An elite level dressage rider may give the illusion of sitting quietly and motionless but there are subtle position changes happening all the time allowing the horse to move freely and unhindered by the rider.
When we ride, our body position is constantly changing as we move dynamically with the body of our horse. It does not stay in a fixed “neutral” position,
We don’t live in “Neutral” in every day life either, there is a constant assessing and re-assessing within our posture and balance as the forces of gravity act on us.
So if we don’t live, walk or ride in “neutral pelvis” why do we teach it and how can it help equestrians ride better?
“A tool not a rule”
I always think of “neutral pelvis’ in terms of how we all learnt our “Times tables” as kids.
At first it seems like a pointless task: “Why do we need to know what 8×8 is or what 9×7 is automatically? ”
Then as we progress we realise that learning the times tables was not the end purpose, but the doorway to understanding multiplication, long division and ultimately more complicated mathematics.
“Neutral” can be used in the same way, as a doorway into a deeper understanding of movement, dynamic stability and alignment. When used as a teaching tool ‘neutral’ can help riders learn to orientate their pelvis and spine in the saddle to improve their riding position and develop clear independent aids..
What is “Neutral” Pelvis?
When lying down Neutral pelvis is said to be when your prominent hip bones ( Anterior Superior Iliac Spine/ASIS ) are level with each other left to right and with the pubic bone horizontally.
When your body is vertical, such as sitting, standing or at a halt in the saddle, the ASIS are level with each other horizontally and with your pubic bone vertically.
Why Use Neutral?
Neutral Pelvis can be described as a start point or concept, like starting a car in neutral gear or finding a square halt at the beginning of a dressage test.
Personally I use ‘Neutral” as a tool to help my clients learn about how their body moves. Exercises that start from a neutral pelvis and spine can help clients understand the different ways they can move and how the spine and pelvis interact with each other and the rest of the body.
Just like our ‘Times tables” once the knowledge is there, it forms the basis of understanding movement. It can be referred to when necessary, however the rest of their sessions will focus on more challenging global movements.
How can “Neutral” help Equestrians?
Any Restrictions or stiffness in your movements will always have an impact on your horse. Learning Pilates exercises that help us understand our bodies and improve our alignment will make it easier to address any issues with our seat and position.
Hip Dissociation exercises that use ‘neutral Pelvis’ are helpful for understanding the link between your pelvis and thigh bone (femur) and how to use one independently of the other. They can help develop your leg position and the use of independent leg aids as well as reducing any hip discomfort from riding and daily life.
Understanding how our bodies move helps us to recognise the unwanted movement patterns we make when riding, then we can use specific out-of-the-saddle exercises to target and reduce those unwanted jiggles.
A means to an end…
Neutral Pelvis is a starting position for good movement patterns and a means to an end. Once you have learnt “hip dissociation’ exercises you can then integrate the concept of neutral into dynamic patterns of movement and responsive riding.
Ultimately, good movement patterns are key and we need to learn to move with our horse and to be ‘dynamically stable’ in the saddle whilst also being quiet, calm and responsive.
Give it a try…
Below are two examples of Pilates exercises that promote ‘hip dissociation”and that can help riders learn to develop an independent seat/leg aids.
The first example uses neutral as a start point for working the legs independently of the pelvis, the second builds on the skills taught in the first exercises and increase the complexity and range of movement.
Exercise name: Knee folds
Rider relevance: This is a Hip/pelvis dissociation exercise to improve your pelvic and spinal stability.
It will improve your balance and help you develop a secure and independent seat in the saddle
Start position: Semi supine, knees bent feet on the floor hip width apart.
Exhale lift the left leg without moving the pelvis.
Exhale to lower the leg without moving the pelvis
Reps: 6 on each leg
Tips: Focus on keeping rest of the body still to support the moving leg
Exercise name: Single Leg Stretch
Rider relevance: The asymmetrical movement of your legs challenges your spinal stability and builds stamina into the abdominal muscles.
It Lengthens the hip and legs and improves cross co-ordination of your limbs.
These skills will help develop your seat and improve the use of independent aids.
Start position: Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the mat.
Inhale to bend both legs into your chest, keeping your tailbone down on the
Exhale to curl the head up off the floor and then place your hands on your
- Inhale to prepare.
- Exhale and extend your right leg out at about 45 degrees from your body.
At the same time draw your left knee closer to your chest keeping your bottom on the mat.
- Inhale to exchange legs.
Reps: 5-10 on each leg.
Tips: Maintain stability in the pelvis and upper body as the legs move.