Ready for your February installment of Tips & Exercises from Buckaroo Balance!?!?  Did you sign up for the Buckaroo Balance RSS feed so this post will be delivered directly to your e-mail inbox?  (just click the orange tack on the top of this page)  Feb is usually my slowest month for lessons, the weather often makes scheduling lessons or riding at all very challenging this time of year!  I mean really who wants to ride for an hour when it’s 30 degrees or less!?!?  I love to go for a quick bareback ride (it’s MUCH warmer!) and the less time I spend saddling the longer I have to ride before I’m frozen!  But with icy footing & inconsistent riding time riding bareback may not be your best option, safety is paramount!

So this month your exercise can be done indoors or out!  Our goal is to bring a consciousness to your body awareness to help your riding when you do get a chance to get back on your horse.  I have found that yoga has really helped me with this, but even if you don’t have the time or interest for a yoga class it can be as simple as taking a hike.  When you walk put your hands on your hips, first with your fingers facing forward & thumb to the back so that your hands are about parallel with the floor.  Second, walk with your hands perpendicular to the ground, fingers pointed down your legs.  Take note of how your hips move, what do you feel?

So let me step back a bit, I am a NARHA (North American Riding for the Handicapped Association) certified riding instructor.  I have spent more than fifteen years teaching children & adults with special needs of all types how to ride horses.  Every horse lover I’ve met has agreed with Winston Churchill’s quote, “the outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man” but many of us don’t realize how awesome the outside of the horse is for the outside of us too!  The three dimensional way in which humans walk is mimicked by sitting on a horse at the walk, and just like humans, different horses move differently.  So let’s start with a little description of these three dimensions of movement:

Lateral Shift – side to side ‘swing’ of the hips

Anterior/Posterior Tilt – the front to back tip where the top of your pelvis tips forward & behind the bottom of your pelvis, also a forward shift of the hips when moving forward

Rotation – this one is the super-model walk, think of riding a bicycle, when the right hip rotates up the left hip goes down, when the right hip comes forward the left hip goes back.

Which of these movements do you feel first when your hands are on your hips?  Some people have 2 equally as strong movements, and although all three are present there is always one stronger or weaker than the other two.  Horses are the same way.  When you sit on a Tennessee Walking Horse you will feel a strong lateral shift.  Long legged Thoroughbreds & Quarter Horses offer an anterior/posterior tilt.  A horse with flexible fetlocks in the rear (often Paso Finos) will have rotational movement in their hips & in turn offer that rotational movement to their rider.

OK so back to that exercise!  Don’t worry you have a whole month to get this done!  Then next month we’re going to apply this new knowledge to your time in the saddle.  Take a walk, put your hands on your hips, walk uphill (or up-stairs will work too!), walk downhill (down stairs), make a very small circle (3 foot diameter) to the right, and then to the left, make a larger circle (5 ft.) in both directions, and then even larger circles (10 foot) to the right and to the left.  It’s great to do this when you’re specifically thinking about it, but it’s even better to just think about it throughout your regular activities!  Be aware of your hips when you walk down the office hallway to the copier room, or down the grocery aisle when you turn around the end of the aisle (that’s a half circle!).

1.      Take note of which dimension of movement is your body’s typical way of going

2.      Take time to think about how you move now & if that may be different from how you moved when you were younger or before an injury.

3.      When you walk in a straight line do you have even movement from side to side?  Do you put the same amount of weight on each of your feet?

4.      When you turn in a circle, how does that change?  Feel your hips, do they tip into your circle or stay parallel to the floor?  How does it change from smaller circles to larger ones?  Does your inside leg extend longer as you step into your circle?  Do you feel a weight shift?

5.      When you go uphill how do your hips change from when you’re walking on level ground?

Be aware of how you move, is it habit to move the way you do?  Do you move this same way when you’re not specifically thinking about how you are moving?  Do you have better posture when you’re thinking about it?  Do you walk more fluid circles when your posture is correct?  How does this affect your riding?  Do you hold your best posture when you ride?

Lots to think about!!  Keep me posted, what have you realized by doing these exercises?  Post a comment below to be entered to win the quarterly Buckaroo Balance gift certificate!