Twisting in the saddle is a common problem for riders, and one of the most challenging to identify. At its simplest, it looks like a rider whose upper body is turned to one side when they are intending to be straight, but twisting leads to asymmetry from head to toe. Sometimes we mask these symptoms of a twist by correcting leg or hand positions, but that often leads to stiffness and discomfort for both horse and rider.
Twisting is mainly caused by muscle imbalances in our body – weak and/or tight areas that prevent us from moving equally on both sides. Everyone has some asymmetry to begin with, and it is often worsened by injuries or pain. Correcting these imbalances is particularly challenging on horseback, since horses have asymmetries of their own.
The following exercise will help you identify asymmetry in your body and train your muscles to help you resist twisting while riding.
Start by sitting in a chair. Secure a resistance band around a stable surface so that the band is roughly at elbow height, as shown in photo 1. The goal is to have your hand in approximately your riding position, with the band mimicking your rein. From this position, draw your elbow backward, as in photo 2.
The goal is to keep your body relatively unchanged while you pull on the single band. The force you are applying with your single arm will try to twist you to the side. It’s normal to notice a small shift forward in your seat bone and a small lift-up of your shoulder blade on the side you pull with. Otherwise all the movement should be in your shoulder and elbow joints.
You can also do this exercise in standing, as in photo 3. Standing is typically easier for your back, but more challenging for your legs, so switch between these two exercises depending on what works best for you.
It can also be done while standing on one leg, like in photo 4. This becomes a very challenging exercise for stability and body control. Try it on either leg. If you find yourself struggling with body symmetry, return to standing or sitting to strengthen your basics first.
Spend about two minutes practicing this exercise with both hands in turn. Sometimes the more challenging side is not the one you expect. Swapping back and forth can help you to feel the differences between your left and right sides. Pay particular attention to any areas you commonly struggle with while riding, such as your heels or shoulders. A mirror can help with this process.
This exercise improves your postural awareness and helps you strengthen your body, making it easier to correct your position in the saddle. Once you are on horseback, see if you can feel these same asymmetries and focus on the corrections you applied off of your horse.
Performing this exercise may make you aware of asymmetries you didn’t know about, or issues that are very difficult to correct. Twisting is a complex problem for riders, so don’t be afraid to get help. A physiotherapist can help identify and correct the root causes of your issues. This helps you to achieve greater symmetry in your riding, which both you and your horse will appreciate.