Some of you know I have a new horse. I have been working her on the ground for a month as I have hurt my back (and been unable to ride), and naturally I have been doing some work on developing her posture. It is an ongoing progress that sometimes has been very difficult as walking or running with her has been painful for me in my back and pelvis.
A few days ago I had a thought: why even bother? I could just work her and ride her and not worry about developing a healthy posture. It would be much easier on me. I wouldn’t have to think as much, problem solve as much, do as much research and learning. I wouldn’t have to focus as much, help her and support her to know how to move herself in certain ways. I wouldn’t have as much work to do. I could make my life easier and not have to exert as much physical and mental effort.
Well, that thinking lasted way less than the time it just took you to read that paragraph. I dismissed that thought as unworthy, lazy and downright unethical. Because if I don’t work at helping my mare develop good posture under saddle, I know that I will cause her pain. Short term pain and long term pain. Just as an aside, when I buy new tyres for my car, I then forget about getting a wheel balance and alignment until the next set of tyres is due. I just let my car develop bad “car posture” that means the tyres wear unevenly, and I end up having to replace them earlier than I if I had put the effort in to getting the necessary work done. I do this repeatedly over the years, and cop some flak when I do it, from myself and other people. But I don’t really care. Because I know my car doesn’t feel pain. I do know my horse feels pain. And I know just what my back pain feels like, and how debilitating it is. How it spreads through the entire body and makes everything much more difficult, or even impossible.
Because I have had poor posture for pretty much my whole life. I now have a worn spine, a pelvis that is prone to torsion, or twisting, and dodgy knees. Some of those things were caused by lifting lots and lots of bales of hay and bags of feed. But lifting with unhealthy posture and a lack of rest time. I experience pain every day, it’s just the intensity that changes. Probably pretty much like many of you out there.
Recently I started going to a really, really good physiotherapist. She is now teaching me and supporting me with exercises to strengthen my core and my pelvic floor, with being straighter through my body, with using different muscles and ways of moving, and overall with having much better posture. Because she knows, and I am beginning to believe through the changes in my body, that better posture will mean I function better with less pain, and with much fewer and less debilitating episodes of “a bad back”. And when I can’t be bothered to make an effort to correctly do my exercises, I remember what it feels like to have a bad back episode. I have interesting sessions with my physiotherapist as I am constantly looking at the work she does with me from the perspective of an equine bodyworker. Thinking about things from the point of view of a horse makes it easy to understand. My own road to better posture is giving me an enormous personal appreciation of equine posture, pain and functioning, and how a horse feels.
I want my mare to be healthy and happy, and to be comfortable not only when I ride her but when she is cruising or playing in the paddock. I want her to use her body in ways that are biomechanically helpful for her in our horse-human partnership. Because she is stuck in this partnership so I want her to be happily stuck. For many years. She is six now, and I would really like her to be healthily rideable into her late twenties. Just as I want to be healthily riding for many decades, which is why I keep doing the darned posture exercises. Oh, and may I say, however much effort I as a human puts into asking and teaching and supporting my dear horse to have good posture, it is even harder for her. Because she is the one doing the real work.
AND…… Just in case you aren’t really all that worried about your horse’s pain levels, or don’t really believe the pain is there, or that it bothers your horse unduly, or that it is a problem, here are some other downsides of bad posture and benefits of good posture that might even affect you, or your wallet, or your riding time.
Some Downsides of bad posture:
Your horse is uncomfortable to ride
Your horse is on the forehand
Your horse doesn’t step through from behind, or is strung out
Your horse gets annoyed easily because it is sore
Your horse resists when you ask it things because it is sore
Your horse doesn’t pick up canter leads very well
Your horse develops kissing spine, where the bones of the spinal processes rub together
Your horse’s pelvis is tilted forward
As your horse’s pelvis is tilted forward, it cannot engage its hind legs
Your horses psoas muscle is very tight, which means it cannot engage its hind legs
Your horse bucks as it has a very sore back
Your horse becomes cold backed
Your horse develops topline syndrome
Your horse is a leg mover
Your horse develops lameness because it is using its body poorly
Your horses back is hollowed
Your horse isn’t always too happy about being ridden, so isn’t always real cooperative
Your horses working life is dramatically reduced
And lots more….
Some Benefits of good posture
Your horse looks more beautiful, even in the paddock
Your horse doesn’t get sore just by carrying your weight
Your horse is useable for many more years
Your horse has fewer lameness events
Your horse has a beautiful topline
Your horse is able to engage the hindquarters
Your horse is a back mover
Your horse feels wonderful to ride
Your horse enjoys being ridden and is very cooperative
Your horse lifts its withers and back easily
Your horse can do many things with ease and comfort for both of you
Your horse has the best movement its conformation allows
People envy you
People want your horse
Please, please, please; at least think about all this. Then start doing something different. For your horses sake. Or for your sake. Just do it.