Hip pain only in the saddle - help me pinpoint what needs work?

Let me start by saying I looked at SO MANY previous threads on hip pain before deciding to post this question. I am hoping to get some pointers on what muscle groups might need strengthening/stretching, and suggestions of what specifically to do.

Early 40s adult re-rider. After a few years of being a 1/x week lessoner, for the past 8 months, I’ve been half-leasing a schoolmaster OTTB and riding 3x per week. I work with an eventing trainer and focus on ‘correct’ flatwork, improving my seat, keeping horse engaged correctly, etc. I also do short yoga videos a 2-3 times per week, I do a little stationary biking or elliptical, I walk the dog, I chase my kid around. However, I’m at a desk most of the day for work.

Within the last 4-5 weeks, with no acute injury, my right leg in particular has been creeping forward into more of a chair seat and there is tightness/discomfort in my right hip/butt when I try to keep my lower leg back and heels down. It’s not serious pain, but it’s tight and uncomfortable enough to make it challenging to keep that good position. I am concerned that if I ignore it, it’ll just get worse.

Overall, I am not a flexible person. All of my leg muscles seem short and tight, good leg/heel position has always taken focus, but it has never caused pain. I have no hip pain when not riding or during other activities, no knee pain, and no lower back pain (counting my blessings here). I know my core is weak - perhaps putting more pressure on my hips for postural support. If anyone recognizes the pain I’m feeling or has the knowledge to point me toward good exercise to help, I’d be very grateful.

If not resolved by strengthening/stretching at home, I’ll ask my local horsey community for references to a good PT that knows equestrian biomechanics. But I’d like to try self-help first.

Truly, I would start here. There’s so much finesse to strengthening correctly. An expert assessment is so worthwhile, as is guidance, at least to start, on which exercises, how to do them correctly, and education on how you are “cheating” given your own areas of weakness.

You don’t have to commit to twice weekly PT for six months, but an assessment and a couple of visits to get you started is a really excellent idea.


I am not a professional in any way shape or form. Just an old woman who loves to ride and it always negotiating with my body so that I can do so. I’m also the world’s laziest rider.

FWIW, it sounds to me like you’re trying to force your body into position rather than make it possible for your muscles to relax into the right position. I don’t mean to not use your leg aids, but to have your limbs in the right place so that with minimal effort you can apply independent aids, Read up on balanced seat for more, better educated explanations.

As exercise I use (on a very patient horse) is to drop my stirrups and then do the following with one leg at a time (at the halt first, maybe walking later when you feel comfortable). With as little force as possible, let your legs dangle straight down. Don’t worry about heel down or anything. The goal is to to point your femur straight to the ground from your hip to your knee, and let your lower leg dangle. Sit as straight up as you can, feeling your seat bones on the saddle. Then, one leg at a time, bend your knee raising your heel towards your butt. Reach down with your hand on that side to help get your heel up as high as you can without forcing it. You should feel a stretch from the front of your hip bone all the way down your quad. Hold a couple of seconds and then do the other side. When you’re done, you should feel like your leg has gotten a couple of inches longer and like you can sit there relaxed.

With practice, I’ve gotten the muscles in the front of my hip to stretch such that I can put my foot on my horse’s back behind the saddle while keeping my femur pointed straight to the ground. After that, keeping a better position with my leg is easier and requires less energy.

Again, I’m not a professional. Just relating what works for me.


Try shortening your stirrups 2-3 holes :o Yes, 2-3 holes. If it works and the discomfort goes away, it may just be a combo of conformation - your pelvis and the rib cage shape of the horse.

If your instructor rabbits on about long leg woof woof more effective blah blah, tell them to get bent and work with you as you are. Shorter stirrups don’t take away any of your effectiveness. A rider in pain is far less effective than a comfortable rider with a less than perfect position.


Someone who used to get off of some horses feeling like her legs might fall clean out of their hip joints until she got smrt and shortened her stirrups a couple of holes and whose leg, although different, is just as effective as before.


It’s interesting you say that because my instructor suggested shortening my stirrups, which I have done (went up 2 - just 1 that day, and then another on my next ride). It actually did help - tightness is still there but it definitely helped my leg position and effectiveness.

This. On my big barreled beast I ride one to two holes shorter than on my narrow petite mare. Otherwise my right hip is screaming.

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What you are saying makes complete sense to me and feels very possible. I felt I already do a lot of the suggested hip release stretches (lunges, pigeon pose, etc.) hence not knowing what else to try. But the quad may be so tight that I’m straining whatever hip muscle that is to fight against it and keep my leg back. I had one instructor in the past tell me to think of pointing my knee down at the ground versus consciously thinking to pull my lower leg back, and quad stretches would go along with that. I’ll try this, thank you!

It’s always worthwhile to remember that where you feel the pain, is not always where the problem is. I learned that about shoulder/neck pain a long time ago - PT and chiropractor kept having me do neck stretches to correct a forward head position and that never helped. Side bends, core strengthening and relaxation exercises DID help.

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Does the saddle have a narrow twist? I see hip issues in ladies (especially if they have not ridden in a while) riding a wider twist saddle. Men, on the other hand, are usually a lot more comfortable in the wide twist saddles.

It is worth checking out.


I will investigate that - I ride in the horse’s saddle rather than my saddle so I am not sure on the twist. It makes sense to evaluate this question and if necessary find a saddle that works comfortably for both of us. Thanks for the suggestion!

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I found that I developed an impingement when my abductor muscles got stronger than my glutes and adductors. This in turn pulled my thigh bone out of alignment and ended up tearing my labrum over time. Crazy!

So - to that end, I recommend finding an equestrian PT. This sport is hard on our bodies and “just stretch” often isn’t enough. :slight_smile: Best of luck!

One thing that I’ve found for my own tightness is that normal stretching isn’t enough—the only way that I can really stretch out my quads and hip flexors is via foam rolling. I was given it as a PT exercise as a teenager after I grew five and a half inches in a year (it takes a long time for your IT band to catch up with that so my knees always felt like they were on fire from the friction on my patella), but I still use it over a decade later. It’s not what I would call comfortable to start with (some of those knots will literally make me cry when I first begin to work them out if I haven’t used the roller in a while), but it makes a huge difference for me.

Unfortunately my horse kicked me in the thigh three weeks ago (my fault, he was playing and I was standing too close) and the muscle is still too sore to roll out so I’m letting myself be equally tight on both sides right now, but under normal circumstances, 10/10 would recommend picking up a foam roller and rolling out your quads and hip flexors to really get them loosened up.

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I LOVE my foam roller. I haven’t been using it for my quads and hip flexors though so I will try that today. Tried it on the area where I experience the pain, but haven’t tried it on those muscle groups yet. Thanks!


How did you find an equestrian PT?

I don’t know where you are, but Jennifer Mitchell of Atlantic Physical Therapy (Maine) is a wonderful PT and certified USEF practitioner who works with the US Equestrian Team. She does travel for clinics. She is a rider who became a physical therapist who then trained to apply that to riding.

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I tried this today and it seemed to make a positive difference. I’m going to keep going in this direction and see how things go. Thank you!

Someone recommended them.


I’m delighted that it may have given you some relief. Please be gentle on yourself as you explore this to avoid creating a worse situation, but I know it works for me. Reward yourself with relaxation/ noodle legs after you’ve done it, and then you can try the shorter stirrups if that helps too. I just ride dressage now, so my stirrups are looooong and for fun I ride with a bareback pad, no stirrups (and no posting, either because I don’t want to pinch with my knee).

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This is your hip flexor, and I was going to say to the OP that my guess would be hip flexor.

Most of us who sit for a living have tight hip flexors. I worked with a PT all last year to do some preventative exercises for triathlon; and this is basically where all my problems started. I gained a lot of flexibility and it made a big difference in a lot of ways.

I agree a foam roller might be a good warmup before stretching. It’s not really stretching in itself, so I wouldn’t stop there. But before stretching it can help. Ideally, you might use a foam roller, then some dynamic stretching and good warmup before doing any static stretching.


Thank you!

I’m trying to search in the Illinois area.

Unfortunately I don’t know of any local, I only know that one because they did the assessment online. I’m in a nearby state and haven’t found a good local PT :frowning: