The rider’s body is a wonderful, advanced piece of biomechanical excellence! Smooth communication with a well-coordinated, yet gentle seat is key when riding. It starts with the pelvis – the large compound bone structure at the base of the spine that connects to our legs! It functions as a hinge between our upper and lower body, and allows us to hold our balance when sitting on a horse.
It’s interesting to compare men and women’s anatomy when it comes to riding, and how we use our pelvis. Men have narrower seat-bones than their female counterparts, as well as a narrower pelvic girdle and hip sockets. The ‘classical’ lengthened riding position in the dressage phase is actually physiologically easier for men, as they can flatten their backs more when tilting their pelvis. However, this does place them on the middle of their seat-bones. Men also have a less mobile tailbone.
How do we teach men and women differently?
So, how do men and women differ? Men’s muscles and soft tissue around the pelvis area are generally tighter, so they tend to have less mobility, but may be stronger as riders. Women might substitute strength with a wider range of motion in the saddle.
Having mobility and strength in our pelvis area will help us to balance on a horse more accurately, meaning balancing and moving with a horse’s movement, especially over fences. This action will eventually soften our hands, as we learn to understand, enforce, support or counteract our horses’ movements more and more with our seat, rather than our hands.
Ideally, our basic and natural jumping position should be a relaxed, yet upright position on a horse, in which the pelvis would be in a neutral position.
In flatwork, if we look at the halt, to be truly effective, you would try to put your leg on whilst releasing your hip bones backwards, in a tilting motion. To do the opposite and enforce forward movement, you would slightly ease off your leg whilst tucking your tailbone under and forwards. This ‘tucking’ should hopefully communicate a forward movement to the horse. If you can focus on your own ‘pelvic tilt’ when riding and really notice how it affects the horse, you will be able to hone the movements that slow the horse, or drive him on.