Symmetry in the Saddle - How your Posture can Affect Horse Performance

Horse riding as a sport requires the rider to have exceptional balance, strength and control. In an ideal world this will mean that the rider is perfectly symmetrical in the saddle. All too often we worry about whether or not the horse is balanced and even on both reins, but most riders neglect to focus on whether the same is true of their own body. Asymmetry in the rider can lead to decreased performance and possible injury to both the horse and rider.

This notion was recently researched in 2015 by Hampson and Randle. They conducted a study titled “The influence of an 8-week rider core fitness program on the equine back at sitting trot”. They based their study on the recognition that the rider’s physical presence can be a contributing factor to the horse developing back pain and locomotion problems, particularly if the rider was creating an asymmetrical load in the way they sat in the saddle. They examined 10 riders who were currently competing in Medium level dressage. An electronic saddle mat placed between the saddle and the horse was used to measure dynamic pressure distribution of the rider. The horse’s stride length was captured by a high speed camera and analysed in biomechanics software program. 

All 10 riders assessed in the study presented with an asymmetrical loading pattern in sitting trot. This pattern was significantly improved following the completion of the 8-week core stability program. On average the horses showed an 8.4% increase in stride length. Anecdotally, coaches and riders reported that in general the horses showed improved straightness, more relaxation through the topline and improved performance by the 8 week mark of the program. Riders demonstrated a deeper and more stable seat, with less rotation through the trunk

   This image shows a rider sitting asymmetrically in the saddle. You can easily see that her hips and shoulders aren’t level, her stirrup heights are uneven and that her weight has shifted over to the right. Image: © Joingate |   dreamstime.com

 This image shows a rider sitting asymmetrically in the saddle. You can easily see that her hips and shoulders aren’t level, her stirrup heights are uneven and that her weight has shifted over to the right. Image: © Joingate | dreamstime.com

What does this research mean?

This study highlights just how much an unbalanced and asymmetrical seat of the rider can affect the performance of the equestrian partnership. If you feel that your horse is under-performing, it is imperative to consider that you as the rider may be contributing to that.

Simple posture checks to perform off the horse

  • Get 2 scales of the same height, and place them on the floor next to each other. Stand with one foot on each scale, in your natural resting standing posture, looking straight ahead. Ask someone to read the weight on each scale. Ideally the value should be equal on each scale. Next perform a squat action. Does the value stay the same on each scale?
  • Stand in front of a full length mirror. Do a quick shoulders, hips and knees alignment check. Which box do you fit in?
Good PosturePoor Posture
ShouldersShoulders level, Thumbs facing forwardsUneven shoulder height, Thumbs turned in against thighs
HipsHips level (to measure place one hand on each hip, with your index fingers resting on the bony prominence at the front of your pelvis. Do your fingers line up?)Uneven hip height
KneesKneecaps pointing forwards, Knee position equalKneecaps pointing in or outwards, One knee more extended (straighter) than the other
  • Check the seat in your breeches or jodhpurs. Are they marked or worn unevenly? If so, it may suggest that you’re sitting with your weight more on one side than the other. I recently had a patient tell me that she had noticed she had worn a hole on one side of the seat on her breeches. On assessment we discovered that she had a significant pelvic alignment issue, which was causing her to sit with her weight more on one seat bone than the other.

If these simple checks highlight that you may have some asymmetries, it is recommended that undertake a full assessment with a health care professional trained in assessing posture, alignment and stability. This will allow for a specific treatment plan, likely including a tailored exercise program, to be prescribed that is relevant to you as an individual, setting you and your horse on track for improved performance.