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Riding with a "delicate" spine - Suggestions needed!

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  • Riding with a "delicate" spine - Suggestions needed!

    So, I have been away from riding for six months after a large spinal fusion from T2 - L1 (eleven vertebrae). I was just cleared six months ahead of schedule (WOOT!) to get back on a horse - no jumping for another six months, but I can hack around.

    Today was my first time back on a horse, I went out to the barn and schooled one of my trainers horses around for about twenty minutes (w/t/c). While I was surprised at how different everything felt (some good, some bad), It became VERY clear to me that when I get back into riding full time, I will need to go about things very differently.

    I have always been the type of rider who can jump on any horse in any saddle and do a decent job - this is obviously not possible or particularly safe for me anymore. When I horse/tack shop in the future I will be looking for a very different ride and spine friendly tack, which brings me to the point of this post.

    RIDERS WITH BAD/DELICATE BACKS: What have you found in the horse world (saddle brands and models, special pads, stirrup irons, etc) that actually helps a bad back? I got rid of most of my equipment before my surgery and will be needing a new saddle. Because riding is something I honestly cant ever see myself giving up no matter how difficult it becomes, I am interested in trying to find other equipment to help my poor spine out.

    For reference: I am 5'10.5" (most of which is leg ), rode primarily in Hunters and Equitation with some Dressage, never really enjoyed Jumpers all that much. While my saddle/tack budget is not unlimited, I am willing to pay a good amount of money for equipment that will allow me to ride comfortably. I already own a set of Herm Sprenger bow balance stirrup irons, but have not tried them since the surgery.

    Suggestions and encouragement/shared experiences from other fused riders are greatly appreciated!
    "There are times when you can trust a horse, times when you can't, and times when you have to."

  • #2
    A hot tub and a glass of wine after you ride! LOL!

    On a more serious note, sounds like you went through a hell of a surgery! I have a bad back, but nothing close to yours. I have ruptured the same disc twice so I need to be careful with my back not to rupture it again or, I, too will be getting a fusion.

    I am also picky about the horses I ride now. I was like you and used to ride everything anyone offered to me but now I stay away from horses I deem crazy or stupid. Glad you got the Herm Sprenger stirrups, those will help. As for a saddle, I can't tell you much there but get something comfy! I am pretty sure that some tack stores like, Dover carry a gel pad to put over your saddle seat. It is made for endurance riders and that may help absorb some of the shock from riding. I have never tried one but it is just a thought.

    Just be mindful of your back when you ride. If it doesn't feel right, don't push it and risk re-injuring yourself.

    Also, stay far, far away from the sitting trot!


    • Original Poster

      Originally posted by HorseLuvr View Post

      Also, stay far, far away from the sitting trot!

      Yeah, I didn't even attempt to sit the trot today - I'm gonna have to brave it eventually though, after the surgery my posture is too darn good to not ride in Eq.!

      Strangely enough, it was easier to sit the canter than it was to half seat - go figure!

      Thanks so much for the suggestions and words of advice - I'll definitely look in to a gel/shock absorbing seat cover - definitely something I hadn't thought of!

      It was a bear of a surgery, but I'm really, really glad I did it. Even with what I'm going to have to do to ride at 100% again, I saw myself on video after riding today and my form is excellent simply because my posture is perfect. Terrible posture was always something I had to fight against and was ashamed of - not anymore!!!
      "There are times when you can trust a horse, times when you can't, and times when you have to."


      • #4
        I have a hip (well, really an SI) issue that is the consequence of some major knee surgery years ago. When I first get on, it is not very comfortable for me to sit in the tack, and I have to work quite hard to sit evenly til everything sort of relaxes and stretches out enough to sit without twisting. Not the same issue you have, obviously, but one that leads to similar concerns as your OP!

        I ride in a Butet now, after trying a bunch of different custom french saddles. Interestingly enough although I loved a deep seat in years past, a flat one suits me much better now. I also use a thinline pad (I use the half pad) and find it makes a very significant difference in my comfort. They're a bit expensive but certainly far cheaper than buying a new saddle. You might want to give one a shot before you change your tack and see if it does the trick. I figure if it helps me that much, it probably is pretty comfy for my horse as well, and I've had some evidence of that.

        Welcome back and enjoy that new posture and all the eq ribbons you'll likely win with it!
        We move pretty fast for some rabid garden snails.


        • #5
          You may want to check out the Stubben Biromex saddles:

          I heard a neigh. Oh, such a brisk and melodious neigh as that was! My very heart leaped with delight at the sound. --Nathaniel Hawthorne


          • #6
            I am the same height as you and have had a fusion with L5-S1 with another one in my immediate future. I also found that my cushy french saddle was not as comfortable and am now riding in a Beval BZ natural and am quite happy.

            I cannot stress the next part enough....get your core as fit as possible, Pilates, Yoga whatever else you can do. I have found that a strong core has made everything a whole easier on my back. I can ride a 2 point a lot longer and far more balanced which also saves my back. I have also spent some time strengthening my legs. I am a far stronger rider than I was before because of it.


            • Original Poster

              Thanks everyone!

              Day after the first ride and I am experiencing very little soreness, which is a big relief.

              I will definitely try a thinline pad, I have used a supracor pad before the surgery which supposedly is the same type of deal, but I wasn't too happy with it, and it was bulky and I didn't like the look of it.

              I will definitely be working on my core. I have always been pretty fit, but after not exercising for months after the surgery, I'm gonna have to rebuild. I have very limited flexibility, so I've always stayed away from yoga.... but it seems like its time to give it a try.
              "There are times when you can trust a horse, times when you can't, and times when you have to."


              • #8
                I would go to a PT and learn a ton of exercises to strengthen your core. It made the biggest difference to me. I also got a cushy CWD. I tried a thinline but I just didn't notice a big difference.


                • #9
                  That sounds INTENSE. I have no fusion but I have almost no lumbar discs left after surgery, so I get leg symptoms and back pain. I believe in my thinline, but mostly because I swear I can tell the difference if I wear the insoles in my shoes all day. Riding, harder to tell, but I use it anyway. I haven't noticed a difference with saddles really but I do like the wide plastic stirrups. I usually wear a professional's choice brace, but I'm pretty sure it's useless. Still, I like to believe that if I came off, it might help a little.

                  I have a really comfortable horse now. That makes a MAJOR difference especially for sitting trot/doing anything collected. I can ride less comfortable horses but I can't really sit deep for long if they're too bouncy/jarring. It's luck that I have this one, but I don't think I'll ever be able to buy another that's not smooth to ride.

                  I second (third?) core work, how much I do plank and side plank is really correlated to how much my back hurts. Also, I really get into my hip flexers before and after riding. Like driving, riding really lets your hips get tight if you're not careful. For me, that always leads to back pain later. Also re; stretching, I've developed some trunk yoga for on the road. I fit perfectly on top of my trunk in child's pose and cat/cow, and I can do legs up the wall if the short end is against something. That helps.

                  ETA if you live in a place like me (DC) where Yoga is a competitive sport, be REALLY careful in any group class, and make sure the instructor knows about your spine. I find some yoga super helpful for my back now, but I had absolutely no business being in your average vinyasa class for a LONG time after surgery.


                  • #10
                    Agreed about core work. I have read (somewhere) the need to be careful with yoga as it can hurt the back if done wrong or pushed too far, too fast. There are very good yoga classes that will help your back, and I'm guessing by a lot. Maybe you surgeon's office can give you a recommendation.

                    Core work/PT helped my lower back tremendously.

                    I LOVE my deep French saddle (Antares). I got extra thick foam panels and that helps. It also helps me stay on the horse, which really helps my back!

                    Good luck!
                    Born under a rock and owned by beasts!


                    • #11
                      Op - Kudos to you!!!

                      I asked this on another thread about riders with back issues but didn't get an answer so I will try again.

                      Those with back issues, do you think the Thinline pads are better or the same as a Mattes pad?

                      I have had lower back pain that I just deal with but upper disc problems have caused me to stop riding this spring. I hope to start back riding in a few weeks. Doing PT now and want to do yoga or pillates to help me get back.


                      • #12
                        It's been awhile since I used Thinline. I love my Mattes but I think that's because my mare likes it and that helps me. I figured sheepskin would be cooler on the horse's back, and I like the look. Not much help...
                        Born under a rock and owned by beasts!


                        • #13
                          I had a similar fusion (T3ish-L3) in 2003. I was back in the tack 6 months post-op, beginning with very safe horses. I worked my way back to riding anything in the barn pretty quickly and later did the IHSA thing.

                          Core strength is the key, both to riding and to surviving day-to-day life post-fusion. When I'm being good about keeping my core strong, I can sit the trot on most horses for a while and sitting the canter is easy. I find that I have a harder time sitting a big trot than a rough trot... a really nice mover has more motion than my two functional lumbar vertebrae can handle.

                          I do notice a difference with my Ultra ThinLine half pad. I haven't noticed a difference with various stirrups/pads, or even really with different saddles.

                          Welcome back to the saddle!


                          • #14
                            I haven't done a fusion, although I've got enough disc and bone spurs in my neck problems that the doctors have mentioned it. I loved the way yoga made me feel, but my back doesn't love it. I do a few of the yoga exercises, but Pilates is much better for me. Thinline is great, I never noticed much benefit from mattes. Its worth trying prestige saddles, I do think the tree helps with shock absorption.


                            • #15
                              I had a T2-T12 fused a year and a half ago (scoliosis), and riding is much more comfortable for me now.

                              I like riding in this on top of a rock-hard (newish) Antares, though I am not sure it is worth its price unless you can find it or something similar on sale.

                              Other than that, wearing good shoes (in the barn and out) helps. I am also big on yoga, but just let you teacher know and remember that there are some things that you con't do

                              Once you try out the Bow Balance's, I would love to hear on how you like them (spinal fusion and broken ankle). Just for reference, I am 15, 5'4", and 63% leg (I actually figured it out!)


                              • #16
                                I haven't had a fusion but have a pinched nerve in my spine. I never, ever sitting trot on a big-moving horse. I can't stand up straight for days afterward if I do and get referred pain down my leg. So my dressage career is over before it started.

                                I can sit the canter pretty well and not with too much pain, though I ride halfseat/three point more than I used to. That really helps if I'm sore.

                                I do sit the jog on my son's Paint western pleasure pony. That's no more movement than a walk on my TB.

                                Watch yourself for tensing yourself/bracing against the pain. Pain causes people to tense to protect yourself, and it will interfere with how well you ride. Sometimes if I start to get sore I just cut a ride short rather than ride like an idiot and bother my horse. Build up your strength over time and you do less weird stuff to compensate, like tensing your elbows and upper arms because your back hurts. I don't know why but I always seem to do that.

                                I haven't noticed much improvement from changing my tack, Thinline pads, etc. and I have tried every half pad known to man I believe. Make sure you get a saddle that doesn't put you in a chair seat, that will put more pressure on your spine. I have an Ogilvy memory foam half pad that is my favorite but I don't know that does anything for my back. My horses like it, though.

                                I don't like the flex stirrups. I know many people love them but I felt that when I put my heels down they wanted to rotate my lower leg forward too much and the chair seat or anything approaching it makes my back worse. I like the stability of a regular Fillis iron.

                                Best of luck for a full and quick recovery! With careful management I find that riding is not hard on my back at all. Running, biking, etc. is much worse for it. Now the amount of hay bales I lift, on the other hand....


                                • Original Poster

                                  Originally posted by findthedistance View Post
                                  I had a similar fusion (T3ish-L3) in 2003. I was back in the tack 6 months post-op, beginning with very safe horses. I worked my way back to riding anything in the barn pretty quickly and later did the IHSA thing.
                                  This is good to hear! I'm definitely feeing the ride yesterday as the day goes on and I was a little bummed, so it was great to have all these encouraging responses waiting for me

                                  Thanks everyone for all the suggestions, I am taking into consideration every one of them! The thing I'm worried about with yoga is jumping into classes too soon, the most activity I can handle right now while remaining pain free is about 15-25 mins. I was so excited to be riding yesterday that I think I rode a bit longer than I should have, but that will be easier to work back into slowly than say, yoga. I agree with the idea that finding the right yoga instructor will be key, as well as finding a well fitting and secure saddle when I get back to riding full time. Butet and CWD are both contenders.... If I really concentrate I think I can hear the sound of my bank account weeping in anticipation...

                                  Horse shopping is going to be a pain in the neck as well!
                                  "There are times when you can trust a horse, times when you can't, and times when you have to."


                                  • Original Poster

                                    Also, has anyone with a fusion fallen off post op? I know its bound to happen someday and it would be a huge relief to hear from someone about it.
                                    "There are times when you can trust a horse, times when you can't, and times when you have to."


                                    • #19
                                      Originally posted by SugarAndSpite View Post
                                      Also, has anyone with a fusion fallen off post op? I know its bound to happen someday and it would be a huge relief to hear from someone about it.
                                      I haven't fallen off yet *knock on wood*, but did an epic dismount off a sled (going over a jump) that broke my ankle and was not even sore the next day. I would classify it in the same level of 'ouch-I fell off' as falling/being bucked off. I'm fused T2-T12


                                      • #20
                                        Agreed that the a smooth horse and a very strong core are the best two things. I shattered my L1 vertebrae (not on a horse - was a mountain bike accident) about 10 years ago, so they removed most of my L1, replaced it with my hip and fused T11 - L3.

                                        Stay optimistic... I can't tell you how much of a difference time makes. The difference between 6 months post op and 12 months post op was amazing. At 12 months I almost felt normal. And even after that for the next three years or so, I would look back and realize how much better I was doing each six months.

                                        Two other suggestions 1) Always sit with lumbar support. Buy an inflatable Eagle Creek travel lumbar pillow (I have like 7) and use them on planes, in cars, restaurants, anywhere with bad lumbar support. The more you support and protect your back day to day the better. 2) Sleep blocked. A PT can better explain. The more you keep you spine aligned and straight at night the better your days will be.

                                        I've fallen off about 10 times (bike & horse) since my fusion, and my first thought is always that I hope I'm still bolted together. So far it's always held together, and I don't worry so much anymore. Once I really tweaked the bottom of the fusion, but massage for a few weeks fixed it so must have been muscular.

                                        I ride jumpers, and as long as I have a fairly smooth horse and avoid riding rough ones too often, all is good.

                                        Good luck!