and Horses ~ What's It All About?
An article by Mary D. Midkiff in the Journal
of the AMEA
about Safety in Equestrian Sport
we see at the top of our riding disciplines have evolved through
education, training, hard work, long hours, talent and desire.
To be a great rider is a worthy and rewarding goal for male
or female. Until recently, the thought processes and approach
to teaching and training riders and selecting equipment have
been generic and male oriented. But the generic approach is
not effective with the majority of riders. The majority are
is increasingly being defined by the female element -- she is
the predominant participant, dollar spender and decision maker
in sporting, showing and recreational activities in the horse
Resources (EQR) found over 75% of the members of all equine-related
non-racing organizations in the United States are female; over
80% in the American Horse Shows Association (AHSA) alone. This
percentage, however, does not indicate the higher number of
females involved in pleasure riding. EQH estimates at least
500,000 females in the U.S. are enjoying horses as a sport or
leisure activity and many say that number is considerably conservative.
& Horses (W&H) Conference and National Tour was created
to meet this large and growing population of active equestrian
participants and is a program designed to he repeated in locations
around the county throughout 1994 and 1995. Each conference
presents national personalities and experts in a program of
practical discussion, advice and product information devoted
to improving the "team" performance of women and their
the W&H program and our national experts we are developing
techniques that increase awareness of the body and mind of rider
and horse as well as provide education in what to look for in
equipment that will accommodate the female pelvic and muscular
structures efficiently and comfortably-.
athletic world at large more females are in competition than
ever before and they are gaining performance enhancement by
maximizing what is unique in their bodies, minds, and personalities.
We are seeing more and more women in the top riding and training
ranks of horse sports as leaders of equine-related organizations
and as instructors. The education and societal messages they
are now receiving indicate it is all right for females to pursue
and realize competitive goals.
of and the equipment designed for riding have been established
by and for males. Horses throughout time have been used mainly
for war, battle, and transportation by males. For example, the
Western disciplines descending from the Native American, the
working cowboy, and the Pony Express; English riding from the
traditions of the hunt field and the military; and the Spanish
and Arabic influence with their ancient breeds originating from
tribal competitions and ceremonial presentations.
the thousands of years the horse has been used by humans, horses
have only been used strictly for pleasure and sport by women
for a relative short period. Women have only been riding astride
in Europe and the Western hemisphere for approximately 60 years.
female equestrian been provided with every benefit and advantage
to allow her to become the best rider she can be? The answer
is no. The horse community and ancillary interests need to become
more aware of the human element--the female equestrian is structured
differently and should be instructed and trained with her health,
comfort and safety as a priority.
of the W&H program addresses the female anatomy and its
relationship to the movement of the horse. A national expert
and W&H national tour speaker on the subject of the female
anatomy and riding is Dr. Deb Bennett of Santa Rosa, California.
She has done extensive research on the subject and is a hippologist
and a paleontologist by trade.
article featured in Equus June 1989 ("Who's Built Best
to Ride?"), Dr. Bennett explains, "The technique to
which I most strongly object is the instruction given the rider
to throw his or her belly or waist forward. In either sex, this
motion results in compression of the dorsal aspect of the lumbar
vertebral column. Sitting the trot or canter this way, with
the crotch dropped downward and the lower back hollowed, will
over a period of time shorten and harden the dorsal perivertebral
muscles and ligaments, compress the intervertebral disks, and
eventually lead to spondylolysthesis and the pinching of nerve
roots which emerge dorsolaterally between adjacent vertebrae."
to the peculiar bony anatomy which permits them to give birth,
women often have difficulty learning to sit the trot or canter
without bouncing. Womenís lower backs are typically 'curvierí
(more lordotic) than men's. In women the sacrum articulates
with the last lumbar vertebra at a much sharper angle than in
men. These differences move the tip of the tailbone dorsally
in women, effectively getting it out of the birth canal. However,
in the context of riding, this structural arrangement also makes
it easy for a women to ride with a hollow back and dropped crotch.
Conversely, most men have little difficulty coiling their loins
(flexing their lumbar span) which is a pelvic motion essential
to following the motion of either the trot or canter.
Conferences are designed to 1) explore the differences, 2) create
awareness about the female body and the origin of pain, 3) develop
techniques which allow women to become the most efficient and
comfortable riders given their particular anatomical and hormonal
variations, and 4) identify equipment that will best accommodate
the female body.
research and recognize the many areas of AMEA members' medical
expertise. EQR challenges AMEA members to assist in arriving
at meaningful information to help female riders. It is important
the sports medicine field be particularly aware of the predominant
female population involved with horses. Currently most women
are not aware of how their bodies work with the movement of
the horse and how they can prevent injuries through better understanding.
act abundance of chronic low back pain in female riders. Is
it any wonder why? They have been trained to hyperextend their
backs and cram their heels down while standing on their toes
with an unsupportive saddle since they began to ride as a child.
Manufacturers of rib, back supports and knee braces are making
a lucrative living off women who ride. W&H chooses the principle
of a strong support system within their bodies instead of relying
on shortcuts and crutches which in the end will only weaken
the correct information, techniques and equipment, women don't
have to hurt to ride.
in the W&H Finesse Versus Strength demonstration sessions,
we work with participants on becoming more aware and softening
their whole approach to sitting on the horse. We reestablish
the seat centered on the ischium and teach the student to concentrate
on "filling in" her lower back with strength, which
ultimately disallows arching or rounding the shoulders. We loosen
the leg and allow it to lie flat in line with the pelvis and
ground the foot with the stirrup well behind the ball of the
foot with the heel parallel to the ground. The elbows remain
soft and bent. This allows for an elastic and moving connection
at all times resulting in release and relaxation for both horse
and physical therapists need to be aware of the types of unique
injuries sustained by female riders as well as understand how
they relate to movement while mounted or in other activity surrounding
it be low back pain, a stressed rotator cuff, a stiff neck,
or sore knees, female riders can ride pain-free through awareness,
education, the proper saddle, and regular stretching and strengthening
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