Send this page to a friend!


Women & Horses by Mary D. Midkiff - horseback riding fitness techniques for women

Women & Horses, knowledge for the female equestrian; female equestrian fitness training and riding tips

Articles by Mary D. Midkiff

Women and Horses ~ What's It All About?

An article by Mary D. Midkiff in the Journal of the AMEA
about Safety in Equestrian Sport

The qualities we see at the top of our riding disciplines have evolved through education, training, hard work, long hours, talent and desire. To be a great rider is a worthy and rewarding goal for male or female. Until recently, the thought processes and approach to teaching and training riders and selecting equipment have been generic and male oriented. But the generic approach is not effective with the majority of riders. The majority are females.

Riding is increasingly being defined by the female element -- she is the predominant participant, dollar spender and decision maker in sporting, showing and recreational activities in the horse industry.

Equestrian Resources (EQR) found over 75% of the members of all equine-related non-racing organizations in the United States are female; over 80% in the American Horse Shows Association (AHSA) alone. This percentage, however, does not indicate the higher number of females involved in pleasure riding. EQH estimates at least 500,000 females in the U.S. are enjoying horses as a sport or leisure activity and many say that number is considerably conservative.

EQR Women & Horses (W&H) Conference and National Tour was created to meet this large and growing population of active equestrian participants and is a program designed to he repeated in locations around the county throughout 1994 and 1995. Each conference presents national personalities and experts in a program of practical discussion, advice and product information devoted to improving the "team" performance of women and their horses.

Through the W&H program and our national experts we are developing techniques that increase awareness of the body and mind of rider and horse as well as provide education in what to look for in equipment that will accommodate the female pelvic and muscular structures efficiently and comfortably-.

In the athletic world at large more females are in competition than ever before and they are gaining performance enhancement by maximizing what is unique in their bodies, minds, and personalities. We are seeing more and more women in the top riding and training ranks of horse sports as leaders of equine-related organizations and as instructors. The education and societal messages they are now receiving indicate it is all right for females to pursue and realize competitive goals.

The basis of and the equipment designed for riding have been established by and for males. Horses throughout time have been used mainly for war, battle, and transportation by males. For example, the Western disciplines descending from the Native American, the working cowboy, and the Pony Express; English riding from the traditions of the hunt field and the military; and the Spanish and Arabic influence with their ancient breeds originating from tribal competitions and ceremonial presentations.

Considering the thousands of years the horse has been used by humans, horses have only been used strictly for pleasure and sport by women for a relative short period. Women have only been riding astride in Europe and the Western hemisphere for approximately 60 years.

Has the female equestrian been provided with every benefit and advantage to allow her to become the best rider she can be? The answer is no. The horse community and ancillary interests need to become more aware of the human element--the female equestrian is structured differently and should be instructed and trained with her health, comfort and safety as a priority.

One aspect of the W&H program addresses the female anatomy and its relationship to the movement of the horse. A national expert and W&H national tour speaker on the subject of the female anatomy and riding is Dr. Deb Bennett of Santa Rosa, California. She has done extensive research on the subject and is a hippologist and a paleontologist by trade.

In an article featured in Equus June 1989 ("Who's Built Best to Ride?"), Dr. Bennett explains, "The technique to which I most strongly object is the instruction given the rider to throw his or her belly or waist forward. In either sex, this motion results in compression of the dorsal aspect of the lumbar vertebral column. Sitting the trot or canter this way, with the crotch dropped downward and the lower back hollowed, will over a period of time shorten and harden the dorsal perivertebral muscles and ligaments, compress the intervertebral disks, and eventually lead to spondylolysthesis and the pinching of nerve roots which emerge dorsolaterally between adjacent vertebrae."

"Thanks to the peculiar bony anatomy which permits them to give birth, women often have difficulty learning to sit the trot or canter without bouncing. Womenís lower backs are typically 'curvierí (more lordotic) than men's. In women the sacrum articulates with the last lumbar vertebra at a much sharper angle than in men. These differences move the tip of the tailbone dorsally in women, effectively getting it out of the birth canal. However, in the context of riding, this structural arrangement also makes it easy for a women to ride with a hollow back and dropped crotch. Conversely, most men have little difficulty coiling their loins (flexing their lumbar span) which is a pelvic motion essential to following the motion of either the trot or canter.

The W&H Conferences are designed to 1) explore the differences, 2) create awareness about the female body and the origin of pain, 3) develop techniques which allow women to become the most efficient and comfortable riders given their particular anatomical and hormonal variations, and 4) identify equipment that will best accommodate the female body.

We encourage research and recognize the many areas of AMEA members' medical expertise. EQR challenges AMEA members to assist in arriving at meaningful information to help female riders. It is important the sports medicine field be particularly aware of the predominant female population involved with horses. Currently most women are not aware of how their bodies work with the movement of the horse and how they can prevent injuries through better understanding.

We see act abundance of chronic low back pain in female riders. Is it any wonder why? They have been trained to hyperextend their backs and cram their heels down while standing on their toes with an unsupportive saddle since they began to ride as a child. Manufacturers of rib, back supports and knee braces are making a lucrative living off women who ride. W&H chooses the principle of a strong support system within their bodies instead of relying on shortcuts and crutches which in the end will only weaken their muscles.

With the correct information, techniques and equipment, women don't have to hurt to ride.

For example, in the W&H Finesse Versus Strength demonstration sessions, we work with participants on becoming more aware and softening their whole approach to sitting on the horse. We reestablish the seat centered on the ischium and teach the student to concentrate on "filling in" her lower back with strength, which ultimately disallows arching or rounding the shoulders. We loosen the leg and allow it to lie flat in line with the pelvis and ground the foot with the stirrup well behind the ball of the foot with the heel parallel to the ground. The elbows remain soft and bent. This allows for an elastic and moving connection at all times resulting in release and relaxation for both horse and rider.

Physicians and physical therapists need to be aware of the types of unique injuries sustained by female riders as well as understand how they relate to movement while mounted or in other activity surrounding the horse.

Whether it be low back pain, a stressed rotator cuff, a stiff neck, or sore knees, female riders can ride pain-free through awareness, education, the proper saddle, and regular stretching and strengthening exercises.

back to Articles Index

female equestrian fitness training and riding tips

Mary Midkiff, 1119 Merrick Drive #362a, Lexington KY 40502
Copyright 2023. All rights reserved. Phone: 502-552-1195 - Email - Contact
Order Women & Horses Products