Equestrian sports demand a high level of fitness and strength, particularly in the lower body. From simple movements, such as mounting your horse, to repetitive posting during a prolonged long trot, knee pain or the lack thereof can make or break your ride. The knees, being one of the most crucial joints for riders, are vulnerable to various injuries and strains.
To keep riding with comfort and confidence, it is essential for equestrians to prioritize knee health. In this article, we explore common knee injuries in equestrians, preventive measures, exercises, and lifestyle changes to maintain long-term knee health.
Due to the repetitive impact and strain placed on equestrians’ knees while riding common knee injuries include patellar tendinitis, patellar dislocation, meniscus tears, and osteoarthritis. These injuries can result from incorrect posture, inadequate warm-up, weakness in muscles responsible for stabilizing the knee, overuse, and/ or accidents during riding.
Prevention truly is the best medicine, especially when it comes to our knees. Some of the most important preventive measures to keep in mind are very easy, if we will commit to taking the time to do them. Equestrians, no matter what the discipline, commit time to making sure our horses are in shape and up for the challenge of an event or particular ride they are participating in. It is no less important for the rider to make sure his/her body is up for the challenge of riding.
Prevention of injuries in the knees consists of a few critical elements: proper warm up, correct riding position, proper equipment, strengthening and stretching exercises.
Before mounting your horse, engage in dynamic stretches to warm up your muscles and increase joint mobility. The warm up is important for both horse and rider. Maintaining a balanced and aligned position, not only helps your horse perform, but also helps distribute weight evenly through your knees, reducing strain. Investing in proper equipment is also an important step in knee health. Well fitting boots and stirrups provide adequate support and reduce stress on knees. Make sure to take the time to adjust the stirrups to the correct length. Keeping the knees in a position too high or the stirrups too long, making you reach for them during the ride, puts undue stress on the knees.
The big piece to maintaining knee health is incorporating exercises aimed to increase strength and stability around the knee joint. This point is one that is not received well by many riders, but remember, we as riders are athletes just like our horses. Regular exercise can help keep riders’ from injury. Here are basic, yet effective exercises to strengthen knee joints: squats, lunges, leg extensions, and hamstring curls.
- To perform a squat, stand with feet shoulder-width apart, lower your body by bending your knees, and push your hips back. Keep your weight on your heels and return to the starting position. Start with bodyweight squats and gradually add resistance.
- To perform a lunge, step forward with one leg, bending both knees and lowering your body until your back knee is just above the ground. Return to the starting position and alternate legs. Start with static lunges and progress to walking or reverse lunges.
- To perform leg extensions, sit on a chair or bench with your back straight. Extend one leg in front of you until it is parallel to the ground, pause, and slowly lower it back down. Repeat with the other leg.
- To perform hamstring curls, stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold onto a stable surface for support. Bend one knee, bringing your heel towards your buttocks, and then slowly lower it back down. Repeat with the other leg.
Lifestyle changes can also be imperative in contributing to the overall knee health of equestrians. Excess weight puts additional strain on the knees. By maintaining a healthy weight through a balanced diet and regular exercise, you can reduce stress on your knee joint. Pay attention to any discomfort or pain in your knees. Rest when needed, and seek medical advice if symptoms persist. Engage in activities that complement equestrian sports, such as swimming, cycling, or yoga. These activities help improve overall strength, flexibility, and cardiovascular fitness, reducing the risk of knee injuries. Incorporate stretching exercises into your routine to enhance flexibility and range of motion in your knees. This can also help prevent strains and improve joint function.
Equestrian knee health is paramount for riders to enjoy the sport without discomfort or injury. By implementing preventive measures by performing knee-strengthening exercises, and adopting a healthy lifestyle, riders can maintain optimal knee health. Remember, taking care of your knees now will ensure you can continue to pursue your passion for equestrian sports for years to come.