A recent study has found that improving rider core stability can increase a horse’s stride length considerably.
The research examined the effects of an eight-week unmounted rider core fitness programme on ridden symmetry and the horse’s movement.
It found that core strength can promote symmetry in the saddle and reduce peak pressures on a horse’s back, as well as lengthening the horse’s stride.
“The programme can provide an important method for improving equine welfare,” said Alexandra Hampson from the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies at the University of Edinburgh, who conducted the study.
Ten healthy horse and rider combinations working at medium level dressage were used. Riders participated in an eight-week rider sport-specific core fitness programme.
Exercises included a circuit of core exercises such as planks, “bird dogs”, bridge marches and stretches.
Two ridden tests were carried out at sitting trot before and after the exercise programme was completed.
Each horse was fitted with an electronic saddle pad prior to the tests to record rider pressure.
Three variables were evaluated: left-right mean saddle pressure difference; maximum total force of the saddle on the horse’s back; and equine stride length.
The study found that the riders were able to improve their symmetry significantly by following the core fitness programme.
“The findings were encouraging,” said Ms Hampson. “With just a small, consistent time investment, horses were freer in their backs with an 8.4% increase in stride length. Riders appeared to be more stable and effective, as reported by themselves and their coaches, and were better able to sit a bigger trot.
“Once riders realise these exercises can make both them and their horses more comfortable, it may seem less of a chore to fit them into their routine.”
Dr Sue Dyson, specialist in equine orthopedics at the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, frequently comes across back problems and lameness in horses that is caused or worsened by rider position.
“For optimal comfort for the horse, the rider should sit straight and in harmony with the horse’s rhythm,” she said. “Any effect of rider crookedness will be compounded by lack of core stability of the rider. “
Lindsay Wilcox-Reid teaches equipilates, a specialised form of Pilates incorporating biomechanics.
“The findings of the study concur with the evidence we have collated, which shows that our programmes, including core conditioning work, improve technique,” she told H&H.
Ms Hampson plans to continue exploring rider core strength with further projects.
Her paper will be published in the December edition of the International Journal of Performance Analysis in Sport.