Serious riders put a lot of stress on their bodies. The position, especially when galloping, is stressful for the neck, back, and shoulders. The neck is in a constant state of tension from holding the head up when in a bent over position. It is important to let the legs share the workload of staying in balance. Even though the weight of the body is totally supported by the horse, the muscles take a lot of shaking and vibration as speed increases.
Massage should be part of a fitness program for riders at all levels, along with diet, rest, and mental preparation. The body is most supple (and therefore less prone to injury) immediately following sports massage, so whenever you can, try to schedule massage close to your competition.
I was inspired to write this by this coming weekend’s Preakness and the quest for a Triple Crown Winner.
The horse gallops along, flying through the air, and lands on one hind leg. That is the entire support for the horse at that moment. As gravity pulls the back down, his muscles and ligaments must pull back in the other direction. Whenever a joint is moving, it is necessary for the muscles to cause the movement and simultaneously hold the joints together for stability.
While flying through the air the head and neck are raised. As the body shifts from the rear legs to the front legs, the head and neck swing down. This helps the hind quarters pull forward. The movement of the head and neck help forward movement. When I see riders keeping a very tight rein, balance on their reins, or use equipment to keep the head and neck in a fixed position, I know that the natural work of the muscles has been compromised.
The down swing of the head and neck also helps to lift the body over a jump. The rider must let the horse have freedom so the horse can get his body over the fence.
Even the best riders occasionally interfere with the natural movement of the horse. Sports massage is enormously helpful in restoring stressed muscles and ligaments to a healthy state.