Physical Therapy for Horseback Riders: Treat Yourself like the Athlete you Are

If you ask any equestrian about a time they were hurt horseback riding, you’ll most likely get a long list. When equestrians walk around you’ll hear cracking ankles and hips, and knees popping when they stand up. There’s a reason the classic cowboy has a bowlegged walk– horseback riding is hard on the body. Injuries are extremely common in the sport, both chronic and acute. Molding yourself to a horse requires a certain flexibility and fitness. Unfortunately, most horseback riders fail to treat themselves as the athlete they are. This leads to increased incidents of injury. 

A Doctor of Physical Therapy can create a program of physical therapy for horseback riders to help you strengthen old injuries and prevent new ones. 

Soft Tissue Injuries

Did you know that up to 70 percent of equestrians have dealt with a soft tissue injury? Sprains and ligament or tendon tears are the most common injuries in horseback riding. Soft tissue injuries can be as simple as a bad bruise or as painful as a bad sprain or torn ligament. All soft tissue injuries include muscles, tendons, or ligaments. 

One example of a soft tissue injury is a torn rotator cuff. This could occur due to a bad fall off of your horse that wrenches your shoulder. If the ligaments in your shoulder can’t handle the sudden and acute strain, they’ll tear. A torn ligament takes a while to heal and often means at least several weeks (if not months!) of no riding. 

However, soft tissue injuries don’t always occur suddenly. Chronic soft tissue injuries build up over time if equestrians don’t take care of their fitness and health through physical therapy for horseback riders. These chronic issues are the result of inadequate recovery time in between the use of a muscle. Tendonitis is a good example of a chronic soft tissue injury, although not one that is too common in the equestrian world. 

Physical therapy for horseback riders prevents both acute and chronic soft tissue injuries. A program developed for you by a Doctor of Physical Therapy increases the elasticity and strength of your tendons, muscles, and ligaments, thereby decreasing the chances of a sprain or tear. A pre- and post-ride stretching program also increases the blood flow to soft tissue, preparing your body for a workout and preventing injury as well. 


Equestrians control animals that can be well over a thousand pounds on a daily basis. Horseback riding takes a lot of strength and can be really empowering. But, unfortunately, we are not invincible. 

Concussions cause 60 percent of horseback riding related deaths. 

And yet, only 20 percent of equestrians wear helmets every time they ride. So many people greatly underestimate the importance of wearing a properly fitting helmet that was made for horseback riding. Helmets save lives! The necessity of wearing one when riding a horse cannot be overestimated. 

Most equestrians fail to take concussions seriously. Doctors have actually started referring to concussions as mild traumatic brain injuries to emphasize how serious these injuries are. In 2010, concussions and traumatic brain injuries accounted for 50,000 deaths in the United States. The top two ways equestrians get a concussion or traumatic brain injury is by falling off or getting kicked in the head while working a horse on the ground. 

While working with a  Doctor of Physical Therapy cannot stop you from getting a concussion, it can help you become a better partner for your horse and lower your risk of falls. Physical therapy for horseback riders strengthens areas of musculoskeletal weakness or imbalance. This helps you to balance better while riding and move more fluidly with your horse. Increasing strength and taking advantage of a pre- and post-ride workout activates the right muscle groups and increases elasticity in soft tissue. Combined, physical therapy for horseback riders creates a powerful tool to prevent impairment of all kinds– not just concussions and soft tissue injuries.

Physical Therapy for Horseback Riders Keeps You Safe

As equestrians, our toughness and dedication to our sport can be our downfall. Studies show that 60 percent of riders don’t seek medical attention after an injury and only 10 percent seek physiotherapy intervention. Equestrians are athletes. Think of the world’s elite athletes: if Tom Brady didn’t allow for adequate recovery time between games or appropriate warm up and cooldown strategies, his career would be greatly shortened. There’s no shame in seeking out medical attention when necessary or working with a Doctor of Physical Therapy ahead of time to prevent injury. 

Keep your riding career on track and become a better partner for your horse with a full rider assessment. With my help, as a Doctor of Physical Therapy, I can put my years of experience and medical training to work for you. Treat yourself like the athlete you are. Prevent injuries with a physical therapy program for horseback riding.

Learn More About Physical Therapy for Horseback Riders

Learn More About the Physical Therapy Rider Assessment