Re-Building the Rider
What defines an athlete? An unlimited dedication to the betterment of themselves and their sport is the first thing that comes to my mind.
The equestrian athlete is no exception. Through all levels of the sport, countless hours of schooling, grooming, and monitoring the horse's nutrition, conditioning, and movements are normal requirements of any rider with competitive goals. Lessons and clinics are attended with the goal of improving equitation, position, and ability on the horse.
Or, if you enjoy the sport on a purely recreational level you likely spend quality time throwing hay bales, cleaning barns, grooming, and going on many trail rides.
And, like any other athlete, equestrians run into aches and pains. Whether it be from a nasty fall, a winter off, or a long competition. A recent research article by Kraft and his colleagues in 2014 stated that 88% of equestrians across the dressage, eventing, and show-jumping disciplines experienced some form of chronic low back pain. Even more troubling then that statistic is their introductory statement that implied equestrian athletes accepted chronic pain, especially back pain, as a part of their sport.
To the rest of the world, athletes often seem to be one of two things (or both simultaneously): superhuman and/or insane. Every sport requires it's own unique dose of crazy. Riders have the extra shot of nutty by being the athletes who climb aboard large animals and ask them to move quickly and leap over large objects, do complex patterns and movements, and not throw us into the dirt. With this being said, it does seem likely that pain comes along with the territory.
But does it have to?
The specific reasons behind why back pain is so prevalent in riders is a whole other post. I'll get into that another day. What it really comes down to is the way we sit, stand, walk, and move. Chronic pain is usually a result of muscular imbalances, compensations left over from old injuries, or faulty biomechanics. All of these things are fixable.
So.. why do most riders accept them as normal?
It may be for a lack of opportunity and education into how to fix them.Something that I think is beginning to change.
In 2014 a handful of new research was released specific to the riding athlete in areas of biomechanics, exercise science, and pain. Finally! A step in the right direction!
Coaches all over are great at giving tips on how to improve position in the tack. But what often gets forgotten is that most equestrian athletes spend more time out of the saddle then they do in.. and any postural habits that occur out of the tack are probably going to factor into how you sit in the tack. Why is this important? That whole faulty biomechanics factor in what causes pain and dysfunction. Posture is the basis for how we move, and how we move is an integral part of how we function in any aspect of our lives.
Whether you ride because you love working with horses, you ride to compete, or you’re somewhere in between recreational and competitive.. your movement and health affects your horse’s movement and health. As more and more riders experience pain unnecessarily, it’s becoming clear there is a need for a change in how we train ourselves (and consequently our horses). A rider who is functionally strong and balanced will create a strong and balanced horse. As riders, we don’t think of it as science, but strength is a biomechanical process, and correct posture is a requirement for our bodies to move as they were designed. How do you know if you’re in need of help?
Pain is the body’s way of telling us that something isn’t right. Or, if you’ve found you’ve hit a road-block in the way of progressing performance. Both those signs are red flags that suggest something isn’t right and the body isn’t responding. Every rider will benefit from exercise outside of the saddle, and movement correction in the saddle. Working on you will not only improve your confidence, ability, and confidence in and out of the tack, but it will also do wonders for your horse’s movement, health and relationship with you.