight of the rider.
There is much emphasis in the horsey world on making the horse round. Whilst there is some truth to this posture being healthy, it has been taken to extremes in many circles… I won’t elaborate on this contraversial topic here.
Poor posture in horses generally looks like:
It is important to note that many factors both physical and emotional both in horses and riders can influence posture.
Think about the posture you would make yourself to mimic a person who is sad, tense, bored, scared, flighty, depressed, anxious, or worried. Your horse will do the same in his/her body if he is feeling these things too. It is very had to create a biomechanically correct posture in a horse who is scared, worried, sad, bored, etc.
Ideally, before trying to correct posture (in humans and horses) at a physical/biomechanical level through exercises/riding you would want to make sure the emotional aspect is addressed first- this is good horsemanship.
If you do not address the emotional aspect first….it is kind of like someone forcing you to be in a good, energetic, positive, upright posture when you are feeling really depressed or worried- it’s just not natural.
In physiotherapy, we have a saying: Your next posture is your best posture. So rather than thinking of aiming for one type of posture all the time, think about the range of postures you and your horse are able to create and maintain. Experimenting with different positions can be helpful to find that one that feels the most healthy for you and your horse.
Good posture is when all your segments are in a balanced, neutral alignment which minimises the torque and stress on our bony structure, and is advantageous to muscle activation and precision.
This position also relieves stress on joints and the skeletal structure. It is a position where you are most in balance with gravity and your horse.
But what is this magical posture? It is a position where you are most in balance with gravity and your horse.
Good posture in riders most likely looks like:
It is a posture of both tension and relaxation- a delicate balance between both.
Your body is relaxed enough to not inadvertently interfere with the horse, but “tense” enough to maintain core stability and precise movements.
You are not “hanging on your joints and ligaments” which uses little muscular effort, but rather, you are isometrically contracting postural muscles that hold your body upright and perpendicular to the ground. Whilst it requires muscular effort to maintain this posture (and moreseo when you are first learning), it feels powerful and graceful to sustain. The position FEELS HEALTHY.
This posture allows you to access the mobility at each joint as required, you are able to flex and extend at the ankle, knee, hips, back, shoulders and elbows whilst minimally influencing other areas- your body parts are independent from each other.
Good equine posture allows a horse good biomechanics in order to healthily carry the weight of the rider.
Good posture in horses generally looks like:
It’s important to note that horses can display a variety of healthy postures. For example, a horse stretching it’s neck forwards and downwards (still with the nose on or in front of the vertical) is considered a healthy posture if the energy is good and the topline (including the thoracic and lumbar spine) is rounded. A horse can also be in good posture with the poll the highest point, for example, when working towards collection.
So now you know what posture is, and what good/poor posture looks like horses and riders, how do we go about improving posture?
Some people and horse’s naturally have good posture, likely due to genetics/breeding/conformation of both species!
Others have to work at improving their posture due to less-than-ideal conformation and/or bad habits (horse & human).
Luckily, good posture can be learnt!
To develop good posture in riders, here is what I suggest:
To develop good posture in horses, here is what I suggest: