Riding Whilst Injured

Let’s start with 2 questions.

1) Do you work your horse when it is injured?

2) Do you work your horse when you are injured?

I can be almost 100% certain that the answer to question 1) is NO, and to question 2) is YES!

My response to that is ‘WHAT ARE YOU DOING?’, although I can include myself in the category that needs to be reprimanded……this topic brings me back to one of my top ‘soap box’ issues, whereby we as horse owners are prepared to spend hours looking after our horses and a small fortune on having them treated/pampered/clothed/assessed etc etc etc, yet all too often do almost nothing about ourselves. There is definitely an element of the whole badge of honour that horse people like to wear – and again I include myself in this – about how tough we are. We are proud that compared to our lily-livered friends and townie relatives we are out in all weathers, dragging ourselves off our sick beds and riding whilst still in our plaster casts! And of course, all too often we really do have no choice when it comes to the basic tasks of horse care and stable management. But it should not carry over into riding.

So lets go over why we would not ride our horses whilst they are injured, unless it is part of a controlled and prescribed rehab programme.

  • We’d consider it unfair/cruel
  • There is a risk of worsening the problem
  • We don’t want to risk ruining our horse’s career
  • It may not be safe for us or the horse

Would all of these not be exactly the same for not only ourselves, but also the horse when we ride whilst injured?

  • Cruel/unfair on ourselves to make ourselves ride, BUT also on the horse as it has to carry a wonky/weak rider
  • We could easily worsen our own condition, BUT worsen or even cause a problem in the horse as it copes with our wonky/weak riding
  • We could risk ruining our own career – equine related or otherwise – BUT also our horse’s if we persist in riding badly
  • We risk our safety when riding badly due to an increased likelihood of falling off due to weakness/poor balance/asymmetry BUT are also more likely to put our horse’s into unsafe situations such as when jumping with an unstable rider
A saddle tipping during ridden work

In addition to this, there is the fairly major issue of how injury – or illness for that matter – will affect your ability to ride effectively. If you have back pain, or a knee/shoulder injury for example, you are not going to be sitting straight and certainly not using your body symmetrically. The result is poor training, and the reinforcement of poor technique for you and your horse. Long term, there is the potential to train your horse to be incorrect and asymmetric. Bear in mind that Para Dressage riders in groups 1-3 have their horses schooled by an able bodied rider as well as themselves, in part to ensure that the horse is ridden by a (hopefully) symmetric rider. These riders acknowledge their asymmetries and weaknesses, know they can’t solve the problem, so work around it as best as they can to make their horse’s lives better. For most of us, our time of asymmetry or weakness from injury or illness is temporary, but that is not a reason to continue regardless. We can cause a lot of problems in a very short space of time.

I appreciate that if horses are your livelihood, I might well be laughed out of town. But, if I was your client, and you were riding my horse, I actually would rather you didn’t. So would my horse. If you are meant to be competing at the weekend on 6 horses, are you going to be able to do them all justice? Or even ride safely with all of them?

In a nutshell, if you are in pain, ill or injured, don’t ride unless you really have to. The best course of action is to seek help from an appropriate health professional ASAP. It is far better in the long term to give your horse a few weeks off whilst you recover, than to create greater problems for the both of you. In that time you can recover and regain strength and symmetry. You will then return to riding in top condition, and it will only take a couple of weeks for your horse to pick up fitness.

Sermon over! I’ve kept this short and sweet on purpose; please bear everything I have said in mind, especially if you are about to start your summer Eventing season.


PS – I don’t know who drew the cartoon in the featured image so I hope they don’t mind that I have used it and not credited them for it.