*Please note: By just pointing out a few of our muscles, it is technically doing dis-service to the amount of subtle work our body has to do while we ride. But bringing attention to a few is better than none, so I want to discuss some of the key muscles that can affect our posture and balance when we ride, and the role that they play (mainly core, pelvis, and hip stabilization) when we ride.
First off, it’s important to know that the core is much more than just your abdominals; it is your entire central unit. Front, back, inside and out. So the core includes muscles that affect the stabilization of your spine, pelvis, and ribcage.
Our pelvis plays a crucial role in riding and the muscles involved in stabilizing it are important to understand. An unstable pelvis can create an unstable ribcage and shoulder girdle. This then can affect not just the rider but the horse as well, from leaning on one rein to having problems bending one way. (Believe me, it’s something my horse and I are constantly working on as I broke my pelvis, so I’m working on being stable but supple on my right-side… because alas, my horse often mirrors the same issues because of my seat!).
Often it is really hard to determine whether it’s the rider or the horse with the issue, so as riders, it’s important for us to understand how the body works. The more you can work on your own strengths and weaknesses as a rider alongside your horse, the easier your training will be. You are a team after all, and it requires a team effort!
Here are 8 of the key muscles involved in creating good core, pelvis, and hip stability:
- Transverse Abdominus
First up, this muscle helps stabilize between your hips, your ribs, as well as your pelvis. It’s like the brace that wraps around your center and keeps your spine protected (think of it as a corset around your middle). It’s the muscle that engages when you cough. For example, imagine if I was to come and poke you in the belly… you would brace your center and engage your transverse abdominus instinctively.
These are more along the sides of our core and are our turning muscles. The obliques are vitally important for keeping ourselves even and upright on the horse, as often we may collapse through one side. Think of the obliques as stiff ropes holding the sides of your body up evenly.
This attaches down the last thoracic vertebra as well as most of the lumbar vertebrae and discs between them from the inside and top of the femur. It’s involved with flexing your hip and laterally rotating it. It also has a role in flexing your spine sideways, extending and rotating it. Its big role is in the management of the pelvis and controlling the front-to-back motion. This has the power to restrict and or release the rider’s ability to shock absorb the movement of the horse.
Similar to the psoas, the iliacus has huge power in inhibiting or releasing the movement of the horse below the rider. The iliacus starts from the iliac fossa on the interior side of the hip bone. It joins the psoas major and the two can often be referred to as the iliopsoas. Together these muscles are often called hip flexors, however, they do have different roles.
This attaches to the front of your sacrum and to the top of your femur. Together with the Psoas this muscle helps rotate and extend your hips as well as internally rotate and flex. Because we are two-legged mammals, the piriformis can do an internal rotation on one side and the complete opposite on the other side (which is often highlighted when sitting in the saddle). For example, if you have one thigh that adducts (moves inwards) easily, compared to the other, this is highlighted once you’re on a horse and is going to create an uneven balance on the horse’s back. The piriformis is very influential in the pelvic function and balance on the horse.
- Quadratus Lumborum
This attaches to the bottom rib and to your lumbar vertebrae as well as the back of your pelvis (iliac crest). This has a major influence on how you move, stand, and ride your horse. This is a lateral flexor which means it has the control of whether you tip or rock to one side in the saddle.
- Gluteus Maximus
This helps control the front-to-back balance of your hips, along with the psoas. When tight, this can inhibit the horse’s balance, and when weak, this can affect the rider’s balance when in the saddle. It’s a large and powerful hip extensor. The squeezing of the glutes encourages the thighs to activate, which signals a “braking” effect. This is great when you want to half halt and signal to stop, but not so great when sitting to the trot and trying to create freedom through the horse’s back.
- Gluteus Medius
This muscle rotates the hip inward, as well as abducts the hip outwards. It is crucial for helping the rider stay balanced in the center of the saddle.
Now, remember that this is a just a small selection of the muscles that are involved in riding, but they are the main muscles focused on stabilizing the core, pelvis, and hips.
By understanding the role that the muscles play, you will be able to become more aware of areas that you may need to work on in order to bring more balance to your body, and therefore your riding.