Using Your Core To Create A More Effective Seat

18 August 2020

Correct utilisation of core muscles will make a huge difference to your riding...

How many times have you heard your coach telling you to use your core, or riders talking about how core strength is key in sitting the trot or riding over bigger fences with good form? 


Being able to correctly apply your core muscles makes a huge difference to your riding, but so many of us just don’t really know what we can do in order to make this happen.


Dressage riders often need to use their core to create better, more effective half halts and apply more precise aids.


A strong core is also what keeps you from bouncing out of the saddle in sitting trot or from flopping around all over the place in canter. For jumpers, the purpose may be different but the same rules apply.


A core that can be engaged and used effectively gives you better stability and control in the saddle and gives you more control over your aids...

An engaged
core gives
you better

How can your core create a more secure and effective seat?

Often, when riders are told to use their core you will see them tense and stiffen in an effort to engage the muscles.


This creates a seat which doesn’t follow the movement of the horse so isn’t particularly effective, and also isn’t very secure. If you can’t follow the movement of a horse because you’re stiff, you’re more likely to tumble if your horse spooks or be jumped ‘out of the tack’ over a fence.


Added to that, you can’t effectively use your seat for half halts or refined weight aids when you’re sitting stiffly.


When your core is active and engaged, however, you have the ability to sit in balance and good alignment on the horse.


When you have this right, you’ll find that you aren’t being bumped around or tipping forward or backwards (or sideways!) on the horse and that applying independent aids is much easier.


Much of this comes from the rider’s pelvis absorbing and going with the movement of the horse’s back – this cannot happen with a core that isn’t engaged, and also cannot happen when you are stiff.



 So how can you get a more engaged core? 


Neurokinetic therapy (NKT) practitioner and biokineticist Ayla Downing Caldwell says that the first step towards effectively using your core is defining what the core is.


If you’re looking at core online, you’ll find a lot of quite high intensity exercises like planks and crunches.


However, when you actually look into anatomy, there’s a deep “core line” which runs pretty much from your tongue to your toes and includes not just muscles but connective tissue as well.


So that would be your “deep core” and it runs the whole length of your body, rather than just the torso area that people tend to focus on when we talk core.


Having said that, many of the key muscles as they relate to riding and your seat and position, are those muscles which attach to the pelvis (back muscles, stomach muscles, hamstrings, to name but a few).


Downing Caldwell notes that a lot of the muscles that make up the core are involuntary muscles (e.g. the diaphragm or pelvic floor) so we don’t consciously or directly control them, which is where the core becomes quite interesting because we all want to ‘train’ our core – but really, the stomach muscle, the inner thighs and down the legs are the only conscious muscles.


So those will often over work, which creates an imbalance and “shuts off” other areas.


So, in order for the core to become more effective, the entire core line needs to work together including the nervous system. Downing Caldwell mentions at this point that riders often run into problems here due to compensation, in that most riders have historic injuries or pain and those muscle groups have ‘shut down’ as a result.


Thus, exercising more (or upping the intensity) will only train the compensatory pattern. 


So, overcoming pain, scar tissue, or historical injuries is often the first step towards using your core more effectively – so that means seeing professionals yourself and not keeping all your physio money for your horse!


Making improvements...

Here are some important tips to keep in mind to help speed your core strength along, according to Downing Caldwell:


  • Your breathing is ultra-important. Learning to meditate or working with someone who can help you successfully implement breathing exercises gives you much finer control over your core and posture, and it is also key in terms of calming nerves or anxiety (which will often have a knock-on effect on your seat and posture).


  • The more cross training you can do, the better. This teaches your body to engage muscles in different ways, not just use the same muscles in the same patterns over and over again (which can actually make things worse as you reinforce your weaknesses too!). Downing Caldwell cites swimming as a great option, along with yoga and pilates – but says that any other exercise you enjoy can help too.


  • Work with an experienced physio, biokineticist or NKT practitioner to help find the areas that aren’t working optimally and train them so that your deep core can work as a whole. Nowadays, many practitioners can even help you remotely.


That core is so important for riders of all ages. The FEI Dressage European Youth Championships 2020 continues from today with Young Riders and U25 athletes taking centre stage from August 17-21. The events will be streamed live on Facebook and YouTube, with Friday’s Freestyle finals on FEI TV


Words by Sophie Baker


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