MAY 2021 THE RIDER /31 Hip Flexors Continued from Page 29

and elbows are free to move independ- ent of her torso to follow the movement of the horse’s head and neck. Any blockage of movement in the horse’s head and neck impedes his ability to balance himself, as most of the large neck muscles’ primary job is to help balance the front end. Any pressure on the tongue––believe it or not––impedes his ability to step through and under with his hind limbs. When we put all of these pieces

together, we end up with a horse who has no choice but to assume an inverted posture (to a greater or lesser degree) in order to keep himself and his rider from tumbling head over heels. (We won’t even mention the issues that cre- ates in his own iliopsoas group.) Add to this the rider’s overwork-

ing legs, which translate into inconsis- tent and incorrect aids for the horse, and now he’s tuning out your legs on top of already going around inverted and on the forehand. All this means he’s not moving forward from your leg, which also means we can forget about any sort of strengthening or collection \work.

THE RIDER: The other consideration for the rider’s seat is when one hip flexor (psoas) is overworking more than the other. When one psoas or the combined iliopsoas muscle group is overworking in the lower section of the muscle pulls that side of the pelvis for- wards. If you look at the image with the two figure 8s, the first (orange) is when a pelvis is sitting correctly, the second (blue) is where a tight iliopsoas is drawing the pelvis out of alignment. For the canter transitions, some-

one sitting like the wonky blue image will already be sitting in a ‘right canter’ lead position. Great for right canter but very confusing and uncomfortable for horse and rider when trying to find left lead. It is also very likely that there will be more contact through the seat bone which is being drawn forwards, possibly even making it difficult to sit on the opposite seat bone. Tightness in one iliopsoas (re-

member, this is the lower part of the hip flexor within the pelvis) will often have the added consequence of the rider hitching up the entire leg. As men- tioned previously this is often because the core muscles can’t engage so the psoas/iliopsoas engages instead to aid balance. The upshot of this hitching up is frequent loss of the stirrup on the tight side and/or as a result of this, the entire leg contracting in an attempt to maintain balance. The consequence for the horse is not only that they are trying to maintain their stability with the rider’s centre of gravity shifting later- ally but, due to the tightness in the leg, they are effectively being aided on one side and often try to decipher that aid into a lateral movement (and then get told they are wrong for doing so!). An- gela will explain what your horse will be feeling:

THE HORSE: There are two ways you can think about balance in a horse’s body––front to back and left to right. We’ve already discussed the ef- fects on horse’s balance when he’s on his forehand, unable to push from be- hind. But the pressure of a rider’s im- balanced seat bones will result in the horse being set off his lateral balance, meaning left to right. So, if a rider puts more weight in

her left seat bone the horse will need to compensate for not only the extra pres- sure of the rider’s seat, but also the ef-


fects of the saddle sitting uneven. This often results in the horse drop- ping its back and bending its spine around the pressure. So, as Sue mentioned, the

horse will seem primed for work on one lead because they are already bending in that direction. But when you ask them to bend the opposite way they struggle. Horses who are ridden under a consistently imbal- anced rider often present with a cur- vature through their spine and hold their ribcage to the convex side. Under saddle, this will translate into needing more pressure to move the horse off one leg than the other.

THE RIDER: One last thought on one-sided tightness, but this time we are going to look higher up the psoas to where it attaches to the spine. The result of such one-sided tightness is the rider dropping, collapsing if you prefer, to the side which is tight. The muscle is contracting and pulling the ribcage closer to the pelvis. Trying to lift the side up won’t work; you are more likely to do so from hunching the shoulder upwards than lengthen-

ing the psoas. As one side of the torso shortens the other side will move laterally away from that side; for example, the right side collapses, the left side of the torso moves over to the left. And as if all of that weren’t tricky enough for the horse to accommodate, the rider often tilts their head to maintain the feeling of being ‘straight’ that comes with our eyes being level. Worth noting is that there is

often a rotation through the torso as well as shortening down the tight side: for example, if the right side is tight the distance between the armpit and hip will be less than the left and the ribcage may be rotated so the right side is further forwards than the left (similar to the image for the seat analogy). Put simply, the rider’s weight will be unevenly distributed onto the horse’s forehand. So, there you have it, my rea-

sons for putting the psoas up there on the naughty list, which having re- read this myself I feel fully justified in doing so! Due to the nature of the leg position when riding, slightly flexed when sitting in the saddle,

even with the longest of stirrups, means the psoas is working a little bit all of the time. To that end, we owe it to our horses to stretch this muscle before and after we ride. As the majority of people sit for work these days, the hip flexors are held in shortened positions for long periods. As we slip and slide with heavy wheelbarrows in the mud, we are using the hip flexors (and the gluts too – but that is for another article). Every time you lift something heavy, hip flexors are being worked. It is not, in my humble opinion, acceptable to use the first ten min- utes of a ride to loosen your hips; hopefully Angela’s insights into the impact on your horse will have brought you to the same

conclusion. There is a simple, do anywhere, hip

flexor stretch on my YouTube channel. Please, please try and get into the habit of doing this simple stretch every single day and then maybe, just maybe, psoas can come

off the naughty

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