John Wayne Elbows

Ok, we all love John Wayne. But we don’t necessarily want to be described as having ‘John Wayne elbows’…

downloadA rider with high or slumped shoulders, or flapping ‘chicken elbows’ has something in common with horses that pull you out of the saddle with the reins or jump short, or who lack impulsion in the walk and are on the forehand in the canter.

What they have in common might surprise you. Rotation of the rider’s shoulder.

Rotation of the entire arm allows us to effectively use our shoulders, elbows, and hands; and that, in turn, affects our horse’s movement.

Stop trying to pull your shoulders back, or down (ouch!), or trying to pin your elbows to your sides. The key is in the soft, supple rotation of the entire arm, from shoulder to wrist.

Here’s a great visual I saw recently from (non-riding) biomechanist Katy Bowman:

Click HERE to read Katy’s blog post or watch her video below

Using the rotation helps place your shoulders and elbows naturally, no more slumping or elbow-flapping. Your elbows will feel more anchored (softly!) to your core if your horse tries to pull you forward, but will also be able to follow him when needed.

elb2When changing the rotation in our forearms, our bones (radius and ulna) cross and place different tension on the soft tissue.




elb3Pronation and supination are related to elbow pain during typing, golfing, playing tennis, etc, and I actually get elbow pain if I ride with my palm down, as well as when using a hoof knife. I use a special hoof knife that decreases pronation.


elbowThis relates to why we are often told not to ride with ‘piano hands,’ palms down, but with ‘thumbs on top.’

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Riding with ‘thumbs up’ also allows us to have a more elastic elbow and follow the motion of the head and neck in walk and canter, as well as open up during rising trot to keep the hand stable, or during a release over a jump…

1781540_589713794484399_8644151833423474146_oFor a particularly engrained habit, I might have a student ride with the Equicube…





hr-170600-tack-01_gnFor those of us who are riding one-handed, we can adjust to the romal hold to work on  these issues.61f18cad338d7a15cbac5035ec7f3713







Try it next time you ride!


Keep riding the spiral path,



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