Rocky Horror fans will know about the “pelvic thrust”, which has its importance in equestrian sports, too. So we asked show jumper and yoga teacher Aline Domaingo to share some top tips for working that pelvis.
As a yoga teacher and professional showjumper, I am very interested in the mechanics of how our bodies function! Here, I’d like to talk about the pelvis and its importance for eventers.
Austrian show jumper and yoga teacher, Aline Domaingo.
Smooth communication with a well-coordinated, yet gentle seat is key within the show jumping phase, and any other riding discipline. 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.
The gender divide
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.
The female pelvis is usually broader than men’s and has a rounder pelvic inlet to facilitate pregnancy and birth! (This You Tube video is quite explanatory, in terms of the male versus female pelvis. Don’t worry–it’s not a birthing video!) There’s naturally more range of motion in women’s pelvic joints than men’s normally, due to men’s shallower hip joints. Furthermore, men have a less mobile tailbone, which additionally restricts mobility in the pelvis, especially forward and backward.
Having mobility in the pelvic area helps us to balance more accurately. Aline Domaingo is pictured. Photo by A.Domaingo / R.Willis.
When teaching yoga postures that require and enforce pelvis motion, especially ‘asanas’, known as ‘hip openers’, we bear in mind that women’s range of motion is naturally easier in the pelvis area; their soft tissues and muscles will be adapted to a wider range of movement. Men’s muscles and soft tissue around the pelvis area are generally tighter. This is why men might feel a very strong stretching effect when only asking little movement in their hip joints, whilst women might have to go ‘deeper’ into a position in order to feel the ‘opening’/stretching effect.
Typically, when stretching or doing yoga, men try to compensate lack of mobility with strength, whilst women might substitute strength with a wider range of motion. Both mobility and strength are important in every joint for horse riders, but should work in a healthy relation to each other.
I am often asked, how important is hip and pelvic strength and mobility to riders, in terms of flatwork training, and the thoroughness and communication it gives us? Having mobility and strength in our pelvis area will help us to balance on a horse more accurately, meaning balancing and ‘moving on’ with a horse’s movement. 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, as shown in ‘Figure B’ below. This position would assume a simple support of the current motion or gait, whether this is in walk, trot or canter.
The rider’s pelvis – Image courtesy of Musculoskeletalkey.com
If we look at a halt or half-halt–which requires you to slow your horse down ideally more with your seat (which I would actually class as the pelvis, spine and rider’s legs) than your hands–to be truly effective, you would try to put your leg on whilst releasing your hip bones to the front. This ‘anterior tilt’ is shown in ‘Figure A’ above – you are now slightly easing off the horse’s back.
To do the opposite and enforce forward movement, you would slightly ease off your leg (obviously these movements will vary from horse to horse!), whilst tucking your tailbone under. This ‘tucking under’ or posterior tilting of the pelvis is shown in ‘Figure C’, above. This should hopefully communicate a gentle, 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 in very accurate increments. This is vital when you’re in jump-off or wanting to increase your dressage scores!
Austria’s Aline Domaingo is part of a dynamic showjumping couple with Australian rider Rowan Willis. The riders, who compete internationally at FEI level, are committed to showcasing the best riding and training methods, and to sharing their love of rider health and wellness. They’re ambassador riders for Ozone Therapy UK, offering ozone sauna therapy for athletes at www.ozone-therapy.co.uk