Creating a supple, balanced and athletic horse for any discipline requires the rider to have an effective seat through a strong core. The base for a solid barrel of core stability is your pelvic floor. The rest of your barrel of core stability includes transverse abdominals (anterior), diaphragm (superior) and multifidus (posterior). Dysfunction or weakness of the pelvic floor can be discerned in more extreme cases by bladder or bowel incontinence or voiding issues, but sub-optimal firing of your pelvic floor is often much more subtle. Dysfunction in part of your core affects the rest of your core, overall riding performance, and effectiveness of your seat.
Achieving half-steps through an effective seat involves gently lifting the pelvic floor with the action of the horse and using your adductors (inner thigh) as an extension of your core to elevate your horse’s barrel. This has to occur while bringing your leg back to help the horse shift its center of gravity to its hind legs, while allowing your hands and upper body to act independently. This independent coordination of hands, seat, back, and legs requires a working pelvic floor.
The pelvic floor can be broken down into quadrants: anterior, posterior, left, and right sides. Symmetry in the strength of your core is equally important in creating a balanced horse that doesn’t lean on one hand or leg. Mobility and strength deficits through the hips and legs can inhibit the ability to achieve the leg and seat finesse necessary to create a half-step (see previous Horse Sport articles on calf stretches and core stability).
It is possible to train each quadrant of your pelvic floor to improve both your core stability and the effectiveness of your seat. Try the squat/lunge exercises below:
• Stand in the middle of imaginary four quadrants, feet shoulder-width apart, in an athletic/riding stance. To feel your anterior pelvic floor engage, gently lift your pelvic floor by simulating stopping the flow of urine for 5 seconds as you bring your weight slowly in front of the vertical into a half-squat (#1). To train your posterior pelvic floor, gently squeeze your buttocks and simulate stopping a bowel movement for 5 seconds as you shift your weight back into a half-squat (#2). Repeat 6 times.
•To train each quadrant, use the same starting position and step forward and to the right (#3), shifting weight onto the right foot and repeating the anterior pelvic floor hold to train the right anterior quadrant, or back and to the right for the right posterior quadrant (#4). Hold for 5 seconds; alternate with left side for 6 reps each. You may notice that one quadrant feels more stable or you can feel the hold better than others. The quadrant that is difficult to engage needs the most training. This exercise requires finesse and attention to detail to properly train your pelvic floor to create a responsive horse.