-by Emily Wright
How many of us who ride horses struggle with some joint problem or another? How many of us have managed to get ourselves hurt, either with something horse related or with something anything but?
Modern society sees somewhere around 80% of the population struggling with back pain, whether they are horse riders or not. Many people have had some significant injury at one time or another, whether it's a bulging disk, broken ankle, torn shoulder, or what have you, and they have developed compensations for these injuries. Even once the injury is healed, the "memory" is still there in a compensation pattern or even a band of scar tissue. With age and repeated movements also comes arthritis; that's almost inevitable no matter who you are.
One of the most common fallacies I hear as a dressage trainer is that riding horses causes more back, hip, and knee problems, not even with a specific injury. The times I've seen this are due to poor seat biomechanics. The classical seat was developed over a long period of time to be the most biomechanically efficient seat for riding a horse, not just to be pretty. Many of the classical longe lesson exercises for the seat are designed to set the rider up for success and just "place" the rider where he or she needs to be. These were designed, after all, before there really was much understanding of biomechanics and of physical therapy, and they've worked this long. Some are very intense, such as some of the vaulting exercises, some are milder, such as holding hands out to the side and turning. They are fantastic for boosting confidence if you struggle with confidence, as you learn in a controlled environment how to have independence in your seat.
Rehabilitating riders has become one of my favorite educational things to do, because it gives people hope and gives them their riding lives back. Once someone has finished physical therapy and/or is medically cleared for riding, I work to help people figure out what they need to do to adjust their seat to be able to ride comfortably long-term. I am happy to help through longeing work or even off the longe, though the former is more effective than the latter.
I suffer from scoliosis and general joint hypermobility syndrome, and I was told as a teenager to quit riding because it would just ruin my joints and make my spinal curvature worse. Well, quitting riding didn't give me a pain-free life. In fact, it made it worse. That was when I started in Pilates with a BASI certified instructor, and I slowly was able to start riding again. With classical instruction to fix what was wrong in my position, my riding slowly became more and more comfortable with fewer bad days (and those bad days were awful). Now, without riding, my body would shake itself apart. I work out extra to help prevent muscle imbalances, but not because riding causes those imbalances. In fact, riding is one of the few exercises that I finds actually works and mobilizes many small muscles that are vital in balance and posture. So, if riding can help someone like me with congenitally faulty joints, it can certainly help others!
I have helped riders with hip replacements, injured discs, bad knees, and several other injuries to find their way back to riding, and I continue to work with a few riders who have had injuries and who need someone with an eye for helping them through whatever issues they have that they can't quite get to out of the saddle. I have a few very safe, reliable longe lesson horses that are wonderful at their jobs and easy to sit, and they are my most valuable help. I use my Pilates experience and instructor training as well as my personal training experience to help formulate a plan for each rider so that each rider can accomplish the goals they want to accomplish.
Afraid you can't get over whatever injury you've suffered or that you'll never be able to ride well again? Or are you struggling with your seat and feel like you'll never get that seat you want? Give us a jingle and see what we can do for you!