Even very active riders can struggle with their posture, because riding encourages you to stabilize your shoulders by becoming rigid through your middle back. This means that riders at any level can struggle to avoid slouching in the saddle.
The problem with slouching is that it causes unnecessary tightness in many areas of your body. When you are sitting with good posture, your head is balanced over your shoulders and hips. Slouching throws this balance off, creating more work for the muscles of your shoulders, back and neck. However, working too hard to correct your posture when your body is stiff also causes similar problems. In turn, this tension makes it harder to follow the movement of your horse. Therefore, the goal is to achieve good posture without major effort.
Ys against the wall
The three versions of this exercise are great for helping you to identify and correct your posture. Pay attention to what you feel in your entire body as you do this exercise. Exercises against the wall are particularly helpful for body awareness, since it gives you feedback on how straight your back is.
For all three versions, start with your back against a wall. Bend your knees and place your feet away from the wall. Use your stomach muscles to subtly flatten your low back. Next, gently bring your head toward the wall, like in photo 1. The goal is to have the back of your head and shoulders touching the wall, without hollowing your low back or tipping your chin up.
If middle back stiffness is the primary driver for your slouching, then this position may be challenging enough for you. Comfortably stretch in this position for one to two minutes per day, moving on to the more advanced versions when this becomes easy.
The second version of this exercise challenges your shoulder flexibility. Bring your elbows and hands back to touch the wall, like in photo 2. You still want to keep your back flat, chin tucked and head back, like in the first exercise. The goal is to have both your hands and elbows touching the wall, but it’s okay to have your hands a few inches forward to begin with. Use this position to stretch out your shoulders as well as your middle back, also for one to two minutes.
The third and toughest version of this exercise incorporates movement, allowing you to identify and correct weakness. Slide your hands up the wall until you are in a “Y” position, like in photo 3, then back down to the position in photo 2. Alternate between the two positions, moving slowly and gently for about two minutes. This will help you to strengthen your shoulder and middle back muscles, making it easier to hold your improved posture.
These exercises can tell you a lot about your body and why you may be prone to slouching. They should all be pain-free, so you may have to be gentler or choose an easier version if you find it very challenging. However, many riders have persisting stiff areas in their shoulders and middle backs, often from previous falls. If that’s the case for you, then it’s worth getting assessed and treated by a physiotherapist. They can help you to be much more specific in your stretching and strengthening, as well as use manual therapy to target specific points of stiffness or pain. This can make a big improvement to your mobility and comfort.