Rider Synchronicity - how well do you move with your horse?

Synchronicity is the ease with which the rider and horse move in combination and is often described as “horse and rider harmony”. Increased synchronicity with the horse’s movements is observed in advanced riders (Peham et al 2001, Wolframm et al 2013, respectively) and is show in Figure 1 and Figure 2 below.

As you can see by the more concentrated circles on the left, a lower degree of variation is observed in the expert rider. Similarly, on the right image, the novice rider shows greater movement in the upper body than the expert rider – shown by the grey dots being more to the middle of the graph. Interestingly, the expert rider’s heels move a lot and are much further towards the middle of the graph than the novice rider. However, the ability to move the heels and not the rest of the body, is obviously a difficult skill which requires practice and patience, but it definitely something which will increase your ability to ride in harmony with your horse.

However, we are all different: Munz et al (2013) compared the movements of two advanced riders’ pelvises on the same horse and noticed significantly different movements in the cranio-caudal and medial-lateral axis (p<0.05). This suggests individual variation is present in all riders and so each horse and rider combination will all move differently. This is not a problem if the horse and rider are symmetrical, but biomechanical restrictions in the joints and muscles are likely to predispose the rider to lower back pain, which in turn will affect how the horse is moving.

Left Figure 1: Area of phase plane in horse-rider systems with respect to angle vs angular velocity (top) and angular velocity vs angular acceleration (bottom) in professional (left) and recreational (right) riders (Peham et al, 2001)
Right: Figure 2: Movement of each rider's joints in Expert (right) and Novice (left) riders. Note the small variation in Expert’s upper body but great increase in heel movement compared to Novice (Lagarde et al, 2005)

 Synchronicity not only looks pretty, but it is important for you and your horse’s comfort. Whilst poor ability to ride in harmony with the horse has not been directly linked with rider lower back pain, it is not difficult to see how it affects your horse. The phase cycles of a horse trotting in hand (without a rider) is more similar to when a horse is ridden by an expert rider than a novice. Thus, if you are not riding in harmony with your horse, you are negatively influencing his stride length and ability to move freely. Combine this with a crooked rider and a poorly fitting saddle and it is no wonder many horses suffer from shuffling gaits and the inability to move forward freely.

As riders we need to constantly focus on ourselves and try to do aids with as little movement as we can so that we can sit in time with the horse. Riding without stirrups (possibly on the lunge), is a great way to develop your seat and should be done regularly (if safe to do so). The Cadre Noir have to do this for 3-6 months before they are allowed to pick up the reins, which puts it in perspective!