Ouch – It hurts when I ride my horse!

By: Dr. Mike Guerini (www.dunmovinranch.com)

Every so often when I give lessons or I teach a horsemanship clinic I meet up with someone who tells me that when he/she rides a horse, it hurts.  Of course I take a few minutes to find out if the person normally has pain in the area(s) that hurts while riding.  In most cases, the person tells me it only hurts when he/she rides.  One of my clients who loves to ride in cowhorse and reining classes also told me that for >10 years it has always been painful in the boxing work, roll-backs, and fence work with the cow.

Given how frequently this seems to come up with horse riders…I decided to share my top 10 list of things I immediately ask about or watch to see if I can figure out the origin of the pain.

1) Saddle fit for the rider.  Those who complain about thighs hurting, pelvis hurting, or feeling squeezed generally draw my attention to the saddle.  For this issue, I normally switch them into a variety of saddles so we can find out what or how the saddle is causing pain.  Check the size of the saddle seat and make sure it is not to big or to small.  When in doubt, borrow some saddles from friends and see if the pain goes away when you change saddles.

2) Stirrup leather length.  Lower leg pain, knee pain or even back pain can sometimes be associated with stirrups that are either to short or two long.  Adjust and see if it helps the pain go away.  Another common issue is that one stirrup is longer than another so the pain is only on one side. — Check your stirrup lengths.

3) Stirrup/Stirrup iron causing the ankle to be sore.  This is most often associated with western saddles.  All of my saddle have a twist in the bottom of the stirrup leather so that the leather is formed (turned) correctly so that I am not having to twist my leg to put my toes and heels in the proper orientation.  This is an easy fix by changing to a lighter weight and thinner stirrup (if yours is really thick) and having a quality saddle maker put a twist in your stirrup leathers.  There are a few homemade remedies to get this twist….broomstick through the stirrups when you store the saddle, dunk in a water trough/wet the stirrup leathers then put in a broomstick….but I always recommend that a quality saddle maker should put in a twist—it helps keep your saddle in good shape for many years to come.

4) Thigh pain/Seat pain.  This can often come from the saddle seat.  Maybe the seat has some lumps and bumps.  Feel your seat and make sure it is smooth and fits you.  If not, consider having the seat fixed.  Saddle seats that are worn out or two small can cause pinching that leads to thigh and seat pain.

5) Shoulder and arm pain.  This often comes with tensing of your arms while riding.  Always pulling or bracing on the reins (often done by riders to help him/her balance).  Relax and have that contact with the reins and mouth/bit/bosal, so that it is as light as possible while maintaining a connection with the horse.

6) Torso/lower back pain. This often comes when the rider gets out of synch/out of rhythm with the footfalls and motion of the horse.  Go back to a slower speed when you where in synch with the horse and

7) All over body pain. This comes when the rider does not relax.  Complete body pain or tension happens quite often.  Riding a new horse, riding in a new situation, riding through a spooky situation…all these can lead to a lack of relaxation by the rider.  When we study the Dressage Training Scale…one of the first elements we want to achieve with the horse is relaxation — same goes with the rider…relax and feel the horse and the pain from tension will go away.

8) Exhaustion/being out of breath.  This comes from holding your breath while riding and is easily fixed…breathe.  If you find yourself holding your breath…sing or talk to the horse.  When you speak or sing, you must breathe.

9) Jarring and jolting pain when loping or doing rollbacks.  Rollbacks and fence work on the wrong leads or with bad footwork control of the horse by the rider often leads to this type of pain.  The cowhorse client came for a lesson about a year ago, one of our first lessons and I asked her to do some fence work (rollbacks and pretend to be working a cow).  She rode for about thirty seconds working an imaginary cow along the fence and doing rollbacks…now mind you, this lady had earned about $10K in the NRCHA and wins quite often.  I asked her if that hurt — she said “it always hurts when I do rollbacks and work a cow.”  I asked her to switch leads as she worked the fence (right lead when the fence was on her right, left lead when the fence was on her left) and like magic — the pain went away.  For her it was not really so much pain…but a high level of discomfort at keeping the horse on the same lead in a high-speed maneuver with stops and turns and jolts…over the years she began to tense up and hold her breath and this led to the pain she was feeling.

10) It hurts to move your legs or your seat and your legs might be going numb.  Well this one seems like it matches up with some of the other pain…but there is a cause that is all to do with looks. As odd as it may sound…those skin tight jeans that you look so good in might not be cut out for riding your horse.  Long periods of time in the saddle in tight jeans can lead to less circulation and your legs feeling numb.  Maybe it is not jeans…maybe it is the britches being to tight.  Ditch the vanity and good looks for now — make sure you wear clothes that fit.

Comfort of the rider is so important when riding.  When you are comfortable you can feel the horse, relax, get into rhythm and enjoy the ride.  If you hurt, the horse can most certainly sense this and your hurt might bring out some emotions that will harm your riding.

As always…I look forward to your comments and additions.

Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at www.dunmovinranch.com. Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (www.hydrot.com).

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