3 pillars of positive posture for horseback riders

Holding up 3 fingers

Photo courtesy of stockimages, freedigitalphotos.net

Effortless posture, or what I call “posture that works for you”, isn’t just about the position you place your body in. It starts from the inside out and involves 3 things. Structure—your musculoskeletal system; how you deal with ever-present stress, and strategies for finding and renewing freedom in your body.

Good posture is a continuing journey of awareness.


Bones, muscles and soft tissues

The similarities between the structure of humans and horses are pretty remarkable, and being aware of them can help rider and horse work better together. Horses and humans both have a poll (or head/neck joint) and a topline (spine). Ideally both are free of tension so the body’s parts can move without hindrance and rider and horse can move as one.

Tension pulls your structure out of whack

Tightness in the horse’s poll creates hollowness in his topline and tension throughout his body. At the same time, tightness in a rider’s head/neck joint creates hollowness or collapse in her spine and tension throughout her body, even if she doesn’t realize it.


On the other hand, freedom in the horse’s poll or head/neck joint allows length and suppleness in the topline, and a free head/neck joint allows a moveable lengthened spine in the rider.

If both horse and rider are free, both are happy, but if horse and/or rider are rigid or hollow, the ride doesn’t go very well.

Horse and rider are both susceptible to the effects of the fight-or-flight reflex as well.


React or respond?

The fight-or-flight reflex shows up as stress in horses and humans. It creates lasting physical effects, like stiffness, discomfort and holding the breath unless we know how to deal with it.

Why mention stress as a positive aspect of posture? Stress isn’t exactly positive, BUT it’s always going to be there, so we have a choice. Will we react automatically or choose to respond? A knee-jerk reaction vs. using strategies to create an positive outcome.

Fight-or-flight (also called the stress reaction) is a universal reflex in any animal with a spine. It’s located in a primitive part of the brain, so it turns on without the rider being consciously aware of it.

For horses, it makes their poll tense up and stiffens their body, causing a hollow back. For riders, the fight or flight reflex has the exact same effect. It tenses their head/neck joint, stiffens their body, causing collapsed or braced posture.


The fight-or-flight reflex becomes a habit because the body can’t distinguish between danger (getting eaten by a tiger) and day to day stress (I have to clean all these stalls before I leave for work at 8 am).

The reflex gets habitually “switched on” and tension and poor posture start to feel normal.

Your stress reflex is probably stuck on if

  • Your posture is slumped or braced
  • You still have stiffness from an old injury that “healed” a long time ago
  • You’re in pain
  • You have a stiff neck, shoulders, hips or legs
  • You feel rushed
  • You feel anxious


Undoing stress and stiffness

The good news is there are several simple strategies to begin undoing the effects of chronic tension, pain and compensation in the body. One of them is called Active Rest. Active Rest helps you release unconscious tension and stop holding your breath. If you practice it daily you can see real results. You’ll feel supple, stress-free and “more like yourself”. One of my clients even says it helps her sleep better at night!

Join me for a no cost online class called The Key to Rider Suppleness and learn Active Rest Wednesday March 9 6:00 – 6:45. For more information, click here. Can’t wait to see you there!

About Emily Clark

Feel free to use this article in your newsletter or on your website or blog. Just make sure to include the bio and link below at the end of the article.

Emily Clark, of TheSuppleRider.com, is an Alexander Technique Certified Instructor who teaches horseback riders of all disciplines to eliminate pain and improve their posture so they can ride as one every ride.

She’s worked with equestrians for over 11 years. She loves working with riders because they’re so passionate about what they do.

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