Guest post by Christine Kuhn.
Christine Kuhn has been a student of mine for a long time. In the last couple of years she has studied the influence of the fascia on the suppleness and symmetry of the rider's seat intensively. She offers riding lessons as well as seminars in which she works especially on releasing the fascia of the students in order to help them improve their seat. She has written an article for our newsletter in which she briefly describes her work. I hope you find this topic as intriguing as I do. - Thomas Ritter
In one of the last newsletter editions Thomas talked about the correlation between the asymmetries of the horse and the rider. I myself have also often noticed over the years that many horse-rider combinations show the same type of health issues, which leads us to the central issue in riding: the rider’s seat is the foundation for everything else. Only a supple, relaxed seat allows you to apply correct, fine aids. Any weakness, crookedness, or imbalance will have negative repercussions for the training of the horse or the communication between horse and rider and lead to problems. A friend of mine said the other day: “Horses have made themselves available to us.” They accompany us, are partners, and don’t carry grudges. Even after we have made mistakes they give us the great opportunity to further our development - mentally as well as physically. When we learn to become aware of our senses, to feel, to see, and to hear, our horses provide us with the great opportunity to achieve physical and mental balance. They teach us to find ourselves by observing our own behavior, our thoughts, and emotions.
But what can we do once we have identified our physical issues? I have searched for an answer to this question for many years because: merely correcting a mistake seemed to be a very short-lived solution. For instance, if I corrected slouching shoulders, the riders were only able to maintain the correction for a short period of time. During the next lesson at the very latest I had to address the same issue again.
That’s why, in 2015, I started to look for a long term solution in collaboration with a sports scientist. We were able to make significant progress by releasing the fascial tissue. It was impressive that even very simple exercises brought huge positive changes throughout the entire body. The riders ended up sitting much deeper and more relaxed in the saddle.
Fascia are the soft tissue component of the connective tissue and forms a supportive network that encompasses the entire body. Fascia surround every muscle, every organ, and every tendinous structure. They connect our entire body. Recent scientific studies have shown that fascia play a significant role in the performance of the muscles. They exert a great influence over the smoothness and precision of movements. Anatomically incorrect movements, excessive wear and tear, as well as lack of exercise can lead fascia to contract and to stick together.
A massage with a fascia roller or with balls reduces the permanent tension in the muscle fibres and helps to protect these chronically contracted or incorrectly used muscles from further damage.
The pelvis plays a central role in the supple rider’s seat. That’s why we started by releasing the fascia around the inner and outer thigh muscles, as well as the gluteus maximus (the largest and second strongest muscle in our body; pelvic stabilizer).
Our sedentary lifestyle often causes a weakening of our gluteal muscles. Other muscles then have to compensate, causing pain in the lumbar spine, the knee, the sacroiliac joint (schiatic pain), and in the groin area. It can also lead to a forward tilt of the pelvis, which results in a hollow back.
In order to create long term health we added certain stretches and muscle building exercises to the regimen. Starting with the center of the body, it is furthermore helpful to expand the fascial release in all directions until it includes the entire body.
Fascial Release Of The Gluteus Maximus
Start on the right side of your gluteus maximus. Sit sideways on a tennis ball where the right back pocket of your jeans would be. Flex your knees slightly. This point might be painful. Rotate your legs slightly to the right in order to put more weight onto the ball. Support your torso with your hand behind you on the floor. Your rib cage points towards the ceiling. Your shoulders are brought back and down. Your neck is straight. Perhaps you can do the exercise in front of a mirror or ask a second person to check your posture.
Now move the leg that is closer to the floor backward and forward again towards the other leg. The pelvis doesn’t move. Repeat this three times. Afterwards, lift the lower leg, let it sink to the floor again and bring it back to the other leg. Repeat this three times as well.
Now stay seated on the ball and make three small circular movements. Then change direction and make three small circles in the opposite direction.
Afterwards, sit on a chair. What do you feel? What does your left and your right side feel like? The right side should feel loose and warm. It may feel as if you were sitting lower on the right side. You may find another spot or two on the right side that are painful. Work on them as described above, too.
Remember the correct posture and move on to the left gluteus maximus. Afterwards sit on a chair. What does it feel like now? The massage with a fascia roller or with balls stimulates the connective tissue cells and drains lymphatic fluid. Providing the right nutrients and drinking a sufficient amount of water is therefore very important.
By working on our good posture in general, off the horse, and by working on our health issues, we can give our horse training new impulses. Finally, our asymmetries will gradually decrease more and more.
Releasing the fascia and stretching and developing the musculature leads to an enormous improvement of your health and to a straighter posture in the long run. Our balance improves, physically as well as mentally-emotionally. These are important prerequisites for harmonious relationships, mutual respect, independence, and mental flexibility. Horses teach us to become aware of ourselves. This is the foundation for a training that prioritizes harmony and lightness, and serves the physical and psychological well-being of the horse.
“Riding does not mean chasing success in front of an audience;
Riding is the dialogue with the horse in solitude,
it is striving for mutual understanding and perfection.