If you have never ridden a horse before the assumption is usually that you sit passively in the saddle, tap the horse with your heels to get going, tap a little harder to go faster, steer with the reins, and pull on both reins to stop – not dissimilar to the way you handle a car. Try it for yourself and discover that you could not be more mistaken with this approach – unless of course you want to race, or you are a thrill-seeker with a death-wish!!! If the horse does not want to move it may unceremoniously dump you with a quick buck. Alternatively, if it bolts off at gallop – and by some miracle you manage to cling on – it may suddenly change direction or come to an abrupt halt, in which case you are catapulted over the front or off to one side!
As with all sports, in the hands of the professional, horse-riding, show-jumping and dressage displays look effortlessly easy and graceful, with the horse executing clever patterns and speed transitions in the arena, seemingly all by itself. In reality, it has taken the rider hours and hours of patiently communicating control over all the horse’s manoeuvres through a series of subtle bodily signals that it has learnt to respond to. The slightest shift in body weight can change the impulsion (energy rather than speed) or the direction of the horse, a slight brush of the foot in co-ordination with a signal from the reins can alter the footwork, or indicate a change in stride e.g. from trot to canter, or vice versa.
The competent rider has to be able to use her/his body in unison with the horse, so that she/he becomes part of the movement but also controls it. The horse is not a machine – it is a very strong, intelligent creature with a personality and a will of its own, but it can quickly sense who has the upper hand in the partnership, or when the rider is tense and nervous.
So how can osteopathy help the rider?
• Assessment: We will discuss your particular problem, examine you to find out how your body is working. Do you have a postural problem? Are your muscles in good condition? Are you sufficiently flexible in your joints to ride well?
• Treatment: We cannot fix broken bones, but we can help maintain suppleness in all the joints, which is so crucial for natural horsemanship. The rider not only has to have a supple back and pelvis, but relaxed hips, knees and ankles. The shoulders, wrists and elbows should be soft so that they can mirror the head movement of the horse, and engaging the diaphragm is all part of this process of relaxation. Articulation treatments ensure that the joints of the spine, legs and arms are operating within the optimum range-of-movement, whilst massage techniques and warm-up advice will keep the muscles healthy and lithe. And, for the less experienced – or sometimes less fortunate riders – we can sort out those muscle and joint problems that occur as a result of accidental jarring or crash-landings!!
• Advice: We will provide you with advice including postural, exercise and training techniques to keep you fit and riding.