“It’s really common for horse riders to suffer some sort of back pain when riding; this can be because of weakness of the riders’ core, poor posture, or a number of other issues. However something we know to be true is that many riders also suffer with shortened hamstrings from the position and use of their leg when in the saddle.”
Andrew continues; “The most important thing is balance of opposing muscles both in terms of strength and flexibility. For example, if the quadriceps are weak and flexible yet the hamstrings are strong and tight you’re very likely to experience some form of discomfort at some time, in this case likely in the lower back.
“There are various strength tests you can do to check this such as using a dynamometer to measure maximum force output from the isolated muscles. In terms of flexibility, you can check the range of motion of specific muscle groups too by performing simple tests. It is very common that hamstrings are found to be tight or ‘short’. There are many stretches that could be helpful but a selected few examples to improve flexibility are shown below:
“Core stability is vital and the use of exercise balls as well as Pilates should be recommended. Above all, if low back pain is experienced it is highly recommended to have an individual screening by a qualified professional who can recommend specific exercises depending on the proposed areas causing the issue.”
Personally, I definitely suffer with both lower back pain and painfully tight hamstrings – and in fact at Pilates nearly all of the riders had very tight hamstrings. Certainly I can see how lots of half halting could enhance the problem, and that shortening of the hamstring may affect a dressage rider less than a showjumper, say, due to the cut of the saddle and the positioning of the leg and length of stirrups. I’ve had a few sessions involving riding without stirrups to help lengthen the leg and release some of the tension through the hips and hamstrings to help with this. (Although I probably wouldn’t attempt with Ruby!)
Pilates has made a huge difference to my riding, and since it encourages you to engage your core muscles, (I often think to myself about pulling my belly button back to my spine when schooling and using my breath better) it has helped to give me a strong core rather than relying too much on my limbs instead. Previously because I’d lacked strength in my core, and the ability to properly engage those muscles, I would tend to become overly concave at the lower spine, or rounded in the shoulder. My trainer has also noticed an improvement in my asymmetry – before I had a big tendency to collapse at the left hip but I’ve become more balanced in the saddle.
If you do one thing in 2013, I would definitely advise trying Pilates and doing some stretching exercises – not only do the experts recommend it, but I can also vouch for the difference it makes in practice, both for your own well being and the results you get from your horse.