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A Physiotherapist's View: The Dysfunctional Equestrian! Part 2

A continuation from Part 1... Lots of fabulous, relatable diagrams, showing common weaknesses in the rider's body, plus a few tips on how to combat them!


Muscle imbalances as a result of the pelvis obliquity (see images below on anterior and posterior tilt) will cause unlevel weight distribution, uneven legs, low back ache and too much movement, which is exhausting for both horse and rider. It is worth noting that over developed/working adductor muscles will inhibit glute strength and function leading to more faulty biomechanics and result in dominant hip flexors pulling oneself along walking/jogging and leading to various pain syndromes.

It is advisable to walk often carrying no bags allowing a proper heel strike and allowing the spine to swing and the arms to follow the movement with a natural rhythm.

Figure: (b) Anterior tilt: muscles held in a shortened position. (c) Anterior tilt: muscles held in a lengthened position.

Figure: (e) Posterior tilt: muscles held in a shortened position. (f) Posterior tilt: muscles held in a lengthened position.

⦁ Sacroiliac pain (as shown by figure below) alters the ability of the rider to sit deeply in the saddle losing movement at the hips so the spine must compensate and can lead to facet pain, degeneration, muscle strain, ligament sprain; pain may refer out into the glutes, groin and/or down the leg.

Figure: Denise pointing to her painful sacroiliac joint (SIJ)

Outer Core Unit

The force closure muscles of the outer core unit consist of four integrated myofascial sling systems (Figures below):

⦁ Posterior longitudinal sling

⦁ Lateral sling

⦁ Anterior oblique sling

⦁ Posterior oblique sling

These myofascial slings provide force closure and subsequent stability for the pelvic girdle; failure or even weakness of any of these slings to secure pelvic stability can lead to lumbopelvic pain and dysfunctions. Although the muscles of the outer core unit can be trained individually, effective force closure requires specific coactivation and release of these myofascial slings for optimal function and performance.

Figure: Posterior longitudinal sling Figure: Anterior oblique sling

Figure: Lateral sling Figure: Posterior oblique sling

The identification and treatment of a specific muscle dysfunction (such as weakness, inappropriate recruitment, or tightness) is important when restoring force closure (second component of stability) and for understanding why parts of a sling may be restricted in motion or lacking in support.

Exercising the Outer Core

When most people go to the gym to exercise, they generally perform routines that are typically frontal-plane or sagittal-plane types of exercise: they either lift a weight to the sides of their body or to the front. If one were to ask these individuals to demonstrate an exercise to train their core, and also to perform that specific exercise in the transverse plane, I am sure that after some thought they would probably lie on their back and perform an abdominal crunch type of motion with a rotation; in other words, their elbow would be directed toward their opposite knee while performing the crunch movement.

Other than getting out of bed in the morning, when do we ever perform this type of motion? When do we lie on our back and rotate the elbow toward the opposite knee? This exercise is non-functional, even though many gym users routinely perform this exercise for their core muscles every day in their personal exercise routines.

If you think about it, most sporting movements, or simply walking come to that, normally involve some type of action in the transverse plane (movement across the body) of motion. Therefore, to train specifically within the parameters of the transverse plane, in combination with training in the sagittal (coronal) and frontal planes?

Movement-Based Exercise

The inner core unit musculature is generally made up of postural (tonic) muscle types that function mainly as stabilizers. These inner core muscles effectively stabilize the spine and SIJ at low levels of muscular contraction, with a low susceptibility to fatigue. Coordination of the inner core is critical for proper stabilization, which then allows a coordinated recruitment of the muscles of the outer core unit. The ability of the inner core unit muscles to contract prior to force production by the phasic muscles (biased toward movements) is actually considered more important than their inherent strength.

The outer core unit is mainly a phasic system, with large muscles that produce enough force to subsequently propel the body forward. The outer core, consisting of the four myofascial slings, also plays a very important role in stabilization of the pelvis because all four individual slings cross this area and naturally assist in force closure of the SIJ.

Functional movement patterns must be identified by the equestrian and resistance applied to those patterns in a specific way. This is what resistance training is all about... resisting movements!

Thinking back to all the one-sided movements involved in taking care of our horses, I think the following exercises are a good way to balance up and even yourself out while strengthening in a functional way that will also benefit walking, running and core stability both on and off the horse.

1. Push

The first exercise I propose is very effective at utilizing the anterior oblique sling. If you look at the start position in Figure (a), you will notice that the exercise band (alternatively a cable machine can be used) is held with the athlete’s right hand at shoulder height, and their left arm and left leg are placed in a forward position.

The exercise motion is shown in Figure (b): the athlete pushes the band forward across their body, using their stance leg adductors, internal oblique, and contralateral external oblique. At the same time, the left arm comes backward, as this induces a rotation of the trunk to the left side, subsequently working the anterior oblique sling in the transverse plane of motion.

All day-to-day movements will work this muscle sling, but particularly good examples are the actions of walking, running, and throwing. But how many of us even walk with good biomechanics?

Note: It is very important that the athlete control the motion in both phases, i.e., the concentric (shortening) phase and the eccentric (lengthening) phase, and not let the band control the movement. You need to be aware of the activation of the inner core musculature in order to provide the necessary stability to perform these exercises and your one sidedness will show up doing these; make sure rotation is through the trunk. If you are unsure about performing these exercises, please seek professional advice before you begin any type of resistance training.

“You control the movement—don’t let the movement control you” John Gibbons Bodymaster

2. Pull

This exercise is very effective in utilizing the posterior oblique sling. If you look at the start position in Figure (a), you will see that the exercise band/cable is held with the athlete’s right hand at shoulder height, and their left leg and left arm are placed in a backward position.

The exercise motion is shown in Figure (b): using the latissimus dorsi, thoracolumbar fascia, and contralateral Gmax, the athlete pulls the band backward across their body with their right arm. At the same time, the left arm comes forward, as this induces a rotation of the trunk to the right side, subsequently working the posterior oblique sling in the transverse plane of motion.

“Every pull is a push and every push is a pull— you cannot have one without the other” John

These exercises are important as we often ride curves, resist and stabilize at the same time as rotating through the trunk without collapsing. There are many exercises a rider can do but these are important functional ones.

I look forward to meeting more of you and helping you overcome existing niggles. So please get in touch, your horse will thank you for it.


Denise Thomas


Mobile: 07710170838

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