At first glance, this first picture would look like a great advertisement as a 'before and after' – the rider was crooked on the left but is looking much more straight on the right. However, these are actually screenshots of the same video, one stride length apart. We hadn’t yet done anything to try and improve the rider’s position.
If you look closely at the horse’s hind legs, you can see a difference. The picture on the left is when the horse’s right hind leg is hitting the ground as the left hind leg pushes off, while the one on the right is the next stride – the left hind leg hitting the ground as the right pushes off. I think you can see that there is a really big difference in the rider’s posture in each stride. This was consistent in each stride we analysed.
This tells us a few things. First and foremost, it’s really important to not analyse yourself just from a picture or under one circumstance. If we were just to analyse the picture on the left, we would be commenting that the rider is collapsing over to the right with more weight through the right stirrup and rotating the trunk slightly to the left. If we were to examine just the right, we would remark that she’s looking fairly symmetrical in the body, with slightly more weight through the left stirrup. We can see some similarities - in both pictures leg position is pretty much the same, with slightly more turn out of the left toe, but on the whole the rider’s position looks markedly different.
We did some ridden exercises and positional changes with this rider that helped improve her alignment slightly, but not 100%. The rider was also experiencing pain on just one side of her body, which would improve with physio or other therapies and specific exercises but would return again once she rode. So, we had to consider the other moving variable in this partnership, and that is the horse.
We did an assessment of the horse without a rider on board. You can see from this second picture, that there is a marked difference between the symmetry and muscle bulk of the hindquarters. We can see that the right side of the pelvis is sitting higher than the left, with considerably less muscle bulk on the right side. We found that the horse had less strength on the right side of the hindquarters and was compensating for this in other areas of the body. It starts to make more sense now that it’s when the right hind leg is in contact with the ground, that the rider sits asymmetrically.
So, for the next step we wanted to assess the same rider on a different horse. The picture on the left is the same rider on a different horse, with the picture on the right the same horse as previously. These pictures are of the same phase of the gait cycle – right hind leg and left foreleg in contact with the ground, with the left hind leg and right foreleg in swing phase.
Again, we see some marked differences between them. While the right leg position is almost identical in each, the left leg position is quite different, with the lower leg coming way off the horse in the picture on the right. This was happening consistently in the video each time at this phase of the gait cycle. We can see the rider is again shifted over to the right. In the left picture there is still a slight difference in shoulder height (although in the opposite direction now), however you can see that the rider looks more balanced and centred in the saddle on this horse.
What this case highlights is the need to not review a rider (or a horse) in isolation but to look at the whole picture. If we tried to just address the rider’s asymmetries in this particular case, we likely would not achieve a great outcome, as we can conclude that the horse is contributing to her asymmetry. We are uniquely placed to be qualified to work with both horse and rider, however if you do not have a horse and rider practitioner available, we strongly recommend having your equine practitioner and your rider practitioner working together. By assessing, and then treating if necessary, both horse and rider, we have a much better chance of improving performance.