Posture of Rider and Rider Linked, Study Shows

Your mother was right: Sit right and spare your back. And now scientists at the equine behavior research center at the University of Rennes have confirmed it: Poor posture can be a real pain in the back--not just for you, but for your horse.

By comparing certain riding positions of amateur equestrians and the neck positions of their mounts to the kind of back pain those horses experienced while in the stall, the researchers concluded that how you ride makes a big difference in equine welfare.

"Our data infers that improper riding postures have a strong effect on horses' postures at work that also lead to chronic vertebral problems," said Clemence Lesimple, PhD candidate, researcher at the University of Rennes in northwestern France, and primary author of the study.

Lesimple and her colleagues studied 19 horses in two riding centers as they were exercised during beginners' riding courses. The positions of the riders' hands and legs, and those of the horses' necks, were recorded, as well as the kinds of corrections given by the riding instructor. The horses' back pain at rest was evaluated by two independent equine chiropractors (whose conclusions were 94% consistent with each other).

They noted that riding with high hands and elevated heels tended to cause the horse to maintain a high and often hollow neck position, and that these horses were most likely to have severe back pain. They also found a considerable difference in back pain between the two riding centers: in the center where the instructor tended to correct riders' positions regularly, the horses were significantly less affected by vertebral problems.

Even so, 74% of all the horses in the study were found to be severely affected, and only one horse was considered pain-free. All the horses that were mildly affected or unaffected were in the riding stable where riding position was addressed by the instructor.

"The present findings clearly show the kind of impact human actions can have on their mounts," said Lesimple. "For the sake of equine welfare, instructors should be paying more attention to teaching proper technique to beginner riders."

Future research will focus on the effects of global postural positions, including seat and balance, she said.

About the Author

Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

Christa Lesté-Lasserre is a freelance writer based in France. A native of Dallas, Texas, Lesté-Lasserre grew up riding Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Shetland Ponies. She holds a master’s degree in English, specializing in creative writing, from the University of Mississippi in Oxford and earned a bachelor's in journalism and creative writing with a minor in sciences from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She currently keeps her two Trakehners at home near Paris. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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