I’m not as young as I used to be. I hate saying that, but boy, do I know it’s true.
I don’t bounce back quite as fast after being thrown from the back of a horse. Sometimes soreness lasts for weeks now when it used to only last for days.
Recently I’ve been more prone to back soreness. All it takes is an awkward, big stride from a greenie OTTB to pull the muscles in my lower back. Sometimes the soreness comes after doing a lot of upper-level lateral and gait work with my big and heavy hanoverian mare.
What I’ve learned is I have to start taking better care of my back (and my body) if I want to ride soundly and effectively in the years to come.
So if you’re like me, and prone to back soreness, here are some ways to heal and get stronger.
Ice first, heat later. So a lot of these tips are no brainers. If you’re ouchy after a ride from muscle soreness, slap an ice pack on that throbbing baby. Ice for a while and whenever you can. Sometimes I pull the mineral ice out of my tack trunk and bring it home with me. The cooling relief lasts longer and isn’t as messy as a dripping ice pack. Then you can start adding heat to your therapy regime.
Rethink your everyday posture. So if you’re prone to back soreness, start thinking about what you’re doing (or not doing) to contribute to the pain. Posture is a big part of this. Sure, your equitation might be great, but if you’re not conditioning your core and back, the muscles aren’t strong enough to keep you in that perfect position when there’s resistance from the horse or a disturbance during your ride. Start thinking about your posture out of the saddle. Are you slumping in your office chair? In the car? Poor posture over a period of time really adds up.
Stretch. Stretch. Stretch. I cannot say this enough. Stretch when you wake up. Stretch before you ride. Stretch after you ride. Stretch before you go to bed. Yoga is great for equestrians because it’s not only an exercise method that is great for core and muscle strengthening, but it’s good for relief too. All it takes is a few 20-minute sessions to start to feel the difference. I’ve noticed since I’ve increased the amount of stretching I do through yoga each day, I’m more limber and flexible than I’ve ever been. That goes for in the saddle, too. Some of my favorite yoga positions for my back are back bends, Bharadvaja’s twists, locust pose and upward-facing dog.
Condition. Condition. Condition. You can combine stretching with conditioning if you’re doing the right work out. I’m a firm believer that if I’m asking my horse to perform to best of her abilities, I need to be in shape to support her and perform, too. Working out keeps me strong and helps strengthen those pesky, ouchy muscles in my back. And the more I condition, both through cardio, weight training, pilates and yoga, the less likely I am to hurt my back.
Think: Core. Core strength (we’re talking about those abdominal muscles across your belly) is so important. It aids you in the saddle no matter your discipline. Be it helping lift your horse up to engage the hind end in dressage, or to help temper your balance through a line of fences. Your core muscles should be working while you’re riding so you don’t put too much unnecessary stress on your back or other parts of the body. But if you’re not strong in your core, you’re more likely to have an injury elsewhere (like your back). Some of my favorite core exercises are planks and leg lifts.