We spend a lot of time making sure that our horses are supple, that they can flex equally well on both reins, that they are able to round and bring the hindquarters under and through.
Most of us though don’t question whether that same suppleness, symmetry and control is true of the rider. Your riding instructor may tell you that you’re not keeping your heels down or that you’re hanging on the inside rein, but do you know why you’re doing this, and most importantly, how to correct it?
Put yourself in the horse’s shoes for a moment. Picture yourself on all fours, with someone sitting on your back. Now imagine that person is crooked and sitting with most of their weight on one side of your back and pulling back hard on one of your shoulders. It’s not going to take long before your own back starts to get sore from having such unequal weight distribution stressing one side of your back more than the other. Imagine then that the person gets on your back and sits like this for an hour at a time, 5 days per week. You’re going to start to get really sore, and probably pretty cranky about this person sitting on you like that everyday!
Now bring that back to a real horse and rider scenario. A horse that is being ridden by a rider who has an underlying injury or issue affecting their seat in the saddle is very likely to result in a horse who does not perform at it’s best.
So how can physiotherapy help? A physiotherapist is highly trained in analysing and assessing movement patterns and alignment. In short we are experts at reviewing how people move, and identifying what’s normal and what’s not. Issues may be caused by muscle weakness or tightness, joint stiffness or instability, incorrect sequence of muscle activation (ie muscles not firing when they should) to name a few. A physiotherapist can diagnose the cause of your injury through a detailed history and assessment, then set about tailoring a specific treatment plan to address the issues that are identified. This may involve a combination of hands-on manual techniques (such as massage or joint mobilisation), exercise prescription, postural adjustments and advice and education. Video analysis is often a great way for the physiotherapist to see exactly what you’re doing in the saddle, and is a useful tool in educating the patient in proper technique. Often we don’t realise we are so unbalanced until we actually see it for ourselves!
Often people don’t consider physiotherapy until they are injured or in pain. By this time the underlying cause of the injury has likely been there for some time, and will take longer to address. In most professional sports, athletes are screened routinely throughout the year by the medical team to pick up on any issues that may predispose that person to injury, the idea being that any time out due to injury is significantly reduced. Of course there is no way to stop an acute injury occurring, as accidents happen in all sports, but if you are as ‘riding fit’ as possible then those little niggles and aches, in both you and your horse, should no longer be an issue.