Horseback riding is a wonderful hobby and often misunderstood by those who have not done it, as are the physical requirements necessary to do so comfortably and successfully. A few of the things you must be sure to have addressed regarding your return to horseback riding after hip replacement are adequate range of motion (ROM), strength and endurance. Most people are aware of the hip ROM necessary to get on/off and to be on a horse. This includes range of motion into external rotation, abduction (to the side) and extension (backwards). Two great stretches are the seated frog stretch (feet together) and the hip flexor stretch in either standing or kneeling. It is very important that you begin gentle stretching into these positions and be able to sustain them for longer amounts of time. It is better to keep a stretch gentle and hold it rather than have it be too hard and fast. The body responds best and can relax into these sustained stretches which is also what is needed for extended time on a horse. Depending on the approach used by your surgeon in performing your hip replacement, there may be specific hip precautions for you to be aware of as you return to the saddle.
It seems obvious that you need leg strength, but where in the legs depends on the type of riding that you do. Certain disciplines, such as English jumping, require more quad strength than others but most require hamstring and gluteal (buttock) strength to urge the horse forward. The area of strength that is often forgotten is your core and more specifically stomach muscles! This does not mean you should go do 100 crunches, as that is not the way your stomach muscle works when riding a horse, but more lower abdominal strengthening.
Lastly is the importance of endurance when it comes to getting back in the saddle for horseback riding. Endurance of all the above muscles so they do not fatigue when you are taking longer rides, but also your cardiovascular endurance. Again, it may vary slightly on the discipline you are taking part in, but horseback riding IS cardiovascular exercise; especially when moving at higher rates of speed on a horse, so make sure you have returned to some cardiovascular strengthening and endurance through walking, running, elliptical machines or bicycling prior to that first time back in the saddle.
And when it is time to get off the horse after your first time or two back in the saddle, don’t be surprised if you are a bit stiff and sore. Its “OK” don’t panic. Apply some ice to the front of your hip while lying flat, perform some gentle stretching and stay moving and walking around and it should all resolve within about 24 hours. You may have some lingering muscle soreness from not being as in shape as you thought you were, but no damage to the hip replacement will have occurred. Please be cautious however that you have been cleared by your physician or medical provider to return to such activity (usually dependent on tissue healing times and how hard you worked in Physical Therapy on your strength and ROM) and that you are on a safe and trustworthy animal. Horses have no intent to hurt you, but they are flight animals and a fall from a horse could certainly set you back so be careful.
This is a guest post by Equestrian and Physical Therapist Lauren Masi of Lafayette Physical Therapy. I met Lauren during my time of recovery from my second hip replacement and am grateful that she agreed to share her advice regarding returning to horseback riding after hip replacement surgery. Please note that you should always consult your doctor before getting back on a horse after any injury or surgery.
For additional tips on horseback riding follow @Nancydbrown @ridinghorseback on Twitter.