Horse riding is an amazing sport in terms of the demands on the body.
Not only does riding involve fairly unusual strains on the hips, back, shoulders and knees, but just owning a horse involves lifting bales of hay, raking and sweeping out stables, picking up poo, shaking out blankets, cinching girths, lifting gates on floats . . . . the list goes on.
Due to this, Horse-Riders are often very strong people physically (in the ‘prime-mover’ muscles), but the continual bumps, bucks, lifting, pulling, corralling, and shovelling puts significant load on the back, pelvis, and hips.
Unfortunately, riding a horse skilfully with a sore, stiff back, or a pelvis that feels like a twisted pretzel, is not easy, nor pretty, nor likely to win any dressage competitions (or jumping/x-country for that matter).
Since so much of the control of the horse when riding should come through the “sitting bones” or ischial tuberosities, or through the thigh and inner knee (requiring good pelvic control and adductor strength) it is imperative that riders have assessment and treatment of their lower back and pelvic areas if they have pain, stiffness or feel like they can’t ride with symmetry. Treatment promotes symmetrical movement and reduction of protective muscle tightness, which allows for better control of the horse. Often horse-owners are quite happy to pay for physiotherapy or chiropractic treatment for their horse, because they are lame or stiff through the back or legs, but neglect the other important part of the partnership; Their own body.
The continually changing and at times unpredictable load on adductor muscles, glutes, and pelvis can easily cause sprains or inflammation of the pelvic joints (sacroiliac and pubic symphysis) which can contribute to back, hip or groin pain. This pain in turn causes inhibition of the very muscles that should be supporting the area, the pelvic floor and inner abdominal muscles. Rehabilitation involves some treatment to reduce the protective muscular tightness, mobilisation of lumbar spine and pelvis, and specific retraining of the trunk and hip muscles to improve load tolerance. Clinical Pilates can be incredibly effective in this regard, as exercises can be prescribed to challenge the hips and pelvis in ways that mimic the riding postures, as well as being more interesting and stimulating than standard home exercise programs (when frankly horse-riders would rather be out riding!).
Pelvic and trunk control is not about keeping the spine or pelvis stiff or braced; quite the opposite – it is about being able to move freely and efficiently, and respond to challenges to normal posture without excessive shear force or load being experienced by the joints. With good lumbopelvic control the upper back and shoulders are free to maintain good upright riding position and relaxed arms, which in turn assists riding technique.
Ultimately, most horse-riders are addicts. They will ride with total disregard to their own bodies, but this is often a detriment to their riding technique. After putting up with pain for months, it is often a comment from their coach to the effect of “you look like you’re riding tilted to the left, go and see a physio” that eventually brings the horse-riding patient to our clinic. Once they feel the changes in their body, and therefore in the way their horse responds to their riding, it all starts to make sense. Being able to rake out the stables without being in serious pain after is just a bonus!