Self Carriage For The Rider

The other week in Horse and Hound I read a great article by Carl Hester. To be fair, all of Carl’s articles are great, but this one really struck a cord with me because he identified a concept that I think sums up so much of what I am aiming to achieve through Ready to Ride. I am also very annoyed that I didn’t come up with it myself but if anyone had to do so instead of me then I am happy that it was Mr Hester. The concept is ‘Self Carriage for the Rider’. So neat and so to the point that I hardly need to say much more. However, I think it might be useful to give some pointers towards how to achieve such self carriage.

I have covered all the key components for self carriage before, so I won’t go into great detail but rather I will summarise. Starting at the bottom, you need equal weight through your feet and that weight into your heels. The seat should be symmetrical, and your pelvis and spine moving together and with the horse, with your core working well in support. From there, your shoulders can sit relaxed, back and down which enable light hands. Finally, as your body is well positioned and in alignment, your head will be sitting on top of the spine.

So simple, yes?

Of course, it takes ours of practice in and out of the saddle to make self carriage easy and natural – just as it takes ours of training for our horses. Below is a good test for you:

Set your shoulder blades back and down – but not fixed – then hold your arms out in front. Keep them relaxed and soft, as if you were holding the reins, and now stay there as long as you can…..aim for 2 minutes.

A simple test of your own self carriage

Now here are some example exercises that will help you develop your self carriage.

Starting from the left we have work with a Flexibar, which is a major core strengthener full stop, but it is great for improving your scapula control whilst combined with arm motion. Then, working with equipment such as Ova balls, you can combine scapula control with arm and body motion. Finally on the right, there are various exercises you can do on your front – this is ‘Breaststroke’ – where you are working your scapula stabilisers against gravity, plus or minus the weight of your head and arms.

Initially you don’t need to try to do these for too long, because it is crucial that you can maintain your core position throughout, and if you find these challenging you will find that you lose your core position quickly. Build your time in the positions and the repetitions, and you should find that you can reproduce the same effect in the saddle.

As always, don’t attempt these if you have any physical reason not to (check out the disclaimer page), and it is always worth discussing ways to individualise your exercises with your riding instructor or Physio/pilates instructor because I can only give generic ideas.

Good luck – but keep it at, because now really is the time of year to build your strength ready for next season.