Sunday, February 6, 2011

Physical Therapy Day: Time to Straighten Up!

In my post about the Jan. 22 Area II Meeting, I withheld comment on the Physical Therapy presentation by Dr. Jennie Stone. I withheld comment, because I was tremendously impressed and hopeful that within a few weeks I might have much more to say about her - and today I do!

Patricia at Ecogold posted videos of Jennie's Area II presentation, which are very informative...

The part of Jennie's presentation that struck me most, actually didn't make it into Ecogold's videos - Jennie made quick mention of a few riders she has worked with to correct issues that developed through injury or work posture that sounded like they were having big effects on their riding. I thought - huh, I've had that injury and I have that pain, and I have that problem... maybe there is something I can be doing to make my "normal" much less painful, stronger, and more effective. Katchi said, yes, please - make the appointment!

The 'in the saddle' assessment.
Jennie spent about 30 minutes watching me ride Katchi on the flat. Walk, trot canter - circles and straight lines. Rising and sitting trot. And some shoulder-in and leg yields. And the halt. Apparently you can't hide anything in the halt! Jennie took a series of pictures of me in the halt, from different angles. The picture here is my favorite. Stupid left leg. And its weakness effects everything from my toe turning out, leg not laying flat against the horse (can you see how much of my left leg you see in the picture compared to my right leg), doesn't stretch down properly from the hip, which shifts the pelvis, back, shoulders and... all the way to a tilt in my head! WOW! I knew I was doing something funky like this, but I had no idea it was showing up from head to toe! We also talked through various things I do differently each direction - one encouraging thing is that I actually work out of some of these issues as I get warmed up. Now that I think about it, it would have been interesting to see if the halt pictures would have looked differently taken at then end of my ride, compared to these taken at the beginning.

The flexibility and strength assessment.
Armed with 'the evidence' of my in-the-saddle issues, we moved inside to assess my flexibility and strength in very targeted muscle areas. This was quite revealing, because we could pin-point where the issues were originating from - with the objective being to the develop stretching and strength exercises to correct my curvy saddle posture.

Through all her poking, prodding, bending, and pushing - Jennie pin-pointed 2 key issues that I hope will make a big difference in my riding, once I get them under control! To be fair, she identified about 10 things, and gave me about 30 exercises - but I need to focus on the most critical ones first!

1) Weak left hamstring and glute (resulting from old knee injury - this causes the left leg to pull up from hip and rotate out in the saddle, causing the head-toe chain of events pictured above).

2) Lower trapezius - ranked about a ZERO on strength. ooops! While my other shoulder areas were weak, this one was um, well, non-existent! This muscle is key to sustaining the "shoulders back" posture of dressage and that Katchi needs to stay light on the front in his jumping. Okay, point made.

Good news is that she complimented the alignment of my head to my shoulder, hip and heel - something I've been working very hard on the past year! She also felt that my core was in relatively good shape - oh thank you Pilates for Dressage Riders dvd!!

Jennie left me with a packet of typical equestrian exercises, marked to hi-light the most important ones for my weaknesses. It's so nice to imagine that you look oh so lovely in the saddle - it's a good mental technique, but mental imaging can only take you so far when you rank a zero on the strength scale!!

I think what I'm most pleased about with this session is that I now have a link between what I see/feel in the saddle to specific causes that can be fixed. I overanalyze my show pictures and lesson videos - I see my left toe out, I see my back curve and shoulders rotate... I could have taken lots of photos of me in the halt and seen lots of things out of alignment. But, trying to force straightness would only create tension. But now realizing that so much of what is going wrong in my riding posture is linked to a few specific weaknesses - that was a revelation!

With Silva gone until April, my hope is that over the next 2 months I can begin to make some progress in straightening myself out. As I won't have any dressage lessons during this time, at least I hope this "self study" program will help me keep us moving in the right direction so that we can get even more out of our lessons when she comes back from sunny Aiken!

Jennie suggested that I have someone take more pictures of me in the halt in 2-3 months and see what things look like - I better end this post, I have exercises to do!

Thanks to Kerry for taking the pictures!


  1. How fantastic! Katchi and I are thrilled.

  2. I think what I'm most pleased about with this session is that I now have a link between what I see/feel in the saddle to specific causes that can be fixed.Thanks your it's tips.

  3. This article simply ROCKS ! That was a great read for me. keep it up with all the good work.

  4. The Benefits of a Physical Therapy Career include the intrinsic rewards of life as a PTA. In other words, you are helping people each and every day of your career, and having a direct role in. View this site for the details.