EQ Life Masthead - 2019
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The seven deadly sins

This article has appeared previously with Equestrian Life. To see what's in our latest issue, click here.

Ian Northeast.

Ian Northeast working with a patient.

Photo supplied.


We lift hay bales out of barns, saddles onto horses, poop out of yards, sleep on one side, write with one hand and cross our legs to one side. It’s no wonder we might not be the symmetrical athlete we feel we are. Learn to recognise the “seven signs of an imbalanced rider”.


WE ARE “SIDED” humans, beings that have a dominant hand, eye and leg. This has had many evolutionary advantages such as specialisation of functions of different hands/legs and brain regions. However, for us riders it has left perfect symmetry a little harder to achieve. Despite this, top athletes from all fields are embracing the performance benefits of having trained professionals assist with aiming for symmetry of function. That’s why Tiger Woods hits balls with left-sided clubs after a round of golf; it’s why Roger Federer trains with resistance cables on his left-handed forehand in an attempt to lessen the imbalance between his significantly stronger right-handed forehand.


Ian Northeast.

“But I feel fine and balanced,’’ you say. I know, I get it. It’s the way we are wired. We are wired to adapt which means when there is a stimulus that is consistent then our brain will tune out to it. Just like the horse of a rider who has a leg that is constantly asking, asking, asking, that horse eventually tunes out to that leg. This means that if you put a small insole into one shoe and not the other, after a few hours you will find yourself forgetting about it for periods of time. Don’t worry, your knees, hips and back will soon start reminding you!

What this means is that how we feel isn’t always an accurate representation of how we are functioning.

Here are seven signs of an imbalanced rider:

1)    Observe the rider when standing. Does she/he tend to put more weight on one leg/hip? Does she/he allow the pelvis to anteriorly rotate (belly goes forwards and bum goes backwards, creating an exaggerated low back curve)?

2)    Observe the rider when when walking. Is she/he walking with one foot lightly pointing in or out more that the other? When walking, does one hip drop or rotate backwards when viewed from behind or one shoulder sit high?

3)    Observe the rider when in the saddle. Is the rider’s weight over the centre of the horse? Are the legs hanging evenly down when viewed from in front/behind?

4)    Check out the soles of your footwear. Are the heels wearing in the same spots to the same extent? Is the mid-foot and toe wearing evenly?

5)    Stand with your back against a wall and your knees locked straight. Try sliding your right hand down the outside of your right leg as far as you can whilst keeping your bum, shoulders and head against the wall, and then compare to the left (have someone mark on your leg where you reach).

6)    Check your stirrup leathers. Is one side stretching consistently more than the other?

7)    Stand on one leg, close your eyes and time how long you stay balanced for. Then try the other side. Much difference?


Ian Northeast.

Firstly, have someone observe these points on you and give you constructive feedback. Then, take note of others at a rally, a competition, training day or when simply walking down the street. As horsemen and women, we have an eye trained to looking at a horse’s conformation and gait/movement. Try transferring those skills to people and I believe you’ll be surprised at your success at being able to pick imbalances up. Observe the people jogging down the street, at their feet that swing sideways in an uneven fashion, at the way their shoulder on the left sits four centimetres higher and the right arm swings around more than the left. These are all changes that happen with imbalance.

Now imagine what is happening to the horse underneath you. Is it any wonder that we have a little more difficulty asking for lateral flexion to one side, picking up a certain canter lead, the straightness of our centre line? We have decades of accumulated knocks, bumps and falls which can lead us to sitting on our horses like a pretzel. We tend to service our disposable cars more often that our bodies which are to last us our lifetime!

The good news is that just like we became imbalanced, we can also become balanced. Find a chiropractor or osteopath you can build a solid relationship with, find a physiotherapist doing quality clinical Pilates. Once you’ve got your team, pick their brains. Tell them your symmetry of function is vital for your performance and your sanity! Let them know your ability to ask with the left rein with what you think is 200 grams of pressure needs to be the same as when you ask on the right rein with 200 grams of pressure. This can be achieved! Just like getting strong at the gym, or building your horse’s topline, this takes time and effort. But, oh, what an advantage you’ll have!


Ian Northeast.






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