A“chair seat” is a common issue for many riders. It presents as a rider whose legs are too far forward, with stirrups that are too short. A chair seat position can push your bottom to the back of the saddle and make it easy to lose your stirrups. These faults make you less stable in the saddle and less effective with your aids.
From my perspective as a physiotherapist, it makes sense that many riders would struggle with a chair seat. Our modern lifestyle includes a lot of sitting, whether at desks, in cars or on couches. When we get on our horses, it can be hard not to adopt that same sitting position.
Stretching exercises performed off your horse can help ease tension in the front of your hips. This allows your lower leg to relax down and around your horse’s side, correcting the chair seat and related faults.
Hip flexor stretches
These are my favourite hip flexor stretches. You have several hip flexor muscles, which require slightly different stretches. Experiment with these exercises to figure out which ones are most effective for you.
For the first exercise, start in a lunge stance with your back heel off the ground. In this position, you should feel a mild pull in the front of your hip or thigh on your back leg. Next, tuck your bottom and flatten your low back to increase the stretch as in photo 1.
Alternatively, try a similar stretch on your knees. Bring one foot forward, then do a small lunge forward, like in photo 2. If you really want to maximize the stretch down the front of your thigh, try putting the back foot onto a chair or couch, as in photo 3. Like in the first exercise, increase the stretch by tucking in your bottom.
Optimizing your stretches
With these exercises, the most important thing is to keep your low back in a neutral or flattened position. Making a bigger lunge by hollowing your low back can trigger low back pain, and it decreases the quality of the stretch. If you find your low back hollowing and can’t correct it, make your lunge smaller.
It’s also important to pay attention to where your pelvis is pointing during these exercises. Make sure your pelvis is pointing straight forward, or even turned a little toward the front leg. This will often increase the stretch.
Stretches should produce a strong, but comfortable sensation and should not trigger pain anywhere in your body. I typically recommend holding stretches for 30 seconds, but feel free to experiment with this. A shorter stretch is more suitable right before riding, and a longer stretch is best when you feel stiffer. Most people are tight through the front of their hips and would benefit from adding these stretches to their daily routine.
When to get help from a physiotherapist
While these exercises are a great starting point for many riders, there can be benefits to building a customized off-horse exercise program. Exercises on the ground are ideal for improving your riding posture because you can focus exclusively on your own form without being impacted by your horse’s imbalances. This is particularly important if you are having pain. An assessment with a physiotherapist can help you identify your imbalances and work out a plan to improve them.