I see loads of posts these days about riders needing to stretch their hips, I also have lots of ladies tell me that their instructor told them to stretch their hips as they were too tight and this is why they couldn’t sit to the trot, couldn’t move with the horse in Canter, where gripping with their thighs etc.
The thing is I’ve done lots of Biomechanics, Flexibility and Stability tests on various different riders and almost all of them have passed the flexibility test for hips.
Think about it, just sitting astride a horse stretches out your inner thigh a great deal, then the position of your leg will stretch out the front of your thigh-even more so if you ride in a Dressage Saddle.
This information sat in my brain for a while at the beginning of my journey training riders and I would do what everyone else did and stretch out riders hips (including my own) and see if it made a difference. I’ll be honest it usually felt a little looser but it didn’t actually fix the problem of my seat, legs, gripping etc.
Then further along my journey I started adding in Stability testing, and you know what? All those riders that claimed their hips were too tight when riding despite having more than adequate flexibility when tested……………..they failed the hip stability test!
So, how does this match up to the feeling of having “tight” hips?
Movement Specialist Gray Cook describes Stability as “The ability to demonstrate Flexibility under load” In this case the ability to remain flexible whilst absorbing the movement of half a ton of horse underneath you.Boom! That explained everything.
The reason many riders appear flexible when tested on a table is that they do have the necessary range of movement, however the minute they are put on a moving horse the hips are not strong enough to absorb all of that movement whilst in a lengthened state so they contract and shorten to make themselves more stable.
The rider then stretches the hips and of course it feels nice as the hips have been shortened for a time and do need lengthening back out, but this stretching does not cure the initial problem and the rider continues to struggle.
This lack of flexibility under load is just the bodies protective mechanism, basically it doesn’t trust you to be strong and flexible at the same time.
So, if this sounds familiar; your hips feel tight, you struggle to ride in neutral spine and get your leg long down your horses side or your instructor says you are gripping or not moving with your horse and so far stretching hasn’t fixed your problem other than feel quite nice at the time it’s time to change tactics.
I am huge on hip stability with my riders, we do loads of it in my classes -like every week!
What can you do to improve yours? Thinks like Glute Bridges, Single Leg Glute Bridges, Split Squats and Single Leg Deadlifts are all great hip stability exercises so why not give them a try and they might just help you deal with that “tight hips” problem.