Today’s post has to do with one of my favorite pastimes: horseback riding. I believe that God gives us passions to help us find joy in Him and in our work here on earth. Over the years my experiences with horses have brought me joy, comfort, discouragement, and confidence. As with everything worth achieving, becoming a better horseman requires overcoming difficulties and fears. It involves failures and setbacks that result in growth, strength, and courage when faced with prayerful determination. Horses and my work in the equine industry have greatly impacted my life; therefore, I want to begin including some horse-related posts on my blog.
One of the things I enjoy about riding horses is that it requires constant growth. When I get stagnant in what I do, I get bored and don’t ride as often as I should. However, I stay engaged and motivated to saddle up when I’m challenging myself and searching for ways to grow and advance.
One way I can maintain motivation during the winter when weather isn’t conducive to being outside is to read books that help my growth as a rider. Recently, I picked up a book published decades ago that discusses the physiology of riding and how our physical makeup can help or hinder our riding. I want to share one thing I learned that addresses the problem of slumped shoulders.
First, some background: I ride western, my horse is tall and long bodied. I am short and have short arms to go with my petite stature. One of the results is that when I put my hand forward in the correct position at or slightly in front of the saddle horn, my shoulder rolls forward and I lead with that shoulder. Most of the time, this isn’t a big deal when toodling around the pasture. But I know it isn’t “correct” and found the physiology surrounding shoulder structure to be an interesting subject.
Now, if you have ever taken lessons, you’ve probably been told to “sit up and pull your shoulders back” at some point in your life. For most people, the result is that your back stiffens as you forcefully pull your shoulders back and stick your chest out in an effort to follow instructions. This is generally an unnatural position that can’t be held long without extreme effort and loss of mobility.
Here’s a fix that will help you maintain a supple spine, requires less effort and, as an added bonus, can be applied to your everyday posture. First, sit in a chair with a firm seat (no cushy couch or recliner). Lean forward by moving from your hip joint (not your waistline) and you’ll feel your back muscles engage to hold you steady. Next, lean back and you’ll feel your abs engage. Finally, find your neutral upright position where you are sitting straight but your abs and back are relatively relaxed. You should also feel that your seat bones are now sitting square and balanced on the chair. This is “neutral” and your core is ready to respond to sudden changes like your horse stumbling or spooking.
From here you can fix your shoulders by thinking about your ribcage. Lift your sternum to create more length from the bottom of your sternum to your belly button. It may be helpful to think of moving your ribcage forward underneath your shoulders. Your shoulders will naturally fall into their “shoulder girdle” which consists of the shoulder joint, shoulder blades, and collar bone. When you bring your ribcage into alignment with this girdle, it creates a stable resting place for your shoulders.
From this position, your shoulders are held naturally in place. Now try to slump your shoulders while maintaining correct alignment. You physically won’t be able to do it without curling your spine. Not only are your shoulders and spine in correct alignment, but you’ll find you are more mobile and relaxed than if you think “sit up straight!”
Practice this in a chair and while walking. Next time you saddle up, try it out there. I think you’ll discover an improvement in your overall riding and comfort in the saddle.
May joy spark continued growth in every area of your life.