You’re a rider? You’re an athlete!

Football, basketball, soccer, hockey, gymnastics, figure skating…athletes across all these sports have a team of people behind them. Coaches, personal trainers, chiropractors, massage therapists and athletic therapists all play a role in keeping those athletes healthy so they can perform at their best.

You don’t see the same team behind a lot of riders, and yet we’re prone to just as many injuries as any other athlete.

Toughness in our sport is a point of pride. Ask any serious horseback rider you know about the spills they’ve endured, and they’ll gladly tell you about the broken fingers, crushed toes, dislocated shoulders, broken ribs and concussions that couldn’t keep them off their horse. We fall off, get back on, finish our ride and tape up our injuries later.

I’ve learned that even after the bruises disappear, our injuries stay with us. They affect our musculature, balance, alignment and muscle memory. And eventually, they affect our horse.

Earlier this spring, I hit a plateau in my riding. Old problems started to resurface, and I felt like I stopped progressing in lessons. I had been working with a chiropractor to treat sciatic pain caused by an old riding injury. While he was able to treat the radiating nerve pain characteristic of sciatica, another problem revealed itself: a rib in my mid-back would continually pop out of place. My chiropractor recommended I see an athletic therapist. I did one better: I saw two.

I’ve been working with an athletic therapist at the University of Winnipeg, as well as an AT student who focuses on equestrian athletes. After a number of assessments, we’ve learned that my left hip is higher than my right one, and this (along with several other issues) is affecting the alignment of my entire body. It’s also affecting my horse.

Taped up for an in-ride assessment with an athletic therapist. When my posture is correct, there should be straight horizontal lines between the shoulder Xs and the hip Xs, as well as a straight line up the spine.

Taped up for an in-ride assessment with an athletic therapist. When my posture is correct, there should be straight horizontal lines between the shoulder Xs and the hip Xs, as well as a straight vertical line up the spine. I’m not straight when I’m walking around on the ground, and it’s even worse when I’m sitting on my horse.

On the lunge line, Moe is more supple tracking left. But as soon as I get on his back, his left side becomes his stiff side. As I move up through the paces, Moe counter-flexes more and more. You can imagine how tricky it is to ride a nice hunter round when your horse’s whole body is curved right while he’s cantering left.

Interestingly enough, my posture is near perfect over fences. It's only when I sit down in the saddle that my imbalances come into play.

Interestingly enough, my posture is near perfect over fences (my heel could be a little deeper). It’s only when I sit down in the saddle that my imbalances come into play.

My old riding injury affected my left knee, but by “toughing it out,” my whole body changed to compensate for the pain. It’s affected my balance and posture, which has in turn affected my horse’s balance and posture.

It’s going to take a long time and a lot of effort to correct my posture, alignment and musculature. But I’m not discouraged – I know I have a team of people behind me who will keep me moving forward.

If you’ve reached a plateau in your riding, I strongly encourage you to get your own team in place. There may be small abnormalities in your body that are affecting your horse and blocking him from achieving his best. Stop thinking of yourself as just a rider; start thinking of yourself as an athlete.

2 thoughts on “You’re a rider? You’re an athlete!

  1. Pingback: Having it all- but is there time for the cake too? The amateur diaries. | katmah

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