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How To Stop Rounding My Shoulders

Panel Experts: Olivia Loiacono and Bernie Traurig

Submitted by member: Katie

I regularly show in equitation, and my base of support is good. My biggest problem area is my upper back and shoulders. I have a tendency to round them when I ride. Do you have any recommendations for exercises to achieve a flatter back?

Answer By Olivia Loiacono

This problem is mostly a muscle memory issue. You probably have the tendency to sit this way even in a regular chair! Changing muscle memory takes time, you need to be willing to spend many hours working on your posture until your muscles “re-program” to the “shoulders back” position.

A good way to practice your posture while riding is through lunge lessons. For this particular issue, I have my students ride with a dressage whip held behind the back through the elbows. This will force your shoulders back. It is important to do this only on the lunge line, because when you are in control of the reins you will want to be following and relaxed in the elbows. This exercise restricts movement of the elbows slightly, but really focuses on a good upper back. Try starting each ride out this way for 10 minutes and you’ll see great results.

In addition to this, you should work on your core strength. When we ride it is easy to be pulled forward. Rather than fighting this all with your shoulders and rounding your back, you should find strength in your stomach muscles so that your arms (particularly elbows) can be soft and fluid with the horse. My favorite exercise to work on core strength is the “Plank” (check it out on google if you’re not sure how to do this). Start by holding plank for 15 seconds X 4. Build up to 30 seconds X 2, and then finally 1 minute planks. You’ll soon develop a really great core.

Answer By Bernie Traurig

The first thing I’d suggest is to focus on your eye level. Keeping your eyes up can help a lot, as your shoulders often “look” where you are looking. Also yoga and cross training are great ways to strengthen and stretch your shoulders so that you can open them up while you’re riding.

Robin Martinez of Blackjack Fitness has a great topic that shares exercises specifically designed for the unique requirements of an equestrian athlete including one on how to help riders with their posture. Click here to view the video topic: Riding Specific Exercises for the Gym

We also have a topic by Val Renihan on the many benefits that are achieved with lunge lessons; including enhancing the rider’s feel, strength and flexibility. In this lesson, Val explains different exercises that increase the rider’s stability in the tack, encourage the independence of the arms and seat, and build suppleness and core strength. Click here to view the video topic: A Lunge Lesson

Cynthia Hankins also lends advice on exercises to do on the flat to combat common faults, like rounded shoulders, that riders often inadvertently acquire. Click here to view the video topic “Form Follows Function”.

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Olivia Loiacono

After years of training, riding, and competing all over the world, Olivia decided to bring her knowledge and experience back to the Southern California eventing community. She now runs OKL Eventing. Bringing young horses through the levels and teaching all stages of eventing are Olivia's specialty and primary focus. During her free time Olivia enjoys giving back by contributing to Pony Club and helping to grow the local eventing community. Ultimately, Olivia is working to build up a team of competitive top level event horses to represent the United States in international competition.

Visit Olivia's website for more information:

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