Back Pain affecting your Riding?

I see a lot of back pain in the riders that I work with, it’s a bit of a joke that we don’t have a full set of good vertebrae between us!


To be honest it’s not a huge surprise that many riders suffer with back pain as the very act of riding involves absorbing the force of half a ton underneath you, as well as the day to day sh!t shovelling, carrying bags of feed, water buckets etc. Add to that the pushing and shoving you’ve been subjected to and not to mention the falls. We riders give our bodies a fair battering!


I’ve got plenty of ladies in my classes that have back problems and I have been working with back pain clients for several years, including working on my own back pain. 


I think it’s really sad when riders feel like they need to give up riding as it causes them pain, I get extra sad when it’s because a Dr told them not to ride! 


Firstly, because there are so many ways you can assist your back that will lessen if not cure your back pain. 


Secondly because sedentary lifestyles are actually worse for your back than riding so stopping isn’t necessarily going to fix you.


Most importantly, why should you have to give up the sport that you love. This disregards the many benefits of riding from the fresh air, the exercise and the mental health benefits many of us experience through our horses. 


So, I make it my mission to not accept that someone can’t get back riding after experiencing back pain. However what I will say is that it will involve some hard physical work and a positive attitude but you’re an Equestrian so you’ve got this!


The spine needs both mobility and stability to function well. To clarify it needs to be flexible and strong. One or the other isn’t going to do. If you have mobility but lack strength the muscles will be unable to stabilise ….and they will get sore trying. If the spine is strong but lacks flexibility it will be unable to absorb movement and essentially brace to try and do this…..and it will get sore trying. 


So here’s a couple of moves I like to start with.


Firstly we need some mobility to the spine.


Cat Cow….or Hollow Back and Rodeo horse if you’re in my class.


Then we need some stability both at the front and the back.


A great starter exercise is Bird Dogs, which can be done from the floor, or made harder by lifting the knees. It’s really important to focus on form with this exercise as the back must stay flat -which requires you to work your front and your back at the same time.

Now this is just a tiny starter on back pain as it is such a huge topic and there are many different ways to tackle it that may depend on individuals starting points. So if you are struggling and you want some help I’ve got a couple of spots for 121 training available in which we could really get you riding strong and pain free again.

Strong All Over

I’m pretty sure as an Equestrian you’ve been told you need a strong core but what about the rest of you? 

I know you may think you have a pretty strong set of arms from all that lifting of feed bags, strong legs from the riding itself but do you really? If you’ve been doing that stuff a while your body will have adapted and this won’t be a huge challenge to your muscles, however when you then put it into a different a stimulus say for example a bigger more powerful horse or perhaps actually a less balanced horse, maybe a more technical movement you just can’t get your body to do it.

Well, a stronger might help a little, but you’re also going to need stronger legs to hold that horse together and stronger shoulders to keep that rein contact and it needs to be able to work as a whole unit maintaining strength from top to bottom. 

This is starting to sound like a major gym session isn’t it……

Don’t worry I know you probably don’t have time for that (if you do and want some help with your gym programme get in touch!)

So, here are a couple of moves that will help you build strength from top to bottom. 


Burpees - I’m sorry I know everyone hates them but they really do offer a lot of bang for your buck.


Press Ups-If you can’t do a full one, raise your hands on a sturdy table and still do the full position, as you get stronger you can take your hands lower.


Tri Planar Lunge-If you want to add weights you can, whether that be a water bottle or a bag of feed!

Try doing 10 of each for 3 to 4 circuits.


Not so simple Straight Lines

What seems like such a simple task is in reality a really tricky one.

Just ride a straight line from A to C……...sounds so easy doesn’t it? 

Yet we all know it’s really, really not easy at all!

A sort of cut the corner, wavy line finishing somewhere just to the left of C, well we’re nailing those! But actual straight lines hmmmm not so much.

This has definitely come up in class quite a lot recently as myself and a few of the other ladies have young horses and as you may well have experienced, young horses aren’t great at straight lines.

This means it’s your job as a rider to ensure you are riding a straight line and with practice your horse will follow.

I use a few visual ques to help me and my clients wobble those baby horses onto straight lines.

First, before you do anything are you sat straight left to right, equal weight in seat bones?

Pick your line on the turn or corner-if you can’t start with a straight line you aren’t going to finish with one! So as you get to your turn imagine a set of rails or tracks in front of you that curve around and then open into that straight line up the centre. Keep your own body riding those rails.

You’re now on your straight line and here’s a couple of things we’ve used amongst my clients, try them out and see what works for you.


  • Create a channel of energy from your hands to your thighs and drive if forwards. 
  • Keep your horse weighted equally between your thighs.
  • Imagine there are lasers on your thighs, shoot laser beams straight ahead of you and ride towards them.
  • Imagine there is an eye in your belly button, keep it looking at C.


Try these out and let me know which one works for you, or maybe you have your own version you would like to share with us.


If you would like to improve your riding fitness I’ve got a couple of class spaces available so snap them up quick before we’re full again.

Up Your Gym Ball Efforts

I know plenty of my clients have a gym ball at home, great for sitting on, kneeling on etc. to improve your balance and ability to respond to movement.

However there are plenty of other ways you can up the ante on your training using a gym ball.

Here are just a couple I use in my class sometimes.


Plank on ball-Core without supported hands

Plank with your hands on the ball is a great exercise. It encourages you to maintain a stable core whilst your hands are not so stable-like you know every time you ride! This will firstly stop you using your reins for balance but will also help you out if your horse moves his head around perhaps sneezing, or pecks on landing after a jump. No more toppling over the head gymnast style for you!

To do this exercise. First ensure you have a firm footing. I tend to start on my knees with this to get my arms in position and then lift my knees to full plank. If you need to start just staying on your knees that’s fine you can work up to lifting them. Try holding it for up to a minute-5 seconds is totally fine as a starting point!

Stir the pot-This is essentially upping the ante of the exercise above. You know if it was too easy! Once you are comfortable in your plank slowly move your arms with the ball in a small circle, first left then right. Do 10-30 each way.


Reverse Hyper Extension. I know most of you wouldn’t see this as a core exercise, but the reverse hyper extension will work both your glutes and lower back. This is important as the glutes are the biggest muscle in the body and also play a supporting role in hip and core stability. So strong booty=strong core. The lower back forms part of the core and is an often underused area of the body. It is an area many people experience pain and would therefore be wary of working; but that is exactly what it needs. If we strengthen the area we make it better able to cope with the demands we place upon it.

Lie over the ball with your hands on the floor. Your hip bones should be in the middle of the ball and your legs and feet lifted. Squeeze your glutes together and lift both your legs up so they are a few inches higher than your glutes. You should also feel your lower back working here too. Do -10-30 reps.


Ball Pike. This move requires core control whilst moving. This obviously happens constantly whilst riding i.e when you use your hands, your leg, move into a jumping seat the list goes on.  Ok, people have different methods of erm “mounting” the ball. I like to roll myself forward over it and into a press up position walking out until only my feet remain on the ball. You can keep up to your knees on the ball if you need a little more stability. Then you are going to roll the ball in with your feet/knees towards your hands. You can do this firstly with knees bent and then if you can do this try it with legs straight with your feet on the ball.


Let me know if you do these exercises and how you get on!


If you would like to join us in class or 121  I have a couple of spaces so hit reply and you can join our tribe!

What about your Seat Bones

Last week we looked at improving the seat and I had a few questions about seat bones.


The Seat bones are one of our main communication tools when we ride. Your horse knows where they are, he knows if they are moving or if they are still and if one is sat somewhere different than the other.


Your instructor may sometimes ask if you can feel your seat bones and I bet many of you give a kind of nod not really knowing if you can or you can’t. Or you may be able to feel them but they aren’t level and you don’t know what to do about it.


First things first let’s find your seat bones. There are a couple of ways you can do this. Most simply you can just sit on a firm chair and sit on your hands, and you should be able to feel a bony lump in each cheek (yes even through any extra padding…..).


Another great way is using a ball. Either a tennis or hockey ball or a spiky physio ball (if you google it make sure you put physio ball as just spiky balls brings up something else…..) Either seated or lying down just pop one under your bum cheek and have a roll around. Then take it out, take a moment to notice how it feels and then do the other side.


If this feels a little uncomfortable you may be inhibited in you glutes which will in turn affect your riding and I would suggest spending a little more time using a ball in this way to release them.  It is also really useful to do this for a minute or so before you ride.


You can also try riding (if you have a bombproof horse!) with the physio balls under your seat bones , you may have seen the Franklin balls used for this. If you find you lift a seat bone on corners and circles this will help you to stay level as you will be trying to keep the ball in place.


If you are un-level in your seat bones a gym ball should become your new chair of choice. Just sitting on the ball and lifting your feet will help you to get the feel of a level seat. Obviously if you aren’t level you won’t be able to lift both feet! Feel free to hold onto something solid to help you get your balance first that way you can feel which way you need to shift your balance to find your central point. Just doing this alone has improved my position and balance in the saddle.


Once you have found your seat bones try this little challenge to show you how much your seat bones affect your aids. In walk feel your seat bones move forward and back in time with your horse, now try to slow your seat bones down and then make them still. What does your horse do? If you did it right he will have hopefully slowed down or stopped completely-clever pony!


I hope this has answered your questions and given you some things to go away and try.


Let me know if there’s anything else you’d like me to talk about.