Are you experiencing back pain when riding your horse? Look no further!
Understanding and maintaining the proper posture is the solution – in fact, with years of teaching riders, I’ve identified vital techniques that can prevent that pesky back pain when riding.
In this article, I’ll share my hard-earned secrets for preventing back pain when riding your horse and, finally, what you can do about this problem!
Dive in as we explore how to prevent back pain when riding a horse.
Table of Contents
- A neutral spine position is essential for avoiding back pain.
- Daily habits, like prolonged sitting, can affect your riding posture.
- Off-horse exercises like yoga and Pilates can improve your riding posture.
How to Prevent Back Pain When Riding a Horse | 5 Tips To Wellness
By keeping correct posture, strengthening core muscles, managing inflammation, using supportive gear, and including beneficial exercises like yoga and Pilates, you (as a rider) can mitigate these back pain effectively.
Here’s a detailed breakdown of 5 tips to help curb that pain!
1. Maintain Correct Posture
When riding, you expect your horse to be straight, supple, and strong. What about you (the other half…)
As a rider, emphasizing the correct riding posture, especially a neutral spine position, minimizes undue stress on the back.
Since this ensures that your spine aligns well, your chances of strain or injury -in effect – significantly reduce.
2. Fortify Your Core
Riders – and athletes in general – fail without having proper core strength… But what do I mean by “your core”?
Your core muscles, encompassing your trunk and pelvic region, safeguard your spine during horse riding.
Focus on exercises that target these muscles, such as swimming, planks, or even simple crunches, to bolster this critical support system.
3. Contemplate NSAIDs for Inflammation Management
NSAIDS is a fancy term for specific inflammatory medications…
In fact, for those who ride often, inflammation often becomes a nagging companion.
Turning to Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) can prove beneficial, curbing tissue inflammation and mitigating pressure on the lower spine.
4. Equip Yourself with SI Joint Supports
Think about integrating specialized belts and braces into your gear, ones crafted explicitly for SI joint support.
For avid riders, these tools can serve as a preventive measure against back issues and offer relief for discomfort.
5. Boost Flexibility
It’s true what Doctors say – enhancing flexibility is a way to relax during rides, which helps the spine stay strong.
Always remember that concerns tied to horseback riding and the spine can be addressed in myriad ways.
Now, let’s look at the correct rider position and why it is so important…
The Correct Rider Position | The Bare Essentials
If you are looking at preventing back pain when riding a horse, the number one answer is to ride with a neutral spine .
To achieve a neutral spine, you position the shoulders and pelvis to place the spinal column in its natural curved S shape.
The rider should have an imaginary line running from their ear, shoulders, and hip to the heel, so they would land on their feet if the horse disappeared from underneath them.
Why Riding in a Neutral Spine Important
Riding in a neutral spine looks elegant, but you can absorb the horse’s movement without inflicting undue pain on your back and joints.
It also allows you to use each body part independently, apply the aids effectively to your horse and breathe into your belly.
Finding Your Neutral Spine
To find your neutral spine, place a hand underneath one of your seat bones in the saddle or on a chair at home.
You should be able to feel the seat bone pointing straight down, not tilting forwards or back.
The seat bones provide a solid base to stack your trunk above in the correct alignment.
Now let’s learn why having a neutral spine is essential for good riding.
Getting A Good Riding Position
The neutral spine position sounds easy enough in theory, but achieving it takes some effort!
This is where good core strength comes in…
For riders to maintain a neutral spine, they must stay upright; to do this, they need a strong core.
The core muscles (combined with your neutral spine) create a stable posture in the saddle, keeping you upright and preventing your back from getting injured.
But what happens when a rider doesn’t ride with a neutral spine?
But what must you do to get the correct position in the saddle?
3 Common Rider Faults
During my years of teaching horse riding, I have found that some riders struggle to ride with a neutral spine due to their lifestyles.
You’ve probably heard the phrase “sitting is the new smoking.”
People sit slumped at their desks all day, then drive in their cars before collapsing on the sofa at home to binge-watch a Netflix series after a hard day at work.
All this sitting develops a lousy posture that riders take to the horse .
Riding with a poor posture creates back pain as the concussion of the horse’s movement places pressure on the spine.
Here we look at rider position faults caused by today’s lifestyles…
#1 Rounded Back
Horse riders with rounded back often sit heavy on their seat bones, making them unbalanced in the saddle.
With this type of rider, I tell them to imagine they have a piece of string attached to their helmet and someone is pulling them up.
A posture corrector is a good investment that you can wear on and off the horse to retrain your slouched muscles.
#2 Hollow Back
Stiff hip flexors usually cause a hollow back in horse riders, as do riding with the stirrups too long.
The rider arches their back with a lifted sternum and sits more on their pubic bone.
I will ask a hollow-backed rider to tilt their pelvis back and drop the sternum.
#3 Poor Saddle Fit
Riding in an ill-fitting saddle can affect the rider’s position as the rider constantly fights against it.
For example, a saddle that is too low at the back will put a rider into a chair position.
Yet, most saddles are designed for the male rider, making it difficult for the female rider to sit in as women have a wider pelvis than men.
To ensure proper positioning, I recommend that you buy a custom saddle. Pick one that fits you and the horse. Lastly, and to ensure that the extra mile is covered, don’t forget to approach your nearest qualified saddle fitter.
This way, you’ll ensure your and your horse’s back! – will thank you…
Let’s discover some exercises to do off the horse…
Off-The-Horse Exercises for a Pain-Free Ride
If you wish to ride well and pain-free, doing exercises off the horse to strengthen your core and improve your flexibility will significantly benefit you in many ways :
Strengthening your core and enhancing flexibility amplifies your skills and bolsters your position in the saddle.
In the echelons of elite horse riding, many professionals ardently integrate strength training into their routine.
Take Catherine Dufour, an international dressage sensation. Not only does she manage riding up to eight horses daily, but she also dedicates time to rigorous workouts six days a week.
Catherine vouches for the transformative power of physical training, noting its marked impact on her position, particularly during the sitting trot.
Here are some exercises to consider:
#1 The Plank
Easily done from the comfort of your home, the plank is a quintessential core-strengthening exercise. Here’s how to nail it:
- Begin facing the floor, positioning your elbows directly beneath your shoulders.
- Keep your feet spread at hip-width, then elevate your hips.
- Ensure your back remains linear and straight.
- Aim to sustain this posture anywhere from 30 seconds to a captivating two minutes.
#2 Yoga and Pilates
Interlacing sessions of yoga or Pilates between your rides can be a game-changer.
These holistic disciplines focus on overall body strength, honing in on the core, and accentuating flexibility.
Here are 2 exercises…
- Child’s Pose (Balasana):
- Begin on hands and knees.
- Sit back on your heels, reaching your arms forward.
- Relax the head down, stretching the spine.
- Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
- Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana):
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
- Lift hips toward the ceiling, clasping hands beneath you.
- Engage glutes and core.
- Hold for 20-30 seconds.
And let’s not forget about pre-ride stretching! A brief stretch routine before hopping on your horse can benefit your riding experience.
#3 Pre-Ride Stretching
Before you embrace your horse’s movement, indulge in a brief stretch. It keeps the muscles loose and prepares your flexibility for the dynamic motions of horseback riding.
Browse these 3 exercises to prevent that pesky pain!
1. Quadriceps Stretch:
- Stand on one leg, holding the other’s ankle behind you.
- Push hips forward; feel the stretch down the thigh.
- Hold for 20 seconds, then switch.
2. Gluteus Stretch:
- Sit or lie down, bending your knees.
- Cross one ankle over the opposite knee.
- Pull the uncrossed thigh gently towards you.
- Hold for 20 seconds, then switch.
3. Hip Flexor Stretch:
- Begin in a lunge with one foot forward.
- Push hips gently forward, keeping a straight back.
- Feel the stretch at the front hip.
- Hold for 20 seconds, then switch.
But this isn’t all…For more exercises, skip to this video and power your back ASAP!
Now, prepare for some common questions & what to do about it…
1. How do you ride a horse without hurting your back?
Ensure you ride in a neutral position and do exercises off the horse to help strengthen your core and flexibility.
2. Is riding good for your back?
Yes, when you ride in the correct position, it helps keep your back muscles loose.
3. Can you wear a back brace when riding?
Wearing a back brace like the STOTS Sports Back Brace offers support and comfort for riders.
So to answer the question of how to prevent back pain when riding a horse, the key is to build good core strength through workouts off the horse and to be constantly aware of your body in everyday life by maintaining good posture.
Should you notice that horse riding is the culprit behind your back pain, or it aggravates existing issues, seek medical counsel promptly.
A timely intervention paves the way for countless more joyous, painless rides.
Don’t forget to comment – tell me how much you enjoyed my article and share some tips…
Who knows, I may write about it next time!
1. yourdressage. Are You Bad for Your Horse’s Health? – YourDressage.org [Internet]. Your Dressage. 2019 [cited 2023 Aug 13]. Available from: https://yourdressage.org/2019/03/18/are-you-bad-for-your-horses-health/
2. Dr. Kaliq Chang Says Too Much Sitting & Bad Posture Hurts the Spine [Internet]. www.atlanticspinecenter.com. 2022 [cited 2023 Aug 13]. Available from: https://www.atlanticspinecenter.com/blog/v/dr-kaliq-chang-says-too-much-sitting-and-bad-posture-hurts-the-spine/
3. Wilken F. The ABC of Cathrine Dufour: 9 tips for you and your horse [Internet]. Malgré Tout Media. 2021 [cited 2023 Aug 13]. Available from: https://www.malgretoutmedia.com/the-abc-of-cathrine-dufour-9-tips-for-you-and-your-horse/
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/