Secrets to Healthy, Mobile Hips

dressage horse and rider

This time we’re talking about healthy, mobile hips. When hips are tight, it can lead to other common issues such as low back pain, hip pain, compromised leg position, less accurate aids, and even unconscious training of your horse to ignore your aids.

Most people understand that when an area is tight, it needs to be stretched. That’s true, but the other often counter-intuitive piece of the puzzle has to do with muscle weakness.

Before we go on to the strength exercise, the stretch of the month is the hip rotator. Lie on your back with one ankle on the other knee. Then pull your legs in toward you. You can gently rock your hips and legs together back and forth (slowly) to roll the stretch across your hip.

rider stretch hip rotator

There are several muscles around the hip area that need to be strengthened. Riders especially engage in a sport that involves a lot of sitting, which means that extra care needs to be taken out of the saddle to have healthy hips. The muscles that I’m focused on today are the quadriceps, and hip stabilizers.

Hip stabilizers control range of motion in your hip socket. It’s important for them to be strong, because when they are strong they can be relaxed, which allows more mobility in your hip socket itself, while retaining tone. That’s the secret to suppleness: soft strength.

Strengthening quadriceps also helps riders because strong quadriceps contribute to an overall balanced leg strength (often the hamstrings are too tight), which helps a rider’s hip stay neutral. I like to use exercises that strengthen the quadriceps and hamstrings together, so that the net effect is a balanced hip. This means that most of the time, I will not tell a rider to use a quadriceps machine at a gym. I’ll get them doing some form of body weight lunge or squat.

DSCN1336This month’s exercise is the single leg squat. Performed slowly, it strengthens the hip stabilizers by challenging your balance (only squat as deeply as you can without wobbling). It also strengthens your quadriceps and hip flexors. You can hold something for balance, but make sure that it is your leg which is bearing your weight. Repeat on one leg until that leg is tired, and then do exactly the same number on the other leg.



For a gentler version, don’t squat as deeply. Respect what your knees and hips can handle, while pushing your personal limit a tiny bit each time you work out.

For a more advanced version, try this pistol box squat (see the video on Youtube) which adds a more intensive leg extension while attempting to sit on a chair.

You will find other pistol squats on the internet. I find the knee bend required in them too much for most people, especially for riders over 35. Such knee bend doesn’t do anything to train you- it’s just hard on the knee. Slowly lowering yourself while folding nicely at the seat (sticking your seat back looking for the chair) gives you all the benefits of muscle building, without overstrain on the knee.

Happy riding and training!

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