Horse-Riding: the Collapsed Hip

The collapsed hip, a very common manifestation of a number of serious faults in the seat, has its origins in the anatomical problem of being asymmetrical. We are built differently on each of our sides; we even have different organs lodged on different sides. We are certainly right- or left-handed, depending on functions of our central nervous system. As a result of one side predominating, our musculoskeletal progress also develops unevenly.

Yet, the goal of most athletic endeavors is to achieve trained (learned) ambidexterity. We certainly propose ambidexterity as one of our major gymnastic goals for our horses: “Straighten your horse and ride him forward!”

To diagnose a collapsed hip, one observes the rider from the front and from the back. Let us suppose that the rider’s right hip is collapsed. Then this is what one would see:

1. The right stirrup looks (or is) shorter, the right ankle is stiff with the toe turned out and down more than on the left side.
2. The right knee is higher and more forward than the left one.
3. The right seat bone is pushed toward the center of the saddle while the rider “hangs away” from the horse’s spine to the left of it.
4. The whole torso is shifted to the left of the horse’s spine, while leaning at an angle to the right.

To compensate for the majority of the torso’s weight being to the left of the horse’s spine, the rider attempts to regain his balance by lowering his right shoulder and leaning his torso to the right. This will make the rider appear concave to the right and stretched taller on his left side. In such a position, the rider sits crookedly. Since riding is based on harmony, such a seat would impair progress.

Collapsed hips are a direct consequence of specific stiffness in the rider. Stiffness may be limited at first to an isolated area but will inevitably spread to other parts of the rider’s body. The collapsed-hip syndrome is usually caused by ankle stiffness initially. If a rider cannot absorb the motion of the stirrups by properly resting his toes on them, following them with supplely rotating ankles, the ankles will stiffen. Supple ankles are a result of correctly positioned legs that hang parallel with the horse’s sides. By posting unevenly, by sitting into the hollow side of the horse, or by maladjusted and/or uneven length of stirrups, riders with stiff ankles turn the foot out more or press down with one foot more forcefully on the stirrup. This slight change in that small ankle area can push one entire side of the rider off to one side, out of balance, and produce a collapsed hip!

By sitting on a chair at home, putting both feet on the floor, then pushing the right toe down, pulling the heel up, one can feel the right seat bone move to the center of the chair and the hip collapse. In the chair, one can reproduce the whole syndrome.

To correct the problem, one must eliminate its cause. Therefore, learn to mobilize and supple the ankles by following the motion of the stirrups. Lift the toes up and sink the heels down. The collapsed seat bone side should be pushed forward. Take all leg contact away from the saddle and ride in a walk with both legs lifted away from saddle contact. Feel how the seat bones can be pushed forward into place and how the lower back must work in order to keep them there!

In all turns, arcs, and circles, where the horse is expected to bend, one ought to ride with the inside bone pushed forward and down. We feel heavier on the inside seat bone because when bending the horse, the rider’s outside knee and thigh must be pushed back and down, steadying the lower leg on the outside slightly behind the inner one in order to bend the horse. The heels must stay down to secure stretched calves.

By riding with the outside leg properly back, one automatically feels heavier on the inside seat bone without leaning on it. Then push the inside seat bone forward, downward, inward, and not sideways toward the center of the saddle.

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