By Nicole Ponte

You know the feeling: a lesson without stirrups leaves you walking like a cowboy, or an intense cross-country school makes your back sore for days. Riders are athletes that ask a lot of their bodies, and while we spend time and resources treating our horses to liniments, massages and therapeutic tack, we often ignore our own discomfort.

Here’s the good news: foam rolling is an easy way to ease muscle soreness brought on from riding, allowing you to ride comfortably and effectively. Foam rollers is gaining popularity in all sports because it is easy to do, effective, and affordable.

Types of Foam Rollers

The foam roller is exactly what it sounds like: a large cylindrical piece of foam. It can vary in length, smoothness (with or without ridges) and density. You don’t need to buy a $100 roller for foam rolling to be effective, as less expensive rollers work just as well and last just as long.

I also include the “rolling stick” (a plastic device with a rotating center) and “tune up balls” (balls the same size and density of racquetballs) in the foam rolling category because these tools are used in a similar manner for a similar result as foam rollers.

How Does It Help?

Known officially as “self-myofascial release,” foam rolling loosens tight muscles, relaxes contracted muscles, improves blood and lymphatic circulation, and speeds tissue repair. By rolling over your muscles, you are tenderizing them to keep them soft and supple, and this allows your muscles to work to their full capacity.

Getting Started

To start a foam rolling session, I generally begin on the floor with my large roller and work throughout my whole body. Common places of muscle soreness in equestrians are the calves, back, and quadriceps. Lay on your roller and apply as much as your body weight in pressure as needed. When rolling areas on your legs, try crossing your ankles and rolling each leg separately for maximum release.

When I find an area where I have a lot of stiffness, I will place a “tune up ball” on the ground and roll over it, or take my “rolling stick” and work up and down the area, varying the applied pressure. For more ideas, there are Youtube videos galore about foam rolling, or your foam roller may come with instructions.

Tips and Tricks

While foam rolling you should not feel pain, but slight discomfort is normal. Your muscles may be “in knots” and with each roll you are loosening the tightness of the muscle. In order to get the maximum effect from foam rolling, roll directly after a ride or workout. This ensures there is sufficient blood flow in the muscles that you’re working on.

While using a large foam roller, there is little chance of doing damage because it rolls a large and generalized part of your muscle. With the “tune up balls” and rolling sticks, however, it is safest to only do two minutes of treatment on alternate days. Because the stick and ball are smaller, they work deeper into specific segments of the muscle and overdoing it can cause inflammation, which is the opposite of what you want.