Updated: Jul 13, 2020
Welcome to another edition of the EquiNation Blog, this week Liz Frayling writes about Neuromuscular Therapy for horse riders, I must admit before meeting Liz I had never heard about Neuromuscular Therapy and had no idea what it was or what it involved so I was delighted when Liz agreed to write a blog for us explaining exactly what Neuromuscular therapy is about.
A word from Liz
I am a Professional Dressage Rider, Producer and Coach and also a qualified Neuromuscular Therapist and Equine Sports Therapist. I compete my own, and clients horses regularly, and also produce ponies for showjumping and eventing. As a Neuromuscular Therapist (for humans) and Equine Sports Therapist I have a targeted insight into both human and equine biomechanics. This is an area that I have been passionate about for many years as I know first hand how asymmetries or weaknesses on both sides can greatly effect performance. I tailor our training plans to this effect maximising on my expertise as Therapist, Coach, and Producer. I like to focus on training with feel and softness, implementing goal setting and ultimately getting the most out of your horse in a relaxed and fun learning environment. As a Dressage Rider, Producer and Coach I constantly assess each individual horses’ way of going by examining their posture, use of their limbs, back, head and neck in order to build up strength and suppleness in the muscular system and body. But what about us as riders? Should we be making the same assessments in order to fulfil our goals?
As a Neuromuscular Therapist I have to say the answer is yes, 100%!
As a Neuromuscular Therapist and also a coach and rider myself, the targeted, specific work that I do to relieve clients of chronic pain and to rehabilitate is unbelievably rewarding. Not only because it improves quality of life but also because it brings clarity and a sense of hope for many clients. That exercise you've been struggling with for so long that it seemed out of reach now becomes achievable. Once we are on the rider pathway, the benefits of creating and implementing a rider plan then allows us to track progress and hopefully help riders’ achieve their goals.
What exactly is Neuromuscular Therapy For many of you I'm sure you are wondering, what is Neuromuscular Therapy? If I break it down. Neuro means relating to the nervous system. Muscular is relating to muscles. So if we put the two together we have essentially a technique that addresses not only the muscular system of the body but also the nervous system. Neuromuscular Therapy is a very specialised field and is different from other forms of therapy. As NMT’s we focus primarily on pathophysiology (functional changes resulting from disease or injury), etiology and the treatment of Myofascial trigger points. As a Neuromuscular Therapist I treat patients with chronic or acute soft tissue and muscular pain, injury and also soft tissue dysfunction. After assessing each client fully at the beginning of each session, I use a number of different techniques including massage, trigger point therapy, Myofascial release, muscle activation techniques and mobilisation. My role as a Neuromuscular Therapist is also that of an educator. I provide essential information to my clients about their individual needs and then equip them with exercises, insight into how their muscular and nervous system functions or needs to be more efficient, and areas to strengthen or stretch.
I work with people from all walks of life including athletes, office workers, builders, carpenters, gardeners, business owners, farmers etc. The work that I do with equestrian athletes is of particular interest because of my role as a Coach/Producer/Rider but also because it is so diverse. Riding in itself is a full body workout so that means that my work as an NMT sees me potentially addressing multiple areas throughout the body. My sessions always start with a gait and postural analysis followed by a specific treatment plan. The “problem” area for equestrians is the recruitment of the wrong muscle groups which often results in pain or tension which can lead to asymmetries. For example, I know how difficult sitting trot is for so many people. Often tension in the wrong muscle groups makes this exercise nearly impossible! Many people grip or curl their toes which begins to draw the leg up, resulting in tightening of the abductors and activation of your back muscles. What we need is in fact a relaxed leg and activation of your glutes in order to stabilise the pelvis. By activating the correct muscles I can help improve the sitting trot and straight away the wrong muscle groups will become deactivated. Another example would be a rider struggling with picking up the correct canter lead. I may find during our initial assessment that the rider is asymmetrical in the saddle, the seat slipping to one side and more weight applied on the opposing seatbone. This directly affects the horse by causing a lack of straightness and balance and ultimately incorrect canter strike off. By using a variety of techniques both static and dynamic, on and off of the horse to activate the correct muscles I am able to both correct the asymmetry and also give the riders a better understanding and feel of what we are trying to achieve.
Riders are in an interesting category because, unlike other athletes they are only part of the equation we must also look at the horse and tack. I started my training in this field years ago as an Equine Sports Therapist and am also qualified in that area. Although I no longer practice as an Equine Sports Therapist I use my knowledge of equine anatomy and biomechanics during my assessments for equestrians. I should point out that if any of these other areas need addressing I will notify the client of my findings and refer them to a professional in the field. I think that it is really important to look at the whole picture in order to fully understand and provide possible solutions. The difficult question is always when making assessments, did the horse cause the riders’ asymmetries or did the rider cause the horses’? I don't think that question will ever truly be answered!
Once I have completed my assessment and our treatment session, the rider and I are then able to come up with a plan going forward. This might include daily warm up exercises before riding, rider specific exercises on the horse, video analysis and follow up sessions. Each plan is completely individual and it's really important to have a good dialogue with the rider in case any changes need to be implemented. When the plan is used on a regular basis we start to see some amazing results in performance whether it is in training for those who don't compete or in competition.
Find out more about what Liz does at www.tooralaequine.com
or find her on the EquiNation app