Those Old Bones- Ride well after injury (or age!)

Hi, I thought I'd share a recent fitness tip I send out in my newsletter about how to recover from injury and manage age so your body works the way you want it to when you're riding. (by the way, you can sign up to receive free monthly fitness tips for riders at )

Recently I’ve received emails from readers suggesting topics to write about. I really welcome these suggestions by the way. In addition to fittips, I publish in about 4 magazines a month and it’s more motivating for me to write about what I know is interesting to you.

One topic that jumped out at me for the fittip this month came from questions about how to recover from an old injury, how to tackle your training program when you’re over 50, and how to get flexibility when you just aren’t that rubbery anymore. The questions got me thinking.

While I do work with young athletes, most of my clients tend to be either close to or over 50, so I actually have an opportunity to see the results of lifelong patterns, and help people in the over 50 age group on a regular basis. My oldest (non-riding) client is in her mid 80’s. She has taught me the most about finding strength and flexibility when you are older. She says the folks that are worried about getting older (all under 65), are just not thinking about the next twenty years. From her vantage point, she is so right. I wish everyone under 65 could meet an active octogenarian because it would change your perspective from thinking of yourself as losing your youth, to one of gaining something every year you are still here. I recently read an article about a 90 year old marathon runner. He may have clocked a slower time, but the point is that he did it.

Ok, so you are probably not in those high age groups. You’re somewhere well before that, feeling the twinges at the hinges and noticing that your body just doesn’t co-operate the way you’d like it to for your riding. When you were twenty, you could throw yourself at anything, get through it, recover and keep going. (If you ARE twenty or close to it, understand that you aren’t getting away with things you think you are. You can create injuries that appear down the road by not using your body correctly, and treating it properly. If YOU have questions you’d like me to write about for your age group- send ‘em in. My youngest clients are 12 and I work with a number of teens and twenty-somethings. Plus, if you’re smart, pay attention to the tips in this article for old people- they’ll still work for you to help your riding.)

If you’ve been injured in the past, the injuries may be affecting you more noticeably now because your soft tissue is not what it once was. Ligaments and tendons are not as supple, and take longer to become flexible, and longer to train for strength. Muscle atrophies with age, so the combined effect of hardening ligament tissue and diminishing muscle tissue is that your joints do not get the support they need. If you’ve had an injury affecting a joint, it may have cause an imbalance which gets harder and harder for your body to negotiate. You may experience compensating patterns as you ride, because your body is trying to find a ‘work around’ to an area that just won’t respond correctly.

It's time for takin' it slow
Old bones don't move so fast
As they did once in the past
Now if I have to run, I simply don't go
From “Old Bones”, George Burns
Whatever you do, do not get discouraged.  We have a WEG hopeful athlete who has had two hip replacements and is making a comeback after 20 years of absence from international competition.  My oldest pleasure riding client is 76.  There are people without limbs at all who can ride well.  So don’t give up.  You can enjoy your horse, and ride in a way that he enjoys you.
Do understand that you need to allow yourself the time your body needs to warm up before riding, maintain flexibility and strength in between your rides, and undo tightness created during a ride by gentle stretching afterwards.  As a rule of thumb seek to constantly increase the mobility of your joints, while simultaneously working on strengthing them.  You do not want to just work on mobility, because you could risk becoming hypermobile: more movement in a joint than is desireable, due to lack of strength in the area.  Hypermobility can create more strain on the bones themselves, and this is not good.  Think of muscle in an area as protecting your cartilage.  You do not want early wear/usure on cartilage because you will hasten the possibility of arthritis.
Ironically, LACK of mobility has a similar effect.  You have to maintain mobility because if you don’t, motion has to be absorbed somewhere else in your body, and some other joint or surface takes the hit and gets worn down.  Think of it like a car that needs a wheel alignment.
Working with an old injury area, and working with age are very similar in that you have to spend more time warming up and cooling down, be more aware when to back off for the day, and plan to take longer to ramp up to your goals.
Another similarity is that sometimes with an injury, the neuromuscular connection to a particular muscle, or firing sequence may be affected.  Simply, the brain just doesn’t ‘go there’…so the right things don’t happen in the order they’re supposed to.  With age, the effect can be similar.  To re-awaken your brain-muscle connection, you may need to do work off your horse isolating a muscle or group of muscles with exercises that zone in on them, or create movement patterns that will re-teach your brain to sequence properly.  If for example your lower abdominals seem out to lunch when you ride, you need to take some time to isolate them with exercises on the floor specifically for that area.  You may even need to poke at them while doing the exercises to wake up your brain to the area, until you can feel the percentage of effort increase.  
Sometimes I will see a rider doing an abdominal exercise not engaging the right muscles.  Until you feel the right area ‘turning on’ with 100% effort, you cannot rely on your brain to engage that area like it should, when 20 other things are going on at the same time.  Movement patterns are similar.  Tai chi is a great example of how Eastern disciplines use slow movement to train muscle memory, which can then be applied in faster circumstances, like martial arts.  The rule of thumb is that if you can’t do it on the ground with 100% accuracy, you won’t in the saddle either.  If you ride around with lack of correct engagement with those lower abdominals for example, you will just be re-inforcing your body’s compensating patterns, not giving yourself the time to re-train your muscle memory and firing patterns.
So, let me invite you to take two minutes now and before your next ride to listen to your body and do what it needs so you can be the best partner your horse needs.
Happy riding!
(Please feel free to send in topics you’d like me to discuss in future tips or articles.)

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Comment by Heather Sansom at on July 19, 2010 at 7:09am
Hi, thank you for your feedback..there was some kind of technical issue with transfering the piece into the blog. I will have to look into it and see if I can post it again.
In answer to your question about stretches, there are many suggestions in my articles you can read for free online at under Fitness Tip of the Month for riders. I also have a Handy Stretching Guide available on my website:, and often discuss stretches in my monthly fittips newsletter.
Comment by April Keays on July 18, 2010 at 6:54pm

Thanks for the tips! I do have bad hips, but I'm beginning to realize that the pain I am expereincing is more to do with the pectineus muscle rather than the hip joint itself. My boyfreind is studying reflexology and we have begun working on this muscle, but it is slow going because it is soooo painfull! Still, if it helps me to ride better then I'm all for it.

If you have any suggestions for stretches before and after riding sessions, I would really appcreciate it.

Again, thank you for your earlier comments, they got me thinking.
Comment by Deborah Hopkins on July 18, 2010 at 1:57pm
Hi Heather,
Would you post the bottom half of this article again ... I'm both 50+ and have injuries, so I'd really like to read it ... but it's cut off so I can't see it! Thanks!!

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