View Full Version : back pain on walking trail rides

Hampton Bay
May. 4, 2010, 02:23 PM
I ride with a Cashel tush cushion, and it doesn't seem to matter which saddle I ride in, my back still gets very sore on rides at the walk. The obvious answer is just to trot and canter, but the mare can't keep that up for too awful long in the summer. She just gets too hot.

I am also VERY limited on what kinds of meds I can take due to chronic daily headaches. I get horrible rebound headaches when I take anything other than Naprelan, and even with that if I take it too often.

Any better butt cushions? Also, I can only ride english because the vast majority of western saddles are too wide in the twist for my bad hips.

May. 4, 2010, 02:30 PM
Are the trot and canter more comfortable because you ride in two point and your legs are taking the motion? Or because when you sit those gaits your back is in motion more? If you can figure out if it's the motion or lack of motion that is leading to the back pain, maybe there's some position options to play with, like "posting" the walk now and then, or taking a two point position up hills, or riding with one hand for a while and then the other?

May. 4, 2010, 04:42 PM
Have you tried ThinLine saddle pads? They come in 2 thicknesses - go for the thicker one - it's designed to help riders with back problems. I'm very happy with mine, along with a sheepskin seat saver - this is what works for me. Once I got my new saddle, I was able to remove the Cashel seat cushion from the saddle (which I also had - it was an old horridly hard Passier on loan) - would it be possible for you to try more comfy saddles, too? My new saddle is incredibly comfy on its own, and has a well padded seat. It's made a HUGE difference in lessening my back pain!

May. 5, 2010, 06:59 AM
I'm a nurse w/a bad back. Here's what's worked for me. Remember that concussion is the enemy. Anything you can do to reduce twisting, lifting or concussion can help. Riding in 2 point helps but sit a "half" point at the walk.

1. Put a Cashel cushion under the saddle instead. To absorb concussion. Combine w/your seat saver. Can't hurt either of you. I like the 1" thick Cashels a lot.

2. Try a reverse wedge cushion under your saddle. I have a Cashel I sometimes use. It opens up your lower back angle while you're in the saddle..

3. Every so often do full back stretching (bending forward from the waist bringing knees up towards your chest) while you're in the saddle. Bend & hold.

4. Take an nsaid before you ride and when that dose wears off to prevent soreness.

5 Most important! Wear an abdominal support when riding. A panty girdle/tummy minimizers kinda thing works well. But you can get actual abdominal supports. So many of us have weak abdominal muscles and that translates into back pain after/during riding.

6. Get a pair of those shock absorbing stirrup irons. Worth the money and good for your other joints.

7. Get off and walk/stretch every hour or so or more often as needed.

This will all take some experimenting but the results/effects are rewarding!
Best wishes!

May. 7, 2010, 01:24 PM
Hey Wateryglen!

Can you tell us more about the abdominal support? Is this akin to what weight lifters use? Do you think there's a possibility using one further reduces core weakness/user becomes dependent? I would love to see a link or pic of the product. (All I can think of is the huge stiff leather belt my father wore when weight lifting :eek:.)


Carol Ames
May. 8, 2010, 03:02 PM

medical mike
May. 9, 2010, 08:24 PM
you are correct that they should not be the primary support when riding.....the muscles should be.

Which leads to the question, what types of off horse strengthening exercises are you doing on a regular basis to manage the pain you do have?

TFP has an excellent point...If there is no residual weakness in the legs that comes from the back, then consider a "half/light seat" or getting off the seat all-together.

Last, no, a torso wrap or "brace" is not the same as a weight training belt.

Medical Mike
equestrian medical researcher

Hampton Bay
May. 10, 2010, 11:23 AM
I totally forgot that I posted this!

I do have a ThinLine, and it doesn't help AT ALL. No real options for other saddles, but everything I've ridden in has done the same thing.

When we trot I post, and canter in 2-point or half-seat.

I am going to try the reverse-wedge idea. Mare is built a bit downhill. That very well may help this, and my other issue of sitting her medium trot.

I do think it's the concussion, possibly coupled with my tendency to hollow my back. And with my mare, I tend to just loop the reins through the bucking strap on my saddle, so mostly I'm riding with no reins. She just follows the trail.

May. 10, 2010, 08:58 PM
A gaited horse with a smooth smooth gait will solve your back issues. However even riding gaited I find the walk(dog walk) is the gait most likely to cause me back pain. Perhaps it has to do with the horse not being as rounded and collected at the walk so you feel all the concussion. The more collected the softer smoother the ride. I went gaited 15 years ago so I could keep riding.

Carol Ames
May. 11, 2010, 10:32 PM
I doubt it's the concussion:no:, but, the movement :yes:at the walk which, is causing you pain;
once you learn to sit in balance your muscles can be released :cool:to allow you to move with the horse; are you trying to hold yourself "still?"

Hampton Bay
May. 13, 2010, 03:58 PM
I ride 2nd level dressage, and sitting the trot and canter don't cause me any back pain, so I seriously doubt it's the movement causing the issue.

May. 18, 2010, 09:00 AM
I dunno--If I have back pain at all when riding its only at the walk, and only with one of my two horses. Like Walker said: Her dog walk will make my back hurt, but the flat walk and the running walk will make the pain go away. Trotting (and trust me, sitting trot for me is like sitting trot for a tinkertoy, if you can envision a fat tinker toy) does not make my back hurt.

Both horses are gaited in the sense that they have more than three gears. The horse that has the best running walk (and really no dog walk at all) has several trots, some of which would shake your fillings out.

It helps my back to remember to sit up, get my weight off the stirrups, and do some windmills (or whatever you call it when you twist your torso with arms out to the sides.) But the pain only goes away when the mare is walking with some enthusiasm, or has switched to the amble or rack or even the trot or pace or one of her weird mixed gaits.

May. 18, 2010, 01:47 PM
Hampton Bay,

Do you have trouble walking in the arena? You ride 2nd level, so I am wondering if the mare doing the same thing there. What does her walk look like? Why do you run your reins through the bucking strap?

It sounds like she needs some contact and half halts to keep her back up and round. She may be getting strung out, trailing her hind end behind her. She may need a marching walk to keep the energy coming. Are you doing hills to help build her stifles and round her pelvis?

Have you had her checked by an osteopath to see if there is anything out of alignment?

Is her saddle level? Are you level in the saddle? Have you had a saddle fitter check it? Does the twist fit you?

Have you had your back checked by a spinal dr or physical therapist with the extra certification in neurology and orthopedics? There are terrific spinal centers in Fla. Upledger is one.

I ask all this because I have serious back issues that were missed by the primary drs. The run of the mill p.t. clinics didn't connect the dots either.

I have used thin pieces of poron foam cut to the shape of my seat to absorb the shock and concussion. I put them under a real sheepskin seat saver that I have also cut to fit my saddle. Easy Care makes very good ones. When I went to Hilary Clayton and Narelle Stubbs at Michigan State for help, they also wanted to use the poron between the saddle and the horse. Poron is slippery and needs to be protected in an envelope of some sort. It is made by the Rogers Corp for medical/orthopedic use. It is frequently found in human foot orthotics. It has quite different properties from any other foam or cushioning materials.

Pm me if you want more thoughts.

May. 18, 2010, 02:05 PM
I ride 2nd level dressage, and sitting the trot and canter don't cause me any back pain, so I seriously doubt it's the movement causing the issue.

Then I'd guess what you said earlier is on the money - that when you walk on the trail on a long rein you tend to relax and "slouch" by letting your hips roll forward and your back hollow, so then that weak part of your back is taking more strain than when you ride a dressage test, where you are using your core and holding yourself "in position" more.

You could try different hand postures to help maybe - like if you put one hand on your hip it tends to lift that side of your body, then switch and ride with the other hand on the hip for a while, that kind of thing. Or both, if you don't need your reins at all! :D

Eclectic Horseman
May. 20, 2010, 02:27 PM
Yup. What twofatponies said. I have the back from hell, and it doesn't bother me when I am riding in the arena, just when I am out for a walk on the trail. Once I figured that out, I am now very concious to use my core muscles in the same way on the trail as I do in the ring. Not very relaxing--but beats the hell out of radiculopathy and sciatica!

Hampton Bay
May. 20, 2010, 03:10 PM
Probably right that I'm slouching a bit and my lower back is taking the strain.

She's not out of whack anywhere major, and when I trail ride I let her go on a totally loose rein, neck stretched down and out. She gets worked up over stupid things if I ride the whole way with contact, and she's perfectly well-behaved with the reins run through the bucking strap. I do that so I don't have to hold onto them, and they won't slide down her neck.

I've had my back MRI'd because of some odd loss of sensation in my legs after my head injury (very mild, never noticed until they went to poking me with sharp objects). Spine is totally fine.

I did ride my young horse this past weekend, and my back hurt a bit less, but different horse and different saddle. I tend to use my jumping saddle on the mare because she prefers it, and my dressage saddle on my gelding because it fits him a bit better and is more stable on him. I will dig out my old close contact for the next trail ride with the mare, or maybe try the front lift pad with the jumping saddle. Mare is built a touch downhill, so my dressage saddle tips forward a bit on her without that pad. It might be just enough forward to tip me even more forward.

Whicker, not finding the poron on the Easy Care site?

May. 21, 2010, 09:48 AM
Also....a deep seated saddle pushes your fanny from the back with each stride. A loose rein walk on most horses is a long strided, big moving kinda walk with a lotta movement. This rear push tilts your pelvis forward and increases the arch in your lower back. If the saddle is too small or your fanny kinda plump this push & pelvic tilt happens with each stride. Stop the push because arching your back is bad for your spine. Spines like to be straight or open your back angle by bending forward. AND spines don't like concussion when arched. Especially over time.

Solution: Bigger seated saddle. One that lets you slide front/back more easily and doesn't hold you in place. What size dressage are you using? I had to sell my Stubben Siegried after my 3rd herniated disc.

Solution #2: Flat seated saddle - switched to a close contact or even a medium deep seat and voila! Do both 1 & 2 in the same saddle and you're a weener!!! :D

May. 21, 2010, 10:46 AM
I strongly suggest that you have a saddle fitter level your saddle. That may be where your mare's unhappiness is coming from. It also does nasty things to your back and the 2 will set you up for a ride getting worse as it goes along.

In the meantime, experiment with shimming to very temporarily lift the front. You can't do it for very long or it will pinch the muscles and nerves in the shoulder area and you will have another problem that will result in atrophy and an angry short moving mare. Have you tried a Mattes sheepskin shim pad? I used that when I am working through fitting issues and for foxhunting or other longer rides. I play with different combinations of thickness and type of saddle pad, and materials for the shims.

Give yourself permission to experiment and then concentrate on the different feel when you get on. You should feel like you can be lifted by a single hair on your head, and when placed on the ground, you can be in balance over your feet. If you feel that you will go splat, either forwards or backwards, you know that changes still need tweaking. It ideally will feel like you could dance in any direction while you are in the saddle. (That was one of the points in the Nancy Baker Balimo lesson at the Dressage Toolbox Symposium that Karin Offield put on last week.)

The cross country shape should work better for both of you for uneven terrain.

I am very concern about your habit of riding with your reins looped through the bucking strap. You can not react quickly to a surprise and the momentum of the movement can send you off the horse. IT. IS. DANGEROUS.!!!

Please remember that my back is broken from a deer running into my horse. I am an upper level event rider with an Olympic bronze medal for sportsmanship. I CARE ABOUT YOU. .

Hampton Bay
May. 26, 2010, 04:44 PM
It's not the dressage saddle that causes the issue. The saddle I trail ride in is a flat-seat XC/jumping saddle.

Figured out this weekend that it's not an issue on my gelding. I rode him a week and a half ago in my dressage saddle, mostly walking, and was fine. Rode him last weekend bareback, and was fine (well, hips were sore, but back was fine).

Of course, my mare brings her hind legs much more underneath her, and she's built straighter behind. Her walk is just more jarring in general. So I'm thinking that's the issue.

And I do have and use a Mattes, with shims in the front, to help lift the saddle a bit. She's perfectly happy with the shims. The saddles have both been checked by a professional, actually the one who designed my dressage saddle, and were given the OK.

As for the bucking strap issue, I don't think reins are going to save me if a deer ran into my horse. The mare is not spooky, and she's the only one I ride like that. And trust me when I say, she will stop from my seat if she's in the mood, but if she's not in the mood, the reins aren't going to do a whole heck of a lot. A lot of the time I trail ride her in a rope halter anyway because she is so good. Her brain only leaks out her ears when she's asked to work in the ring. Otherwise you could put a monkey on her and she would be just fine.