Do You Want to Ride or Do You Want to Win?

By: on Monday, April 24, 2017

Dr. James Spencer is a Sports Performance Chiropractor based in Wellington, FL., where he works with equestrian athletes to improve their overall fitness and riding performance.

Equine Riders are athletes and should train like them.  Living and working in the heart of the world’s largest Equestrian venue has allowed the opportunity to observe and train enough riders to appreciate the glaring lack of treating themselves like true athletes.  Barn to barn, day after day, we see it- we see rider’s horses being exposed to various modalities intended for tissue repair and healing while spending little, if any, time or effort on recovery and repair themselves.  This discrepancy must be addressed for improving rider health, ability and longevity, and most importantly to lighten the load on your horse’s poor back.

Today’s rider should be exposed to the new wave of cutting edge research established on foundational movement and training.  Improving rider movement and awareness helps to create a better connection and working relationship with their horse.  For this reason, my team and I have developed the specific Equestrian Athlete Movement Screen to provide a baseline of movement to show objective change.

Here’s What You Need to Know:

  • The Majority of Riders Do Not Train, Recover or Treat Themselves like True Athletes.
  • The Equestrian Athlete Movement Screen includes the Functional Movement Systems (FMS, YBT, SFMA), Breathing Mechanics Appraisal, Postural Assessment with The Space Trainer (TST) and a SoloShot Saddle Evaluation.
  • This Screen will allow our Team to develop a Safe and Effective Training or Rehabilitation Program designed for that Individual Equestrian Athlete
  • Stronger Postural Foundations and Reactive Balance translates to Less Stress on You and Your Horse.


Equestrian Athlete Movement Screen

Functional Movement Screen (FMS)

Created by renowned Physical Therapist, Gray Cook, the Functional Movement Systems is the modern day standard among most major team and individual sports for obtaining consistent and reliable baseline movement data.

The FMS is used to assess if the body’s joints can get in the right position to absorb and adapt to stress. If the joints cannot, the joints and athlete are unable to progress in a safe manner.  The FMS is the screening tool used to identify limitations, or asymmetries, in seven fundamental movement patterns that are key to functional movement quality in individuals with no current pain complaint or known musculoskeletal injury.  These movement patterns are designed to provide observable performance of basic locomotor, manipulative and stabilizing movements by placing an individual into positions where weaknesses and imbalances become noticeable if appropriate mobility and motor control is not utilized.


Selective Functional Movement Assessment (SFMA)

For riders that present with pain the SFMA is utilized in place of the aforementioned FMS.  The SFMA is a series of seven full body movement tests that address common fundamental movement patterns by designating the quality of movement and potentially expose painful or provocative movements.  Based on potential combinations and relationships of marking “functional/dysfunctional” and “painful/non-painful” for each test, we are able to chase down the probable causative agent of the musculoskeletal pain.



Y-Balance Test (YBT)

The Y-Balance Test is an integral part of the Functional Movement Systems and is a fun and easy way to test a rider’s motor control, balance and functional symmetry.  The YBT allows us to quarter the body and look at how the core and each extremity function under body weight loads via lunge matrices. The unique testing protocol was developed through years of research in injury prevention and identification of motor control changes that occur after injury. The YBT is highly accurate and can be used for measuring pre and post rehabilitation performance, improvement after performance programming, dynamic balance, and return to sport readiness.


TST (The Space Trainer) Posture

The Space Trainer provides a patented and dynamic form of coordinated triplanar resistance that creates a unique state of time under tension, which challenges oxygen requirements and how it relates to maintaining a strong anatomic postural foundation under challenged static joint mechanics.  The Space Trainer was created by Dr. Mike Lewen of our team and can be used statically or dynamically for strength training or rehab in any setting, especially the barn.


Breathing Mechanics Appraisal

Breathing is the most important thing we do.  As stated in Assessment and Treatment of Muscle Imbalances (The Janda Approach), “Breathing is regulated and coordinated by the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The rate and volume of breath is influenced by physical, chemical and emotional factors.  Correcting a faulty respiratory pattern is integral to the success of any rehabilitation or strength training program addressing the movement system.” We focus on breathing as a pillar of reactive stability between the ribs and pelvis that aids in protecting you and your horse’s back.


SoloShot Saddle Evaluation

The SoloShot Saddle Evaluation is an individualized saddle assessment to each particular Equestrian Rider. The SoloShot is a state of the art camera system that tracks the Athlete as they trot, canter or jump around the show ring. Filming a practice or show run gives our Team the opportunity to review live data, as well as to go back and review what the Athlete has done well during that riding session which aids in exposing what we need to work on. Moreover, this is another form of a baseline movement assessment that we can review for tangible changes be it in three weeks, thee months or even three years.



Final Thoughts

We are proud to use the Functional Movement Systems as the foundation for our Equestrian Athlete evaluation process.  These tests are highly effective for both pre and post-testing to note tangible improvement of movement patterns.

The ability to objectively see a positive change in mobility, function or performance by using the pre-post testing model is paramount in programming progressions and to keep moving forward in the rehabilitation process, most importantly it reduces the time and resources wasted on unsuccessful programming.

We humbly challenge any riding coach, trainer or practitioner to garner more objective data on movement in less time than by using these strategies. With excitement and anticipation, we look forward to the future growth and evolution of the Equine Sports and the forging of a more Resilient Equestrian Athlete.


Photo from Left to Right: Dr. Sean Stripling, Dr. James Spencer, Anna Nielsen, Dr. Mike Lewen

Written by Dr. James Spencer and Edited by Dr. Mike Lewen.


3 YBT Manual

About the Author:

James Spencer
Based in Wellington, Florida, Dr. James Spencer is a Sports Performance Chiropractor, Certified Athletic Trainer, and Fellow of the International Academy of Medical Acupuncture. He has formal training in Active Release Techniques, Graston Technique, Kinetacore Functional Dry Needling, K-Laser, SpiderTech Kinesiology Tape, RockTape Fascial Movement Taping, Postural Restoration Institute, Y-Balance Test, FMS, SFMA, Mike Boyle’s Certified Functional Strength Coach and the Onnit Academy of Unconventional Training. You can find Dr. Spencer on Facebook, Instagram and at

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