Friday, February 23, 2018

How Does A Horsewoman Heal & What To Do When the Rider Is Scared

Question: How does a horsewoman heal when she has torn a muscle in her back?

Answer: Very slowly

Question: How long does it take a torn back muscle to heal?

Answer: It depends on if it’s a horsewoman’s back or a normal back. A normal back takes a couple of weeks. A horsewoman’s back, however, will be 10 times worse after two weeks.   A horsewoman MIGHT think about slowing down when it becomes crippling, but just until it recedes from crippling to almost crippling when she takes Motrin. At that point, she will clear herself to ride and hoist her dogs into her pick up. Barn chores, of course, are completed at ANY point in the process—even crippled bed-ridden status. After all, horses need to eat and have clean stalls.


We have snow. We have ice. We have cold. We have sunshine.  It all started on Valentines Day. Eight inches of snow overnight and cold temperatures to keep it from melting.  The extended forecast shows no signs of significant warming.

But I have been able to get out there and do a little riding and a clinic.

The clinic was last Saturday. The roads were so bad that only two participants could make it. I’m very glad I did because I got a training breakthrough.

There was this scary tarp tunnel that we were supposed to ride our horses through. We did it last year, but it freaked me out, and as soon as I saw it this year, I was scared.

What do you do when the RIDER is scared of an obstacle? It happens. It could happen on the trail or at a controlled clinic, but it happens to all of us for different reasons. And, when we are scared or nervous, our highly prescient equine companions are, too. So, it’s going to happen, but what do you do about it?

1st, You listen to your fear. Is there something about the obstacle that’s unsafe or beyond your training level?  I looked at the tarp and it seemed well-secured and high enough for horse and rider. It was narrow and low enough, however, that there would be touching and rubbing—which would make noise.  All that said, it appeared to be safe for us.

2nd, if it’s safe enough to walk through together, dismount and work from the ground. We did that over and over and over until she could stop inside of it and allow me to shake the tarp around her.

3rd, if everything looks good, mount and ride.

And this is where I had my training  moment. In saddle, Leah kept bolting away to the left when we'd turn toward the entrance of the tunnel. My trainer, however, pointed out that I need to keep her facing up. I do try to keep her facing up, but it comes down, again, to finding the right amount of pressure and movement. It can be hard, but it’s the secret sauce of horsemanship. Too little pressure, they don't move--too much pressure, they bolt. 

It was a great opportunity to find the balance with Leah.

The trainer told me to go back to the obstacles she was very, very comfortable with and stop her before going through them. I had not been doing that. Instead, I was pushing right through the easy obstacles. The idea was to stop her and allow her to rest in front of an obstacle. Of course, Leah did not like that. Stopping anywhere made her nervous. So, we worked and worked on stopping, then moving one foot after another over it, and stopping inside the obstacle.

When we returned to the scary tarp tunnel, stopping in front of the tunnel did not cause her as much anxiety. We were able to stay in front of it and get her to look at it. When she'd move to the right or left, I corrected her, but I didn't urge her forward very hard.  I would let her rest and then lightly put pressure on her to go in.

Towards the end, she rushed out.

She calmed down in a couple of steps.  We practiced it many more times and worked on control.

Since Saturday, we've been working on the concept at home, and I want to differentiate this with the idea that you should put the horses nose on every scary object. That is not what this is about. It’s about being OK standing still in front of an obstacle.

We will get to places on the trail where we have to stop and inspect to see if it’s OK to go there. That will require stopping. Also, sometimes our trail partners have to stop or we have to just wait for them to do something. A trail horse has to be OK with stopping and standing, then proceeding step by step.


I tore the muscle in my back when I was swinging a saddle up onto Leah.  After months of bareback, I think my saddle throwing muscles had atrophied.  I could feel the tear as soon as it happened, but it didn't hurt very bad.  So, I kept doing what I do--taking care of the horses, moving furniture, cleaning house, just everything.  And then, last Friday, I could barely stand straight.  Oddly enough, the next day, Saturday, I limped myself to the clinic and it didn't hurt at all to ride a horse.  It only hurts to lift objects and to stand from a sitting position or vice versa. 

I was seeing progress yesterday, so I decided to take my dog to the vet alone.  I had to load all 77 pounds of her and then unload her.  Needless to say, my back hurts like hell today. 

But it didn't stop me from this morning's chores, and it won't stop me from today's training.  I can rest when I get to Hawaii in a couple of weeks.

And yes, I will be looking for a lighter saddle this year.  The one I have now is an awesome, solid, well made, beautiful saddle that I love--but my back just can't take it anymore.


  1. Ack! Sorry you hurt your back! There have been times when all I did was get up from a chair and hurt my back. You just never know...I'm getting old' er and we have to remember to keep our abs sucked in tight. My physical therapist for my back told me this once, and I've always remembered that and tried to comply. Our abs are our friends and keep our back protected. Easier said than done. How much does your saddle weigh? I'm getting another saddle and it weighs 35 pounds, which sounds like a lot to me. Not sure what my old saddle weighs, but it's plenty. I definitely can't lift as much as I used to. I've learned NOT to push through the pain, it just doesn't pay. Advil, very warm bath asap.

    Sounds like the clinic accomplished more trust building, and patience. Everything good seems to involve patience...sigh

    We are cold too, we even had snow for the first time this season!! Early February felt like spring and now, not so much. Sunshine is good though.

    1. Ive never weighed my saddle with all its gear. I should.

      So, you know what I mean about the cold. It sure is a crazy time to set in since we’re almost in March, but weather is always unpredictable.

      That’s good wisdom about the abs. I read the same thing. If you want to protect your back, strengthen your abs. I had just started doing crunches, but that may have temporarily broken them down and contributed to this. I had added it to my strengthening routine.

      I have been putting lots of heat on it. I have a rice pad and I soak in the hot tub. It would probably be healed by now if it wasn’t for the lifting of the furniture and dogs, but I’ve put everyone on notice—NO MORE until I’m healed. Of course, that doesn’t include the horses. I cleaned stalls a bit ago and took Bee to the barn next door to practice going under the tarp tunnel. She did AWESOME!! 👏👏👏 I find that moving actually helps my back. It’s just lifting and going from sit to stand that hurts. Actually, sitting kind of hurts, too.

  2. I feel your pain on the heavy saddle problem. I love heavy ranch saddles, but I can't handle them anymore. The one I was riding in was 42 pounds. I just bought a new used saddle that's 25 pounds and fits Sawyer. It's still a quality hand made saddle, but made to be light. I love it! I need to post about it on my blog. I hope you feel better soon! And keep those training breakthroughs coming!

  3. I will miss my heavy ranch saddle, but when you have to swing it up on a tall horse, you’re bound to injure your back. It’s not a good motion. This is the second time it screwed up my back. I think you should be able to lift a saddle straight up. If you can’t, it’s probably too heavy for you. I was taught to swing it up a long time ago and never even questioned it until now. My friends recommended a light barrel saddle or a custom one. They’re doing a lot with composite materials in the trees.

  4. Congrats on the clinic - good progress! So sorry about your back - been there, aand that will just take time and it needs to heal to be good again. Patience-Just sayin'.

    1. 😭😭😭 I have 0 patience, but I’m sure you’re right. My saddle is 45 pounds. I found a custom one that starts at $2500 (no tooling) and comes in at 28 pounds. It may be in my future if I can sell my Billy Cook for a decent amount.

  5. Sorry to hear about your back. The saddle might just be too heavy to swing up any more. I don't know what my English one weighs but I'm sure it's a lot less than 45 lbs. It doesn't seem to bother my back with the swing up. Good luck purchasing a new lighter saddle. And take care of you back!

    Looks like an interesting clinic. I've never seen the tarp tunnel before. Not so sure I'd want to ride through that so I couldn't blame the horses. I'm not sure why they have stuff like that as training tools but I'm guessing its to desensitize horses to lots of different conditions? I do learn a lot from the western riders who do so many different training exercises than we do in English riding. Good for you for going for it even though you were sorta scared to.

  6. I agree that listening to fear is a good thing. At our age once we hurt ourselves it takes forever to get better!

    1. That seems to be true. I bought a back brace and wore it yesterday, but my back hurts just as bad today. I’m avoiding taking Motrin all day, but maybe I shouldn’t. I just don’t want to mask the pain. And yes, listening to fear is a smart thing. Yesterday, Cowboy didn’t want to go over the bridge obstacle after he did it the first time. He wouldn’t budge. So I dismounted and asked him from the ground. He put a couple feet on it and slipped forward! He was right and I was wrong. So our horse’s fears are sometimes very well grounded.

  7. Sorry you are hurting! One of the reasons I originally sold Gussie is she is so darn tall! And the saddle I was using on her was really heavy, but an awesome comfortable and well built custom saddle. The one I have now is a ralide tree , only 24 inches long and is my all time favourite saddle. I am probably going to sell my custom Wade saddle that I had made for Beamer, as I only ride him bareback now; his knee doesn't need the extra weight. I recently discovered that I have a second cousin who makes saddles and even makes his own trees so I may eventually get one of his made for Mesa.
    Interesting clinic, letting a horse stop and think about things is important- that's how I made a breakthrough on Pistol's early training. Oh- and try essential oils on your back. There are oils for repairing torn muscles and ligaments.

    1. Yes, I need all the light saddle suggestions you can give me. Heavy saddles and tall horses don’t mix anymore. I should try the oils. Which ones?

  8. Last April I purchased my first horse. As you might imagine we are learning so many things day by day. We've made great strides together, however, the question that you pose here is one I recently encountered with no answer to.

    "What about when the rider is afraid?"

    There are few obstacles (dogs on chains that bark near a trail I like to ride... it's positively horrible), that I can't control my fear around. The questions/ break down you have written to ask yourself is great!

    "Is it safe?" | Yes or No
    "Can you walk through together | Yes or No
    "Can you let your horse stop in front of the obstacle | Yes or No
    "Can you control their speed through the obstacle | Yes or No

    Regardless, the dogs still make me nervous because I don't believe they are safe. So, until I walk through the area without my horse, I doubt we'll ride there. However, we can work other places and use these techniques. Thank you and as someone else who had to recover from a bum knee, I hope you recover soon!

    1. Wow! You said it better than I did. Thank you. I think you’re right to avoid the dogs.

      The question though, is difficult to answer as a whole, because each rider, horse, and situation is unique. On one hand, it’s sometimes good to push through our fears through the steps you outlined. At other times, it’s just not safe no matter what you do. The dogs may fall into that—especially if they can reach your horses. (Which would stop you at #1 on the list.) Telling the difference is not always easy—and that is an understatement.

      For example, the tunnel. I was iffy on it. There was, in my mind, the possibility she would get scared inside and tear the thing down on herself. It’s not out of the realm of possibility. But I watched other riders go through, and we walked through enough, that I felt like her movement would be drawn to the other side where the opening was.

      On the trail, I find many more of these types of moments. I choose my trail partners VERY carefully because I have been with some who like to push the limits and have completely overridden their common sense in the pursuit of a challenge. I ALWAYS regret when I’m peer pressured into something on the trail. It’s not good for me OR my horse.

      I told Teresa about what happened on the bridge yesterday with Cowboy. He was right. It was dangerously slick. Sometimes, what our equine partner is telling us is very valid and we may win points with them by trusting them. The flip side is that if we are scared in situations that are actually safe, we can transfer irrational fears into our horse.

      To sum up my thoughts—it’s not always easy to answer question #1, but we have to trust our instincts and our horse. We will make mistakes and miscalculations. It happens. In the meantime, like you said above, work on controlling their feet in safe situations. Also, work on communication with your horse so that they have a way to tell you their fears, get the validation that you’ve heard them, and then communicate back to them what your decision is.

      Please stop by again and share your stories and progress! It’s a great journey.

  9. For many years I rode in a heavy western saddle... until repeated injury put a stop to that. I bought myself a 13lb Barefoot that rides like my favourite easy chair & I've never looked back; my mount is more comfortable than he ever was & that's even more important to me than my comfort, so win/win.
    When I was a kid, my uncle coached me on the value of having a horse that can stand still. I remember asking him how long I should KEEP him still, and he just said 'until he can'. A wise man of few words.

    1. I looked them up—what a cool idea. I wish I could try one out. Your uncle was very wise! I’ll have to remember that saying.

    2. I have a friend who’s going to let me try her Barefoot out. She says she loves it. 👏 I’m excited.

  10. Wow, good job with the tunnel obstacle! I wouldn't have the guts to work through that , especially n my compromised condition. So sorry to hear you are injured. It's hard not doing what we are used to, but your body is asking for time to heal. My back feels better with movement too, and the only place it doesn't hurt at all is in my saddle. I don't know what my custom saddle weighs, but I love it! Rest up & heal better friend!!

    1. Yeah, when I sit around my back feels WAY worse. And much better still in saddle! I’m sure my husband must think I’m lying. Cleaning house? Ouch! Riding horses? 👍 a okay. First I had the tailbone injury and now this. I’m feeling very sorry for myself. 😭😭😭


Please feel welcome to join our discussion by telling us about your own thoughts and experiences.