Have you ever injured your back and had physical therapy to get better? Because it works the same way for your horse.
That’s the finding of Margaret Freeman, an S-level dressage judge, lifelong horsewoman and Associate Editor of Horse Journal who is currently competing at the FEI level with her Friesan cross, Windy.
Here Margaret shares with us some great insights from a recent clinic with Dr. Hilary Clayton, a dressage competitor and a renowned veterinarian and researcher:
Last weekend I listened to equine biomechanics expert Dr. Hilary Clayton describe the physiology of the horse’s back at Dressage4Kids’ annual Weekend Educational Program held each winter in Connecticut. Clayton related some of the exercises she recommends to stabilize the horse’s back, and she compared them to the exercises recommended for human physical therapy when people have a sore back.
I recognized the physical therapy exercises she described right away. I developed back issues a decade ago when I stepped in a snow-covered hole while carrying my Corgi (she had been nose-to-nose with an opossum in the back yard – picking her up and fleeing seemed the best policy at the time).
I can still hear the pop in my back when it happened, and I knew right away that I had done real damage. I spent several months doing PT, and I have numerous pamphlets with back exercises, not to mention CDs of Pilates that I should be doing.
Well, this week I hauled the Pilates mat and exercise diagrams back out because I hurt my back again. I kept wondering if the carrot exercises that Dr. Clayton recommended for horses might somehow apply to me. Maybe dangling a Hershey’s Kiss out in front of my nose might motivate me to be as dedicated to my own physical well being as I am to my mare’s.
This time there was no obvious moment of trauma. I woke up feeling great, no overnight soreness anywhere, and the scale reported that I was at my lowest weight in a year. I spent half an hour at my computer and suddenly I couldn’t straighten up. I could walk fine, but I couldn’t sit in a chair without real pain.
I was able to drive okay, getting to the barn where I hoped some walking and cantering on my mare would loosen my back. It was a dumb idea, and of course it didn’t work. The only position in the saddle that I could tolerate was to lean back well past the vertical at the walk. As I played around with various body positions, I figured out what hurt me was to constantly lean forward toward the computer monitor. When I wore my glasses (!) and leaned backward into my chair, I could keep from hurting while working, at least for short stretches – finally a good excuse not to get all my work done.
I checked in with my doctor, went back to all the protocols I already knew, and four days later I was able to do posting trot and canter again, but I’m going to take it easy for awhile. And keep on with the exercises. Now, if I could follow a trail of M and M’s across my family room rug the way Miss Amanda Jane Freeman (the full name and title of my Corgi, used only when she’s naughty, such as trying to take out a possum) follows Cheerios that hit the floor, or the way my mare reaches for carrots, I know I could keep up the good work.
Actually this is probably good news for my trainer Jess, who always needs some fresh idea to click into my brain to get my head up and shoulders back. All she’ll have to say now is “Protect Your Back!” and I’ll be upright again.