by Wendy Murdoch
Do you have trouble steering your horse or he throws up his head when you use the reins? Do your shoulders feel stuck or jammed or your upper body tips forward or your back arches even when you
try to stay in a good alignment? The source of your problems may be how you are using your arms to communicate.
The next time you ride notice where you carry your hands. Do you have them close together in front of your stomach or are they wide apart? Is one arm held away from you’re your side and/or the other pinched in? When you turn do you take your elbow away from your body or in towards your stomach?
Either position (wide or too narrow) can cause stiffness in the rest of your body and create an unstable riding position. Experiment with taking your elbows even further away or closer together to feel what happens in your neck and shoulders when you are in these different positions.
Holding your elbows wide or narrow requires more muscular effort than if you let the forearm hang.
Holding your elbows away from your body or tightly pinched with forearms and hands close together requires extra muscular effort in the shoulders. Your upper arm or humerus meets your scapula (shoulder blade) in a very shallow ball and socket joint. The shoulder blade forms the socket and the top end of the humerus forms the ball. This is similar to your hip joint, but the socket of the shoulder is much shallower meaning there is less of a cup for the humerus to sit in.
This shallow cup arrangement is terrific for being able to reach for something or lead your horse. However it is not very stable and requires a lot of ligaments and muscles to keep the joint together. Therefore, holding your elbows wide or narrow requires more muscular effort than if you let the forearm hang.
Horses have a similar arrangement where the shoulder blade and upper arm meet. There is one major difference however. The horse’s socket is much more distinct and restricts movement in the shoulder joint primarily to a forward and backward swing of the limb. Imagine if a horse could raise his leg out to the side the way we do with our arm! This would make the horse very unstable and most likely unrideable because he might wind up doing the splits with his front legs.
To find a relaxed position for your upper arm let gravity help you. Find that that place where your upper arm hangs almost straight down. Then simply by bending at the elbow your hands will be in front of you for holding the reins. If you need more stability (i.e.: your horse is trying to pull you out of the saddle) ‘Velcro’ your upper arm to your sides (not pinched but hugging) you will find that it takes less shoulder effort to keep your arms in place. This will not only decrease the tension in the reins, which your horse feels in his mouth, it will also help you be deeper and more secure in the saddle.
When you ride let your elbows nestle by your sides, your body conformation will determine exactly where the elbows touch your sides. If you have a short waist and long upper arm you may even be able to rest your elbows on the top of your pelvis, where your belt sits. If you have a long waist and short upper arms you might feel mostly your ribcage under your upper arm. Look for the place that is comfortable and takes less effort.
Use this Murdoch Minute as a ‘body position self-check’ to find a relaxed comfortable upper arm position. By decreasing the tension in your shoulders you will have better communication with your horse. Every once in a while observe your shoulders to see if you are tensing, then reposition your upper arms and see if it helps. And remember – enjoy the ride!
Wendy Murdoch is an international riding instructor/clinician. She travels worldwide teaching riders of all levels and disciplines how to improve the horse’s performance by improving their body position. Visit http://www.murdochmethod.com to learn more.
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