With focus on performance, health and wellbeing
”Postural Stragies in Skilled Riders” is the title of Maria Terese Engell’s PhD doctoral thesis that she defended with acclaim at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences’ Department of Anatomy, Physiology and Biochemistry, in 2018. Professor Lars Roepstorff was the main supervisor, and Hilary Clayton, Agneta Egenvall and Anna Bergh co-supervisors. This Phd research project was funded by Ulla Håkanson`s Stiftelse (see Research). The dressage legend Ulla Håkanson is a double Olympic Team Medallist who still contested the Swedish Dressage Championships this year at 80 years old.
The aim of her thesis was to analyze the intersegmental postural strategies of the foot, pelvis, trunk and head in skilled riders. To understand if there is an association between what the riders are doing unmounted versus mounted, the riders were tested under three conditions: riding, walking and rocking a balance chair. 3D high-speed motion capture and inertial measurement unit techniques were used.
Riders kinematics were compared between passive (loose reins) and active (more collection) riding situations. Most of the riders applied increased pressure on the withers area during active riding and with increased collection of the horse. This is interessting since the main goal is to lift the forehand of the horse and tranfer weight to the hindpart, but the riders were placing maximum pressure on the withers of the horse.
Furthermore, associations were found between intersegmental postural strategies while riding, sitting on a balance chair, and walking. The results suggested that highly skilles riders are highly asymmetric in their movement patterns, both when seated unmounted and during riding. They also showed the same type of movement asymmetry when comparing unmounted versus mounted. That means that it is the rider himself that causes the movement asymmetries presented, and not the horse provocing them.
The equestrian world puts a lot of focus on the horse being balanced and even. But how balanced and symmetrical is the rider? Many riders have ingrained, assymetrical body patterns that they are unaware of, and that in turn has a (usually negative) influence on the horse’s balance and evenness. Our scientific work are characterizing the postural strategies of the rider´s seat, analysing the individual body segments and enhances the possibilities to train rider body awareness. The long-term goal is to improve horse-rider performance. The system also has the scope to improve orthopedic health in both the horse and rider. The results from this thesis shows promise in aiding this development.
One hallmark of research is that what you learn in one project result in new ideas and new avenues to explore in further projects, We continue the never-ending and fascinating research project of understanding horse-rider interaction in more detail. WE have received new founding by Ulla Håkanson`s Foundation, and will continue this work by testing and analyzing the best riders worldwide. Follow us and get the newest updates on the scientific results.