Pic. left: Reading Uni Riding Club riders ready for hard work on their Psoas ;) From left to right: Lucy on her own Jack, Claire and Helen on riding centre's horses.
Here is an exercise I mentioned in the post about the Psoas Muscles. I was taught how to teach this several years ago and found it very useful for teaching deep seat and core stability while riding.
Ideally you need an assistant do it well and not to strain the incorrect muscle groups.
First of all I ask the rider to sit as relaxed as possible with their legs loosly dropped from their hips. This allows me to asses the natural tendencies in the rider's body like perching forwards, leaning back, collapsing one way or the other, gripping etc It also gives me a chance to relate the rider's built (like the lenght of the thighs, the proportions of their bodies: upper body to lower body etc) to the horse's conformation, the saddle, the position of stirrup bars etc All those details will influence the rider's position and later the way they influence the horse.
Once I have an idea about the above I ask them to find neutral pelvic position. I don't think there is a text book image of this as everybody is different to the rider has to find its own neutral spinal alignment. I use posterior and anterior pelvic tilt to give the rider an idea about the two extremes (and doing the posterior pelvic tilt introduces them to the driving seat), then find the one in between.
I tell the rider to engage the core by bringing their belly button towards their spine and feeling a muscular engagement in their middle bodies that is similar to the one when you cough or sneeze.
Then we move onto stretching front of thighs gently to be able to take them back and more vertically under the pelvis.
Have a look at the pictures below for Before and After.
Claire's back is hollow, her legs are in front of her centre of gravity and her core muscles are switched off. Her stirrups lenght might be good for jumping but not for effective work on the flat.
Claire's lower leg could be a little further forward and her head back and on top of her shoulders but her core muscles are switched on, she has just the natural curve in her spine and her legs are underneath her giving her balance. She also carries herself here rather than relying on the horse to do it for her. As a result she got some very decent work out of the horse today.
Pic. above: Claire is trying it all in practice. She's on an 'up' of rising trot here and notice how balanced she is - it gives the impression that if the horse was taken away from underneath her she would land on her feet. In other words, she is in control of her centre of gravity and allows the horse to trot freely.
Here is how I work on the Iliopsoas muscles: I ask the rider to palpate their hip bone and then slide their fingers to the side of it where they can feel a little dip/shallow shape. They are to keep a couple of fingers there. I then press my hand against their lower leg and ask them to push against my hand outwards with the whole leg starting at the hip. This action moves whole thigh away from the saddle for a moment. Then I help the rider to achieve the same while keeping their legs gently touching the horse's sides.
Sometimes it takes a few goes to do it right but when done correctly the rider can feel a tiny muscle belly popping up underneath their fingers. That tiny muscle engage all of the outer thighs muscles which in turn switch off "the grippers". (Muscles Work In Pairs)
The secret is to keep those little belly muscles popped, thighs rotated inwards a fraction, inner thighs long and soft and outer thighs engaged. Amazingly this also makes the rider sit upright and strong within their abdominal muscles. It feels as if you were plugging yourself into the horse, gives you stability and helps the horse move freely. It also gives you a feel of making a room for a horse in between your legs by opening in your hips.
The Uni girls worked super hard on this today and I thought they did a great job. Probably the best feedback they got came from their horses that really loosened and became more rideable.
I am looking forward to learn even more about this biomechanics malarkey so I can teach even better and get the best even out of very ordinary horses :)