August 20, 2015 - Mike Dilke
I have just come back from a family holiday in the USA which was fantastic. One of the highlights was staying with a family who live on a farm in Maine who have horses. Michael and Julie Fralich, whose farm it is, run a programme called Healing with Horses and help a lot of people who need therapy with the calming influence of horses. It works and he helps all kinds of people from war veterans, pensioners with dementia to children – see below for a video showing their work.
Seeing my children sitting on a great big horse with huge grins demonstrated how horse riding can be good for the soul but I also wondered if it can be helpful to those who suffer from a bad back.
Motion is usually good for a bad back and good for the body in general and riding a horse will certainly involve some motion.
I made a Google search and found information on how keeping your core muscles strong and your core flexible will help with your ability to ride a horse and help to prevent injury. An article in Horse and Rider spoke about this.
Dr Tim Hutchful of The British Chiropractic Association commented in the article "Even though riding is physically demanding, it is not sufficient to let it be your only form of exercise. Keeping fit will give you more energy and help you avoid injury - Pilates is a good start!"
This didn’t seem so surprising but I wanted to see if people had used horse riding to make their back pain better.
A while ago there was a question asked on the Horse and Hounds blog - Does anyone on here have a bad back, and do you continue to ride?
There were a lot of replies to the question and I have shown a couple here.
“Riding helps keep my back pain free. Lots of walking keeps it fluid. If I've had periods of not riding due to other health problems, my back seizes and goes into spasm. Back in the saddle, my back loosens up and pain/stiffness goes. Friend finds trotting is best for her, too much riding in walk makes hers ache.”
“At 18, I slipped on ice, carrying a sack of pony nuts, and could barely put my left foot on the floor for ages. I was working on a very large yard at the time and being 'sick' was very much frowned upon. I survived on quantities of paracetamol and cheap, white cider! Once I'd got my qualifications, changed to a different yard, got paid proper money and saw an osteopath every fortnight for a while which helped. I was in a lot of pain whilst pregnant with my eldest, but, oddly, riding eased the pain!
Fast forward some years, more children and a deskbound job..........along with a very much increased waistline and carrying about 6 extra stones! Back pain became a distant memory.
Then, for various reasons, we moved back 'home', I got back into the horsey scene, got loads more active, dropped a large quantity of weight and returned to searing back pain. As I'm now a proper grown up, I finally tried to sort it instead of just scoffing painkillers. Turns out, I have a mild form of spina bifida (obviously born with it!), must have tweaked something when I fell, then 'used myself' incorrectly causing a long term problem. I also have arthritis in my spine, hip, wrists and thumbs which may be connected.
That's my long winded way of saying, get it checked out early so that you don't fall into the trap of compensating for one pain but causing another. One doctor told me not to ride but, after a year of not riding, nothing improved, so, another said ride, but only do what's comfortable. I find a lot of cantering is agony, but can do sitting trot without stirrups for ages! Also, working on core stability has helped a lot”
People do talk about different problems on the blog but generally it seems that gentle movement from horse riding can help to ease some back pain. However, if you get too confident and do too much too quickly then you may get pain again.
So it seems that riding horses can be good for the soul and if you have back pain it might help with that as well if approached carefully.
I would love to hear if anyone has any comments on how they have helped back pain through riding or helped to avoid injury when riding through strengthening their core and how they did it.