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Beth Glosten

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Finding a Horse That Fits: An Excerpt from ‘The Riding Doctor’

In this excerpt from The Riding Doctor, Dr. Beth Glosten talks frankly about how, in order to avoid pain, injury, and lack of riding progress, the shape of the horse needs to suit the rider’s own body.

Photo by Carolynn Bunch.

Cautious is the word that best describes my approach to getting back in the saddle after my surgery for herniated discs in my low back. I waited a year after surgery to consider riding. And that year was full of conditioning and improving my body awareness. Finally, I was ready to find out if riding was an option for me.

I started putting feelers out for a potential mount to lease and slowly get back into riding. My criteria were strict: The horse must not have jarring gaits and must not be spooky. He must not be tall so I could avoid lifting and reaching while grooming and tacking up. I needed a reliable horse upon which I could explore strategies to keep my back supported and secure while in the saddle.

A friend told me about a seven-year-old Fjord pony mare, Solana, who needed some miles under saddle to augment her driving career. This sounded interesting. Perhaps this breed could be a good choice for my riding rehab needs.

I met my friend at her barn one sunny afternoon. I was encouraged at how easy it was to tack up this 14.1-hand pony. We set out on a slow trail ride, and I got a feel for how Solana moved.

After about 30 minutes, my back was getting tight. Solana’s back was relatively broad, requiring my thigh to externally rotate at the hip joint. This put my back in a bit of extension (arch), and caused strain. Solana’s short-coupled back put a lot of swing in her rib cage as she walked, causing a great deal of movement in my pelvis and hip joint. The combination of her build and her walk put my body in a less than ideal position to move with her without strain.

So, while her size and temperament were positive features for me, Solana’s body type was not.

About nine months later, after finding a more suitable mount to get me back in riding shape, I went horse shopping. Again, I was struck by how some horse shapes did not fit me well. I felt strain in my back whenever I rode a horse with a broad back that put my thighbone in too much external rotation and caused my spine to arch. A more narrow-bodied horse fit me best.

I settled on Bluette, a Danish Warmblood mare cross whose dam was a Thoroughbred. Her relatively narrow conformation fit me well. Her gaits were of good quality and reasonable for me to ride. When horse shopping again in 2009, horse size remained an important criterion. Donner Girl, a 16-hand Oldenburg mare fit the bill.

I have worked with two clients who tell a similar story of horse size challenging comfort. Both had knee surgery for entirely different reasons. But both found that riding a horse with a round barrel placed excessive and painful strain on their knee joints: They found that applying leg aids when riding a wide-bodied horse placed unhealthy torque on the knee. However, a horse with a more narrow conformation was not a problem.

If you are looking for a horse and have problems with your back, hip, or knee, don’t discredit the importance of conformation in finding the right mount. Not all horse shapes suit all riders, particularly if you have a physical limitation.

This excerpt from The Riding Doctor by Beth Glosten, MD, is reprinted with permission from Trafalgar Square Books (www.horseandriderbooks.com).

 

Two Exercises for Core Stability Cross Country: An Excerpt from ‘The Riding Doctor’

In this excerpt from her book The Riding Doctor, rider, instructor, certified Pilates instructor, and medical doctor Beth Glosten, MD, gives us two exercises to help improve core strength, and therefore, stability in the saddle, especially when riding cross-country.

Photo by Tim O’Neal courtesy of Trafalgar Square Books.

Postural support comes from the deepest layers of abdominal and back muscles of the torso. These muscles are designed to support your upright posture throughout daily activities and to do so quite efficiently. While riding, for balance we need to access the efficient postural muscles. And it is the postural muscles that you access when guided to “Engage your core!” or “Stabilize your torso!”

In the saddle you want stability of the spine—that is, despite changes in forward or sideways energy, you want to keep your body in a balanced, upright position. Toning and learning how to use the core muscles that support your posture, torso position, arms, and legs in a coordinated fashion will help you steady your horse and collect his gallop stride in preparation for jumps. When stable and well-organized, you will help your horse develop security and confidence over fences. Integrating core exercises enhance this skill, such as the Plank on Mat: Knees and Plank on Mat: Feet.

Plank on Mat: Knees

This is a fantastic integrating exercise for core muscle function and shoulder and leg support. Plus, it does not require equipment.

1. Lie on your stomach on a mat.

2. Bend your elbows and keep them by your sides and place your forearms on the mat. Bend your knees so your lower legs are off the floor.

3. While keeping your shoulders stable, lift yourself onto your knees and forearms into a suspended plank position. Seek a long and neutral spine position and avoid pulling your shoulders up around your ears. Try to keep your pelvis level, not pushed up to the ceiling.

4. Hold this position for 30 to 60 seconds.

Plank on Mat: Feet

This is a much more challenging version of Plank on Mat: Knees.

1. Lie on your stomach on a mat.

2. Bend your elbows and keep them by your sides and place your forearms on the mat. Keep your legs straight.

3. While keeping your shoulders stable, lift yourself onto your feet and forearms into a suspended plank position. Seek a long and neutral spine position and avoid pulling your shoulders up around your ears. Try to keep your pelvis level, not pushed up toward the ceiling.

4. Hold this position for 30 to 60 seconds.

If Plank on Mat: Feet is too challenging, alternate between your feet and knees for the 30 to 60 seconds of the exercise. Gradually build up the time you can hold the position on your feet. Done correctly, either plank exercise is a good integrator of abdominal and back muscles, as well as the shoulder girdle and leg muscles. When I see a rider being pulled or tossed around by her horse, I say, “Think plank!” to encourage body stability and balance.

This excerpt from The Riding Doctor by Beth Glosten, MD, is reprinted with permission from Trafalgar Square Books (www.horseandriderbooks.com).