Bad Habit Breakers—Gadgets to Fix Common Riding Problems
Many riders grow up having their instructors chant the same old phrases. “Heels down,” “shoulders back,” and “hands up” are some of the more common ones. What’s funny is that even after years, most still struggle with these bad habits. Verbal conditioning has not served us justice. Finally, our saviors have been invented to help aid the battle against bad habits. Here are a few of them.
ShouldersBack by EquiFit
Alexandra Cherubini, the founder and President of EquiFit, has been a longtime participant in the equestrian world. Her company strives to manufacture new technology and products for riders and horses. However, the product ShouldersBack takes Cherubini back to her roots. In an interview, Cherubini opened up about the product. When asked about the inspiration of the product, “growing up I was always told to keep my shoulders back. I also had a trainer at the time put a stick behind my back for my posture.” Cherubini said, “So when we started to think about needs for riders and products that really worked out there, and a space that we could fill, we started thinking about ShouldersBack.” EquiFit then worked with an orthopedist to design the product and from there, ShouldersBack was born.
The fully elastic vest-like device is designed to put pressure on the rider through the shoulder regions. “It definitely serves as a reminder and helps re-train your brain and muscle memory to keep your shoulders back.” According to Cherubini, “You feel it, and then you make the adjustment yourself.” ShouldersBack is designed to be sure the rider can still move and that the pressure is felt but still comfortable. When asked about whom the product fits, Cherubini was pleased to answer that there is a size for everyone. “The one thing about the product is that it is very adjustable so each size can fit a wide range of people.” Cherubini explains, “We have not had an experience of [the gadget] not fitting somebody.” ShouldersBack comes in three different sizes; which size is best fitting is based on the circumference of the ribcage. It is also highly adjustable around the ribcage and on both shoulders.
As far as usage, Cherubini suggests, “easing into wearing it. [ShouldersBack] really does change your position so your muscles could get sore if you really tighten it up and go to an extreme with it at first, so we say to ease into it.” Another factor is what the purpose of using ShouldersBack is, considering people outside of the horse world use it as well. “Some people wear it in the car all day long driving, or at their computer, and some people wear it just when they are riding,” Cherubini says, “it is very dependent on the person.”
ShouldersBack is well-known by many riders and professionals within the industry. The best parts of the product, according to Cherubini, is that “safety is number one. Also the fact that you can wear it all the time, you can wear it when you’re in the show ring, or you can wear it just when you’re practicing, where as using a crop behind your back, you obviously have limitations when you can use it.”
Linda Grandia created the Equicube with both student and instructors in mind. Designed to strengthen the core and position of the rider’s hands, the Equicube gives riders the direct training they need to break incorrect muscle patterns and work muscle memory the way it needs to be worked. This tool helps repair the sometimes broken connection between what riders are doing without realizing it and what instructors are trying to teach. According to Grandia, “feeling cannot be taught, it must be experienced.”
Once a rider is mounted, they are to be handed the Equicube, which is designed to be easily carried with both hands. Grandia explains, “The handles of the Equicube should lay in your hand on top of your reins, thumbs resting lightly on top. Drop your shoulders down and relax your arms. Keep just enough bend in your elbows to hold the Equicube just above your horse’s withers. Your reins may have to be a little shorter than you normally carry them.” Riders should continue to steer with their torso, and can use the Equicube at any gait.
Because it can be utilized by any discipline, the Equicube has become universal. “We have had feedback from Grand Prix dressage riders that it can help them refine their movements and put their focus back on the seat and leg aids and take the focus off the rein aids,” says Grandia. It’s also a great therapeutic riding tool for post surgery or injury rehabilitation. “When the rider has less strength or control of one side of his/her body, it can be quite a struggle to not just let the strong side do all of the work,” Grandia continues, “the weight of the Equicube helps encourage the weaker muscles to do their part so they can strengthen.”
The goal of the Equicube is to break the bad muscle memory and create new and improved ones. The tool therefore can be used either during a large or a short duration of time. Grandia suggests, “15-20 minutes each ride and then continue your work without it to see if you can maintain what you changed while you were riding with it.” Though there are similar training tools, according to Grandia, “this is the only one that adds weight for core engagement.” As long as the rider carries the Equicube properly, by using the abdominal muscles, results can be seen as early as the first use.
Heels down is a phrase that haunts us all. One instructor finally got tired of repeating the mantra to her students. She worked with her husband to design, and then later patent, the first indicator we have to help keep our heels down. Essentially, the Heel Indicator from Level Up Innovations, LLC, is a flat spur with an electronic box on the side; if your heel is down, as it should be, or level, the buzzer stays silent. As your heel creeps up and goes past that level line, the indictor buzzes until you correctly position your heel. Kathy Phillips, inventor of the Heel Indicator, said, “it puts training into your own hands so that you are able to build muscle memory. Most people, when an instructor says ‘heels down’ will think about it from anywhere to 15-30 seconds until they get to a corner or to some other obstacle that they have to concentrate on.” This is common in riders of all levels and ages, including Olympic riders, hence why anyone could benefit from using it.
As for results, like with our other gadgets, it depends on the rider’s muscle memory building speed. “We are getting a lot of people who are saying it can take anywhere from two to four weeks before they really, really see the difference, but some people are quicker and for some people it takes a little longer.” This product is also pretty much foolproof. Along with being durable, water resistant, adjustable volume, and one size fits all, there isn’t really any excuse for not using the indicators. So, what other questions might you have? How about how your horse reacts? Phillips was proud to answer. “We haven’t had a single documented spook,” Phillips said, “we do recommend that people expose it to their horses in close proximity to make sure there isn’t one horse out there that it will bother.” This was achievable through extensive research, testing over 200 different sounds to find just the right one for horse and rider.
More often than not, riders all over, of all disciplines, and all mounts, find they struggle with the same issues that never seem to go away. The drive and strive to be perfectly balanced in the saddle is one that Olympiads seem to be the best at, but each rider deserves to fully feel their horse, and not have to focus on the tiny little bad habits that become roadblocks. With these products, the seemingly unachievable goal of perfection is now one step closer with the musclememory training tools.