Pain Related to Horse Riding

A Saddle Fitter’s Persepective.

Sarah & Simbar, comfortably riding 100 miles in her ReactorPanel Saddle at the World Endurance Championship 2006

Sarah & Simbar, comfortably riding 100 miles in her ReactorPanel Saddle at the World Endurance Championship 2006

There are a number of reasons riders experience pain related to horse riding, it’s a common problem that most horse riders think is part of the riding experience, this does not need to be the case. An ill fitting saddle that is moving around, tipping the rider forwards, backwards or to one side, causes the rider to brace to balance and can therefore cause back ache, shoulder or neck pain and even aching thighs and/or knees. All horse and rider combinations are unique and some times it is our confirmation rather than the horse’s that causes the issue, there choice of saddle is very important, tree shape and seat profile are very important factors to take into account when buying a saddle . It is quite common to fit riders who say, “ my balance isn’t what it used to be,” “I’m crooked” “ I’m not a very good rider” when after the new saddle is fitted it becomes apparent that the saddle balance was the issue all along.
Some common problems and suggestions on how to address them

“My Saddle Constantly Slips to One Side”

All horses and riders are asymetric, that is why some of us are right and some of us left handed. Whether this causes a problem, with the saddle fit depends on severity. A saddle which does not fit correctly be it too narrow, too wide or just on the wrong shape of tree will automatically be moved to the horses weaker side, over time this can cause wasted muscle as the saddle moves or weight is distributed unevenly. If a rider has a crooked pelvis from a fall, a car accident or just because they sleep in a position that pulls the pelvis to one side or for any other reason, over a period of time even if your horse is fairly straight and correct in its skeletal and musculature the rider will eventually make the horse crooked to fit there own unevenness, these riders often sit unevenly in the saddle or put more weight in one stirrup than the other, stirrup leathers can then also stretch, accentuating the problem. The same thing can happen with a straight rider and a crooked horse. Over time a flocked saddle which is moving to one side only will bed unevenly and therefore accentuate the problem.

To fix the problem we recommend the saddle is checked and adjusted if required by an experienced saddle fitter. Horse and rider be checked at the same time and any adjustments carried out by a qualified Chiropractor,we work with a lot of Chiropractors and body workers all over the country and are happy to recommend one if you are having problems finding someone, please contact us and we can advise.

We can then revisit and check the saddle and address any uneven flocking once horse and rider are even. If a period of rehab is recommended or the physical characteristics of horse and rider mean than the unevenness cannot be addressed quickly then the saddle can be girthed accordingly to accommodate the asymmetry or in more extreme cases we recommend a correction numnah.These are temporary measures and are designed to keep the saddle straight during rehab. For more details please see our information page Remedial Horse Help.

If the asymmetry is extreme and untreatable then we would recommend a ReactorPanel Saddle as asymmetries such as Scoliosis of the spine are more easily addressed. Just because your have scoliosis of the spine does not however mean that you need to have a asymmetric saddle for life. A customer and great friend of mine who has this disability initially had her saddle set asymmetrically to help while she learn to ride her horse straight. A year later after a great deal of hard work and perseverance on her part we put the saddle straight and both she and her horse have ridden straight since. She can even ride bare back and now has no pain when riding.

“My Back Aches and I Cannot Get My Legs Underneath Me to Sit in Balance”

If the saddle does not go to one side consistently and horse and rider are both straight and the rider still gets backache, saddle balance and fit will need checking as this could be the cause.

Saddles tipping back because they are too tight makes the riders back work very hard to readdress their position, the lower leg will shoot forward making a balanced position with the rider on his or her “three point seat” impossible giving rise to Back and thigh pain. Also this can be the cause of saddles shifting from one side to the other or moving forward up the horse’s neck .They also will place the riders weight in the rear of the saddle which could over a period of time waste the back muscles.

Saddles that are too wide can tip forward, move around and slip backwards. Again creating problems for horse and rider, the riders weight will be thrown onto the shoulders making it difficult for the horse to come off the forehand, the rider will pitch forward and the legs can be forced backwards again making a balanced position where the rider has full independent movement of all four limbs impossible. The rider flights to stay uprignt and this will can rise to back, neck and shoulder pain .

Again a visit from the Saddle fitter can help.Adjustments can be made if the saddle is adjustable and when that is not the case and the problem is a saddle that is too wide, the problem can be remedied with a correction numnah with front shimms. Unfortunately a saddle that is too narrow will have to be replaced.

“My Saddle Fits My Horse and I’m still Uncomfortable”

Riders who have experienced long term back or knee pain can ride pain free if fitted with a well fitting saddle of a style and shape to suit their riding. When choosing a saddle take into account the riding position which is most comfortable to you, for example is it comfortable to ride long or short. Some of our customers who do not wish to jump find a jumping saddle more comfortable as it accommodates their knees better if they are tall and the horse close coupled and in cases when a straight cut or dressage flap can stretch the muscles in the pelvic sling in a way which can be uncomfortable for some riders. A saddle which is too small or that has the wrong shape tree for the rider can also cause a problem as it can make it impossible for the rider to “sit deep” and therefore remain in balance. Also the physical characteristics of some riders make some saddle trees more comfortable than others and some riders require specially designed seats. This is why we offer a 14 day trial on new saddles, the only way to find out if the saddle is the right shape and design for you is to ride in it for an extended period of time.

Pain related to horse riding is not just “one of those things” and often we can help, even customers who have always felt uncomfortable in the pelvic area can be comfortable if the right seat is made for them, we all want comfort for our horse and quite often rider’s needs are ignored in favour of the horse’s comfort, we are very experienced in helping riders find comfort as well as their horse, for more specific advice feel or help free to call or email us any time.

Gini Woodward copyright 2010


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