Role of seatbones/pelvis
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Wednesday, November 4, 2015 08:40 PM
I have been exploring the role of seatbones, pelvis position/movement and lower back suppleness for quite a while now and I am
gathering more and more insight in this area. First of all a lot of things we hear and read about the seatbones can be very
easily understood almost with opposite consequences. Precise language in explaining what their role is of outmost importance.
This particularly common with idea of a driving seat which makes many riders think they have to push with their hips
and seatbones forward in order to drive a horse. Plus when you watch a good rider who has their seatbones really connected
to a horse's movement it does appear that rider's hips move forward. This is another area of easy misunderstandings - watching what
a rider appears of doing in the saddle versus what she/he is actually doing.
One of the things that has been a huge "light bulb" experience for me is realization that rider's seatbones can only move
forward when they are moving forward with the horse. This means any movement of rider's seat forward will be the movement
of rider's seat against the saddle. A rider who sits deep and vertical must not move back and forth in
any circumstances (2-point seat has different dynamics,we are not discussing them here).
If rider's seat (pelvis) does not move back and forth then how does it move because the back/forth movement is obvious upon observation?
Here is the revelation that happened to me recently: Rider's seatbones/pelvis will match horse's back movement only if they
move in circular motion supported and aided by core muscles in all gaits. Logically that circular motion goes from back to front
and from down to up. The pelvis moves from the neutral position where seatbones are pointed downwards
to position where seatbones are pointed forward. This action is supported by core muscles. However, you do not need much
strength to do it rather coordination and suppleness. It is more important to let go of your lower back muscles to allow core
muscles to do it's job than any strong use of core muscles (provided you developed your core through specific off horse exercises).
A horse with good back action will "invite" the rider's pelvis to match it's movement there is no need to tighten anything or use a lot of strength.
There are two most common mistakes that I see:
1. If rider's lower back muscles are tight and core is weak the only option exists for such a rider is to try and swing the hips forward which
will arch the lower back even more. Also, seatbones are pointed rather backwards then downward or forward. For a horse such rider
feels stiff, too linear, like moving only in one plane back/forth. Seatbones/hips that move directly backwards in a linear fashion will be
"driving" the horse backwards. When horses want to disengage and drop their downward transition they feel like their back is trying
to move backwards. A rider who does that movement whether consciously or subconsciously inviting her/his horse to disengage.
This type of riders will find it extremely challenging to sit vertical. The body will be constantly under pressure to lean forward.
2. The second group of riders have their seatbones pointed forward most of the time and they add a push downward/forward with
their lower back and may be even buttocks muscles. They drive with their seat. This feels to a horse like somebody ramming it forward and downward behind
the withers. Imagine someone hitting you between the shoulder blades every step to go faster :( This type of riders will be more
inclined to lean backwards or collapse in the front. Leaning backwards makes the rider feel more effective with the drive.
These are two extremes, there are also numerous variations in between but the bottom line is the movement of the pelvis is not
three-dimentional enough, too flat and linear. The horse's back responses to such movement by becoming too flat itself diminishing
it's swing. The horse looks more like a leg mover (flat, tense, hurried or too slow) instead of a back mover (swinging through,
engaging hind end, looking expressive and happy).
It is not easy to balance upper body in a vertical and quiet way when the pelvis underneath it moves. It is also not easy
to keep hip joints supple to allow pelvis to move as it needs to with every stride while legs stay quietly in their position. Our sedentary life style (sitting at a desk, sitting in a car,
sitting at a table, on a couch, etc.) predisposes our body to have a weak core, tight lower back, tight hip joints and just general lack of agility and sense of balance.
All these elements create compounded effect that stiffens a human body. Our body naturally tries to stabilize pelvis by tightening the lower back and/or hip joints.
Also, a weak core makes upper body unstable. A proper role of core on a horse is not to simply hold something together but rather
to be so easily adjustable that it can support pelvis in it's movement without disturbing upper body position.
On the other hand, pelvis must not be lose because it's movement though complex must stay organized in order to guide the horse. Too much movement and the horse
will stiffen against it or run from it. Not enough movement and the horse will flatten and slow down. This is where good riders make it look so easy.
It is hard to see what they are doing and how they can control or change horse's stride or gait without making it look obvious.
Watching a superb dressage rider execute difficult movements makes onlooker feel the horse does everything pretty much by himself.
Working toward becoming a better rider is a life long journey.
In the next blog we will have more detailed look into pelvis movement in different gaits - canter, walk and trot.
This is just what I have thought myself. I have new teacher who look very carefully at my seat and tells how it effects horse's movements. I'm learning new ways to use my pelvis and try to find support from the core and the sides. Waiting for the next blog :)