Fit to Ride?

Do you have what it takes to be a rider? Are you up to snuff athletics wise, or are you relying on your horse to do all the work?

I’ve devised a “simple” test for you to try, to see if you meet what should be a standard for riders across the sport fitness wise. This fitness exam will test your mobility, cardiovascular, and strength capacity in a way that all riders should meet. Keep in mind while you may not pass this test, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work towards being able to pass it. Unless you’re trying out for the next Olympic team and are on a strict schedule, fitness and health are dynamic things. Try this test every month for a year and see how your results change- it will be great motivation for training outside of the tack!

Test 1: Mobility

A 3/3 Hinge— using a broomstick align it with your spine. If you struggle to hold it there because of restriction in the shoulders, you lose a point. Now, with a relaxed knee position (don’t lock them out), hinge forward from the hips. Have a friend or a mirror close by to watch if your spine hinges instead of your hips. If the broomstick leaves your spine, you lose another point. If there is any pain, take away another point. You should ideally be able to hinge to about 90deg pain free, from the hips, with a straight spine. (*video/photo credit to The Movement Maestro— go follow her she is awesome).

A 3/3 Squat— Use a friend or mirror and go through 5 or so squats. Your feet should be approximately hip width apart. Do not go below 90deg for the purposes of this test. As you squat, knees should not cross your toes, or collapse to the inside, back should remain straight (if you failed the hinge test, you automatically will fail this squat test), and weight should remain through the heels. If you have pain anywhere here, you drop to 0. If you have any of the above Movement compensation, you lose a point. Try this standing facing a wall. If your head or hands hit the wall- something is compensating!

A 3/3 Wall Angel– Find a wall, get your entire back pressed flat against the wall, bring your arms up to a “W” position and flatten them completely against the wall. Can you achieve this position keeping everything touching (spine, forearms, shoulders, and head)? Does your mid back pop off the wall when you bring the arms up? Can you slide the arms up the wall keeping the spine straight? For pain in this position (outside of discomfort from muscles working), receive 0. For the mid back coming off the wall (if you an achieve a W position with the arms against the wall), receive 2/3, for limited shoulder mobility preventing you getting the arms to the wall plus the mid back coming off the wall, receive 1/3.

A 3/3 Rotation— laying on your side with your knees bent up to 90deg and arms straight in front of you, open the top arm up to the opposite side. If you can get all the way to the opposite side ground with no pain or your hips moving you pass!

This is guaranteed where many of us will struggle. 3/3 means that you are pain free, restriction free, and in good form. Take notes every time you run yourself through this mobility test, it is guaranteed to change over time. Note which side is more restricted in your rotation, where you feel tightness in your hinging, and where you compensate in your squat.

Test 2: Strength

In 15 min, a minimum of 5 rounds of:

16 Dead Bugs– Keep your back pressed against the floor, extend opposite arm and leg towards the ground without touching the ground.

– 10 Rocking Planks

– 6 Push- Ups (either half version or full- whichever your form is the best in)

– 6 Split Squats (no hip shifting!)/side (alternative: reverse lunges)

– 6 Jump Squats (Only if you’ve passed the squat test above!!!!)

Complete as many rounds as you can in 15min, as long as form stays quality.

This is an excellent thing to test routinely, every month or so, to measure your progress! Good form in a MUST.. if your form starts to slip, then that is where your round count ends.

Want your form checked? Send a video to ridewellperformance@gmail.com, or slide into our DMs on instagram (@ridewellperformance) for a FREE form check.

Five Must-Dos for Surviving Marathon Competitions (*OD-ing on lattes isn’t one of them)

As WEF comes to an end and those of us living in the Arctic head into our competitive season, kicked off ceremoniously as always by the Royal Manitoba Winter Fair and Spring Classics in Alberta, it’s time we talked about avoiding that mid-competition burn out.

Riders are unique in many ways, one of them being that often we do not get the same style of off season as other athletes do. We migrate for our sport, heading to warmer weathers to continue competing and training or surviving the colder temperatures and reverting to indoor training and competition. Those of us that do take an off season are found somewhere between jealousy of those who do continue through the winter months, and pure hibernation.

Competing at longer events such as RMWF and WEF means we need to get smart about how we manage ourselves. We know enough to give our horses strategic days off or quieter days, treat them with special blankets, massage, and nutritional supplements- but often you can see riders sloughing around competition grounds with starbucks, canteen food, and energy drinks looking like they just went through a traumatic event.

I remember the wall I used to hit half way or near the end of a long competition. My limbs no longer listened to my brain, and I was delirious half the time. Somehow I managed to remember courses and ride through the delirium, but I can only imagine how much better my performance would be now knowing what I do about athletic development and management.

Those of you in the midst of these season end/launch shows- try these five things. They won’t take long and I can guarantee you’ll feel better for it.

  • Eat some gd (gosh darn) veggies

I will never stop ranting about Equestrian’s insane nutrition decisions. Ever. Would you see a high performance athlete in any other sport downing a Monster and a plate of french fries? Absolutely not. It doesn’t help that the options at most horse shows range from deep fried to 7/11 gourmet, but there usually is options not far away and easily accessible (not to mention more affordable. Make a point of sourcing out something naturally colourful (think greens) and pair it with some high fat + protein option like cheese, eggs, avocados, or nuts. My fav? Head to a grocery store and find some pre-cut veggies, deli meats, avocados, pre-sliced cheeses and you have yourself a lovely snack for the long days at the show. Not only will you likely avoid the notorious Keystone cold/flu, your energy will be more sustainable and you will recover better overnight between show days.Of course, enjoy yourself during the night classes with whatever treats suit- just please don’t make that your staple meal.

  • Hydrate intelligently

In competition we NEED to be drinking a minimum of 3L of water/day. You wouldn’t be okay with your horse not drinking consistently when they are out of the ring, and you shouldn’t be okay with that for yourself either. Have a water bottle with you at all times (coffee doesn’t count!!!). I also recommend that you add electrolytes to your water. The routine I suggest to my athletes, related to the point above, is source out a protein powder, and/or a greens powder (email me for my recommendations!) and make that your first thing in the AM water intake, then in between warm-ups and classes make sure you have H2O handy. Electrolytes added to your H2O through the afternoon and evening to promote a good sleep and recovery later on (and proactively counter the Barn Bar in the evening).

  • Rotate, Hinge, Rotate, Flex and Extend

It SEEMS like a great plan to just slouch down into the stands or in the barn in between events, but is it really? By Day 3-4 of a 7day + event most people are complaining of sore backs, stiff joints, and headaches. Yes, it’s normal to be fatigued- but yet again, would you see athletes in other demographics not taking care of their bodies the way we tend to avoid that process?? Cooler’s make excellent make-shift yoga mats. Get yourself down on the ground and try these three moves BEFORE you ride and AFTER you ride- as well as before bed and when you get up in the am. They won’t take you more then 5min, and can help with the next two points.

  • Breathe and Go Inwards
    I talk about breathing A LOT. In competition this takes on a whole new importance. Our breath influences everything from our mind, emotions, and physical capability. Got nerves? A few well placed deep breaths can make the difference between a complete disaster and a well managed situation. Top athletes all across the board have a routine of taking a few deep breaths right before entering the ring, going inward, and getting in the zone. Practicing this is how it becomes a rock solid prep for any situation. Even if you aren’t about to go on course, practice riding courses while you’re watching others, visualizing the ride and breathing through it. You’d be surprised how often athletes hold their breath during a course, and how big a difference teaching breathing through the ride can make.

  • Start and End each day with 5min

Take 5. Seriously. Find a quiet space, practice your breathing, do some of those mobility exercises, get both in and out of your head simultaneously. Finding time to connect with your body and mind, especially in the midst of competitions, makes a HUGE impact on maintaining focus, energy, and drive during performance. In a situation where we are constantly surrounded by others, our coaches/parents, horses, organized chaos- bringing it back into our little circle and recharging ourselves is super duper necessary. It seems annoying and like people will think you’re weird for making this an important and valued part of your routine- BUT, they are more likely to be jealous that you’ve found a way to connect and stay connected to YOU and your performance. This is a great time to slowly eat a healthy snack or sip some H20.

Have questions about these steps? Message us or comment! Have a routine that works for you? I want to hear about it! Comment and let us know what keeps you rolling through long competitions!

The Heels Down Conundrum

Originally posted on our sister companies site, http://www.katmahtraining.com

From the day we start riding we were told to get our heels down as far as we can. Keeping the heels down and the toes up is a common thing to want to instil into a new rider, mainly for safety reasons. Us riders spend most of our time functioning off of the ball of our foot in the stirrup. Though it’s common to see even the most advanced riders jamming their heels down and keeping them that way. The forced rigidity in keeping the heels down this way is not necessarily a benefit to us in the tack (or in the rest of life).

Lets start with a brief anatomy lesson.

There is a whole bunch of stuff in the foot and ankle, but the joint we want to focus on today is the “talocrural joint” which is the joint that moves the foot/ankle into “dorsiflexion” (heels down) and “plantarflexion (pressing a gas pedal). The muscles that do dorsiflexion include the muscles at the front of the leg, the main one being tibialis anterior, while the big meaty calf muscles at the back (gastrocnemius and soleus) do plantarflexion. The talus bone fits into the Mortise (shown well on the picture on the left), a dome like joint that allows for a rolling/gliding when the ankle moves into dorsi and plantarflexion. There are ligaments surrounding this and tendons running above and around this joint as well.

Got all that? Good.

When the heel is forced downwards and locked there rigidly the tibialis anterior muscle (and it’s helpers) are contracting while the gastroc and soleus muscles in the back are stretched. Not only is this overkill for both muscle groups, when you add in any amount of force travelling through that lower leg and into the ankle (gravity plus your weight plus the force created by your movement and your horse’s movement) we get a not so happy combination for that ankle. Rigidity in any joint creates resistance for force through the tissues. If there is a resistance it means the force won’t travel very efficiently and the joints starting in the ankle, all the way up to the knee and hip will take on more strain then they might otherwise.

Now if we take the example of the rider above who is riding without stirrups, but still forcing those heels down as if her life depended on it we encounter another issue of rigidity in the leg. While she is dead focused on that perfect position and heels locked down.. she is locking in that dorsiflexed position which means she has her tibialis working to it’s full potential and the calf on stretch. Holding that position with no support from the stirrup takes away some helpful physics, and I’d bet that as a result her knee is also quite stiff and her hips aren’t moving very well either.

While there won’t be much rebound force from the stirrup travelling upwards due to stiffness in the joints.. the muscle tension alone will restrict movement at the ankle, knee, and hip.. and when those guys don’t move well something else has to.. and that’s where we run into compensation pain.

We know we need our heel down for safety and function… but now I’m saying don’t try and get them down?

Yes. After the initial learning phase where none of us can tell if our heels down or not (hence the constantly being told to get those heels down).. we need to learn how to relax that ankle too.

When the ankle is fluid all the force travelling down the body and up from the stirrup will be absorbed into the tissues and repurposed to aid in movement. Let’s imagine trotting. As the horse’s feet meet the ground force travels up from the ground, through them, and into you via the stirrup. Here you want to have a nice neutral heel position and let gravity pull your heel down as the tissues take the force. The heel will then naturally move back up to the neutral position as the weight and force move on.. until the next step. If the ankle is rigid in this same example, the force has nowhere to go and gets trapped in the first joint it encounters.. sending stiffness up the rest of the leg and making for a rougher ride.

This same example can be visualized when landing from a jump, or cantering…

Fluidity is a big thing for certain joints. The ankle, knees, hips, and elbows all need to have a certain degree of relaxed functionality to allow for force absorption and repurposing. With this in mind, then all those joints can move very efficiently and allow for the core, upper back, and hands to be stable.. Check out this video of some slow motion dressage. There are some great examples of the rider letting his ankle be fluid with the movement.

If you’re having trouble visualizing this, remember that as riders we have to mirror our horse’s movements.. and not interfere with them. If you look at a horse’s ankle as they move.. you’ll see a significant amount of flexion towards the ground as they impact, and a spring back as they move on. This is exactly what we want for our own ankles. Without this everything get’s much bouncier.

In the tack, spend time in two-point or standing in the stirrups at a trot or canter and practice relaxing through the joint to feel it absorbing force. Start with short bouts of this, as it’s very physically challenging at first, and build from there.

“Walking the dog” as shown in this picture is good for feeling out your ankle mobility (and stretching your hamstrings and calves while you’re at it!). To do this, get into a downward dog position and alternate bending your knee and relaxing your legs. Then, next time you’re riding a trot or canter.. focus a bit on your ankles. You may find that as you develop the ability to be conscious of your subtalar joint your sitting trot gets much easier to sit!

Personalized movement plans are available now! Email us at ridewellperformance@gmail.com to schedule your FREE consult over the phone/skype/or in person.

Connect Your Seat and Lower Leg with This Simple Move

Fallen arches? Bad knees? Plantar Fasciitis? Back Pain? Headaches?

Leg slipping back? Stiff seat? Can’t sit the trot? Crap lateral work?

Did you know all those things can be linked back to your foot posture and your ability to balance/control your posture?

As humans, we use balance and proprioception (body awareness) almost constantly in and out of the saddle.

From the time we tack up, get on, hack, all the way to mucking out and feeding- our body is constantly regulating and balancing us through movement. One of the first things I look at in riders is how they can stabilize themselves through movement, and from side to side. Surprisingly, I see many riders who have trouble even balancing on one leg standing still- and then wonder why they have certain issues in the saddle. Take into consideration that the basic requirements of our chosen sport are to influence 1200+lbs of animal underneath our own body control.. a unbalanced rider take on an extra level of concern…

Issues that can stem from lack of balance in the saddle include pain in the lower body- specifically the ankles and knees, trouble staying stable landing jumps, trouble asking for certain cues such as lateral work and lead changes, and the list could go on. Our base of support at our feet create so much of our movement potential. Balance of course is also important if we take a tumble. While we can’t always control how we land, those of use who fine tune our balance and proprioceptive skills (our ability to know where our joints are in space..without using our eyes) have a much better chance at landing in a better position.

If we take a look at movement as whole, poor control of our foot leads to poor control every else in our posture. Control issues in our balance generally stem from issues in our foot itself as well as issues controlling our pelvis via our hip musculature. If you’ve been reading our previous posts, you’re probably starting to notice a theme… our pelvic stability is IMPORTANT.

As humans, the optimal foot posture is a three point position on weight bearing in the foot.

As riders we “balance” on the front portion of our foot, with the weight of our body and force absorption happening through our ankle joint and heel.

In both positions if the muscles in the foot aren’t working, we are going to run into problems.

Try this..

Standing upright with your feet about hip width apart, keeping weight balanced between the three points shown above, lift through the arch/inner ankle, and feel the hips engage to rotate the whole leg open. Remember- don’t let your toe or heel lift off to accomplish this, just the arch and subsequent leg is opening up and out.

As shown in the video you should notice that your foot posture changes, and muscles through the hip and leg have to engage.

Now imagine (or try this!!!) this movement and engagement in the tack for the lower leg… that lower leg may be easier to engage and lock into the side, and our hips may be a little more stable. Try this action of lifting through the inside and engaging through the outside of the leg at the walk in a two point, or seated. You should feel the hips engaging, the core having to work a bit harder, and muscles working throughout the lower body. This will likely feel weird, hard, and completely foreign. Stick with it. Over time you should notice a more stable and consistent connection in your lower body and seat.

Simple, small changes done consistently in and out of the saddle are where magic happens.

Start playing with splaying your toes, moving toes individually, picking things up with your toes. How we can control our feet says a lot about how we can operate the rest of our body. Engage your feet, and you open up a whole world of possibility!

Practice this through the day, every day, in and out of the saddle! Comment and tell us how it feels for you!

Online and personalized goal setting, workouts, mobility plans, and nutrition coaching now available!

Finding Your Why

We’ve all had the experience of setting a goal and then getting side tracked, only to have to set the same goal again a period of time later- or never really commit to the brilliant idea we had.

One of the most important things I stress with coaching clients is the power of finding the purpose behind whatever they are looking to accomplish.

As a trainer and healthcare practitioner- I see people stumbling (for lack of a better word) through their lives. Often frustrated by their decisions and where their choices lead them to. Pain, dysfunction, lost goals, poor performance at work or in sport..

When you think of the top competitors in any sport, equestrian being no exception, you get the sense that their entire purpose is to be doing exactly what they are doing. It looks easy for them (even when we all know how much hard work it takes), and their focus is unshakeable.

Performing to a high level no matter the size of your goals comes down to forming a strong, unshakeable purpose.

Even if you goal is something as simple as wanting to get a flying lead change, or involves more factors like improving your dressage or derby course score.. if you don’t make it as important to your well being as breathing.. it becomes a lot easier to be side tracked.

Figuring out your “why” or your “purpose” isn’t as simple as just saying “well because I really really want it” or “so I can do better in competition” or “I want to beat so and so”. It requires you going deep and getting vulnerable with what the small steps are on the way to this goal and how they affect you on every level.

An excellent statement I had from a client recently after she was asked to get a little more detailed about her why statement was the realization that her deep love of working with horse’s was what brought light into her life, and it wasn’t something she could imagine not doing.

Many successful entrepreneurs will say a similar thing- the reason they make the choices and push past any and every barrier seemingly unphased is that they don’t see any other option. Their wellbeing and survival as a human depends on it. The lifestyle they have chosen that many others view as complete insanity is the only way they can imagine living.

Successful goal setting comes from that place of absolute resolve and making the goal a part of your identity. Regardless of how big or small the task is.

Once you find your why – it becomes easier to detail the specifics behind your goals. All those action steps that make direction to your destination more definable. Then the nitty gritty work can begin.

Need help figuring out your why? Goal setting sessions and performance coaching is available for just that. Email ridewellperformance@gmail.com to book your FREE consult today.

Is your leg working for you or against you?

Want to know my biggest pet peeve as a clinician and a strength and conditioning specialist?

Doing calf raises to help a rider’s lower leg get “stronger”.

It may be one of the most common things to see in rider’s, that pesky lower leg that just won’t stay where we want it to. Trouble keeping that lower leg stable often leads to us clamping with our heels or knees, leaning or collapsing in our torso to compensate, or developing chronic stiffness in our hips to account for the instability in our leg– leading to low back complaints, knee degeneration, and even unwarranted stiffness and compensations in our horse.

Creating lower leg function is a BIG DEAL for us equestrians, unfortunately our lower leg function has almost nothing to do with how strong our calf muscles are.

Where does appropriate function in our lower leg come from?

(Hint: look at the bigger picture)

I alluded to it above.. our pelvic and hip stability is the starting point for a functional lower leg.

Shocking, I know.

When I’m looking at a client on the ground, anything to do with postural stability is generally going to come from the foot and hip combined. Things like low back pain, knee complaints, hip complaints, and often even things going on in the upper body can be broken down to the root of our ability to control our feet and hips.

As riders- our base of support is predominantly our pelvis. Our seat is where we connect to our horse, and how we communicate to the rest of our function. Inability to stabilize here begets stiffness, and stiffness in our pelvis creates a world of issue.

Glute medius is one of our main pelvis stabilizers. It helps us prevent too much side to side movement at our hips when we are in transit. If it isn’t working then you’ll see a collapse through the rest of the leg.. think a knock-kneed look at the knee, and a fallen arch at the foot. In the saddle you’ll see a stiffness in the posting trot, likely accompanied by a floppy lower leg, a sliding lower leg over fences, and in lateral work the tendency to “claw” up the heel to use our lower aids (vs the appropriate relaxed ankle, whole leg adding pressure through the inner calf approach).

I highly recommend doing a consult with a movement specialist (many offer the initial consult free of charge) to have your gait and posture assessed. What happens on the ground is guaranteed to come out in your equitation! At RideWell we also offer riding analysis via video, and distance video assessments for riders on posture and riding form.

In the mean time, here are 3 “Simple” exercises to help you lock in that lower leg.

1. Kick Back Holds

Think Jane Fonda leg raises, but with a bit more of a punch.

Laying on your side slightly raised onto your elbow with your core locked in, bend your bottom leg for support and straighten your top leg.

Make sure the hips are stacked and then rotate the toes towards the ground. From here, kick the leg up and back (imagine a push off in skating). Raise approx 1-2 ft off the ground into slight extension and HOLD here for 15-20secs feeling the burn in that top side of your hip. If this feels easy, first check that your hips are stacked on top of each other, that you’re kicking back at least 15-30deg into extension as you raise the leg, and your heel is aimed toward the ceiling. If it’s still easy you can add a mini band around your ankles, check out our favourite bands here.

Repeat 4-5 routinely in your day. The more you activate the muscles properly, the more the brain makes it automatic.

2. Side Bridges

Classic hip hinging activation exercise. All these movements also double as releases for the front of the hip (tight hip flexors anyone??).

On your side, supported by your elbow, shoulder, and core activation, pivoting from the knees- use glutes to actively push hips up and forward through a hinge motion. Hold at the top for 5-10seconds, then sit back and down through the hip hinge.

Common mistakes here: slouching into the shoulder (push UP through the ground/elbow and squeeze shoulder blades together), lack of core activation/bracing allowing for the spine to hinge instead of the hips (think of a squat motion at the hips!), lifting up THEN forwards.. try and make this simultaneous, as if your hips are moving up and down a ramp.

Repeat 6-12x for rounds of 3-5. Great used as a warm-up to other activities.

3. Reverse Lunge- As demonstrated on our instagram last week..

Stepping back into a lunge, keeping the knee stacked over the ankle and driving up through the front heel to stand. This will challenge balance, hip, knee, and foot control! See our instagram post for detailed instructions 😉

Want to schedule your FREE consult in person, or over FaceTime/Skype with our equestrian movement expert? Comment on this post or email ridewellperformance@gmail.com.

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Pre-Ride Sequence for Mobile Hips and Stable Shoulders

There are a few things that are important for a warm-up. We riders don’t necessarily need to go for your typical 5-10 min cardio warm-up, as often the routine tasks of grooming, tacking up, and other barn things get the blood flowing. Something that is great for us, though, is warming up the movement patterns we’re going to use in the saddle. Especially if you’re in the process of revamping your equitation, practicing the habits before you add in external factors like a moving, thinking animal will really go a long way in preventing injury, and enhancing performance.

Today we’re going to talk stable shoulders and mobile hips.
We’ll start with the hips, as the exercise itself gets the whole body involved. I talk about hip hinging a lot. It’s a big issue for a large population. We as riders use it in our posting trot, two points, and in various other tasks. Around the barn you SHOULD be using it whenever you bend over, lift, etc.

This first warm-up movement is a variation of a squat. We’ve all done, or at least heard of, a squat. It’s a movement we as humans should be very proficient in, although most of us aren’t. This variation of a squat is designed to really cue the hip hinging back and down (with proper knee mechanics) and then up and forward- while keeping a strong core and stable shoulders, of course.

You’re going to start off with your feet facing the wall, a few inches away, hip width apart, standing up in a nice posture, and putting your arms behind your head- making sure the elbows stay back (**watch here that you don’t arch in the mid-spine).  From this start position, you’re sitting down and back into a squat (as deep as 90deg, or as deep as you can maintain form). Knees should remain straight and track over the ankles, without collapsing in. Weight should transfer through the heels. Knees shouldn’t cross the toes- or touch the wall. Torso should stay upright enough that you don’t knock your head on the wall. Back remains neutral and core remains active.


Click here for video!

Do 10-15 of these, then get read for the second part of the sequence!

Next- spend some time in a deep squat- hold onto a door or stall, or have your back against the wall to allow you to sink into the position. Good squat position applies- knees should not cross toes, heels stay on the ground, knees and arches do not collapse in, chest stays high! Add a rotation for added upper body mobility!

Standing in a similar position facing the wall, place your forarms on the wall, with the elbows at 90deg. You should be standing close enough to the wall to do this movement without arching your back.
From here, activate your core and the muscles between your shoulder blades, and then slowly slide arms up the wall (only as far as you can maintain a neutral spine), followed by slowly lowering them down. Do this 10-15 times, you should feel the muscles in your upper back working. The video shows first the incorrect way, and then the correct way to perform the movement!

Click here for video!

Repeat that sequence 2-3 times before you get on. The squatting exercise translates easily to the same motion we SHOULD be doing when we post the trot or hold a two point. The Forward Wall Slide teaches us how to use the shoulder girdle properly, and stabilize, so our arms and core can work independently.
Record your horse’s reaction to you doing this, for added hilarity.

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