8 Key Muscles Involved When We Ride

In this article I am going to share what muscle horseback riding use and specifically break it down to the muscles involved for creating good dressage posture.

Firstly though its important to know a little about our core and that the core is much more than just your abdominals it is your entire central unit. Front, back, inside and out. So the core includes muscles that affect the stabilization of your spine, pelvis and ribcage. So today I thought I would share 8 of the key lower half ones and then check out the next post in this series for the muscles involved in stabilizing your ribcage and upper body.


What muscles does horseback riding use?

To pinpoint just a few muscles is doing disservice to the amount of subtle work our body has to do while we ride, but for the purpose of this article I wanted to bring attention to some of the key muscles that can affect our posture and balance when we ride and the role that they play when we ride as well.

Our pelvis plays a crucial role in dressage and the muscles involved in stabilizing it are important to understand. An unstable pelvis can create an unstable ribcage and shoulder girdle. This then can affect not just the rider but the horse as well, from leaning on one rein to having problems bending one way.

Often it is really hard to determine whether its the rider or the horse with the issue. So it makes sense that you as a rider want to understand how the body works and what muscle horseback riding use to create that still and stable position in the saddle. The more you can work upon your own strengths and weaknesses as a rider alongside your horse the better a picture will be and the easier your training will be. You are a team effort after all.

what muscles does horseback riding use


8 key muscles horseback riders use

So here is a breakdown of 8 of the key muscles involved in horseback riding to create good core stability through the lower half of the core. Mainly helping to stabilize the pelvis and hips, once you get a good understanding of the muscles in later articles I will more about each one and how to improve there function.


Transverse Abdominus what muscles does horseback riding use

First up, this muscle helps stabilize between your hips, your ribs as well as your pelvis. Its like the brace that wraps around your centre and keeps your spine protected. Think of it like a corset around your middle. Its the muscle that comes on when you cough. I like to use the word brace and to imagine if I was to come and poke or punch you in the belly. You would brace your centre and switch your TVA (transverse abdominus).



These are our turning muscles and imagine your hand sliding into your front pocket of your jeans, this is the direction of your obliques on each side. The obliques are vitally important for keeping ourselves evening stacked upon the horse. Often we may collapse through one side. Think of the obliques as the stiff guide ropes holding the sides of your body up evenly.



This attaches down the last thoracic vertebra as well as most of the lumbar vertebrae and discs between them from the inside and top of the femur. Its involved with flexing your hip and laterally rotating it. It also has a role in flexing your spine sideways, extending and rotating it. Its big role is the management of the pelvis and controlling the front to back motion. This has the power to restrict and or release the the riders ability to shock absorb the movement of the horse.



Similar to the psoas the iliaccus has huge power in inhibiting or releasing the movement of the horse below the rider. The iliacus starts from the iliac fossa on the interior side of the hip bone. It joins the psoas major and the two can often be referred to as the iliopsoas. Together these muscles are often called hip flexors, however I like to separate them as they do have different roles.



This attaches to the front of your sacrum and to the top of your femur. Together with the Psoas this muscle this helps rotate and extend your hips as well as internally rotate and flex. Because we are bipedal mammals (two legged) it can do the internal rotation one side and the complete opposite on the other side. Which is often highlighted when sitting in the saddle. For example if you have one thigh that adducts (moves inwards) easily, compared to the other this is highlighted once upon a horse and is going to create a uneven balance on the horses back. Very influential in the pelvic function and balance on the horse.


Gluteus Maximus

This helps control the front to back balance of your hips, along side the psoas. When tight this can inhibit the horses balance and when weak this can affect the riders balance within the saddle. Its a large powerful hip extensor. The squeezing of the glutes encourages the thighs to activate which signals a breaking affect. This is great when you want to half halt and signal stopping, but not so great when sitting to the trot and trying to create freedom through the horses back.


Quadratus Lumborum

This attaches to the bottom rib and to your lumbar vertebrae as well as the back of your pelvis (iliac crest). This has a major influence on how you move, stand and ride your horse. This is a lateral flexor which means it has the control of whether you tip or rock to one side in the saddle.


Gluteus Medius

This muscle rotates the hip inward as well as abducts the hip outwards. It is crucial for helping the rider stay balanced in the centre of the saddle.

Now that is a just a small selection of what muscle horseback riding use and the muscles that are involved in stabilizing the lower half of your body. Our body really does work as an entire unit and there is so much involved in helping to keep your body stable and balanced in the saddle. Every thing is connected. When you understanding the role that the muscles play you will be able to come more aware of areas that you may need to work on to bring more balance to your body and therefore your riding in the future.

I really hope you found this useful, you can learn more about how you can balance your body, improve your core strength and take your dressage riding to a new level with our dressage rider training program. 

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Want more articles on improving your dressage? Try these out.

Dressage Rider Exercises For Improved Fitness

6 Dressage Exercises To Help Improve Your Riding Posture

Dressage Rider Leg Strength & 6 Exercises To Help You Improve

Yoga For Dressage Riders & Routine To Improve Your Mobility Before You Ride



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