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Please help a huncher

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  • Please help a huncher

    I need a bit of help with my position, and was hoping someone here would have good ideas for me. I have always had a habit of rounding my shoulders, made worse by riding my darling little grey horse, who in all honesty was probably too small for me. I think I curled up over his withers to make myself feel smaller, so that it didn't seem like I was as tall on him. It wasn't a conscious position change by any means, rather something that just seemed to develop.

    I know ride two mares who are both much bigger than him. I do find it easier to sit tall on both the mares, but seem to resort to rounding my shoulders when I soften. It's as if I can't make my body soften without also going back into a hunch. (That particular picture is from last fall. Things have improved somewhat with me trying to be very conscientious about my position over this year!)

    It's not quite so bad on the bay mare, who is by nature softer, quieter and not as intense as the chestnut. I do however tip my shoulder forward on her a bit as well, rather than just softening my arm.

    I do think that over fences I manage to keep my back flat on both mares. Over the apex of the fence has never really been the problem, but with the chestnut, I notice that I tend to round my back badly on take off and landing. She tends to be quick off the ground, and quick to put her landing gear back down as well. I've worked really, really hard to get her soft and ridable after the fence, and to not make a bid before the fence either. This has been successful, but I still have the habit of riding in a safety seat before and after the fence with her. Keeping in mind that she is now much improved over fences, here is an example of how I end up riding her. On take off, she drops down in front of the fence a bit, I round my shoulders and get a bit ahead of her. I have take off pictures that show my hip angle much more closed than it should be, my shoulders hunched and my back rounded. Over the fence, I seem to be able to get to a good place, flatten my back and stay with her. On landing, I open my hip angle but round my back again.

    The issue isn't nearly as pronounced on the bay mare, who is much quieter off the ground. I seem to be able to wait for her to close my hip angle and don't drop my shoulder as much on take off. I do round on landing with her a bit too, but because she does everything so much more slowly than the chestnut, I am usually able to hold my back a bit flatter.

    I think the issue developed from riding the grey horse, who had a bit of a stop, plus was small enough to make me feel like I needed to curl up over his whithers a bit. It was exacerbated by the chestnut mare, who, particularly when I first started to ride her, was very quick, very hot and not very ridable. I think the hunch became a bit of a safety seat on her in anticipation of her making a bid to the fence - I would shove my leg forward, then in an effort to keep up with her and not hit her mouth, round my back and shoulders to push my hand forward on take off. On landing, the same thing would happen - I'd have the safety seat ready as I expected her to run off, but would hunch to maintain my release.

    I think I have a good understanding as to what my problem is, and why I do it, but I really need help with ideas as to how to retrain my body and muscle memory! I am a bit of a huncher by nature when I'm off the horses too, and am working very hard to pull my shoulders back all the time so it becomes more normal. It's not terrible, but it is there.

    I have been taking lessons this summer with a really excellent coach, who reminds me to just stay slow and quiet with my upper body on take off, as well as to sit up with my shoulders back on the flat (my biggest issue on the flat is that when I soften, my entire upper body collapses somewhat.). He has helped tremendously, both with my position and the horses' ridability, but I am just hoping a fresh pair of eyes might have some new insight or suggestions.

    Sorry for the novel; I just really wanted to be clear as to what I feel the problem is and where it is rooted. If you made it through the post, thank you, and thanks in advance for helping a huncher!

  • #2
    Admittedly I skipped most of your post... But what a trainer once told me was to think of a string/rope attached to both shoulders which went back and through a ring at the top of the horse's tail and then to the trainer's hands.

    Every time my shoulders collapsed, she was going to pull on the rope to get me back into position.

    The image was vivid enough that all she had to say was "I'm pulling the rope". Or, if I was repeatedly bad, she would get frustrated and say "In about 2 seconds I am going to jerk this rope so hard that you are going to come flying off that horse backwards."

    It really helped.
    "He lives in a cocoon of solipsism"

    Charles Krauthammer speaking about Trump


    • #3
      You're physically okay, right? No back, neck or shoulder problems? You could be compensating for pain or stiffness somewhere.

      My trainer just yells at me a lot.

      I'm lazy...my horse doesn't seem to mind and I don't crawl up his neck or jump ahead, so no harm done, really. But I probably should buck up and work on the problem a bit more.

      I've heard it said that rounded shoulders can be a defensive issue, either from riding a certain type of horse, or from physical issues on the rider's part.


      • #4
        I too am a huncher. I think it stems from not being taught to use my core when I was starting to ride, so I would always get pulled about.

        The real problem with hunching though, is that it puts your thoracic vertebra at a much higher risk of damage...which is what I am dealing with now.

        On the advice of my physiotherapist, I need to tighten everything up between my shoulder blades to help protect the area. As such, I now spend time every day in one of those Shoulders Back contraptions (not just when riding). I also have excercises I do at least once a day on a foam cylinder; I lay horizontally on it, with it along my spine.

        Riding with a higher hand helps too.
        Freeing worms from cans everywhere!


        • #5
          Have you tried holding the reins in one hand when you're flatting and stretching the other hand up your back? That helps me when I get into the hunching habit. Five minutes each direction and I feel a lot better when I take both reins back. It really stretches out my back and makes it easier to sit up straight. You can even jump that way.

          The other thing that helped was riding a horse that liked to flip his head up after the jumps - just so I wouldn't lose a tooth. But I don't really recommend that .


          • #6
            I do the exact same thing - pictures of me taken at the same time as yours look identical! At the apex of the jump, things tend to look pretty good - flat back, head up, etc - but I have that awful hunched-over back when I come down. I don't think I'm coming back too fast, so I assume that it's a result of me trying to stay soft on the horse, or weakness.

            As well, I am long-waisted. I do believe that this makes the problem worse, because I have a lot of upper body to control! Add that to the fact that my horse is 15.3, and I'm 5'9". She takes up my leg nicely, but I do wonder if I'm a bit too tall for her (upper body).

            What I've been trying to do is really stretch up from the core, both on the flat and over fences. I see from your flat pictures that you ride the same as me, with a hunt seat and your shoulders angled forward. I've been trying to think about pulling my shoulders away from the neck while leaving my hands in the same spot. If you put your hands on either side of the neck (touching), it will help you to leave your hands still while pulling your body away.

            Do you tend to lock your elbows? That's one other bad habit I'm working on, and I do wonder if the weird landing position is me trying to make sure I'm giving, while also attempting to keep my body back. With locked elbows, it pulls the body forward with the hands, so the only place to give is the back, causing it to turtle.

            Please let me know if you come up with any good exercises or solutions!
            I've spent most of my life riding horses. The rest I've just wasted.


            • #7
              I learned to push out my gut around where the solar plexus is. After decades of hunched shoulders this fixed me.
              The side benefit is that the shoulder joint is not jammed, a problem I had when I tried to move my shoulders back consciously.
              In an erect seat this technique "stacks" my vertebrae quite nicely.


              • #8
                Originally posted by Lord Helpus View Post
                Admittedly I skipped most of your post... But what a trainer once told me was to think of a string/rope attached to both shoulders which went back and through a ring at the top of the horse's tail and then to the trainer's hands.

                Every time my shoulders collapsed, she was going to pull on the rope to get me back into position.

                The image was vivid enough that all she had to say was "I'm pulling the rope". Or, if I was repeatedly bad, she would get frustrated and say "In about 2 seconds I am going to jerk this rope so hard that you are going to come flying off that horse backwards."

                It really helped.
                I was taught in a very similar way, was told to imagine the invisible string coming out of my shoulders and keeping me straight.

                Did you ever sing in choir as a child? I am always reminded of those days when we had to take a deep breath and raise our ribcage and then roll our shoulders back to relax. I have found this very helpful with riding.


                • #9
                  Another question...how's your posture, generally, when not riding?


                  • #10
                    Get a ShouldersBack and wear it constantly!
                    My CANTER cutie Chip and IHSA shows!


                    • Original Poster

                      Lord Helpus - That is a neat visualization, and I can see how it would help. Part of my problem comes from riding alone a lot, so I don't have eyes on the ground often to get after me as soon as I start to hunch. Definitely a good "picture" for me to imagine though when I catch myself hunched!

                      Go Fish - I think I'm physically okay. I do tend to round my shoulders a bit when I'm off the horse, but certainly don't wander around looking like Quasi Modo or anything! General stiffness could quite easily be an issue though, as when I think I've jammed my shoulders back impossibly far, I look in the mirror and see them just back nicely...

                      CHT - How does the Shoulders Back work for you? Does it make you more aware, and hold your shoulders back yourself, or are you using it as a brace instead?

                      PinkPonies - How do you mean you stretch up your back? That's a good idea too, just making sure I'm a bit looser before I start to work the horses.

                      SolarFlare - Does this mean we're not only rule buddies, but hunch buddies too? (I think I saw on the EMG thread you said you're spoiler76?) It's funny that you mentioned the exercise about pulling your shoulders back while leaving your hands on the neck - I try really hard to not lengthen my reins and pull my hands to my stomach when I sit tall, but it often feels like my arms are too short to keep my hands in place! I'm sure it's just a feeling due to softening with my body instead of my arm (I don't think my arms are any shorter than the next persons!), but it's really tough! And yes, I do like to lock my elbows, especially the left one. *sigh* It's much better that it used to be, but habits are so hard to change.

                      Jackie Cochran - I'll try that, thanks!

                      Good2Go - No, no singing for me. The imagery might help though, so thank you.


                      • #12
                        Here is what saved me:


                        Go to Shoppers Drug Mart - one with a "home health care" section and find the brace that looks like the one in the above link. I have the Shoulders back and this is waaayyyy better. Wear it pretty tight (it should be painful - I felt like I was going to die the first few times) and you will see results within a few rides. You will start to be able to tighten it more each time.

                        It actually started changing my ride in general.....I am now starting to develop more core strength because I am forced to not throw my upper body around like I did before.

                        Edited to add....I have a desk job and started wearing it during the day because alot of my problems were caused by not sitting properly. Now that I am more aware of my posture, I can ride without the brace and still remember what it feels like to keep my shoulders back.
                        Last edited by RodeoHunter; Sep. 27, 2010, 03:09 PM. Reason: forgot some stuff
                        **Member of the Ocularly Challenged Equine Support Group**


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Small Change View Post
                          PinkPonies - How do you mean you stretch up your back? That's a good idea too, just making sure I'm a bit looser before I start to work the horses.
                          What my trainer had me to is hold the reins in my outside hand and put my inside hand about in the middle of my back and reach up toward the sky. It forces you to open your shoulders and gives you a good stretch!


                          • #14
                            I have the same problem too. I think the quick horse syndrome does it, somehow hunching makes you feel like you're being softer and slower with your body. I have the ShouldersBack thing as mentioned above, however, I've only worn it....oh I dunno....twice. If you'd like to give it a try I can bring it out to the next lesson


                            • #15
                              I use the shoulder's back to give my back the opportunity to tighten up. I find it most helpful when sitting at a computer or driving in a car, as those are the times I am least aware of, and most prone to, slouching.

                              When riding, I do not brace against it...I no longer try to use the mechanics that come with slouching when riding...the slouch is pure laziness/poorly trained muscle memory. My shoulders/upper back has very little need to be strong to ride.

                              I do appreciate its support when leading or lunging an unruly horse though. It helps keep my shoulder from being wrenched quite as badly.
                              Freeing worms from cans everywhere!


                              • #16
                                I am 5'7 and have a 15hh horse. I out grew him a few years ago and stopped riding/showing him because we weren't placing well (due to the suitability factor). We have decided to sell him since hes not in use so I've started riding him again and now find it really hard to keep good posture.

                                My eq is really good on my 16.2hh mare, but man do I have to work on it with the other horse. I think switching between the two also effects it. I tend to do it the most when I get on him after riding the big mare. I've just been focusing on it A LOT when I'm riding him. It really helps keep him at a steady even pace when I keep my shoulders back.

                                I'm too cheap to invest in any type of gadget, but good 'ol practice seems to be helping a lot (I do ride almost every day though). Bad habits sneak up quickly and are awful to get rid of. Last year my heels came up and it took forever to get them back down constantly.

                                Good Luck!


                                • #17
                                  SmallChange - yes, it's me, rule-buddy and hunch-buddy! Good to see you again. Darla is looking lovely, and once again I'm sorry about Peanut. Is the bay mare the one your dad rides?

                                  RodeoHunter - thanks for the tip! I work a desk job and I know my neck and shoulders are definitely stiff from it. I go to massage therapy as well which really helps. I just might try that brace, at work and on the horse.

                                  Which also reminds me - SmallChange, do you go to a massage therapist? I see mine about every 6 weeks, because I do get really, really stiff in my neck and upper back.
                                  I've spent most of my life riding horses. The rest I've just wasted.


                                  • Original Poster

                                    Cavalo - I can narrow who you are down, but who exactly are you? Thanks very much for the offer - I'm going to look at those Shopper's braces, and if it doesn't look like it will work, I may have to take you up on your offer! (I'm not going to the next scheduled lesson. I've got grown up commitments and have to work. Boo...)

                                    SolarFlare - Thanks for the compliments and condolences. Darla and I just tried our first jumper show yesterday, which was so much fun. The bay mare actually is a lovely, lovely horse that was generously loaned to me when I lost Peanut. Dad has his own nice bay mare, which he doesn't like to share. I miss Peanut so much, but the two nice mares I get to ride are trying very hard to help fill the space he left behind.

                                    It's funny that you mention massage therapy. Hubby just started school to become a RMT. Hopefully once he's done, I can get a hold of his appointment book and schedule myself in regularly! Until then, I am just a very supportive wife who insists he studies hard and consistently - I am super willing to help him practice technique and hands on learning!

                                    Thanks so much everyone for all the suggestions. I'm honestly making notes, and hopefully can put it all to good use. This winter will be all about fixing the shoulders.


                                    • #19
                                      Two questions for you guys - I am also a huncher. Part of it is defensive, part of it is lack of strength, especially in my back. My trainer and I have been working on it, both with and without the shoulders back contraption. Improvements have been made, especially with the defensive part of it, but the lack of strength is still a major issue with the problem more pronounced the later in the riding session we go, or if I'm on a puller. Do you guys have any specific exercises to help strengthen those muscles - I feel it is mainly my back that is weak. And secondly, for those that wear the shoulders back to work, how do you do it? Do you wear two shirts? It rubs the daylights out of me unless we have a good protective barrier between it and me.

                                      Thanks in advance.


                                      • #20
                                        I work from home so just wear the shoulders back over my shirt.....not ideal for a dressy work environment though. I found the "actual" shoulders back contraption to be more uncomfortable because of the velcro, which is why I bought the one from the drug store. But the shoulders back is definitely slimmer so would be a better option for work.
                                        **Member of the Ocularly Challenged Equine Support Group**