Furusiyya FEI Nations Cupª, Hickstead, GBR

In part 1, we looked at an introduction to the great debate of whether men are better riders than women. In part 2, HQ takes a look at physiological differences which influence the way we ride.

The bone structure

As well as the obvious physical differences between men and women and the strength factor, there are a range of skeletal differences that affect the way each sex rides. PhD Deb Bennett’s Who’s Built Best to Ride? (2008) takes a look at the anatomical differences between the sexes and at how teaching techniques can make both genders better riders.

  • The pelvis
Hip sockets in men are much closer together
Hip sockets in men are much closer together

There are significant differences between the pelvic construction of men and women simply because women bear children. A woman’s pelvis is generally wider and deeper with a more circular pelvic outlet than a man’s. This affects the way women ride in that the proportionally larger pelvis lowers the woman’s centre of gravity when riding, making her more stable and less flexible to the horse’s movement. This may help in keeping her on the horse, but it is a disadvantage when trying to do a sitting trot and canter.

  • The seat bones

You will be sitting on your seat bones, or ischia, when you ride. The ischia are shaped differently in men and women and the shape leads to a different riding position for each sex: slouching is common and is an agreed ‘bad habit’, but because of the shape of his seat bones, when a man slouches he is able to naturally round his lower back and sit on his tailbone. Women would find this more difficult as a rounded lower back is anatomically far more difficult to achieve.

  • The lower back

In men and women good posture is achieved by stacking the spine one vertebra atop the other from the sacrum to the top of the back. A good rider will have even movement through the spine to allow his or her body to follow the horse’s movement.

The difference between the male and female lower back begins with the sacrum. In most men, says Dr Bennett, the sacrum is long and curved. The female sacrum is shorter. Due to the length and curve of the male’s sacrum, he is able to sit directly on his tailbone, while a woman can’t. The sacrum is also attached far more vertically to the pelvis in a man and this means that the lower back is less curved at rest than a woman’s.

  • Hip sockets and thigh bones

The orientation of the hip socket, angle of the neck of the femur (thigh bone) and angle of the femur shaft are all different in men and women. According to Dr Bennett, the hip socket in most men faces more towards the front making it easier for men to rest the inner surface of their thighs flat against the saddle, to keep their knees close without gripping too tight and to point their toes forward.

To achieve the same position, most women will have to stretch the muscles on the front of the thigh as well as the ligament running to the outside and back of the knee. When pulled tight, this will limit the movement of the femur head. Because her thigh bones slant inwards from hips to knees, the more a woman can open her hip joints while stretching her thighs back, the easier it will be for her to keep her knees wide and her toes forward. The further back a woman can carry her knees under her when in the saddle, the better she will ride.

Individual shape

Edward Gal and Glock's Voice perform a pirouette. Does his anatomy make this easier for him?
Edward Gal and Glock’s Voice perform a pirouette. Does his anatomy make this easier for him?

There are many physical differences between the average male and female body. However, it is important to keep in mind that each individual is built differently and as such will need to work out his or her own limitations or advantages in the saddle.

Skeletal flexibility through the right stretches and mobility exercises as well as improving muscular strength and flexibility in the right areas through a tailored workout will do wonders.

Every individual is different! We encourage you to work out what works for you.

Text: Peta Daniel

The full article appears in the May issue of HQ.