Hip Flexibility and Strength
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Monday, September 22, 2008 08:17 AM
The familiar phrase:" Keep your thigh flat on the saddle." I have read it in several dressage books and articles. Our thigh is round, so which particular part of it is flat? The authors are talking about very inner part of our thigh. The muscles that run from bottom of the pelvis to the inside of the knee. These muscles should be in contact with the saddle. When we sit in a chair, we contact it with the back side of our thighs: hamstrings and buttocks. Riders mistakenly sit in the saddle in a familiar way - on the back of their thighs and on buttocks. This is not correct. The saddle should be between your legs, literally. You know those saddle stands in tack shops, where you try a saddle. The stand is short, so your feet stay on the floor while you sit in the saddle. Because you keep your feet on the floor most likely you will sit in that saddle correctly, with your thighs flat. You will not rotate them out on purpose because it feels awkward, you have to turn out your toes and you know that is incorrect. However, when you are on a horse there is no floor and your thighs naturally roll off the front of your saddle and you end up sitting on the back of your thighs and buttocks. Most people relax backwards, round their backs slightly and feel somewhat comfortable because it has familiar sensation from sitting in a chair.
The problem here is not just incorrect position due to lack of knowledge. The problem here is inability to get in the correct position even if rider knows what he/she is looking for. The thigh simply refuses to stay flat on the saddle, especially during sitting trot or canter. Two reasons for that:
  • Lack of flexibility
  • Lack of strength in particular muscles
Lack of flexibility comes from three main muscles that attach themselves to the pelvis and to the thigh bone.
One of adductors - Adductor Magnus - big fanlike muscle that runs from bottom of the pelvis to the thigh bone attaching itself along it. The fibers that attach to the seatbone portion of the pelvis start to rotate the thigh out the more it is moving away from the center of the body. In other words the same rider will be able to sit more correctly on a narrow horse than on a very round one.
One of the hamstrings - Biceps Femoris - runs across the back of the thigh from a seatbone to the outside of the knee. The longer the stirrup and the wider the horse the more this muscles will tighten and eventually pull the thigh into outside rotation.
Lateral hip rotators - there are several of them. Short muscles that run horizontally from the ridge of the sacrum to the thigh bone. If you naturally have your toes out even when you walk you probably have these muscles short.
Lack of strength comes mostly from hip abductors and medial rotators - muscles that lift the leg to the side and still keep your knee pointing forward. The imbalance comes from the fact that these muscles are small, unnoticeable, not primary movers and rarely get exercise unless targeted. To top this Gluteus Maximus, buttock, is very big and strong muscle that overpowers small rotators, especially if a rider tightens the glutes.
I have the stretching and strengthening exercises for these muscles on my website: It takes time and dedication to change the familiar and comfortable position to something else. The rider needs to work off the horse and on the horse and it will take several months of regular stretching and strengthening to see the difference.
Happy riding...
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My blog is about teaching, riding and training. I share what is important to me in my work with horses and riders. The writing helps me to think things over and have a better understanding of training ideas and priciples.
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