Why is symmetry so important for riders?
Do you have a feeling that it is easier to ride on the right rein compared to the left?
Or to approach a fence after a left turn compared to a turn from the right?
The third corner stone in the rider’s position is symmetry.
As humans, most of us have one dominant side and to be an effective rider you need to be as symmetrical as possible to be able to communicate successfully with your horse.
There is a common opinion in equestrian sport that symmetry in riders is desired. It has however been indicated that riders often have anatomical and functional asymmetry that could put both riders’ and horses’ health at risk.
Their own ingrained asymmetry
Both horse and rider have their own ingrained asymmetry, so everyone find it easier to turn in one direction than in the other. Every individual has their own natural crookedness. This is already apparent when we for instance as a right-hander try to brush our teeth with our left hand. Furthermore, almost everyone has a preferred leg for main support, and this affects our entire trunk and way of moving. Still, we mount the horse with our crooked structure and expect the horse to move straight, while the horse has enough trouble with his own natural crookedness.
Compensation for asymmetry
Crookedness usually has its source in the trunk while the arms and legs try to compensate for this asymmetry. A lateral deviation of the spine can trigger different ways of holding the shoulders, arms, and hands. Furthermore, restricted mobilities of one or more joints can cause crookedness of the whole body. Muscles can be shortened or be of different elasticity or strength. One-side weaknesses of a muscle group are often the reason why a rider is crooked.
When mounted, asymmetry of the trunk manifests itself most frequently in two typical posture problems: collapsing the hips or the waist. This happens mostly in a turn, when starting to canter, in lateral movements or when applying one-sided aids the wrong way.
In the case of collapsing the hip, the base of the seat is no longer loaded correctly.
As a result, the inside leg is turned more towards the outside, and the rider will try to get grip the saddle with the thigh, and sometimes also with the lower leg. The outside leg often slides forward in the turn, and the horse is no longer contained by the rider’s seat.
Collapse in the waist
When the rider collapse in the waist it is often taking place at the junction between of the chest and the lower back. When a rider for instance intend to ride a left turn, the upper body should turn left without becoming shorter. Collapsing the waist will have a stronger impact on the upper body balance since the rider often also loses tension and stability in the upper body.
One could assume that experienced riders should be more symmetrical compared to less experienced riders. However, it was found in a study that riding influences the rider’s body to become more asymmetric. The longer the riders had been riding, the larger pelvis asymmetry was found resulting in the riders’ pelvis being higher on the right side compared to the left. The right grip strength in the right arm was greater for all riders in this study, which would be expected for a right-handed population. Moreover, a trend was seen in riders with postural defects developing back and/or neck pain when then they were competing on a higher level.
Thus, the demands on dressage riders competing at higher levels may predispose then to a higher risk of developing asymmetry and potentially chronic back pain rather than improving their symmetry.
Mari Zetterqvist Blokhuis
S. J. Hobbs, J. Baxter, L. Broom, L-A. Rossell, J. Sinclair, and H. M. Clayton. Posture, Flexibility and Grip Strength in Horse Riders. Journal of Human Kinetics volume 42/2014, 113-125.
Wanless. Ride with your mind. A right brain approach to riding. Kenilworth Press Ltd.