Osteopathy and equestrian sports: a flawless combination

No more beautiful kinetic ballet of man and animal exists than equestrianism. From jumping to dressage, the elegance of riders controlling their horses is often a feast for the eyes. But behind the grace of execution is an extensive process to keep not only the animal but also the human in perfect shape. And an osteopath can play an important role in getting riders into the best shape for the best performance.

A good horse doesn’t make a good rider

It is no surprise that equestrian sports are focused on getting the horses to perform optimally. A broad network of specialists and modern infrastructure, materials and techniques are therefore entirely at the service of top performance. And yet, that is only part of the puzzle. Because the riders play an equally crucial role. Being surrounded by specialists is vital for getting through a dressage test or obstacle course without mistakes.

The relationship between the horse and the rider is paramount. The better a rider can sense the animal, the smoother the response to the horse, the better the performance. It is a subtle play of feeling, sensitivity and perception. Rider and horse must understand each other perfectly if their combination is to be successful.

But when something fails in this symbiosis, errors occur. Little pieces of the puzzle that do not quite fit cause problems. Such as biomechanical or biochemical deficiencies ranging from back pain, neck and shoulder pain, headaches, dizziness, to nausea or other digestive complaints. Even emotional or psychological aspects also play a role. A rider who is physically and mentally 100% right, sits well in the saddle and performs better. So, as in many other sports, it is a combination of factors that have to be right to make a difference.

Problems and injuries of riders

The problems a rider may experience are often subtleties that may unconsciously affect the performance in some occasions. For example, when a rider has less control over one of his legs and feels that the stirrups are not of the same length, he will have more difficulty to steer the horse. Back problems in riders are common, often due to a blockage in the pelvis, which will cause them to feel the animal less well. Another example are shoulder problems which may result in heavy arms. These, in turn, reduce the control over the reins. Each of these components links up with the complex mechanism of performance. It is true that the body must be in tip-top condition, from head to toe.

The osteopath: leap to success! 

In equestrian sports, osteopaths can definitely be a catalyst in guiding riders to even better results. They indeed have a wide range of treatment methods to their disposal to restore the balance in the rider’s body. From preventive check-ups to avoid problems to fixing injuries for a smooth recovery.


A body in balance, with a properly functioning autonomous nervous system, guarantees better focus and concentration. We often underestimate how demanding it is for a rider to maintain the control right to the end in both jumping and dressage. Riders often tell us that their focus improved after an osteopathic treatment. This translates into better estimation of, for example, distances or jumps. But also in smoother communication with the animal through subtle signals. It is all about the sharpness of making the right calls and considerations at any given moment. Put all those elements together and you get a better performance.

The osteopath will always look for the cause of the problem. Why does the problem arise and what is behind it? A range of possible factors can cause an issue. For example, a blockage in the pelvis can be the result of tension in the digestive system. An earlier injury that has not been fully recovered can also play a role in certain symptoms. It is the osteopath’s job to find this loss of movement and to tackle it in a targeted manner.

A fall from the past, for example, may surface years later and manifest itself as a functional complaint. Osteopaths take account of these post-traumatic factors, because they cause loss of concentration, reduced focus, dizziness and more. In short, they interfere with the control of the rider’s locomotor system. Ironically, this can often be the trigger for another fall.

Comfortable in the saddle thanks to the osteopath

I have sought the support of an osteopath ever since the start of my career: the treatments help me to stay supple.

We work with animals, living creatures, and it is essential that you, as a rider, can sit relaxed on your horse and move freely. You must feel your horse! When my hips are tight, I don’t feel my horse as well.

I notice that, thanks to the osteopathy sessions, peace enters my system, enabling me to focus better during the competitions and to better cope with day-to-day worries. The weekly osteopathic check-up brings my body and mind into balance, exactly what I need to perform at the highest level.

The osteopath can also help me with injuries; he makes sure I can get back on my horse quickly or, if necessary, that I can go see the right doctors.

As far as I am concerned, every rider (amateur, professional or young talent) is advised to visit an osteopath regularly. This makes those seemingly impossible obstacles or tests a lot easier.

Karel Cox  International jumper & former Belgian Champion

No matter if it’s before, during or after a competition, an osteopath can make all the difference for the rider. First of all, there is the preventive aspect. Osteopaths look for an imbalance and treat that imbalance to eliminate problems. The curative aspect can help you recover from pain and injuries more quickly after a performance. But also at the highest level during competitions, just before or after a performance, an osteopath can contribute to the balance between man and animal.

Links in an interdisciplinary approach

Your osteopath will also consider the mental and psychological aspects. Because these also affect the athlete’s body. For example, stress, performance pressure and sometimes even fears can affect physical functioning. The osteopath will take these signals into account and refer to specialists, where necessary. They will never work in isolation but will gladly lean on shared expertise.

After all, sports doctors, physiotherapists and personal trainers are also part of the story. The osteopath will often consult closely with them to monitor the overall picture. In fact, the vet, a horse osteopath or a horse physio can also be involved in the consultation. This is how osteopaths get to understand the interaction between rider and horse even better. It also helps to discover how a problem of the rider can affect the horse and vice versa. This reciprocal dialogue is enriching and promotes performance.

A flawless course for the body

Whether for recreational riders or professional, competitive athletes, the osteopath keeps them firmly in the saddle from A to Z. Through preventive check-ups, they see where possible problems may arise. The osteopath also removes blockages to get the riders in optimal shape for the competitions. And should an injury occur, the osteopath will assist the rider for a smooth recovery. In short: the osteopath is there to advise and assist the rider in overcoming obstacles easily, also outside the arena of competition.

source: © Osteopaat.Vlaanderen