Hip Flexor Woes – Part 2

So what exactly are these hip flexors we’ve been speaking of, and why are they so darn important to the horse rider??

The iliopsoas is one of the very important factors in achieving a symmetrical seat. I find if the hip flexors as a group are not working well through a full normal range of motion there will be huge struggles with trying to maintain even and effective seat and leg aids. There will also be knock on effects on the upper body and aids from there also.

As you can see below, they attach to the front of the spine and the inside of the pelvis before running down through the pelvis to attach onto the inner thigh. They act to draw the knee up towards the body, and as such are a muscle group which is in a shortened position whenever we spend time sitting, either at a desk or in a car during out work days. They also play a huge role in stabilising the hip in a slightly flexed position, during many activities throughout the day.  The very act of sitting on a horse puts the hip flexors into a slightly shortened position and, especially when the true core muscles aren’t doing their fair share, as soon as the horse begins to move we begin to use the hip flexors to help keep us upright and stable over the horses centre of gravity. To add to this complex system of controlling the hip and the core, we must consider the role the gluteal muscles (your butt!) play.

When tight, the hip flexors hold the hip joint in a position of slight flexion, and this is where the problems begin. In a neutral standing position this causes the pelvis to tip forwards and the lumbar spine to be pulled into extension (an increased arch in the lower back). This looks like the first mounted position we saw in the picture in Part 1.

HIp flexor 2Lower cross

Tightness in the hip flexors is usually also associated with other predictable muscular imbalances around the hips, pelvis and lower back, the most crucial of which is a weak abdominal core and gluteal muscles and a tight lower back and hamstrings . This pattern is often referred to as Lower Crossed Syndrome and creates for the rider a position of ‘duck butt’, lack of suppleness through the lower back, knees which grip and ride up in front of the centre of gravity and a lower leg and heel which just won’t stay where it belongs.

A strong core is crucial for a riders stability in the saddle, and may be the difference between sticking that awkward jump or unexpected stop or not. It also is crucial for allowing the rider to apply effective seat aids. The sum of these imbalances cause the body to move less freely and with less control than the ideal. Often one side is more restricted than the other and this is where many cases of short-stirrup-itis and dropping your hip or tilting one way originate from.

Hip flexor 1

How does this affect your horse? From the seat alone, if one hip flexor is pulling tighter than the other, a tilt to one side is likely to occur. Looking at the shape of the pelvis in the picture above, you can see that tilting the pelvis to the side (dropping a hip/creasing at the waist) will cause one of your sit bones (ischial tuberosity) to contact the horses back more than the other. Thinking about how sensitive we hope for our horses to be to seat aids, one can instantly see the problems this might cause. The horse who always bends one way or is travelling on three tracks and just can’t seem to straighten no matter how much leg the rider applies, which incidentally feels much stronger one way than the other. The changing  or disuniting canter leads. The inability to easily find or maintain the correct diagonal in trot and the horse who looks that little bit lame on one rein in trot but not the other and no clear diagnosis of true lameness can be found.  These are just a handful of the problems created by unevenly tight hip flexors and the postural ramifications of such. When both are tight we typically see the proverbial “”duck butt” rider posture. The horse typically reacts by hollowing to escape the increased weight through the tree points and falls onto the forehand as the riders centre of gravity is thrown forward of the ideal. The horses back end then merrily trails out behind him, pretty much precluding any chance of hip engaging from behind and lifting the shoulder. His own core blows in the wind, while yours does the same up top.

duck-butt-2(Above picture from this very humorous look at one riders battle with “duck butt”- https://barnbrat7732.wordpress.com/2015/07/15/a-swiftly-tilting-pelvis/).

In part 3 we will start to look at how you can test these muscle groups in yourself and where to start to unwind this pattern so you can begin to address the associated problems in yourself and your horses performance.

 

 

Hip Flexor Woes – Part 1

How tight hip flexors (ilio psoas) affect the horse and rider.

Call Sam Sherrington on 0452 472 959 if you’d like any more information on horse and rider Osteopathy.

It’s been nearly 18 months since we covered this topic (on my facebook page. Since these posts never made it to this website I’m going to review the hip flexors again, since they’re such an integral part to getting your riding position working for you and your horse, rather than against you.

Do you find you often feel crooked on your horse? Is your instructor always shouting at you to stop tipping forwards or poking your backside out? Does your horse often land on the incorrect lead or not land straight over a fence? Is one stirrup being stretched or always feel shorter? Do you often feel like you’re always tipping forwards and can’t get your leg down and around the horse to give effective aids?

Hip flexor on horse

(Diagram source uncertain – if anyone knows where it came from do please let me know so credit can be given where it’s due!)

One big question I’m sure you’re all wondering – Why is it that so many people have tight hip flexors and an anterior pelvic tilt?

 

hip flexors seated

Surely if it’s not a biomechanically sound way to operate, it wouldn’t be the ‘go to’ posture so many people find themselves in, would it?
Lets think about what things we all might do on a day to day basis that promote short, tight hip flexors.

  • Get up from your bed and sit down to eat breakfast.
  • Get straight in the car and sit for whatever period of time it takes to get to work.
  • Spend a decent part of your day, you guessed it, sitting. Often with your legs crossed. If you’re lucky you have a job where you get to move around a lot, but even then, because our eyes are on the front of our head and our arms reach forwards there is a strong chance you do most things in your day reaching or slightly leaning forwards.
  • At the end of the day, you get back in your car, head to the yard.
  • Jump on board your favourite four legged beast having spent not a moment thinking about warming up or stretching out your own body.
  • Fight with your body and if you’re lucky, have someone on the ground shout at you to Sit up! Sit up! Stop tipping forwards! Drop your right knee! Stop leaning to the right, for goodness sake!
  • Head home and perhaps spend a bit of time on the sofa in something approaching the foetal position, mulling over why on earth you just can’t get it together on the horse, before heading off to bed to properly assume the foetal position.
    All in all, it’s a solid day of flexed hips.

Now, when you stand yourself up in between these periods of sitting and bending, your hip flexors start to complain as they’ve become quite accustomed to being shortened. So rather than happily lengthen out, they stay relatively short and instead pull your pelvis forward into a nice anterior tilt with an exaggerated lumbar lordosis. This in turn promotes short, tight lower back muscles and weak abdominal core muscles which makes your body even more likely to switch on those hip flexors to help stabilise the pelvis and lower back during unstable activities – like riding your horse 😉

So, what did you do today that would have shortened up the ol’ hip flexors?? I clipped the dog, then could barely stand upright again!

Stay tuned for Part 2, where we will look at the anatomy involved in a bit more detail and begin to consider what it is doing to you and your horse in daily work.

 

 

Dangling front legs!

How to fix dangling front legs showjumping.

Call Sam Sherrington on 0452 472 959 for further information on Human and Animal Osteopathy.

Nothing is more frustrating than a horse who suddenly begins to knock poles when jumping. A dangly front leg (or legs) can be the source of huge frustration particularly when all the schooling in the world just doesn’t seem to be working to get your horse to pick up in front. Lots of tight grids, well placed poles on an upright, leaving off the boots, using heavier poles etc. can all give a horse a little reminder that front legs are worth lifting, but what about when none of these have any long term effect and your beloved gee gee just keeps reverting to dangly, pole knocking form?

This is a problem I’d often see in both young and older horses, and often it will trace back to an actual fatigue issue.  Due to restriction in the neck/shoulder, thoracics and ribcage the horse is having to work at least twice as hard to lift the shoulder and forelimb when jumping. Those muscles can become hugely fatigued and sore and try as he might, your horse begins to leave a leg or two dangling. Other signs this could be the source of your pole knocking woes include a sudden crankiness about being groomed around the shoulder or under the girth or when being girthed up. Poor drainage from the limb might also be evident with an increase in windgalls particularly after standing in for the night, or increased heat in the lower limb after work. You may find the horse begins to dip away from the saddle even though the saddler just confirmed that it does in fact fit the horse just fine. Your farrier may complain that your horse has become suddenly a little more recalcitrant about standing on one leg for shoeing. If you attempt to stretch your horses leg out in front after girthing (which incidentally isn’t the best way to ensure no pinching and can be risky for the horse – more on that later) you may find your horse leaning back and trying to pull the leg away from you.

Horse-Muscle-Chart

So, a few boxes ticked there? What can we do about this?

Firstly it would be good to consider if your horse is showing any signs of lameness which warrant a visit from the vet.  Then ask if he is due his biannual Osteopathic (or similar) MOT. Working horses do best with a regular once over, even if all feels to be moving ok in work, often niggles from slips in the field, jolts landing from a fence or simply working hard for us can be found and trouble averted before it becomes real trouble.

Secondly, have a good, but gentle, poke and prod around the muscles around the shoulder girdle and upper forelimb (7, 11-19 in the image above) . Can you find any soreness or ropey patches through these muscles? Pick up your horses leg and bring the heel towards the elbow, then try to gently move the whole shoulder girdle and foreleg in all directions in a big circle. That is, in front, out to the side, behind, and under the body, then up towards the wither and down towards the ground. If your horse reacts to these movements or you find there are restrictions in any direction again it would be worth giving your friendly Osteo a call.

If you find tightness but no strong reaction from your horse (beware, so many of our beloved beastie are hugely stoic and pretend all is well even when they’re struggling), you can try for a week or so to use that circular range of motion as a warm up exercise to help mobilise the shoulder and see if there is an improvement in the lift over fences. If no change, again it would be worth getting an osteopathic MOT to determine if there are deeper restrictions preventing the muscles from releasing.

Finally, don’t forget to consider your own position. Are you leaning significantly to one side over fences and creating extra work for your horse? That’s something for both your instructor and also possibly your Osteopath to help with.

panam-showjump-1-7

As always, it’s worth considering if there are any signs of needing a vet. Problems in the lower limb or feet may also be worth ruling out. And, as for the best way to make sure there’s no girth pinch – a simple hand run down between the elbow and the girth will do the trick, without any risk of overstretching cold muscles.

Happy jumping, and please don’t hesitate to contact me if you’d like that MOT for your horse (or yourself)

 

Your Horses Body Type – Training to Avoid Injuries

When bringing a horse into training for any discipline, it is important to consider an individual plan aiming to get the best improvement in muscle strength, tone and flexibility while minimising the risk of injury. Anyone who has dealt with a range of horses within various disciplines, or even within one discipline alone will know that some horses seem so much more prone to injuries during training than others. Many times this can be due to the horses past work, for example ex-racers often come into their second career with variable degrees of ligament or joint damage due to the nature of their previous training. Starting with a fresh horse with a known history can be a major headstart, however every horse has his own physique and as such care in formulating a program accordingly can minimise the chance of injury.

Human professional athletes and their coaches have long considered their physique in optimising their training programs to get the best outcome from their training regimes and similar principles may be of great value in ensuring our horses perform their best. Three types of body type are widely recognised, the Ectomorph, the Mesomorph and the Endomorph. These three represent three distinct physiques, however in reality most individuals show elements of 2 or more.

The Ectomorph – The typical lanky thoroughbred type, light of bone, lightly or poorly muscled with weak connective tissue, they are long necked and small shouldered. They have small joints and relatively long legs in relation to their body size. They often carry low body fat, and are difficult to get good condition on, even with higher than average feed consumption. They are often also quite sensitive to temperature extremes and changes. Having poor natural muscle tone and weak connective tissue, this type is most prone to overtraining, and require the most care to build their strength gradually to allow them to perform without joint or ligament damage.



The Mesomorph – The athletic, well proportioned type with mature muscle, strong connective tissue and large bones. They tend to carry themselves well naturally, gain fitness and body condition readily. They are typically quite stoic and due to their inherent strength are more physically forgiving of errors in training than the ectomorphic type.


The Endomorph – Low natural muscle tone however, unlike the ectomorph, with work will gain muscle bulk readily. They have soft bodies and gain weight readily. They typically have smaller bone structure than the mesomorph, and due to their propensity to be ‘pudgy’ often resemble the typical “Thelwell” pony, with a big round body and little legs. This type are more resilient in training than the ectomorph, however require an awareness during training of the imbalance between body weight and the relatively small bone structure carrying this large body along.

Regardless of body type, basic principles of training are common to all. Following these guidelines you can help keep your horse fit and healthy while aiming for your ultimate performance goals.

  • Avoid excessive fatigue. Soft tissue injuries are far more common when muscles are fatigued.
  • Increased training should be matched with increased rest. It is during rest that significant increases in muscle strength and power are developed.
  • Resistance training increases the ability of muscle to endure hard training. Combinations of poles or cavalettis and working in varied and deeper surfaces build a horses core muscles required for support during faster and more jarring activities.
  • Introduce new work gradually. The more time the horse is given to build strength, the less likely he is to injure himself when being pushed during training or competition.
  • Train on as many different surfaces as possible. Varied ground stimulates the proprioceptors in the joints and improves the horses ability to maintain good stability when moving quickly over uneven ground.
  • Always incorporate a good warm up and cool down period to ensure maximum elasticity and power in the ligaments and muscles respectively during work, and preventing stiffness after work.
  • Professional athletes make use of manual therapists to ensure their bodies are working at their best and small injuries are dealt with before they become large problems. Your horse benefits in the same way from an Osteopathic consultation allowing his joints, muscles and tendons to work most efficiently and thus minimising the strain and risk of injury during your training and competition.
  • Do yourself the favour of considering your own balance and its effect on your horse. The daily impact of your imbalances can greatly affect your horses balance and work.

Following these guidelines will help both you and your horse work your best and pretty soon, you’ll start seeing the results in training and competition.

The Essential Jaw

Following on from our contemplations on the principles of Osteopathy, it seems natural to begin to consider some of the specific problems and syndromes that are commonly encountered in the performance horse. While focusing largely on the performance horse, the mechanical stresses in sporting dogs are often similar and principles of evaluation and treatment remain the same and may therefore be extrapolated in many cases.

I frequently have the privilege of helping horses who are showing signs of dysfunction in the TMJ – the Temporomandibular Joint. This is a fancy name for one of the most important joints in the performance horses body; the Jaw.

Symptoms that might suggest your horse is suffering from TMJ dysfunction might include localised pain or tenderness, leaning on the bit, resistance to one direction, poll flexion or one-sidedness, dropping a lot of feed or passing whole grains in his manure, ear or poll shyness, head-shaking, unexplained mild to moderate lameness especially “bridle lameness”, or generally being out of character.
Common management factors such as reduced grazing time and increased grain consumption, feeding from a raised feed trough, routine dental work, the use of various kinds of bits and nosebands can initiate or exacerbate dysfunction in this region. Injuries to the poll, pulling back or hitting the head in the stable or horse box are also common events leading to TMJ dysfunction. Conversely, dysfunction in associated regions can result in compensatory TMJ dysfunction as the horse attempts to work around discomfort in these areas.
The TMJ is an amazing joint, functionally it is involved in the simple act of chewing, the horses sense of balance, as well as being structurally linked to the rest of the body, from the upper neck to potentially as far as the pelvis. Because the function of the lower jaw requires so much movement for day to day survival, structurally it has come to be a complex joint allowing side to side movement, lengthways towards and away from the front teeth (retraction and protraction) as well as opening and closing. The structure of the joint itself is enhanced by strong connective tissue, musculature and nerve supply which supports the joint and enables the movement required. This tissue directly links the jaw to the base of the skull, the upper and lower neck and the structures through the upper respiratory and digestive system. Through the base of the skull run important cranial nerves which are responsible for many higher level functions in the head and the respiratory and digestive systems. The musculature from the upper neck functionally links the TMJ to the shoulder through both gross motor muscles and small deep postural muscles. The connective tissue of the TMJ also has slips to the connective tissue surrounding the spinal cord which ultimately ends at the level of the sacrum in the pelvis, functionally linking the jaw and the pelvis. Due to all these anatomical and functional links, the balance between the two sides of the jaw is integral to the correct functioning of all these systems. As such, when there is a loss of free range of movement and balance in the TMJ, the horse can suffer significant amounts of discomfort and ultimately loss of performance.
Osteopathically, the jaw is a satisfying structure to work with. Bringing balance to the TMJ typically triggers a cascade of improvements in many systems. Certainly, as with any other structure in the body, it is not a cure-all, however its effect locally as well as in functionally associated regions is powerful. Following release of the jaw horses will often yawn or shake their head, their expression often changes to a more relaxed and ‘happy’ demeanor. It is not infrequent to see a total relaxation of the whole horse due to the intimate links between the connective tissue of the jaw and the base of the skull and its cranial nerves. Upon walking the horse out, an increased freedom and length of gait is generally noted, due to the relationship of the jaw to the shoulder as well as the pelvic region through the spinal cord connective tissues.
If your horse is showing any of these signs it is well worth having him assessed for possible TMJ and surrounding dysfunction. As discussed, treatment can result in some huge improvements in performance and attitude. If you have experienced the days you wake up sore or with a headache and yet still have to go out and do your days work, you know how grumpy this can make you. Give your horse the benefit of being free of this kind of discomfort and you might find yourself and your horse coming ahead in leaps and bounds.