Physical therapy clinic for equestrians

A couple weeks ago, Pony Paddock hosted a clinic with Tanya Olson of Centaur Rehab., LLC.  Tonya is a physical therapist who specializes in movement of horse and rider together.   She is a former rider, which gives her the ability and special insight to help riders improve their performance and harmony within their relationship.  Most importantly, she understands the demands of the riders.  And the subtleties needed to communicate with our horses.  She was recommended by my vet, Dr. Erica Lacher of Springhill Equine.

First, Tonya spent 90 minutes with each of us.  She did an evaluation on the rider first, where we had to do squats, one legged squats and squats with a broom handle known as barbell squat thrusters.  We did this exercise with a bottle of hand sanitizer called a goblet squat.  Which was kind of fun because of covid 19 hand sanitizer was in a big vodka bottle. We did all of this in our gazebo. (Our gazebo is where the adult students of Pony Paddock have Friday happy hours.  Totally appropriate that we would be exercising with a liquor bottle.)  The squats made the participant recognize how flexible or not so flexible they are.  All of the exercises made us use our core and legs. 

After the squats we sat on a yoga ball.  We placed our hands on our knees and then tried to lift each leg.  I was amazed that one leg was really easy to lift. And didn’t make the rest of my body twist and turn.  The other leg, I had to contort my upper body to get my foot off the ground. 

I was totally unaware that I used the different sides of my body so awkwardly. My horse has been trying to tell me that I had this problem for some time now.  This is why I don’t have a canter pirouette to the left.  

We spent some time recognizing these habits and trying to reprogram our bodies to lift each leg the same. 

Some participants remember old injuries that they had been compensation for and had never trained out of. One participant’s horse could not canter a 20-meter circle.  Turns out she has had several injuries over her life. All on the left side.  So she is have to “rewire” her brain to allow her to use her left side. 

I know that we have to “retrain” our horses after an injury.  But somehow, I never thought that I would need to do the same thing.  Our bodies learn to compensate for injuries and if we don’t train out of that our body will continues to work as if that injury is still there.

Tonya also had us try to lift both legs at the same time.  Holy crap that is hard.  Don’t forget you have to do this sitting on a yoga ball.  Ok you, yoga people maybe laughing, but I was not. I always thought I had good balance but that tested my limits.

Anyway, these exercises helped with our proprioception.  Proprioception is the perception or awareness of the position and movement of your body.  Yep, that’s a big part of what we riders struggle with.  We think we are doing one thing but in fact we are doing something totally different.   

So, I have been having problems with my left lead canter pirouettes.  When I say problems, what I mean is, I really don’t have one.  We just spin around.  And judges don’t like that.  It turns out that I have no idea where my left seat bone is. And the way I have to move to use that seat bone is totally different than I had thought.

After doing all this stuff on the yoga ball, we then got on our horse and tried to duplicate the movements.  We rode with no stirrups and started at a walk.  Because our horses had to also relearn and unlearn all the crazy crap we have been trying to put on them.  

What a difference knowing where your seat bone are makes.  Who knew!  The inside hollow rein is really a thing. Did you know that when you don’t collapse on your left side your horse can feel your seat bones? And he is then happy to turn without collapsing with you.  Amazing….

Tonya Olsen, DPT, Centaur Rehab., LLC

Dr. Erica Lacher, Springhill Equine.

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