Combining both her human and equine knowledge, Dee specialises in soft tissue therapy and performance for both the horse and rider, working with some of the best horses, riders and trainers in the world. Dee’s understanding of the sport and what is required of both horse and rider at the highest of levels enables her to aid optimal athletic performance for both individual athletes and together as a combination. Over to Dee!
Dynamic Sports Performance has grown a lot since I started the business back in 2014. The philosophy of the business is that of marginal gains for both horse and rider. Back in 2014, and arguably still now, many riders didn’t consider themselves as athletes or take a huge amount of care into their own fitness, nutrition, general health and wellbeing.
In truth, I only wanted to work with horses to begin with, but under the late and legendary Mary Bromiley you had to be human trained and now it is something I also believe any good equine practitioner should be. However, the light bulb came when I started working on elite eventing friends and their horses during my training.
Horse and Rider
Working with their horses but knowing them personally just made me realise I was doing all this work but 50%, if not more, of the issues were coming from them as riders. This was really the turning point and from then I made sure I looked at everything as a whole combination, not just what so often happens when the rider says ‘the horses is doing this or that’. I say to all of my riders ‘it is my job to release and your job to strengthen’; it is vital that riders realise the profound influence they have on their horses.
I do a lot of biomechanics sessions now, which I absolutely love. This developed as I thought well, I see the horse and rider individually I should really watch them both together as a combination. Plus, to be quite frank, it drove me mental sitting in on some coaching sessions where they would just say what the horse needed to do, rather than realising that actually if the rider stopped putting their weight left and collapsing to the right they would get that half pass quite happily.
The biomechanics sessions are heavily rider focused; I use slow motion footage and video analysis, something I have taken from other sports and applied to equestrian sport. I am also heavily dyslexic, so I appreciate people learn in different ways, and many people learn from seeing and doing, hence why video analysis is fantastic. Everything we do is tailored to each athlete, according to what they need, what they’re trying to achieve and how they work best. The riders love the sessions as of course do the horses, you can see they are just like “good god it’s only taken you half a year to be sitting straight” and then we get to see the lightbulb moment where it all comes together. I love it and then of course it makes my work as a soft tissue therapist so much easier also.
Strength and conditioning
Regardless of the discipline, rider strength and conditioning play a huge part in performance and what we do. Having looked at the horse, rider and the combination in their biomechanics sessions, plus assessing them through soft tissue therapy, we can identify the rider’s strengths and weaknesses. Through working with both athletes, we can take this information to develop specific strengthening and conditioning components for the rider. With sport on hold, many riders are feeling a bit lost without a set goal/competition in sight. This is a fantastic time for riders to concentrate on themselves and the time to make you the goal. Thankfully we have been able to continue working on rider strength and conditioning via video calling, or riders have been sent programmes to continue.
One of the things that makes me laugh (or should I say cry) the most is the disparity between human and equine diets! A lot of thought and planning goes into feeding the horses, as we know ‘you are what you eat’. Every single gram calculated to the highest detail, particularly at elite level, but then you walk into the tack room and there’s doughnuts, cake etc, and that’s what will see the riders through their day. It’s just crazy! There is no other sport where you would find that at Olympic level. Thankfully many top riders now appreciate and take more care over themselves now but there is still a long way to go. I dream of the day that all riders stretch and warm up before they get on, have a planned meal at any event and don’t rely on the chip van!
The one thing I missed coming from working in other elite sports was communication within a team, so it’s another thing I do to the best I can. I make sure I am in contact with the whole team including vets, saddlers and farriers. I also try to get riders on board with sports psychologists as well as human and equine nutritionists. Communication is key and we all want the same goal, for that horse and rider to be performing at their very best. Working together really helps and I think also makes sure there isn’t confusion which can sometimes come with just the owners or riders’ feedback.
Sport is all about marginal gains, if you can improve 1% of everything you do as a rider, when the season gets going again and you accumulate all those one percent’s, you’re certainly going out in a significantly stronger position! I am going to be doing some rider strength and conditioning sessions with Red Mills which you can follow and will be suitable from novice to elite riders during this difficult period.
But for now, take care and stay safe,
Chair of the Equine Sports Massage Association, Dee So’oialo (nee Holdsworth) is trained to the highest of standards and is one of only 20 in the UK to specialize in fascial manipulation. In addition to providing rider and equine soft tissue therapy, Dynamic Sport Performance provide bespoke programmes for riders once Dee has identified their strengths and weaknesses. Biomechanics sessions enables the team to look at both the horse and rider together to optimise performance. Find out more at www.dynamicsportsperformance.co.uk
With thanks to Jo Hansford Photography for the imagery