Last updated: May 2, 2021
My wife has intermittent back pain and decided to take a break from horseback riding. She suspects riding may have played a role in causing back troubles. I thought it was a reasonable assumption and decided to research the issue further.
Horseback riding can be bad for your back, knees, and ankles. It’s a good exercise, but it can come at a price, as with most other activities. Several factors are involved in causing back pain when horseback riding, such as posture and how our legs fit around the horse’s barrel.
Horseback riding is rewarding and beneficial, but it can also be dangerous and harmful to your back. There are some things you can do to reduce the risk of injury and still enjoy riding.
Back issues and horseback riding
Don’t despair if you have low back soreness after riding; it’s common but can be prevented. Horseback riding can be either very good or very bad for the back. It depends greatly on you, the rider.
Improper posture while riding can lead to horseback riding sciatica, and that can go from the lower back all the way down to the ankles. Proper posture helps build core muscles, the inner thigh muscles, upper arms, and upper back.
Proper posture includes sitting upright in the saddle, don’t slouch, staying balanced in turns, and don’t continuously squeeze the horse with your legs. The more you ride, your back muscles strengthen and protect against injury.
One of the things recommended for riders with back issues is that they work on core strength even when not on the horse. Building these muscles decreases the likelihood of irritating the sciatic nerve and the radiating pain that can result.
Before you decide to get back on your horse after a back injury, consult your physicians. Your doctor and/or chiropractor can advise you on the risks associated with your activities and recommend therapy to help you recover from the pain.
There are many benefits to horseback riding; most riders will agree with that. Equine-assisted therapy is an essential part of intervention methods for both the physically and developmentally challenged.
Horseback riding builds strength.
There are many different types of strength, and equine-assisted therapy helps build more than one. It takes physical exertion to ride, as well as to care for a horse. Both riding and taking care of horses helps build strength in the muscles.
Exercise of this nature can also help build strong bones. It takes emotional strength as well. Horses are prey animals and, as such, are attuned to the mood of the rider and caretaker.
Learning to control negative emotions during riding sessions can be useful when applied in other areas of your life. Control and patience through riding can have a remarkable effect on how family members get along with the person attending the therapy sessions.
What to do when pain occurs
Pain is your body telling you that something is wrong. It may be the wrong saddle. It may have to do with how low the stirrups are set. It may be that riding posture is out of whack.
Recommendations for riders with back pain:
- Go to the doctor.
- See a chiropractor
- Start stretching
- Take riding lessons
- Ensure you have the right equipment
The first thing to do is get it medically checked out. Knowing what the problem is will help decide how to take care of it. Your doctor may recommend a chiropractor.
If your body is out of alignment, that needs to be corrected. The chiropractor can give you exercises to do at home to prevent it from happening again. It’s essential to do them so that the pain doesn’t recur.
Some stretches can also help. You will need the help of the person who will be recommended next; a riding instructor or another experienced rider.
This person can coach you on proper posture, pointing out where the mistake is being made. He or she will start with an examination of your equipment.
The right sized saddle is imperative; it has to fit both you and the horse. If it is too loose or is in disrepair, it can lead to far worse than a sciatica flare up. It could seriously injure you and/or your horse.
The instructor may suggest including wedge stirrup pads. This stirrups style changes the angle of the feet, which helps relieve knee and back pain. There is something else to consider when riding.
Serious injuries can occur. One example is the late actor, Christopher Reed. He broke his neck in a riding accident and became a quadriplegic. Most of the time, these injuries aren’t as severe, but they do occur. They can mess up the back and other body parts. They can be life-changing.
It is not something that should scare you out of riding; it is something that you should work to prevent if possible. It’s also essential to make sure that your equipment and, where possible, the area you are riding in is safe.
Personal experience with this is such that I can tell you that large rocks in the paddock are a terrible idea. I landed on two of them, and it was life-altering for me.
Does that mean I can’t ride a horse again? No, it doesn’t. It does mean I will be exceedingly careful about when and where. I will also be cautious about my saddle and the size of my horse. I think it will be shorter than sixteen two.
Is horseback riding bad for your knees?
Here is where anatomy is a critical issue. Horses have rounded barrels; we have knees that don’t naturally bend in that direction. Years and miles on a horse put pressure on your knee’s unnatural position and can lead to bad knees.
Choices in saddle and stirrups can exacerbate this problem. In fact, for riding purposes, many recommend the English saddle and saddle irons over Western. The Australian stock saddle may also be useful in this instance.
The difference is in how the knees are used while riding. The English saddle isn’t as wide or as heavy as a Western saddle. The irons are shorter, allowing the knees to bend naturally instead of clinging around the barrel.
There is more contact with the horse’s back, which can help the rider communicate with the horse better. A Western saddle is built for a rider who spends all day in the saddle, working with cattle.
Eight to ten hours of riding would be highly uncomfortable on an English saddle; these were made for a working rider. Horses are still used in taking care of cattle and sheep. They are also necessary for Western equestrian sports.
Horseback riding teaches patience.
Something is soothing about caring for a horse or riding one. However, it is also a teaching tool. Horses are smart and can be intuitive. However, they can also be stubborn and somewhat willful.
They take time to train, and they take time to ride. Hurry is only when they are spooked, and it’s not easy to handle a spooked horse. Patience is not a gift all of us were born with; horses teach patience.
I think my wife is partially correct, her back pain is likely caused from riding but also a result of getting older. She’s started a stretching routine and hopefully her back pain will leave and she can get back in the saddle soon.
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Meet Miles Henry
An avid equestrian and seasoned racehorse owner, Miles Henry brings his extensive experience to the equine world, proudly associating with the AQHA, The Jockey Club, and various other equine organizations. Beyond the racetrack, Miles is an accomplished author, having published various books about horses, and is a recognized authority in the field, with his work cited in multiple publications.
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