Article by Shauna Moore

Horseback riding, also known as equestrianism, is a broad term that encompasses a vast variety of styles and activities that a person can do with a horse. It can be used to refer to riding a horse for working purposes, transportation, recreational activities, and competitive sports. When most people think of horseback riding, they think about it regarding the recreational or sporting aspect of things. Horse sports include a broad range of activities including, but not limited to professional racing, polo, barrel racing, reining, dressage, and rodeo. No matter what, though, horse riding comes with some inherent risks. The rider is raised up in height several feet from the ground, and horses can travel at speeds potentially up to 40 miles per hour. As such, if a rider was to fall from the horse, or the horse was to get injured and fall on the rider, or any number of other unpredictable situations that could happen, injuries are very likely to happen. Those injuries can range in severity from mild scrapes and bruises to broken bones, to death. In the United States alone, up to thirty million people ride horses annually. This has resulted in up to fifty thousand emergency room visits.


When it comes to injuries reported, falling from a horse comes in as the number one most common. About 75% of injuries are due to falling. It is followed by getting kicked, trampled, and bitten. When a fall is the cause of the injury, the result is often a strain or sprain (in the best case) as a result of the rider moving to try to catch them. Massage can be helpful for these instances to help with healing of the strain or sprain. Cross fiber friction can break up any scar tissue that is trying to form. It will also form tiny micro tears that will knit themselves back together so that the muscle, ligament, or tendon heals the overall tear correctly. If there is any inflammation or edema in the area, lymphatic flushing or draining will need to be done first before the area can be treated. Ice will also alleviate any swelling in the area along with reducing pain. As the healing progresses, trigger point therapy can be used. Also, sports therapy is good for helping to stretch and lengthen the muscles surrounding the injured area to keep them from tightening up and causing more problems down the road.

Another common type of injury comes from repetitive use, but also involves a strain of a muscle. This one comes from merely from the act of riding and all that it involves instead of from an accident. That injury would be groin strains. A groin strain can involve any of the muscles in the hip adductor group. These muscles include the adductor Magnus, adductor minimus, adductor brevis, adductor longus, gracilis, and pectineus. These muscles are attached to the inner portion of the femur and the pelvis bone. These muscles all adduct the leg or move it in toward the body. When riding a horse, these are the muscles the rider uses to grip the saddle. These are also the muscles that help them to extend their legs when adjusting their body during faster-paced riding or jumping. When this happens over a long period, the muscles become stretched past their normal capacity. If they don’t over-stretch, then the result is a tear. Strains are graded on a scale of one to three that describes how severe of an injury it is, with three being the worst. Level three strains often involve surgery and take the longest to heal. The first two, however, are significantly helped by massage after any initial swelling and inflammation have dissipated. As inflammation and pain disappear, cross-fiber friction, and trigger point therapy can be introduced to help break up adhesions from scar tissue formation and help the tissues knit back together again in the correct way by aligning all of the micro tears. The surrounding muscles also need to be massaged to keep them from tensing up and forming more trigger points, which will make the recovery process take longer. After a while, sports therapy massage can come into the picture to help the surrounding muscles to lengthen and stay loosened up without over-stretching the healing ligament.


Just a quick Google search for horseback riding or equestrianism will result in loads of articles and pages that show just how many injuries can result from this enjoyable past time. Unfortunately, it’s the nature of the beast (pun!) that horses can be unpredictable and injuries are bound to happen when they inevitably act up, intentionally or not. It is our job as massage therapists to be ready to help and available when these things happen so that the athletes can get back to doing what they love more quickly and with less pain.

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