Horse & Hound – Rider Body Shape Research at Hartpury College

This session came about from a piece in the Horse & Hound comparing rider body shape to rider effectiveness:

How does your body shape affect the way you ride?

Horse & Hound – 24 January, 2013

The physical demands of a sport often dictate the dimensions of the athletes who are most successful at it. Olympic swimmers have long arms. Marathon runners are smaller than 800m runners. Rowers are tall and strong. But top riders rarely come from the same mould.

We asked riders from across the disciplines to tell us what body shape challenges they face.

Eventer Izzy Taylor, 5ft 4in.  Challenge: long thighs from hip to knee. “Compared with the rest of my short body, my thigh is quite long, but it enables me to ride both ponies and horses.” The solution: “Rather than it being a problem, having a short body and longer legs enable me to be more secure in the saddle.” Whose body (part) would she rather have? “I always looked up to Ginny Elliot because she is little, too, but I also admire Andrew Nicholson’s position and physique.”

Dressage rider Steph Croxford, 5ft 4½in (it’s very important we mention the ½!). Challenge: short arms and legs. “I was designed for rugby, not dressage, but like [her top ride] Mr President, I am a freak of nature and get by.” The solution: “It’s life and what you live with. I sit as deep as I can in the saddle when we’re doing extended trot, hang on and pray that I get to the end in some sort of shape.” Whose body (part) would she rather have? “Pretty much any dressage rider, because they all have long legs and slim bodies.”

Showjumper Laura Renwick, 5ft 8in. Challenge: long torso and weak back. “I tend to tip forward and find it hard sitting up quickly enough after a fence. I feel like my back is quite weak, too.” The solution: “I did a lot of Pilates after I broke my collarbone and it really helped to strengthen my back and my core. It’s always on my mind to keep my body upright.” Whose body (part) would she rather have? “French rider Penelope Leprovost has the perfect physique and position and always looks like she is part of the horse when she is riding.”

Eventer Louise Skelton, 5ft 1in and a bit. Challenge: short torso. “I am quite petite, which makes me slightly less strong than other riders when riding bigger horses. It’s difficult for me to look tidy when I am jumping bigger horses, too, because they throw me around.” The solution: “I train my horses so that they are responsive and don’t pull me about or get too strong.” Whose body (part) would she rather have? “Lucy Miller is taller than me and looks tidy on a horse.”

Eventer Laura Collett, 5ft 2in. Challenge: short legs. “I have to work with it because you can’t do anything about it. I suppose longer legs help with you stickability in the saddle because you can wrap your legs around the horse and cling on.” The solution: “I ride with my stirrups at a length that makes me feel secure.” Whose body (part) would she rather have? “William Fox-Pitt has VERY long legs!”

To read the full feature about how body shape affects your riding see the  24 January 2013 issue of H&H.

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I answered the call for help in the H&H and was selected to take part in the research programme.

I arrived at Hartpury College for my session and I must say that I was still feeling a little bit stiff from hunting on Saturday – so was worried about the results!

I met Jenni Douglas and her team and had all of my body sections  measured and recorded; I then had my photograph taken (2D) from front, back, left and right.  This was to enable the chartered physiotherapist to assess whether my posture changes from a normal standing position to a dynamic/moving riding position.

Then I had small ‘CGI balls’ stuck to relevant bits of my body to interact with the CGI software, and two electrodes stuck to my skin on my back and my hips to measure muscle activity.

I was then introduced to “Hercules” – the mechanical horse.  I was told that I had the longest legs of the day, they even had to move the mounting block as my feet were resting on them once I had adjusted my stirrups!  I was given a few minutes to get used to Hercules’ gaits and was then recorded with 3D filming – the filming used for CGI in movies – and my muscle activity was recorded via the software receiving data from the electrodes.

I rode Hercules in walk; sitting trot; rising trot; canter and 2 point canter.  Once the filming was complete Jenni showed me the recording – it was a bit odd, just looked like a series of dots to begin with, but once she pointed out what I was looking at it was quite cool…….

The research will be written up and ready to publish in June.  However, as a ‘guinea pig’, I will be told of my own results at the end of March/April.  Can’t wait to see what it tells me.

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