New study analyses technique of elite dressage riders


New research at Hartpury University analysing the pelvic technique of elite dressage riders has uncovered “surprising” results.

PhD student Celeste Wilkins, who is investigating the coordination between equestrian riders and the horse, undertook the study supported by Dr Kathryn Nankervis, who leads equine research at Hartpury, Dr Laurence Protheroe, programme manager of the MSc Applied Performance Analysis in Sport, and Professor Stephen Draper, Dean of Research and Knowledge Exchange.

Elite riders who competed at Hartpury’s major equestrian competitions last year volunteered to take part in the research, which was carried out using state-of-the-art technology within Hartpury’s Margaret Giffen Centre for Rider Performance.

Celeste said: “We’re trying to understand factors that indicate elite technique in dressage riders.

“It’s commonly believed that riders must have a ‘neutral’ pelvis (balanced front-to-back) in order to achieve harmony with their horse, so we tested whether elite riders were more likely to have a neutral pelvis.

“Static assessment of a rider’s posture is convenient, so we wanted to understand whether a static assessment has any transfer into what the rider does in motion.”

The study explored sagittal pelvic tilt in 35 competitive dressage riders to analyse the relationship between static and dynamic postures and assess the interaction of competition level.

Riders were assessed using optical motion capture on a riding simulator at halt, walk, trot and canter.

Celeste said: “When we compared pelvic posture at halt between riders competing at British Dressage Prelim-Novice, British Dressage Medium-Advanced and those competing at the FEI levels, we were surprised.

“Elite riders were not more likely to take up a neutral pelvic posture at halt. When we compared the rider’s own pelvic posture between halt and in motion, there was no relationship.

“There was also no relationship between the rider’s pelvic technique in motion and competition level.

“From these results, it doesn’t seem like you can confidently predict a rider’s technique from their static posture.

“Riders adapt to the movement in their own individual ways and their pelvic technique can even change between the gaits.

“For example, they could be more anterior (forward) in walk, but posterior (backward tilt) in trot and canter.”

Celeste, who won first prize for the Best Postgraduate presentation at the recent Equine Student Research Conference, said “This is just the start of some really exciting studies analysing the dynamic technique of riders.”

To access the paper and download it free, click the following link:

Equine research students at Hartpury – the world’s largest the world’s largest equine educational establishment – have access to a wide range of state-of-the-art equipment and laboratories to support their studies.

The facilities within the Equine Therapy Centre and the Margaret Giffen Centre for Rider Performance enable biomechanical and physiological studies of both horse and rider.

All research activity at Hartpury either directly or indirectly informs not only current industry practice but also the curriculum.

Research is fully integrated within teaching, with staff research active in the areas in which they teach and many dissertations embedded in larger scale research projects.

Recent equine graduates from Hartpury, which offers a range of equine-related diplomas, undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, and PhDs, have embarked on careers with a number of major employers, including Cheltenham Racecourse, the Hong Kong Jockey Club and The Horse Trust.

Picture: Celeste Wilkins carrying out her research within the Margaret Giffen Centre for Rider Performance at Hartpury

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