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What can you do to improve your performance?

Kate Davis, the UK Sport National Lottery funded World Class Programme’s Human Sports Science and Medicine Lead and Team Physiotherapist, gives some tips on improving performance.

There is a range of holistic health care work that we can easily undertake to maintain flexibility, back health, overall wellness, balance and strength, that can give us a proven competitive edge over our peers.

A fitter, more robust rider may lead to enhanced equine performance. All riders, whatever their level, should be working on a prevention programme to help ward off injury and degradation of their functional mobility. 

Simple things like maintaining hydration, feeding your body with good nutrition, doing simple exercises for strength and flexibility, and regularly (not necessarily frequently) seeing a health care professional [HCP] will collectively create a fitter, more robust rider. This leads to improved horse and rider interactions, and may enhance equine performance.
 

SAFETY FIRST 

It is imperative to note that, as injuries to the back and head are the most common faced by jumping riders, activities that aid balance, optimise symmetry, strengthen our core and boost response times are important to enhance safety and help prevent falls.
 

MOVEMENT PATTERNS 

Rider symmetry and balance are essential to the safety and performance of both horse and rider, so it is wise to address our own ‘movement patterns’ – for example, stiffness in a hip or dropping one shoulder – and recognise our symmetry faults. Everyday life, from driving and working at a desk, to riding multiple horses, may create imbalances in a rider that transfer to the horse and affect mutual interaction. 

I would suggest an initial screening process with an HCP to assess your movement faults. Any good HCP, for example a physiotherapist, osteopath or chiropractor, should be able to break down your movement patterns and apply their advice to your riding, especially if you show them video footage of you on a horse. However, I would recommend seeing an HCP with experience of horse riding.

Whether or not you have a current problem or are suffering from an ongoing back issue, they can assess your functional movement, which gives you a starting point from which to collate things in your holistic tool box, such as daily exercise and holistic practices like yoga and pilates.
 

BEING PROACTIVE 

Competitive riders often suffer from ongoing, chronic back and body issues, such as reduced hip mobility, tightness in the shoulders, poor core strength and lower back fatigue, which can lead to strain on the spine. In addition to seeking the advice of an HCP throughout the year, as we would do for our horses, and undertaking some strength and mobility work, daily exercise before riding can help.

I advocate a ‘muscle fire up’ routine directly before you get on, taking a maximum of five minutes. This aids flexibility and ‘wakes up’ the muscles and correct movement patterns you should use when riding. You can include things like gluteal stretches, squatting and spinal roll downs, which your HCP can show you.

Find out how to improve your mental performance here.