In the past week I have sadly lost the most wonderful father, a gentleman of quiet strength and calm manner but always a progressive thinker. In his 90 years he utilised every area of his wonderful brain, he was a creative scientist who trained as a Pharmacist but was considered revolutionary for considering and developing equine nutritional programmes in the 1970’s, something today we take for granted in equine sport.
Barry Thomas utilised his scientific knowledge and read some more, discussed the need with equine professionals of the day and thought outside the box. I have admired him always and will miss him dearly but know that his striving for innovation and development is a trait that lays strongly within me.
In an incredibly difficult week, I have received thankful messages of condolence from friends and colleagues, I am very grateful for every one of them.
In the same week I have received very different and difficult messages following recent social media posts about my work. I have been encouraged to write today’s blog not as a response to the post but as a considered read where you may see a glimmer of Barry Thomas within my own work.
Although no specific peer reviewed research of my work has been published to date the principles of my theories and practices fundamentally are developed from the research and practice of sensorimotor and ultimately postural and motor control.
Correct riding is ultimately a combination of postural and motor control that allows the rider to “feel” the movements of the horse and to then deliver the correct aid at the correct time with the desired amount of information from the seat, hand and leg allowing the horse to understand exactly what it is being asked to do.
So many problems in riding are caused by the rider either being unable to deliver the correct aids because of two key factors. This can be either poor postural and motor control or pelvic asymmetries affecting the synergy of group action of muscles that block the desired movements at the time of delivery which results in the poor execution of an aide.
My work has fundamentally revolved around correcting asymmetries and facilitating correct postural and motor control which has been well documented over the past 25 years in different sports.
So, what is postural control? Posture is the make-up of the body. We have many parts to our body working independently and together to produce movement and control unwanted movement. Our body systems are a continuous feedback and feed forward mechanism utilising many physiological processes eyes, ears, balance and proprioceptors that are located in many structures of the human body. Our mind has to process all this information, but some information can be misleading or false. In skill-based sport this is where our personal experience (from correct coaching) and skill level can continually interpret this information to produce the desired movements required at the right time.
As we learn skills particularly co-ordinated movement skills, we as humans “select responses flexibly depending on whether the anticipated outcome is desirable” (Loram 2016). If we as humans positively reinforce the correct selections of feedback and information these desirable patterns can become habitual. The utilisation of elastic tape on riders therefore helps the rider select the correct information to reinforce posture both short term and if used more frequently it is clear there will be long term benefits too.
Riding specifically requires controlled movement. Posture control stabilises a specific position however, we as riders cannot stay in one position we have to move. Motor control allows us to move where we need to precisely and in the most direct and smooth way.
Optimal motor control requires the effective integration of multi modal information. It is known that motor control is intimately associated with afferent proprioceptive information (Zschorlich 2021). Asymmetries fundamentally affect the precise delivery of movement, correcting these prior to riding using the Testt® process will improve the motor control of the rider. Some of the elastic taping techniques are designed specifically to facilitate the precision of the movement we require at the time we need it to happen by limiting excessive movement and facilitating the correct movement. The taping directs the desired movement more precisely thus reinforcing the correct movement patterning.
The Testt® process is designed to improve motor control by firstly correcting asymmetries to allow correct synergistic action of our muscle groups. Secondly by “bombarding” the central nervous system with as much correct proprioceptive visual and vestibular (balance) information as possible (elastic taping) to allow the rider to achieve short term and long-term learning. When combined with audible prompts from experienced coaches we have the ability to create maximal motor and postural patterning changes in one lesson.
The elastic properties within the tape used is always in the complete control of the rider. It is pulled away very easily with very little force. Tilting the pelvis forward will remove the seat tape, looking down will instantly remove the head tape etc. The tape as described above is merely facilitatory and at no point does it “fix” a rider in any unwanted position.
As a specialist Chartered Physiotherapist in manual therapy I have studied, treated and rehabilitated spinal dysfunction and lectured in this area internationally for many years. All rider’s medical history is assessed and interpreted before implementing any of the Testt® processes. At no point would any process be used on an individual should there be any doubt that it could adversely affect their pain and or confidence on or off a horse. All my Testt® Certified coaches are also trained and assessed in their ability to know the indications and contraindications of the use of any deactivation/activation techniques, bands and or tape.
There have been many discussions particularly related to the head tape and something called “axial loading”. Axial loading is normal in riding, the body has to successfully absorb the forces from the horse. Generally, where axial forces become a problem is when extreme forces are not able to be controlled by the rider for example high impact whiplash injuries or falls directly onto the head and spine. Other examples clinically could be when a rider has spinal pathology, but this would be a contraindication in my teaching to using the tape.
There is a huge amount of supporting evidence in the literature that by directing axial force and loading in the correct way will improve the motor control of the spine. The cervical spine can be lordotic (curved) and yet withstand a large compressive load without damage or instability (Parwardhan 2020). Facilitating correct head and neck posture (enhancing the desired follower load of the spine) helps link the proprioceptive vestibular and visual systems of the body together to enhance motor control and by default improve spinal stability. Incidentally the follower load is affected adversely by cervical spinal flexion i.e looking down (Xin-Yi 2020,Kim 2012, Panjabi 1998).
My work may appear to some as avant-garde, out of the box and even unconsidered but be it clinical and or performance related, my work is specifically thought through and clinically reasoned based on research and sound knowledge of anatomy, physiology and biomechanics. My work continues to progress as I continue to learn from working alongside experienced and knowledgeable coaches and industry professionals. I will always strive for what is best for the horse and rider at every level in every discipline, this incredible sport deserves this.
It is clear from the complexity of riding that any rider needs to seek out professionals who have knowledge and training in any techniques they use. In this day and age, it is very easy to copy incorrectly from videos and pictures that may look simple but the theory and practice behind the simplicity is complex and detailed but this is commonly ignored. Horses and riders do not have quick fixes, there is detailed consideration that requires continual assessment and review.
As always to end a blog if there are any questions please do email me directly, don’t ask the audience.
In memory of my father Barry Thomas 1933 - 2023 xx