Importance of pelvic mobility in good riding highlighted in study

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File image. Photo by Elisa Pitkänen

Good pelvic mobility and control appears to trump static balancing ability when it comes to good riding, the findings of fresh research suggest.

During their equestrian education, riders learn to move and stabilize their pelvis to accommodate and influence their horse’s movements.

In general, the rider’s pelvis pitches in the opposite direction and rolls in the same direction as the rotation of the saddle.

Indeed, pelvic control is regarded as a key determinant in the sport of dressage.

Researchers Mette Uldahl, Janne Christensen and Hilary Clayton, writing in the journal Animals, note that, in terms of the horse-rider partnership, it is difficult to differentiate between the causes and effects of asymmetry in the horse versus the rider since the two interact so closely.

Riders, they said, need core stability to follow and guide the horse’s movements and avoid giving unintended or conflicting signals.

In their study, they evaluated the performance of riders undertaking exercises on a gymnastic ball, then related those findings to their on-horse performance.

Twenty experienced female riders were used, all with at least five years’ experience riding their own horses or ponies.

Each rider’s performance in the saddle was assessed based on analysis of a video recording of their efforts in a standardized dressage test which lasted five minutes and 20 seconds. The riders were subjectively scored on the quality and harmony of their riding by a professional physiotherapist who specializes in evaluating and training riders to improve their mounted performance, and in rehabilitating riders after injury.

Any conflict behaviors in the horses during each dressage test were also noted. Each horse’s heart rate was recorded during the dressage tests, and salivary levels of the stress hormone cortisol were measured after the test.

After the dressage phase, the riders dismounted and each horse was fitted with a saddle pressure mat. The rider then re-mounted and rode the horse in two 20-metre circles in a sitting trot on each rein.

Each rider’s standing weight distribution between the left and right legs was measured with two bathroom scales that had been calibrated with a validated industrial weight.

The rider’s balance and mobility were graded in tests on a gymnastic ball.

The riders were seated on the ball with their thighs horizontal and their calves vertical.

They were scored, based on later video analysis, on rolling their pelvis to the left and right; and rotating their pelvis left and right while keeping their legs and trunk as still as possible.

They were then asked to attempt to balance on the ball for 30 seconds after lifting their feet off the ground.

The study team found that the riders’ ability to roll the pelvis from side-to-side on the gymnastic ball was highly correlated with their ability to circle the pelvis on the ball (both indicative of pelvic mobility) and with quality and harmony during riding.

Pelvic roll and the quality of riding showed a trend toward a negative correlation with balancing skills on the ball. “It appears,” they wrote, “that the ability to actively move the pelvis is more relevant to equestrian performance than static balancing skill.

“Horses ridden by riders with better pelvic mobility and control showed significantly fewer conflict behaviors,” the study team reported.

“On the contrary, high scores for balancing on the gymnastic ball were negatively correlated with the horses’ working heart rates, suggesting a less energetic performance.”

Horses worked with significantly higher heart rates in riders with a good rating for pelvic roll and showed a trend in the same direction in riders with a good rating for pelvic circling compared with those who scored poorly.

“The differences may indicate that riders with better pelvic control are in a better position to increase impulsion, engagement and collection, which require greater energy expenditure by the horse and hence a higher heart rate.”

During riding, horses showed fewer conflict behaviors but had higher heart rates when ridden by riders with good pelvic roll ability compared with those assessed as poor.

There was a similar trend for the rider’s pelvic circling ability.

“It appears that the ability to actively move the pelvis is more relevant to equestrian performance than static balancing skill,” they concluded.

Simple exercises on a gymnastic ball that emphasize the ability to move and control the pelvis may be useful to evaluate and potentially improve rider skills, they said.

Uldahl is with Vejle Hestepraksis, a horse consultancy service in Denmark; Christensen is with the Department of Animal Science at Aarhus University, also in Denmark; and Clayton is with the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences at Michigan State University.

Uldahl, M.; Christensen, J.W.; Clayton, H.M. Relationships between the Rider’s Pelvic Mobility and Balance on a Gymnastic Ball with Equestrian Skills and Effects on Horse Welfare. Animals 2021, 11, 453. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11020453

The study, published under a Creative Commons License, can be read here

4 thoughts on “Importance of pelvic mobility in good riding highlighted in study

  • February 11, 2021 at 10:15 am
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    Unfortunately often you can only get a really pliable seat if you have a gender appropriate saddle that helps promote the pelvic action. For the majority of saddles available on the market this is not the case.

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    • February 12, 2021 at 10:27 am
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      I have not found that to be so.

      My riding teachers really like my pelvic mobility in whichever saddle I used. Lately (last decade or so) those saddles were an 18″ Extra Forward Stubben Siegfried (bought in 1970), a 17″ Crosby Wide Front PDN (bought in 1978), a 17″ Lynn Palm Crosby, and a 17″ Pegasus Butterfly Claudia jumping saddle. My seat also had excellent mobility in an ancient Borelli 18″ old English hunt seat saddle without any knee rolls or forward flap forty years or so ago.

      My pelvis also has excellent mobility in whichever saddle the stables put on their horses so long it is at least 17″. My riding teacher has often commented on this, how my seat truly follows the horse’s back and how the horses like how I move my pelvis in the saddle.

      But then I am a dinosaur who was expected to ride properly in ANY saddle that was on the horse.

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  • February 14, 2021 at 12:40 pm
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    Hi Jackie – i still stand by my comments. Your experiences in all of these (made for men) saddles is unfortunately representative for what has been widely accepted in the industry in the past decades – students simply had to ‘suck it up’ and make do with what they were using. Riding shouldn’t hurt, and the fact is that the female needs to balance herself using not only her seat bones, but also her pubic symphysis. In my personal experience – it hurts to sit on your pubic bone! So you collapse at the hip to avoid the pain, your legs shoot forward, and you are out of position. You may be able to move your pelvis ‘freely’ to compensate, but this is not what is considered as the classic pliable seat. If you ride that well in gender inappropriate saddles, just think how well you would do in one that was actually made for the female anatomy!

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