Stiff Shoulders

Riders need warming up too

We spend a lot of time at the beginning of any riding session warming up our horses. It is of the utmost importance, we are told, to make sure our horses are limber and supple before we start working them in properly. Naturally with older horses, this period of time is usually a bit longer and with horses with particular stiffness issues, specific warm up exercises will be necessary.

What we are often inclined to forget, however, is that riders need to be supple too. The stiffness in our own bodies affects the horse a huge amount, and can make their movements better or worse. If we are unable to sit in a properly balanced fashion and struggle to move and flex our bodies then the horse can end up crooked and one-sided. It is all to easy to say that the “this horse is stiffer on the left rein” but sometimes the reasons behind it are more personal then we realise.

I used to have issues with my lower back. There were a couple of occasions before Christmas 2012 where I ended up collapsed along the horses neck, unable to continue because my back gave out completely. It was agony and I had to handle the unbearable embarrassment of collapsing and crying in pain in front of everyone. Over time, those muscles have strengthened so much that I very rarely notice any twinges or pain at all now.

My shoulders are a different story, however, and I am unsure as to how I am meant to keep them from seizing up and knotting. Every time I get them loosened up, they revert to their tense state within a very short space of time. They are definitely better than they ever have been, due to the improvements riding has made to my overall posture, but they still cause me trouble. Blasted things.

Last week I was fortunate enough to be able to ride during a lunchtime. I was riding a horse that is already slightly crooked, especially on the left rein, and was working over poles in jump position. It was all going splendidly until we had to work on the left rein.

“OH GOD” screamed my brain. Not only was the horse going to struggle, but so was I. My shoulder was particularly noticeable that day, with what felt like bouncy ball hiding just underneath my left shoulder blade. “You need to drop that left shoulder when you turn, you’re looking around your turn, but not moving your body” said my instructor. So I tried. I mean, I really tried. But oh, the ouch.

“Megan, why is that shoulder not turning. Turn your left shoulder!” She called across the school to me as we cantered around merrily, like a motorbike. “I….can’t….move it!” I managed to huff back. The exertions of trying to shift that blinking joint were too much for me, and we had to come back for a rest while I gathered what remained of my wits. After some discussion, it was decided that I should basically stop being a wimp and try again, this time holding the reins in my right hand and twisting my left arm around my back to force my should to drop down and round.

It. Hurt. Like. Hell.

So, the importance of being supple as a rider should not be overlooked. Without a certain amount of flexibility ourselves, we cannot possibly expect the horse to respond in the way we want. I think I’m going to have to find a way of making life easier for myself by fixing these blooming aches and pains. Somehow.

Until then I’ll just add lovely crunching sound effects to my ride.

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