Nothing is more exhilarating than being on a horse, but does riding a horse hurt your back?
As an experienced trainer teaching riding students for over twenty years, I have witnessed how back pain can negatively affect a rider’s position and balance on a horse.
But while riding a horse can hurt your back, you need to look at why you have back pain, which can be through poor posture or a weak core.
Here we put our backs into it by revealing the most common causes of back pain in riders and how to manage them so that you can ride your horse pain-free!
Table of Contents
Does Riding a Horse Hurt Your Back?
Studies reveal that 70% of horse riders suffer back pain at some stage. 
This fact is hardly surprising, as, being a high-risk sport, you can injure your back falling from a horse or experience pain because of the stress riding places on your spine.
However, after teaching riding for many years, I have found that the main contributors to back pain are muscle tension, crookedness, and a weak core, all of which can be improved on and off the horse.
Let’s look at some common back pain issues in riders.
3 Common Back Pain in Riders
1. Lower Back
Chronic lower back pain is most common in horseback riders.
The lower back, or lumbar spine, is the flexible part of your body allowing you to bend, twist and extend, making this area more vulnerable to injury.
When your hips don’t follow the horse’s movement, the energy of the action ends up absorbed above the pelvis in the lower back.
2. Upper Back
Upper back pain can be deliberating.
This area of the upper body, the thoracic spine, is stiff because the rib cage supports it, and the stiffness can worsen due to slouching.
The pain feels like a burning sensation between the shoulder blades.
3. Spinal Misalignment
There is always a risk of injury when riding horses, and you can experience spinal misalignment if you have been thrown or fallen from a horse.
Symptoms can include:
- Chronic headaches
- Lower back pain
- Numbness or tingling in feet and hands
- Tight muscles
- Excessive fatigue.
A misaligned spine can lead to premature degeneration of the vertebral discs and other health issues like poor posture, so you must see a physical therapist.
Now let’s find out what causes these back problems in horse riders.
While we explore this topic, enjoy some inspiring horse riding quotes that capture the spirit and passion of equestrian life.
Common Causes of Back Pain in Horse Riders
Does riding a horse hurt your back? Let’s find out!
Incorrect Riding Position
The cause of many back issues is an incorrect riding position, often caused by the rider having a weak core or bad posture.
When riders sit correctly, they should have an imaginary line running from their ear, shoulder, and hip to the heel.
We call this a neutral spine, allowing us to apply the aids correctly to the horse while maintaining our balance in the saddle.
Some common rider faults are:
- Rounded shoulders – this causes an improper posture and hurts the spine when the horse moves. Often sitting at a computer and driving a car can cause rounded shoulders.
- Chair Seat – the knees and feet come forward like the rider is sitting in a chair, making your seat unstable and placing you out of balance. It is often a sign of tight hamstrings and hip flexors.
- Hollow Back – the rider sits up too straight or stiffly so their back is arched, placing the rider onto their crotch. It puts undue stress on the lower back, and they could easily fall from the horse.
Ill Fitting Saddle
A study in the UK found that an ill-fitting saddle not only affected the horse and its gaits but also caused back pain in the rider.
If the saddle fits incorrectly, the rider constantly fights against it and cannot maintain a balanced position.
Saddle Fit – Male Vs Female
Did you know that for about 4000 years, saddles have been made specifically for men?
Men and women have drastic anatomical differences: women have a wider pelvis than men and a longer upper leg and shorter lower leg.
The male saddle has a narrow seat width and narrow waist but with a wide twist which puts the female rider into a chair position.
Unfortunately, most companies still make these male saddles, even though more women than men ride horses.
You can now buy saddles designed especially for female riders, with a softer seat, no tree under the crotch area, a narrow twist, and a wider seat.
So now we have found out about gender-specific saddles, let’s discover how to manage pain in horseback riders!
How to Manage Back Pain When Horseback Riding
There is no need to live with back pain when riding a horse; here we show you how!
1. Strengthen the Core
A strong core allows for a balanced posture and controls any back issues.
While riding itself can strengthen your core, you will reap more benefits in your riding by doing exercises off the horse, such as planks, crunches, and leg raises.
Physical activities like running, swimming, cycling, and skipping are all excellent for building core strength.
2. Increase Flexibility
Riders need flexibility in their knees, hips, and ankles to move with the horse’s movement.
Doing yoga, Pilates, or tai chi helps improve your coordination, flexibility, and balance, which are essential for good riding.
Pre-ride stretching helps prepare your muscles for riding and helps prevent pain or injury.
3. Check Your Saddle
Ensure you get a qualified saddle fitter to check if the saddle you are using is correct; otherwise, you may need to invest in a new one.
Wear a Back Support
A back brace can help ease the pain when riding, while a posture corrector can help put your shoulders in the correct position.
Check out this video for more tips:
What muscles do you hurt when you ride a horse?
Horseback riding can cause soreness throughout the leg, lower abdomen, and core muscles.
How do you ride a horse without back pain?
Maintaining a neutral spine and having a strong core will eliminate back pain when riding.
Why do horse riders get back pain?
Horse riders get back pain because they have a bad posture, a weak core or ride in a saddle that doesn’t fit them correctly.
Horseback riders should strengthen their core and practice good posture in and out of the saddle to prevent back pain when riding a horse.
1. The straw that broke the horse’s back: is lower back pain self-limiting in equestrians? [Internet]. Sports Injury Bulletin. [cited 2023 Aug 4]. Available from: https://www.sportsinjurybulletin.com/diagnose–treat/prevent/the-straw-that-broke-the-horses-back-is-lower-back-pain-self-limiting-in-equestrians
Alison is passionate about horses and has been a freelance pet and equine writer for six years. She grew up in England, where she had her own horses and competed in show jumping and dressage competitions.
Now based in the Middle East, she is a qualified riding instructor specializing in rider biomechanics and is certified to teach the Equestrian Franklin Ball method.
When she’s not around horses, Alison can be found hiking in the mountains or off travelling to some exotic location!
You can find her at https://www.linkedin.com/in/alison-ocallaghan-79918a3b/