MAY 2021 THE RIDER /29 How does a rider’s tight hip flexors effect both horse and rider’s in ridden work?

By Sue Gould-Wright and Angela Saieva

Of all the muscles I

work with the psoas has to be up there at the top of the naughty list as far as horse rider anatomy goes. Now. not only is it important to you, the rider reading this, but issues with your psoas (and the combined muscle group iliopsoas) can have a negative impact on your horse too. In the following text I (Sue Gould-Wright) will explain how and why it effects the rider, and equine expert Angela Saieva of Equine Elevation will share her insights onto the knock- on effect these issues have

muscle on either side of the body.

When most people

think of anything relating to their spine, the natural as- sumption is that it is all to do with the back of the body. However, the bits of the spine you can feel down your back are the parts known as the spinous processes. The main body of the vertebrae sit much deeper within your torso, for example in the lumbar spine the distance from the tip of the spinous process you can feel to the front of the body of the vertebra is approxi- mately 9cm (measurement taken from my plastic life- sized skeleton) so very

Inverted Posture Pelvis

on your horses’ movement and anatomy. Let’s start with the

anatomy of the area. Look- ing at the image of the psoas you can see just how high up in the torso it begins. It originates from the trans- verse processes (the sticky- out bits) of lumbar vertebrae and the anterolateral (sides,

much toward the middle of your innards! The follow- ing link shows a 3D anima- tion of the area we are talking

about i/Psoas_major_muscle... So, why is the psoas

at the top of my naughty list? Many reasons, all to do with excessive tightness in

back you complain about may be coming from the psoas muscles ‘holding’ your lower back in an exag- gerated curve, causing the lower back muscles (quad- ratus lumborum for exam- ple) to be held in a shortened state. This can often resulting in the mus- cles going into spasm. The deepening of the curve in the lumbar spine may also, over time, compress the discs between the vertebrae and/or cause nerve impinge- ment.

here: The implications for

your riding are reduced mo- bility and inability to sit cor- rectly; let me explain the former first:

Tightness in the psoas

muscles will mean that your lumbar spine (lower back) will probably not be as fluid as it needs to be to enable you to flex and extend and allow the horse to move you freely. In sitting trot and canter particularly, you need to be ‘allowing’ in the lower back to absorb the horse’s movement. If you aren’t al- lowing the movement to flow through your lumbar spine, the horse will also be compromised in its move- ment as Angela will now ex- plain:

(NOTE: from this point

forwards Angela and I will switch in and out of writing. THE HORSE is all Angela’s amazing insight; THE RIDER is me)

The Rider’s Psoas (Hip Flexor)

slightly to the front) sur- faces of the bodies of T12 to L5 vertebrae and the inter- vertebral discs in between. Again, as shown in the image you have a psoas

one, or both, psoas muscles. If both are tight, especially the portion of the muscle which attaches down the spine, it can result in lower back pain. That tight lower

THE HORSE: In a perfect world where our horses all move “correctly” from a biomechanics standpoint, every horse would strike off from behind and use that power from his hind limb to propel energy up and over his hind quarters through to his lumbar spine. His ab- dominals would engage, lengthening his back mus- cles and lifting his thoracic sling. Think of his forelimbs like a baby bouncer where the energy from that initial

hind limb thrust can then freely lift his withers up- ward, allowing his fore- limbs to stretch out ahead of him in a massive, ground- covering step. His neck telescopes

upward to balance the lift of his withers and his poll be- comes the highest point of his body. Then the cycle re-

peats itself. This is the beau- tiful, uphill movement we all seek and dream of riding. Unfortunately, any blockage in our lumbar spine results in a blockage of our hips, which translates into a blockage of our horse’s en- ergy as soon as it reaches our bums in the saddle.

THE RIDER: With re- gards to sitting correctly there are several implica- tions relating to tight psoas muscles. The one which I see most frequently is the rider who sits too far for- ward on their ‘fork’ or pubic bone. In this instance one or both psoas muscles are overly tight and pitching the rider forwards through the torso. This is a bit of a catch-22 scenario as the more the rider pitches for- wards, even by just a few degrees, the more the hip flexors


tighten to keep the rider from falling. The main core stability muscles such as transversus


should be working to keep the rider upright but because the lumbar spine is being pulled into a deeper curve by the psoas, the transversus abdominus cannot work as efficiently (if at all) and therefore the hip flexors work instead. For the rider this causes imbalance, in- correct muscle recruitment patterns which in turn mean the horse has more weight on its forehand and has to

adapt its movement to ac- commodate the greater fluc- tuations in the rider’s centre of gravity. We also need to consider that the hose will often have restriction from the rider over its torso as the rider’s legs overwork to stay on board. More on the horse’s perspective from Angela:

THE HORSE: The first issue here, as Sue already mentioned,

is that the

weight of the rider being pitched forward puts the horse onto his forehand. This immediately prevents the horse from being able to work from behind––he is now pulling or dragging himself forward as opposed to pushing himself from be- hind.

The second is the ef-

fect on the rider’s ability to maintain consistent contact. In order to have consistent, following, elastic contact, the rider needs to be able to keep their torso in balance squarely over top of her hips so that her shoulders, arms

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