Zen &
            the Horse


The Psoas Muscles


The PSOAS (pronounced so-as) are the deep core muscles that link the upper and lower girdles of the body. They lie below the surface muscles of the body and are the "missing-link" riders must learn to use in order to feel their horses’ movement and to follow the directions of their riding instructors. By mastering the use of these muscles, riders will be able to develop self-carriage and have independent seats.

Riding instructors use their psoas muscles when they ride, but most do not consciously know what specific muscles they are using. Most instructors begin riding when they are young and learn through trial and error on a body level. This is called unconscious competence. How riding instructors use their bodies is different than how many of their students use their bodies.

Many riding instructors refer to the stomach and back muscles as being the ‘core’ muscles their students need to use to stabilize themselves on their horses. However, these are only the surface muscles of the body. Students hear things like:

  1. Sit deep in the saddle

  2. Sit on your pants pockets

  3. Heels down

  4. Find your balance point

  5. Ride from your center

What riding instructors actually mean is to use the psoas muscles.

Students also hear:

  1. Chest out

  2. Shoulders back

  3. Chin in

What riding instructors mean is to release the hyoid muscles. This enables the chest to lift and expand, yet remain flexible. Instruction and information about using the hyoid muscles can be found in Zen & Horseback Riding.


Where are the Psoas?

Out of sight, out of mind. You cannot see the psoas and they do not appear on charts of the surface muscles of the body. They are located deep in the abdomen, on both sides of the lower spinal vertebrae. We do not usually think of these muscles because the functions they perform are done in conjunction with one or more of the body’s surface muscles. This is probably the reason the riding world does not look further than the surface muscles at the front and back of the body when determining how riders stabilize themselves on their horses.

The psoas muscles are the bridges between the upper body and the legs. They are the only muscles that directly link the spine to the legs. The psoas attach directly from the lower spine to the top of the inner thighs at the lesser trochanter of the femur. They do not attach directly to the pelvis, but influence it through their connection to the iliacus muscles, which are attached to the walls of the inner pelvis.

How do the Psoas flex?

The psoas muscles flex your thighs at the hip, enabling you to raise your knees, thus lifting your feet off the ground. Since the tendons of the lower part of the iliopsoas attach to the inner thighs, when flexed, they also tone the adductor muscles located on the inside of your thighs.

The psoas muscles flex differently depending upon the curvature of the lower spine and the position of the pelvis. If the lower back is concave, with the front of the pelvis tipping downward, the psoas will tighten and become shorter as they are flexed. When the psoas muscles are flexed in a balanced body, they lengthen and fall back toward the spine. Balanced flexion takes place as the pelvis is leveled when the lower back flattens. This aligns the lower back in the pelvic girdle.

Balanced flexion of the psoas muscles enables riders to tone the inside of their upper thighs and to allow the movement of their horses with their pelvises. The psoas enable riders to influence their horses with their seats and legs. By mastering the use of these muscles, riders will be able to maintain self-carriage, both on and off the horse.


©Robin Dorn

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Bit | 203 Horse Magazine - Netherlands

November 2013