Monday, February 9, 2015

Hips Don't Lie

It can easily be said that the most important aspect for a rider is their seat and how strong and flexible it is. For those non-riders, the 'seat' is the part of your body which includes the parts of your body which are seated on the horse's back. On the surface, the seat is your butt and your thighs but beyond that, it is also the weight of your body which you control, through the "seat". Unfortunately for adult riders like myself, starting out later in life could be a disadvantage if you have particularly high aspirations and not a lot of time both for riding daily and for committing to improving fitness. That said, I'm by no means in that boat and I'm perfectly fine with it.

While I understand I'll never get to an A-circuit (or even Trillium) level, I am the nerd who gets super into something and then gets borderline OCD about and do my best to attempt to absorb as much as the universe is willing to bestow upon me. I didn't have a lesson this Sunday due to the buckets of snow dumped on the Hillsburgh/Erin area over the weekend so I decided to catch-up on sleep, deal with the house and of course, read about horseback riding.

The internet is a huge database of information ready to be plundered and this time, I decided to look into something that has been affecting me of late: my right hip. It has been bothering me for the last several weeks by feeling tight or just plain stiff. As a result, there was at least one less than stellar time where it was rather evident that things haven't been going well. I found a very simple article that outlines the situations well:
Lack of flexibility and stability in the hips is especially common in riders over 30, because hip mobility often diminishes with age. Whereas someone in the general population might not be inconvenienced by their gradually diminishing hip mobility, a rider is. Unlike other sports, your primary contact with "ground" as a rider is your seat and thighs. In other sports, it is your feet, and all motion is relative to the body's ability to transfer force from the ground, through the body. In riding, you are balancing on your seat, using your thighs for further balance and to communicate aids, and your feet must remain "soft" to allow for the stirrup irons to rise up and down with the horse's stride.
--Heather Sansom (Dressage Today) 
Regardless of where I read or take information from, about riding, it's stressed that the seat (and thighs) are the most important communication tool with the horse when riding. Keep in mind that the way in which riders 'communicate' with their horses is a language that is significantly physical and few words or even sounds are exchanged. A simple shift in weight or placement of a leg is all it takes to "tell your horse" what you want. Riding looks easy enough to the average spectator and that's what riders are supposed to look like but the anatomy involved is quite extensive particularly in the seat. Horseback riding is a demanding sport, regardless of what onlookers might think and so requires the appropriate stretching that any other physical activity would require.

Interestingly enough, hip flexibility and strength is an important component for yogis too. One of my favourite yoga instructors never rides yet always stressed the importance of hip flexibility and strength. This explains why yoga is such a helpful activity to supplement riders in their 'off time'. Going back to my research over the weekend, in order to improve on my riding, it is imperative that I supplement normal physical activity with deliberate stretching, strengthening and overall care. As it stands, I'm already,

  1. an adult student starting late;
  2. over 30 so my hip flexibility and strength is on the decline; and
  3. I have an office job that keeps me chained at my desk for the better part of the day and it's super easy to get sucked into something I'm working on and end up eating my lunch at my desk and never getting up except for bathroom breaks.

I'm not sure exactly what's tight or sore or broken or whatever in my hips, but I do know that I have to make a regular effort to focus on addressing my issues through strengthening, warming up and stretching in my non-riding times as well as before and after lessons.


  1. i hear ya on the office job... and agree that probably so many problems could be resolved just by NOT sitting in a chair for 8 hours a day lol (except, maybe my finances... they kinda require that paycheck!!)

    1. hehehe! totally. my butt wouldn't get flatter and more pancake like in the process! too bad i can't just find a job that requires me to do whatever i wanted... with an unlimited budget hahaha

  2. Theres a few stretches you can do before mounting, as well as while on horseback. I normally ask Sheri to stretch me and basically she pulls my legs all around and it hurts but it helps. Hips and LOWER BACK!! Major cause of problems for anyone who rides and jumps. That dip that you hold in your back can really cause issues. If you find it bothering you an epsom salt bath will really help. Dont push it though eh? Sheri has lower back issues too and knows tons about all this.

    and as always ** Shoulders like a princess, hips like a whore** :) <3 <3

    1. i think the major one you're talking about is affected when you sit a lot because your leg is always in a bent position and that muscle gets short. i'll be stretching it more often then... ;) ha! i'll never forget that mantra, thanks to you, gill!