How to Protect Your Back when Horseback Riding
Horseback riding can be a wonderful form of physical activity. In order to maintain control, you have to activate the muscles of your back, your pelvis, and your abdominal muscles to stabilize the trunk of your body. This helps you build your core strength, balance and coordination, and certain types of riding can also work your cardiovascular system. Many people also find horseback riding to be calming and relaxing. However, as with any exercise, there’s always a risk of injury. The most common injury that comes to mind for horseback riding is a fall or other form of trauma. Otherwise, we don’t often consider the long term effects of prolonged horseback riding on the spine.
You may be already experiencing low back pain from horseback riding, or have heard that it is common. Some people may be more prone to back pain from horseback riding than others. Some of the factors that come into play here are posture, your saddle, and your level of fitness. Here are some simple tips you can implement to mitigate your risk of back pain.
Have your coach or a friend observe your posture while you are on the horse. Ideally, your ear, shoulder, hip and heel should line up vertically. Slouching and letting your head hang too far forward over your shoulders prevents you from activating the right muscle groups. Also, pay attention to the positioning of your pelvis to make sure it is in a neutral position (not tilted too far forward or too far backward). Being mindful of your posture even when you are not horseback riding will help your body maintain the correct alignment more naturally. Actively engage your core by breathing through your diaphragm and activating your transversis abdominus muscle. An easy way to figure out how to do this is by imagining that someone is about to punch you in the stomach. The muscle you instinctively flex to protect your abdomen is your transversis abdominus, the deepest abdominal muscle and frequently referred to as your body’s “built-in corset”.
When choosing a saddle, there are considerations for the horse’s comfort as well as the rider’s. A proper saddle with adequate shock absorption will transfer some of the repetitive bouncing forces away from your spine, protecting your discs (your spine’s natural shock absorbers). If it’s not possible to change your saddle, adding a saddle pad or saddle blanket can be helpful. It may take some trial and error to find a saddle that is comfortable for your body and it may be wise to get fitted professionally.
Lack of core strength is a major cause of low back pain from horseback riding. As previously mentioned, it’s important to engage your core the entire time you are horseback riding because that will protect your spine. Keep your body strong with regular strength training for your core, as well as your back and glutes. Regular mild to moderate cardiovascular activity (such as running, biking, or swimming) will also complement your fitness routine. Additionally, like any athlete, warming up your activity and stretching after is essential to injury prevention and maintaining your range of motion. If you’ve taken a prolonged break from horseback riding, start with shorter sessions and gradually increase the time you spend on the horse until you are back to your usual routine.
Horseback riding is well known for being beneficial to your physical and mental health. Taking care of your spine will help you maintain this hobby and improve your overall performance in the sport. If you’re experiencing pain, contact us to work with a chiropractor, physiotherapist, or massage therapist to pinpoint the exact cause of your pain. Be mindful of what types of riding cause your pain, where it is, how long it lasts, and what makes it feel better or feel worse. This information will help your healthcare practitioner provide the best care for you. You may also benefit from a postural assessment and personalized exercise recommendations.