The muscle structure of a person who regularly rides will have a slight imbalance that most personal trainers are unaware of. Personal trainers along with the riding coach should know which exercises and movements would make the imbalance better or feed the imbalance therefore making it worse. This specific problem is a crucial one to fix as soon as symptoms appear due to the increased strength and detailed cues when moving up the levels. There are many imbalances a rider can have in the body, although one of these is the overuse of the inner thigh.
The inner thigh (adductor) is a smaller muscle group capable of more supporting work, whereas the hamstring is the larger muscle group that is supported by the inner thigh. The hamstring is the capable muscle for the workload on our equine partners, but the inner thigh is often the one more recruited to do the heavy work. Imbalances in these specific muscles occur when the inner thigh is engaged instead of the hamstring and the leg rotates out of alignment. The seat will thus be compromised when the position of the legs and hips are out of alignment. In return, the core will not be a strong point or solid when a rider is tight, dominate, or gripping with the inner thighs. Signs of this discrepancy would be fetal position, legs to far behind the vertical line of the riders seat, or leaning forward.
If a large animal such as the horse can feel a fly land on him, imagine the feeling of an imbalanced rider on his back. This will cause an imbalance and discrepancy in the horse for compensation for the imbalanced rider. When the inner thigh is to strong in comparison to other leg muscles, horses will in return feel the pressure on their top line (longissimus dorsi and the connecting fascia) from the riders squeezing of the thigh(s) causing connection and contact problems with the horse throughout training and up the levels. With the human body, we know that with no core we have no back and vise-versa. This also applies to our equine partners. We cannot expect them to gain the proper back strength and to use their core while we are crushing their top line. Even if the rider thinks about letting go when they are on the horse, muscles will do what they are trained to do through the mind (motor learning and motor control) although many assume it is "muscle memory". The rider's inner thigh should be trained to work with the larger muscle groups in the legs like the hamstring but also separately. This will help in lateral movements by being able o apply a small bit of thigh for correctional purposes and engagement of the horse when needed.
How does the equine athlete fix this?
First, start by strengthening the hamstring so that the muscle can become more efficient. Secondly, take the time to lengthen the inner thighs and surrounding muscles with yoga or static stretching to help elongate your leg. Visualize having weights attached to your heels thus draping your legs down and around the horse to create a vertical line and the relaxation needed through the body. Stretching the legs will also help release any imbalances in bilateral rotation throughout the knees and hips.
Beneficial exercises for the strength of the hamstrings:
Reverse Hip Raises
Weighted Hamstring Curls
A crucial part of these exercises is to focus on isolating each muscle during each repetition and set. Psychologically, the brain must be rewired and reset to start to focus on this larger group of muscles therefore preventing the overcompensation of the thigh. Once the new motor programming begins to be set in place it will be easier to use these groups of muscles.