A core fitness program can significantly improve rider symmetry and reduce peak pressures on the horse’s back, British research has shown.
The physical influence of the rider is increasingly being recognized as an important contributor to equine back pain and lameness, with research showing that uneven loading in particular can hurt horses.
Previous work has identified that most riders display a preference for side laterality of the pelvis and shoulders, researcher Alexandra Hampson told delegates at the recent International Society for Equitation Science Conference in Vancouver.
These findings raised the question of whether exercises aimed at promoting core strength could improve trunk angle, lateral alignment and rider symmetry – in effect, improving core stability.
Core stability refers to an individual’s ability to control the position and motion of the trunk over the pelvis, which it can be argued has the potential to affect control of the body and limbs during athletic activities.
Hampson’s research assessed the influence of an eight-week core fitness program for riders, all which was performed unmounted, on the equine back at the sitting trot.
The exercise regime was sport-specific and took about 22 minutes. The riders performed the exercises three times a week.
Hampson, from The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies at Scotland’s University of Edinburgh, Scotland, evaluated three dependent variables in her study – left-right saddle mean pressure difference, maximum total force of the saddle on the horse’s back, and equine stride length.
Ten healthy medium-level dressage horse-and-rider pairs were each fitted with an electronic saddle pad and performed two ridden tests at the sitting trot, before and after participating in the fitness programme.
All riders showed a significant improvement in their symmetry after the programme, she reported, with a decrease in left-right mean pressure differential.
Average stride length in the horses was found to increase by 8.4 percent.
Results showed that participating in the fitness program can have a significant effect on rider symmetry and reduce peak pressures on the horse’s back, she told delegates. It provided an important avenue for improving horse welfare, Hampson said.
She told delegates that while further larger-scale studies were needed, there was sufficient evidence to support the development of evidence-based, sport-specific equestrian rider fitness programs.
Hampson conducted the research with Dr Hayley Randle, from Britain’s Duchy College.