Presenters: Kathryn Nankervis MSc, CVPM, Elizabeth Launder BSc, MSc and Joanne Winfield FBHS, BSc.
Tuesday 23rd February, 2010.
This study day focused on the rider for a change, and started with a lecture from Physiotherapist Liz Launder on the importance of spinal health and good posture.
It was very interesting to know that the intervertebral discs will decompress if the subject lies flat i.e. over night and therefore allows the discs to become fuller – filling the space between the vertebrae more fully.
During the day, the intervertebral discs become compressed with standing and slumping – this is added to if the subject is a little overweight and if you wear high heels. This is also why many of us suffer from lower back pain (not because we are all overweight but because of the fact we slump or twist to alleviate lower back pain). The importance of good posture was also highlighted with a spinal model used to show the intervertebral disc space and how one side can compress and the other side become almost stretched. In fact, the main problem seems to be joint instability, leading to pain.

Liz stressed the importance of thoroughly warming up in an upright position before any form of stretches were carried out which would further stretch the ligaments holding the spinal column together and increase the joint instability.
This was an interesting fact as, because of the above factors, many people find it difficult to touch their toes in the morning. This is because of the fuller rejuvenated discs between the intervertebral spaces and, in forcing themselves to touch their toes will increase the ligamentous stretch and therefore, increasing the vertebral joint instability. That was great news for me as I always feel I should carry out more exercise and what a great excuse not to!!
Also, many problems with disc pathology will actually start to occur because of fissures in the disc allowing fluid to be sucked in and out with wear and tear that can eventually result in a prolapsed disc. This can start at about the age of 16 and the end result of a prolapsed disc by about the age of 45 years, which is very common. For me, this highlighted the importance of spinal health and good posture.
We were then treated to a practical demonstration elsewhere in the Therapy Centre of two female volunteers, dressed for riding – one dressage rider and one jump rider who had markers stuck on them where we were able to see the symmetry of their bodies – markers were put on the middle of the riding hats – shoulders, elbows, points of hips – front and back, ankles and the back of their heels. The young ladies were then scrutinised on their body positioning and symmetry individually standing on the floor before we looked at them in their own saddles on a mechanical horse in walk, trot and canter (the jump rider was also asked to work in a forward seat).
With the riders standing on the floor, they were looked at from the front, back and side view and any asymmetries noted and discussed with a view to joint instability and muscle development and the possible reasons behind this.
The dressage rider was asked to locate her seat bones – directed by a member of the audience. However, they were not able to be located in the conventional way of feeling for them; if you stand up and feel, you will need to feel through the large gluteal muscles. She was asked to bend forward and lift her seat up into the air and then feel them. She found them easily this way – try it at home – I just have and they are wider than you think!!
The problems the riders had on the floor were highlighted when sitting on the mechanical horse which also demonstrated the effect an anterior or posterior rotated pelvis would have when sitting on a saddle, or, indeed, a pelvic twist or tilt.
Muscular and ligamentous development in a rider is also very important as try as much as you like if your groin ligaments are too short, you will not be able to sit up with your leg underneath you – they will just work against each other – leg back – tip forward, sit up – leg too far forward. We, as Instructors are often heard to say “sit up” – well, this proved to be harder than you think if the rider has developed through poor posture slightly round shoulders – not something that can be corrected short term.
The show jump rider was very interesting as she was rotated in her pelvis on the ground and this was highlighted again when sitting on the mechanical horse.
This session was an excellent way of demonstrating rider problems without actually riding a live horse.
The afternoon session was a practical session in the Arena, where we saw the show jump rider from the marker session and were able to see the impact of rider asymmetries in the performance of the horse. Lots of issues with her riding and performance were discussed, both on the flat and over fences. This was a show jump rider competing at 1.30m on a 12 year old gelding of T.B. type.
The dressage rider was a young gentleman we had not seen earlier riding a 7 year old warm blood mare. He had a posterior tilt to his pelvis. After discussing how paramount saddle balance is to both the horse and rider, it was discussed and decided that the saddle he was riding on was tipping the rider back. A form of padding was placed underneath the back of the saddle to make it slightly more level which helped the pelvic tilt slightly. A member of the audience was asked then to help the rider to improve his position and balance. This was carried out by levelling the saddle and a little work without the stirrups in walk to stretch the groin ligaments. This seemed to help in the few minutes we had to show improvement. There were lots of ideas flying around as to how and what to do to improve this rider.
Back to the classroom where Kathryn gave a lecture on “The Physiology or Riding” – current scientific knowledge of the physiological demands of riding. Do you need to be fit and how can you measure/develop fitness?
This can be calculated by Heart rate (HR), oxygen uptake (VO2) and energy expenditure. At rest, the average heart rate is 60 – 80 bpm and the HRmax = 208 – (0.7 x age in years).
In walk, measured by heart rate monitor, the HR is approximately 106 bpm, with VO2 = 0.7 l/min. Trot was VO2 1.47 l/min and HR 131 bpm. Canter was VO2 1.90 l/min and HR 144 bpm.
A show jumping round between 1m and 1,10m with 12 jumping efforts suggested a VO2 = 2.4 l/min and HR of 176 bpm.
So, how does riding compare to other activities? This was measured using metabolic equivalent energy levels or MET’s.
What does this mean? Walking on a horse (2.3 MET) uses about the same amount of energy expenditure as driving a tractor (2.1 MET)!!!! whereas sitting trot and shovelling snow both expend 6.3 MET. Canter work at 7.2 MET, mucking out 7.7 MET and galloping at 7.8 MET obviously all expend more energy and therefore, help in getting the rider fitter.
Research carried out suggested that when jumping a round of show jumps, the riders worked relatively harder than the horses (Gutierres Rincon et al, 1992). Opportunity for more up to date research here perhaps? Also, better riders do not work as hard as more novice riders.
Research suggests that you only need to improve your cardiovascular fitness if:
your competition involves speed and /or jumping
you ride less than 4 hours per week but want to do competitions which require sustained sitting trot/canter or jumping.
The day finished with questions asked by the audience and answered and discussed at length with the presenters. I must add what a great day we all had, how much we learnt and how inspiring the presenters were.
Report by Dianne Roberts BHSI, BSc (Hons).