Every sport uses different muscle groups and stretches new areas of the body. This is particularly true with horseback riding. People say the horse does all the work, but anyone who rides knows that to be a good rider, you need to be an athlete.
Horseback riding typically uses the following muscle groups: shoulders, triceps/biceps, abdominals, back, inner and outer thighs, and back of the calf. Poor posture, muscle imbalances, and general lack of fitness can make riding less enjoyable. Lack of ability to use certain muscles properly will make cuing and controlling the horse more difficult. Riders can also affect a horse's gait and the soundness of his back by being unfit and unbalanced.
- An exercise ball is helpful to riders because it works the core muscles, improves posture and is easy to use. Sitting on a ball while watching TV or working on the computer requires use of the core muscles to stay in place.
- Have riders scoot to the edge of a chair so their thighs are completely off it. Then, have them place a beach ball between their knees and squeeze. Hold for 15 seconds, then release. Repeat 30 times, and increase the reps as the exercise becomes easier to do.
- Riders must use abdominal muscles for balance, rather than pinching the horse with their legs. If the abs are weak, encourage riders to spend five minutes two or three times a day doing sit ups and use ab equipment during your sessions.
Horseback riders can suffer from a number of muscle weaknesses. Physical therapists can help identify these problems and develop a therapy plan to correct them. Here are some points to remember when working with equestrians:
- A forward head posture is a weakness in the neck flexors. This is a cause of headaches and a head wobble in riders.
- Round shoulders are due to weak shoulder blade muscles and make the rider appear slumped in the saddle. This position makes it difficult to engage the seat while riding.
- Tight chest muscles also result in a slumped posture and round shoulders.
- Riders need strong core stability, requiring good abdominal strength.
- The pelvis and lower back must be flexible. These are areas that frequently create pain and stiffness in riders.
- The hamstring muscles are usually short and weak in the general population. Riders need strong coordinated hamstrings because this is the dominant muscle used to gain more impulsion when riding.
- The heels down position for the English rider requires long calf muscles.
A high degree of fitness decreases the chance of serious injury, helps injuries heal more quickly, allows riders to look more elegant in the saddle and makes riding more enjoyable. But, in the event of an injury, riders can look to physical therapy to help them "get back on the horse."
Bobbie Friedman, PT, is center manager of VibrantCare Rehabilitation, Scottsdale, AZ.