Brilliant post about Laura’s 2nd passion (after chiropractic of course!)
I’ve been mad about horses since I was little. Since my grandfather built me my first hobby horse at the grand old age of 3, and ever since I have done everything to be around them as much as possible. It got quite serious in my teens, as I started up with the local Pony Club spending every second of time outside school to run, shoot, swim and ride for Tetrathlon (my parents were hoping it was a phase…), even going down to Lincolnshire to compete as a part of the Findon RC junior team in the National Championships. I now spend most weekends during the summer travelling from Invergordon to Cumbria eventing.
I’ve always wanted to provide my horses with the best care I could afford – after all, they do such an amazing job of looking after me while on-board! I have always strived to make sure they are in the best physical shape, no matter the cost. But what many people don’t realise is a happy horse needs a happy rider.
Any instructor will tell you that balance and suppleness are important to get the horse working to it’s full potential in all of the disciplines, however to fully achieve this it’s so important to make sure the rider is equally balanced and supple. Most riders will admit that they have a ‘better rein’. A rider stiffer on one side will inevitably make it harder to work the horse on that rein, causing compensatory stiffness in the horse. As the legs and the pelvis contact the saddle, being able to be centred in the saddle is the first step to ensuring a balanced horse.
The main problem we see in horse riders here at Banchory Chiropractic is pelvic pain and dysfunction. When sitting in the saddle, on a straight line, make sure you can feel both seat bones equally in the saddle. If you feel it’s a struggle to do this, then there’s a good chance the pelvis is unbalanced. Another of the dressage instructors’ favourite sayings is you need more “open hips” (at least it is of my instructor!). It’s quite common to see people ‘cheating’ by leaning forward in the saddle, using their hip flexors rather than their lower abdominal muscles.
Our chiropractors use a series of gentle techniques to help balance out the pelvis and loosen the surrounding musculature in order to improve function. We’ve also put together some helpful hints to help maintain the pelvis and surrounding musculature to function correctly:
- Remember that horse riding is a physical activity – stretching out the muscles before and after riding will help to increase your own suppleness and keep the pelvis mobile. This includes stretching the gluts:
Sitting, cross your knee. Bring that knee up to the opposite shoulder. Turn your shoulders into the stretch (so you’re looking over the side you’re stretching), trying to get your shoulders parallel to your thigh.
- Ensure when you’re riding that your core is engaged – this will ensure that you don’t arch your back too much, which would put added pressure on the joints at the back of the spine as well as the back of the pelvis, that in turn decreases the chance of injury.
- As we all know, no matter how much we try and kid ourselves horses are unpredictable animals, very much dependent on their environment – if that scary rock jumps out from nowhere and your horse tries to rush you to safety (very thoughtful of them) but you strain your back in the meantime (not their fault obviously, they saved you from the wrath of the vicious rock) then ice the area that day and the morning after. This will help to reduce any inflammation and keep the muscles from going into spasm, which if left over time can build up and cause pelvic dysfunction.
After recently undergoing post-graduate training in veterinary chiropractic, I’ve learnt some valuable lessons that have improved the relationship between myself and my horse. I’ve always had a problem with the left side of my pelvis, and guess what – when I checked Westy, he had the exact same problem. By treating him regularly and getting treatment weekly myself (thank you Felicity!!) we’ve managed to increase suppleness, straightness and balance without much schooling over the winter (thanks to the rain it would’ve been more like swimming!). It’s also given me a greater understanding as to his occasional behavioural problems (i.e. tantrums), when he would throw himself onto his back legs – it wasn’t because he was being naughty, it was because he was getting frustrated when I asked him for something he found too difficult. When he starts playing up, I know it is time for a treatment!
We must remember that our horses are athletes too. Just as much as Usain Bolt has his team behind him, our horses deserve the same. A lot of people say ‘a horse is a natural jumper’, but remember: is it natural to jump 12 fences in 2 minutes?? That would never happen in the wild, but we expect them to do this for us regularly. The more we can do to help them, the better and longer they can perform. For example, a good warm up and cool down is imperative to prevent pulled muscles and ligament strains, just as it is for us. Warming up should include some stretches for the neck and back, as well as suppling work on both reins first off to ensure the muscles and joints are ready for work.
Since I’ve been seeing four-legged patients, I find myself advising the good old carrot stretches quite often before riding. Stiffness in the neck is one of the most common causes of horses “falling in” on one rein round corners, and these stretches are a great help to open up both sides of the neck and help the horse find it easier to bend round.
I find that when bringing a horse back into work from an injury, time must be taken to build up the foundations before jumping into whatever you were doing before. Foundations would include building up the core muscles with pole work and hill work to help with self carriage, engagement and create a strong back.
Of course there are always those times when stretches and rehab exercises just aren’t enough. When it comes to chiropractic treatment, a vague guideline is if there are no symptoms, then call a chiropractor – if there is an obvious lameness/problem, then the vet should always be the first port of call. Chiropractic works best before symptoms appear, so you must look for subtle signs that there might be a problem – such as a slight change in behaviour, or a difficulty in doing an exercise that they could do fine before. That’s when it’s worth getting them checked over to make sure there’s nothing restricting their movement/balance.
Please don’t hesitate to contact the clinic if you want to ask for any more information/advice on how to keep a healthy back – and a healthy horse! 🙂