The other aids are often spoken about, but the importance of the lower back in ground work, as well as riding has been lost. The lower back, along with the hip sockets, is one of the most integral parts of our bodies in terms of allowing or blocking the flow of energy. In many ways, once a horse is completely sensitised to the subtleties of the rider’s movements, the spine can be all that’s needed to ask a horse to raise his back. Similarly, if the rider’s back is hollow, the horse cannot help but hollow, as the shock absorbing properties of the rider’s body have been significantly compromised.
A pliant lower back is so effective in shock absorption, that without pliability, we physically cannot engage our core in riding. Tightness in the lower back often transfers tightness to other parts of the body and a compensatory cycle ensues, making us prone to muscle strains, blocked nerves and defensive riding postures. Try this exercise to discover the merits of a supple lower back: In your car, adjust the seat so that you cannot rest your back against it. While driving, or if you are a passenger, accelerate rapidly, noting how your body naturally compensates for the quick shift in speed. Our natural reaction is to lean forwards, only to be jerked back again when we change gears. Make the same observation when you slow down suddenly – our reaction is usually to lean back into the seat with our upper bodies. Once you have observed what your body naturally does, try to release your lower back. Slouch if you have to, and then simply draw your shoulders back in this slouched position. This time, when you accelerate, tuck your pelvis in accordance with the vehicle’s change of speed (coccyx forwards). When slowing down the vehicle rapidly, simply straighten your back slightly (coccyx neutral to up). Take note of how your shoulders, neck, arms, legs and hips feel when you do this. Notice how little effort it takes in order to remain balanced? This is what we’re aiming for when we engage our core and use our lower back effectively.
The same tucked position is used in forwards movement when we are riding. The degree of “tuck” depends on the amount of speed you require from the horse. A blocked lower back, conversely, could be all that’s required to ask the horse for a rein back. A half halt using the back only is not only much clearer for the horse (if we require a sensitive horse), but also an incredible tool for a higher degree of collection, elevation and manoeuvrability within all paces. The more we can break these concepts down for the horse, the more they can hear what we have to say.