California Riding Magazine • May, 2008

Fit To Ride
Secure Seat and Better Balance

by Sylvie Quenneville

Beginners and advanced riders all know a deep and secure seat is the prerequisite for effective riding. The more balanced the seat of the rider, the less strength is necessary for maintaining a secure seat. A secure seat is a quiet seat. The more quietly you sit, the less you will disturb the horse and the more clearly the horse will be able to feel the weight aids.

A rider with a secure seat has eliminated any space between themselves and the horse. They follow the motion in a very balanced and supple way. The entire body is a part of the horse’s movements and the seat is “glued” to the saddle at any phase of the movement. Sounds practically impossible? Equestric found a common problem with many riders unable to achieve a secure seat. The phenomenon of “gluteal amnesia” or more simply, weak glutes (buttocks) are often the issue with many riders. Learn and train to effectively use this “powerhouse” muscle and notice a significant change in your riding.

Importance of Glute Firing

The phenomenon of “gluteal amnesia” is most commonly due to overactive hip flexors. When the hip flexors (psoas, iliacus, rectus femoris, tensor fascia latae) become tight from poor training and/or prolonged sitting/driving, their antagonists (gluteus maximus, primarily) tend to become weak.  This mechanism is known as reciprocal inhibition.  Basically, when the muscles on one side of a joint become tight, this alters the joint kinematics and shuts down the muscle(s) on the other side of the joint. Having tight hip flexors draws the pelvis forward, and weak glutes are unable to combat that forward pull, causing the lower back to arch into a swayback position.

Include this exercise in your workouts to isolate and effectively
activate your glutes. Lie on your back with your legs bent
and your feet flat on the floor. Contract your glutes and
push your hips all the way up. Come back down about
six inches then push back up. As you get to your highest point,
be careful not to arch your back. Push up in one count and
lower slowly in three counts. Do 20 repetitions and
don’t let your glutes touch the floor during those repetitions.
Repeat twice. For more advanced, do a
one legged glute bridge as shown in the second picture.

The human body is an amazing piece of machinery and will find ways to accomplish movements even if some muscles aren’t functioning to their capacity.  It learns to compensate and calls upon other muscles to perform the movement to accomplish the particular task. If our glutes aren’t working properly, the body will lean on its synergists (helpers) to work overtime in tasks that involve hip extension, hip external rotation, as well as deceleration of hip flexion and hip internal rotation. For riding, this means the pelvis tends to lock, making it difficult to control your hip and thigh movements. When this happens, the upper body becomes unsteady, and the rider has to hold on increasingly tightly with the legs. We have also noticed that riders who complain of tight calves and hamstrings usually also have poor glute function. It is very common in the ordinary population: It isn’t just restricted to riders and athletes. Regaining strength in your hamstrings and glutes will not only improve posture and balance but will also improve your capability to keep your heels down, will make your position stronger and lessen abnormal and extreme movement in the pelvis. The pelvis is the crux of a good seat because of its facility to tilt back and forth, based on the flexing of the lumbo-sacral joint in your spine.

Remember, only when we are able to feel a certain area of our body quite distinctly can we work on controlling it. This exercise will achieve this goal and you will see immediate results in your riding.