New to dressage - glute "cramps!"

Well my IDSH has decided he wants to be a dressage horse. I, uh, I am NOT a dressage rider :laughing:

Anyway, I’m trying. And I’ll even admit my riding has improved quite a bit. At the beginning of my rides as I’m getting situated while he’s walking on a long line, I’ll sometimes get a horrible burning cramp-like feeling in the area of my gluteus minimus. I’m already hinging on the precipice of piriformis syndrome and I know I’m tight, but I still ride the pony in a jump saddle (tho she’s off to 4H this week as a western/gaming pony for my niece whose horse decided to slice open her leg Sunday) and never experience this. I think from years and years of riding in a jump, often with a very short stirrup as a pony rider, my body is freaking out over a long leg. I ride through it and it never happens at any gait other than the walk at the beginning.

Anyone have any favorite stretches or exercises, in the saddle or out, to recommend helping lengthen the leg and loosen the hip/butt area? I already do a stretch recommended by my masseuse by putting my ankle up on my knee while sitting and leaning forward, since I can do this at work. My saddle fits both him and me very well and it’s deliriously comfortable, and like I said it only happens at the beginning as I remind my leg to lengthen and drape.

When my glutes cramp it’s because they’re weak. Various one legged squats, hip hinging and side stepping with a band are my go tos. Clam shells also hit that (my most hated exercise, I now refuse, they’re just always painful for me, you may love them though) or bridges or lunges.

You might find an appt or two with a really good PT helpful. Just to identify those areas where you’re weak & get some ideas on how to target them without pissing off your piriformis.


I get this sometimes too. During the ride sometimes standing up into two-point helps. Off the horse, I do a lot of clam shells and that stretch where you pull your knee up and across towards the opposite shoulder.

Tight glutes are not my problem – just look at my butt – you can tell!

One stretch I learned, besides the others mentioned above, is to lie on the floor in a doorway or at the junction of a wall, put one leg up against the wall or doorframe with your bottom as close to the wall/doorframe as you can. Do this for a count of 30 or more.

The other thing to remember when you’re riding is, keep those glutes soft! Resist the urge to tighten your butt when riding. Tight glutes BOUNCE like an overinflated basket ball. “Let the air out” of your glutes and the sitting trot and canter becomes easier.


YES! My trainer calls it mooshy tushy. You need a mooshy tushy.


stop at the dollar store and pick up a jar of Potassium tablets. Take one every morning. Cramps will stop in a week or two.

Exercise and stretching will help. Me, i do yoga and Tai Chi.

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If you just went from Hunter-short to Dressage-long, you may need to go back up and work your wak down

If your glutes are trying to pull your leg down out of tight hip flexors, they’ll work overtime.

Lengthen and loosen are kind of subjective, but not. It’s not as simple as just doing that, as anything that gets looser, has to be combined with something else that’s getting stronger and more mobile, or everything will be loose without any proper tension.

Hip mobility exercises are things to look at. Glute strength exercises too - glutes tend to be quite weak, which ironically can make them very tight, and then everything above and below pays the price

Upward dog is great for opening the hip flexors
Down dog is great for lengthening the entire back of the body.

The figure 4 exercise you describe is very good for stretching the piriformis

But the glutes also have to get stronger, which involves lunges and squats and all kinds of hip hinging exercises, starting with the basic of a “Good Morning”, and progressing to 2-legged deadlifts and to 1-legged deadlifts.

You’ll want to work unilaterally as well as bilaterally because you do have 1 side stronger, more flexible, more mobile, more stable, or some combination, than the other, in any given area. Meaning, while it should start with squats and 2-legged hip hinge exercises, it needs to progress to single leg work as well.

Keep in mind that “flabby” butts can still be tight - there’s a difference between flabby due to lack of muscle, especially at the top and where it joins your hamstring, and strong but “soft” because the muscles aren’t tight.


Jelly buns

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@JB now that you mention one-sidedness… it mostly occurs on the left side and I am bone-on-bone in that knee, do I bet I AM a lot weaker on that side. Most of those exercises that require bending the knee under weight is not something I can comfortably do, I’ll start with clamshell exercises this weekend and some good mornings (which I thought was a low back exercise but I can see how it isn’t).

Thanks :slight_smile:

Wow, you’re so young to be bone on bone anywhere. Is there some big trauma tied to that?

As someone who’s been chasing hip issues for nearly the past decade, serious knee problem + hip problem makes my spidey senses tingle and you might want to do a little reading on miserable malalignment syndrome, which is when the joints in the leg don’t align. That causes significant stress on them, and early wear.

Diagnosis would take a 3D CT of the ankles, knees, and hips to evaluate version of those joints. This may affect success of joint replacement once you do get to that point, so it could be worth investigating to understand how everything lines up (and perhaps there’s still time for joint preservation.)

It’s kind of a zebra diagnosis, so not every ortho is going to be versed. But still might be worth checking out.


Is there a certain advantage of potassium in the morning vs evening?

actually, ‘they say’ meds should be taken at night. But, my evening/night schedule is so irregular that i can’t keep a solid program. Sooo…after i’m started the coffee and sent the dogs out i take my meds. i’m more assured to get them in me that way. My doctor told me to take potassium-magnesium tablets for my abdominal muscle spasms. Took maybe about two weeks and i was good as new.

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Aww thank you :hugs: I’m a nicely broken-in 40, and no big trauma to my knee that I recall (though I’ve had two TBIs and a lot of concussions, so maybe I forgot?), but it’s bothered me most of my life. I started to get into running in college a little bit, like three miles here n there, and my left knee hurt like the dickens and was hot to the touch. Fast forward, I decided to learn to run for real at 25 and started running with a marathoner, and had intermittent same. One day on a six-mile run, my knee suddenly hurt and I gimped home, and by that night I had to crawl up the stairs. No insurance, so no doctor. Best guess at later date is tore something in my quad, maybe ITB, maybe not. I am one of those blackbox Cipro peeps too so I’ve randomly torn a lot of things.

I argued with a osteo doc for xrays at about 30/31 and he finally grudgingly did them after being condescending for 5 minutes about women and knee pain, came back and ate crow because I had “high-mileage knees” for my age. He told me I could advil-and-run so I did, then MRI at 33/34 showed a pea-size amt of cartilage left, so I probably shouldn’t have :woman_shrugging:

So no trauma-trauma, just misuse. I am knock-kneed tho so maybe the misalignment thing has merit. I’ve broken both ankles several times so I have ankle pain too but unknown if that’s related.

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Yep, this is likely related. “Knock kneed” can indicate femoral anteversion. Do your feet also turn in (pigeon toed?)

There are a lot of shit orthopedists out there. Keith Mayo is at Swedish in Seattle, and a hip specialist who could evaluate your acetabular & femoral version, and point you in the right direction of someone who can look at your knees and ankles. Your piriformis pain is likely related to all this, too–compensating for an unstable hip joint. No, running here and there really shouldn’t trash your knee, unless there’s an underlying pathology. I’m sorry you haven’t had good care for it :frowning:

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Ditto above that you can’t go from short to long in one step, so raise the stirrups a bit.
Not clear from the first post, but have you tried walking w/ no stirrups for the first couple minutes? Not reaching but just dangling there, and feeling the pony move under your butt, deep breaths.
If you are close to piriformis syndrome, google stretches for that situation. There is an interaction between how the glute min and pitiformis work, so the stretches should be helpful. And bridges: they help build the strength. If bridges are painful for the knee, get an exercise ball - do the bridge with legs straight on top of the ball.

Here is one video.

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No the opposite, I have to consciously point my toes forward or else I’m Ronald McDonalding it. In the only time I don’t toe out was when I was running :laughing:

Hmm I was doing 30-35 miles a week, not sure most people would call that here and there. Sorry if I was unclear.

Well I have an annual appt, I may see if she recommends a sports doc to get me rolling. I avoid Seattle as much as possible.

Still suggests a version issue. Acetabular retroversion usually goes with toes out, but knock knees usually is excessive acetabular anteversion. I’m not well enough versed to know how the different joint version/torsion issues add up to your feet!

You should still be able to do that without being bone on bone in your knee by 40. You’re SO young for that amount of cartilage loss. There’s got to be an underlying pathology.

Totally get that. There are very few people in the country that have any clue how to assess version, torsion and alignment, what it means, or how to correct it. That you have someone in your state at all is pretty good–many don’t. Many patients travel. Just keep it in mind :slight_smile: (Or hit up HSS in NYC or the Paley Institute in FL, make a trip of it!)

Even if you don’t pursue anything now, head to the city when you get to the point of joint replacement. Your local orthopedic surgeons are really unlikely to have the experience you need (but they don’t know what they don’t know and your potential for a poor outcome matters MUCH more to you than to them.)

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Yeah, I find the walking movement really helpful for releasing muscles. I use the butt end of my whip to work on anything that is cramping while walking.

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If you don’t already, try finding stirrups that have the rotated eye for the stirrup leather. My toes naturally turn out and I can get hip cramps as well and I find that the rotated stirrups relieve just a tiny bit of pressure from the twist of the stirrup leathers while still encouraging me to keep my toes pointing forward rather than out.


Absolutely agree with this! The Acavella opera stirrup leathers are the bomb.

I now have them on both my dressage and jump saddles, and have recommended them to several students – it really will subtly transform your leg position, help you turn your thigh in, and make it much easier for your leg to hang flat (with toes forward) against the horses side without effort.

Worth every penny, even if you are not “duck footed”!

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