What Causes Weight Gain And Pain In Lower Back Sid3S Seat Bone Symmetry – Sit Right in the Middle of Your Saddle!

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Seat Bone Symmetry – Sit Right in the Middle of Your Saddle!

Asymmetry in riders is very common. Whether to a large or small degree, few of us ride with equal weight in each seat bone. We distribute our weight more in one stirrup or more in one seat bone and that affects our horse’s balance and ability to respond to our aids. When placing or standing in the stirrups, it can be even more difficult to stand evenly in both stirrups. If your saddle chronically lists to one side, even though you feel like you’re in the middle of your horse, you’re riding out of balance. And when other riders say you’re in the middle and you feel, hmm, crooked, out of balance? Yes, you are not used to riding straight and you need to retrain yourself to ride balanced weight on both seat bones. Does your horse take one lead more easily? Circles one way with ease and the other way falls in or out? Are your spins or pirouettes stuck in one direction? Again, chances are you’re not riding in the middle of your horse. If you don’t believe me, hoist an unevenly loaded backpack on your back and just walk around. You will experience firsthand the compensation you need to balance under an uneven load. Try carrying that uneven load 5 days a week for an hour and you will experience how easy it is to strengthen yourself in a pattern of asymmetry.

If you ride the same horse evenly on one side for years and years, your horse will suffer. He will have to compensate and will become stronger to support your uneven distribution of weight. This will cause back pain, wear and tear on joints and uneven muscle development. It can eventually cause lameness. Improper riding affects your saddle, causing it to rotate, and creating saddle fitting problems. If you habitually carry more weight on one foot or one sit bone and then do strengthening or exercise regimens, you will reinforce your natural asymmetry, making it harder to find the place where you sit in true balance.

Like many or most people, you don’t have a reliable sense of your own symmetry and balance, not because you can’t, but because life happens! We change, we get hurt, we compensate and uneven starts to feel good. Your senses have adapted to being slightly off balance and so it feels normal to put more weight on one foot. Maybe you had an injury and it caused you to stand with more weight on one leg. Or maybe as a teenager you developed the habit of standing more on one leg, with your hip bent. Maybe it’s that heavy bag that’s constantly slung over one shoulder that has caused you to use one leg more than the other. Whatever the reason, your entire organization has adapted to this off-kilter attitude and your muscles and brain support it. Even though your saddle and your horse will tell you that you are off balance, your brain will tell you that you are not. You may even want to blame your horse or blame the centrifugal forces of riding on circles. The strange thing is, if you stand or sit on your horse for a moment, it will feel really weird. You have to relearn lateral balance.

Crookedness, saddle slippage, finding it difficult to get your horse to a certain lead, or promoting your horse’s movement are all signs of lateral imbalance. They all cause tension in your horse and are counterproductive to the goals of a well-trained, balanced mount, whether in the arena or on the trail. Yet many of us do these things every time we drive. So, if we can feel balanced when we’re not, is there hope? Can we develop and improve our ability to move equally well in both directions, and feel when we do this?

The good news is YES! Yes, you can improve your sense of balance and get stronger at any age!

How is this done? First recognize that the long/support/strong side will be the side you tend to sit on when you ride, the side your saddle tends to list, and the side of your stronger leg. It’s not true for everyone, but that’s the tendency. Your bent side and bent leg should be organized for strength and support, from foot to head. Experts in movement education and body mechanics can help you with this. You will even out your side-to-side balance if you use your weaker or contracted side more. You will gradually gain strength and flexibility necessary for symmetrical organization. If you feel you need strengthening exercises, they should be done with a self-organization that helps you become functionally symmetrical – not in your old patterns.

I use the techniques of Moshe Feldenkrais because I have found them effective in drawing people out, increasing awareness of symmetry and helping people move efficiently from their center. Other somatic disciplines such as Alexander or Hanna work can also help. Once we have learned to sense when we are balanced by our spine with strong, efficient support, our arms feel light and our breathing is easy. As a result, when we go to the gym or ride our horse, we can exercise in a way that strengthens this balanced position. If we also improve our awareness, our balance, coordination, agility and freedom of movement will improve. Even if we come straight, our horse may still be stiff in one direction. Over time he will adapt to your symmetrical balance and become more himself, more ready to take either lead or let you post on either diagonal.

Here are some simple starters loosely based on what I’ve learned from the work of Moshe Feldenkrais on how to improve your driving by improving your posture, awareness and movement:

1) Test your standing lateral balance and support. Stand on one leg and discover which leg you wobble on. Can you stand on one leg and reach for the sky equally easily on both sides? Do your ribs extend equally on each side? Look in the mirror and check the alignment of your foot, knee, point of hip on each side. Check the length of your ribs and see if your sternum (breastbone) is in the middle of your ribs and shoulders. Also check to see if your head tilts to one side. Once you can easily balance flat-footed on each side, slowly start to come up on your toes and gradually lower, staying tall and stable. If you can stand on it with just a light touch on the wall for support and stand on your toes, you have started to find your balance on that leg!

2) Test your seated lateral support. Find out which sit bone carries more weight. First, find your sit bones by sitting on a firm flat chair or bench and place your fingers under your bottom and find the bones you are sitting on. If they are not the same shape, that is an indication that you are not sitting symmetrically. Make a slight shift to weight one sit bone. Do you lean or bring your ribs over to get your weight over them. Try the other side, keep your head in the middle and stay long in your torso, without lifting a shoulder or a foot. Can you shift your weight to both sides equally well? As you develop symmetry, you will find it easy to weight each sit bone equally.

3) Find your bendable side. Stand forward, feet hip width apart and slide your right hand to your right foot. How far does it go easily, without tension? And on the left side, do you easily bend further or not so far? Try side bending in sitting. Do you twist something while bending? Which part of your ribs bends the most? Which sit bone has more weight? Like a horse, one side is usually more pliable and the other side is stiffer and more supportive. When you gain lateral balance, you will learn to support yourself equally through both sides of your ribs.

4) Check your turning tendency. Do this while sitting and standing. Turn slowly to one side a few times and find out what point your eyes are looking at. Try the other side. Is the height of your gaze the same on both sides? What happens to the weight in each foot or sit bone? Do you detect weight changes when you turn? If you develop the ability to easily turn to both sides, you will find your horse better.

5) Find your sitting-rising-sitting habit. When we trot or stand in our stirrups, we can be balanced while sitting, but go to one side when we rise. If we post or stand on our stronger leg, every time we get up our horse must adapt to our shift in weight. Practice holding your own weight through both sides as you stand up and sit down. You can practice on a physio ball, one hand on your pubic bone and the other on your sternum, stand up and sit with your torso in the middle of two balanced legs. You can stand on two bathroom scales to check this as well.

6) Visualize, in your mind, sitting in the middle of your horse. Visualization is a powerful performance tool for any athlete. A rider’s basic position is balanced weight on both seat bones with legs draped on each side of your horse. Start seeing riders who are really in the middle (they aren’t always the top riders – in jumping I’ve noticed that kids are often more centered). Visualize yourself centered, a line through your body and your horse with equal weight and support on each side.

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