“I ride horses. Can evaluating my structure help me ride better?”

Absolutely! Whether you are standing during your sport like baseball players, or sitting like kayakers, cyclists or horseback riders, abnormal structure plays a vital role in your performance.

We all have structural abnormalities whether we’re aware of them or not. Even our right and left sides are not mirror images of each other. Simply look in the mirror and you’ll see one shoulder that’s higher, one arm that’s lower, or one foot that flattens more than the other. And these abnormalities can not only decrease one’s sports performance, but can later cause arthritic changes.

Everyone for example, has one leg longer than the other. A rider with this problem will lean toward the shortened side. Not only can this cause you to have muscular soreness (such as in your back) but it will make it more difficult for you to ride and jump because you’ll be out of balance. Indeed, every aspect of your riding will be affected.

I recently saw a competitive rider who after being evaluated noticed that her saddle was actually twisted because of riding like this for many years. In addition, the abnormal stress you place on your shortened side could also cause your horse to have problems on that side too.

Another common problem usually seen with all athletes is tight calf muscles. In runners, it makes it more difficult for them to lift their feet when running and results in shin splints, Achilles tendonitis and many other problems. Riders with this problem will have greater difficulty in keeping their heels down in the stirrups; a very important part of riding well.

Most people also have a tendency to pronate or flatten their feet. Riders with this problem ride with more pressure on the insides of their feet, which causes them to internally rotate their knees resulting in a loss of power and strength. It also causes them to hold on to the horse with their knees instead of their lower legs. Note that there is a big difference in leaning on the insides of your feet as opposed to having feet that collapse, flatten, and are unstable.

Despite the fact that these and many other problems are quite common in riders, they generally remain either unnoticed or untreated, but are easily corrected, helping you avoid injuries, and create the winning edge you’re looking for.

So the best place to begin any sport (whether it’s playing golf or riding a horse), is by having a structural evaluation and not by taking lessons. Doing this will make your lessons much more productive, and often show an improvement noticed by both rider and trainer.

A former reconstructive foot and ankle surgeon and past clinical instructor of Medicine at Emory, Dr. Pack practices at MCG in Greensboro. He specializes in biomechanical structural analysis and works with patients who have arthritis and wish to decrease joint symptoms and remain active. Dr. Pack also treats athletes at all levels. In the 2004 Olympics he had a silver and gold medalist. He also helps the UGA Golf Team (2005 NCAA National Champions). For further information please see www.drloupack.com drloupack.blogspot.com or contact him directly at (706) 454-0040.

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