Why does it feel better to ride than to walk?

At the recent Society of Ortho-Bionomy Conference in Denver, a colleague of mine who was also a rider, asked me, “Why do my equestrian clients say they are more comfortable in the saddle than out of it?”


My first thought was, because that’s where they most want to be. But then I got to thinking about all the adaptations over time that the body makes in order to be able to sit in the saddle, let alone to ride the gait of the horse. There is something profoundly satisfying about straddling a horse, even if you have trouble getting in the saddle because of old injuries. I think also we forget our troubles when we get in the saddle.

Since the majority of my human clients are equestrians, I am highly attuned to what it is they want from a session. I know how important it is to be comfortable in the saddle. I am interested in how can our imperfect bodies can be comfortable in the saddle, while at the same time, add to the comfort of our horses instead of throwing them off. IMG_0978

I have recently passed through a phase where riding was comfortable, but after I got off, my neck hurt a lot. I knew riding wasn’t really helping me because I was in more pain afterwards. I began to explore ways to make my neck feel better. Some of the things that helped were regular Ortho-Bionomy sessions, and the exercises of Lucile Bump, Sally Swift’s first student in Centered Riding. Lucile worked specifically on neck lengthening exercises for me, and how to get my horse to travel straight under me. Next up was the Horse & Rider Fusion Clinic presented by Zarna Carter, EPR and Ortho-Bionomy Instructor and founder of EPR from Australia. This work supported the strength found in both horse and rider by working in and out of the saddle. At the Ortho-Bionomy Conference I learned some more exercises for people that I am adapting to use on the ground, to help foster awareness of our bodies which will hopefully translate to an awareness while riding. The body can self-correct in the saddle just as it can on the ground, while sleeping, and in various postures.

Sometimes people’s awareness of a pain comes while they are at my office. I had a woman come in the other day who said, “Well, my foot hurts when I put it in the stirrup, but it’s okay.” I worked on her foot for awhile, finding some edema in the ankles which she wasn’t aware of, and soon there was no pain. She was delighted. She never thought about asking for work on that foot. Her main concern had been in some other area, which we also worked on.

Sometimes horse people get out of touch with their bodies, or they push through pain. Many tend to be more involved in their horses’ bodies, and their health. Sometimes I see horses for a long time before their owners come to me as a client.

Some people stop riding because of pain and don’t resume riding. They don’t talk much about it; the impetus then just fades away. My vet told me recently that it was good that I got a young horse because many people stop riding in their 60s as their favorite horse ages beyond the age it can be ridden comfortably. The whole experience just fades away. For some, physical limitations become so great that they feel they must stop riding. Also, just maintaining horses is a lot of physical work so that may become the bulk of the time spent around horses for some people.orthobrochure4

For those who want to ride, I suggest that people consider looking at how they ride and what makes it comfortable and what is comfortable for the horse. Many times when we don’t ride straight or the horse isn’t straight, we think the horse is uncomfortable to ride but it may be the horse’s spine is crooked, the horse leans to one side or the other, has a choppy gait, or that some part of our anatomy is unbalanced. When the structure is not strong in all places (for both horse and rider), compensatory patterns develop. Bones, muscles and organs weight themselves differently, contributing to imbalance. The more conscious we become of our own bodies and how we might be able to achieve better balance, posture, alignment, etc. the more we can enjoy riding and also feel good getting off and walking. The more consciousness we can bring into the individual parts of our bodies and our horses’ bodies, the better they will operate for us.

Consider an assessment of your horse and yourself. This is a form of self-care to learn out how you can benefit each other while riding.

Bodywork (Ortho-Bionomy, Equine Positional Release/Equine Ortho-Bionomy): private sessions,  tutorials, phone consultations, distance healing and gift certificates

Liberty Training: clinics, workshops, private sessions, tutorials, consultations: by appointment:  505.501.2478 or emailing susansmith@orthohorse.info

The upcoming Horses at Liberty Weekend Clinic will be held August 3-4 in Estancia, New Mexico. Cost is $300 Early Bird Discount if you sign up before July 10. After that date the cost will be $350. Learn from a Suggested Trainer of the Carolyn Resnick Method. Contact me if interested! susansmith@orthohorse.info

libertySFclinic8_3_2013Stay tuned for news on Liberty Horse Training Clinic at Spirit Horse Ranch near Oklahoma City, co-teaching: Ruella Yates and Susan Smith. Liberty Horse Training. September 28-29, 2013


7 thoughts on “Why does it feel better to ride than to walk?

  1. This is such a good reminder about keeping our bodies in balance when riding…and also connects me with the joy of riding…The world DOES look better from the back of a horse!

    1. I think riding can make a lot of pains besides our troubles melt away. We can incorporate a lot of postural techniques from Ortho-Bionomy to help with better comfort in and out of the saddle.:-)

  2. My lower back pain disappears when I’m in the saddle. But, as soon as I’m on the ground, it becomes painfully clear. I think it’s because, in the saddle, my weight is distributed through my sitz bones and not through my hips. This, somehow, must take pressure off the sacro iliac.

    1. That’s a very good observation, Paula. I’ve had that very same experience, yet if I can do even a standing exercise after the ride, I can avoid stiffening up. Also, by lengthening my spine up through the neck into the head it helps relax the shoulders as well. And lengthening the hips will help distribute the weight throughout the pelvis and legs.

  3. Wonderful article Susan. I have hip dysplasia in both hips and riding takes all of my hip pain away while I’m in the saddle. Walking isn’t too bad if I’m on flat ground, but once I’m on uneven ground or climbing up or down hills, my hips are screaming. One of my favorite activities used to be hiking for miles, especially in the mountains, but as I get older and my hips have more wear and tear, I find that I enjoy exploring trails on my horse so much better. And she can take me even farther down the trail than I could even before I had hip issues.

    1. This is amazing, Lisa. Perhaps riding cushions the hips in a way they don’t get cushionied by sitting, because the position also allows them to drop and lengthen into the legs and feet, and the soft curve around the horse’s body is very supportive too. It’s wonderful that you get more mileage in the saddle than out of it now!

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