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Supple, even hips for equestrians

If you watched the dressage riders at the Tokyo Olympics on the 7plus livestream, you would have heard the commentators constantly referring to how fit the riders were, how supple and balanced their seats were and how you just had to be at that level. For those of us not at Olympic level, a supple, balanced seat is still key to both following the horse's movement, giving weight and seat aids and chronic injury prevention for longevity in the sport .

There are many factors that go into a supple, balanced seat and although you do develop this by spending time in the saddle, that time can also create imbalances and stiffness due to the specific muscles you're using. Also, imbalances and tightness from daily life, sustained postures - like sitting at a desk or on the sofa for hours - can affect our riding.

In the video below is one little stretch sequence I like to do to stay flexible and also check for evenness. If you are tighter in one side of the lower back, in the hamstrings or adductors, in particular, you will notice it in this sequence. For example, you may notice the muscles of one inner thigh were being overused in riding compared to the other. (This could be related to how you balance from one side to the other - having a dominant side - that shows up in compensatory technique - I will post about this separately). Or you may discover that that shovelling the same way while cleaning the stables and paddocks twice a day, every single day has made you much tighter on one side of your lower back... I'll bet your horse already knows all this...

I literally do this stretch sequence every night, and have for years, along with a few other favourites. But note that I'm demonstrating a level that is quite advanced and this needs to be developed over time. I'll post another video soon of a level below this sequence if you can hardly sit on the floor with legs straight out in front or to the sides (in a straddle) and also some more to target the hip flexors, lower back and other key areas. Flexibility really is a 'use it or lose it' key element of fitness!

How to do it? As with all stretching, only go to the point where you feel the stretch, mild discomfort is OK, pain is not. Don't forget to breathe and hold each position for at least 45-90 seconds and repeat each stretch three times to help increase flexibility.

When to do it? Research has shown that doing flexibility training - the type designed to increase flexibility by increasing static stretches like this - can temporarily decrease muscular performance in some sport/exercise immediately following. As in, don't do this before hopping on your horse as you may feel nice and floppy, but you might not stay on as well! Dynamic (range of motion) stretching prior to exercise, however, IS recommended - but that's a topic for another post. So the best time to do it apart from that, is when you'll actually consistently do it. For me, it's at night watching Netflix/Stan etc. For others it might be after riding while muscles are warm or maybe first thing in the morning if that's the time you have a few quiet minutes.

Happy stretching!


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