Horseshoeing is not your average 9-to-5 job. Our bodies are in positions that many people cannot tolerate for 5 minutes, let alone day after day. In light of this, I am sure many of us have experienced minor, or possibly major, back pain.
This article will give you a few simple stretches to help prevent and relieve back pain. These stretches should preferably be done before getting under that first horse of the day so your muscles are warm and not tense, much like warming up before a race or athletic event. These stretches take about 15 to 20 minutes to complete and are an easy way to hopefully prevent injury to your body.
Along with these exercises, developing a strong core is also a great way to take some of the pressure off your back. Bending your knees and getting in the right position underneath the horse with your tools within easy reach are also important to making your daily work easier on you. Chris Gregory’s Textbook of Farriery offers helpful photos of proper position underneath horses that I recommend studying if you are just starting to shoe horses and still feel a bit uncomfortable under the horse.
Photos and techniques can be found here.
1. Partial Crunches
Lay on your back on the floor with knees bent and shoulders raised slightly. Exhale as you raise your shoulders, and inhale on the way down. Do this slowly 8 to 10 times with your arms across your chest or hands behind your neck. Do not pull your neck up with your arms. Gradually increase the number of repetitions as you get physically stronger. This exercise strengthens your back and stomach.
2. Pelvic Tilts
Lay on your back, bend your knees, and keep your feet flat on the floor. Press your lower back into the floor. Tighten your buttock muscles. Hold for 5 seconds while inhaling and breathe out smoothly while exhaling. When you are comfortable with this exercise, hold your breath for 10 seconds and move your feet farther away from your body.
3. Wall Sits
Stand with your back against a wall with your feet apart at shoulder width about 1 foot away from the wall. Slide your back down slowly until your thighs are parallel to the ground.
Your back must be against the wall at all times. Hold the position for 20 to 30 seconds and then slide your back up the wall. Repeat this exercise five to eight times. Increase your hold time by 5 to 10 seconds as you become more comfortable.
4. Assisted Hamstring Stretches
Lie on your back with your legs extended. Raise the leg that is wrapped with a rope, belt or towel into the air and straighten the knee. Pull the leg so your toes bend toward your face. If you do not feel the stretch on your hamstring, pull harder and raise your leg higher. Hold for about 10 to 15 seconds. Repeat three times for each leg.
5. Press-Up Back Extension
Lie on your stomach with your forearms supporting your body. Push your hands downward to raise your shoulders. Relax your stomach and allow your back to arch slightly. Make sure your hips and pelvis remain on the floor. Hold for 10 to 20 seconds, and then relax. Repeat three times.
6. Knee To Chest
Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Gently bring one knee up to your chest until you feel the stretch in your lower back. Keep the other foot flat on the floor or extended. Hold for 10 to 20 seconds. Switch legs and repeat the process a few times.
Lie on your back with knees bent and your feet flat or with your heels on the floor. Tighten your abdominal muscles and squeeze your buttocks. Raise your hips off the floor until your shoulders, hips and knees are in a straight line. Hold for 10 seconds and then slowly lower your hips to the floor and relax. Repeat about 10 times. Use your hands to balance your body and avoid pressing downward to help with the lift. Use only your shoulders and feet for the downward force.
8. Bird Dog
Kneel on the floor with both hands firmly placed apart about shoulder-width. Tighten your abdominal muscles, lift and extend one hand and the opposite leg while balancing on the other hand and knee. Hold for 10 seconds then return to your hands and knees on ground position. Repeat using the other hand and leg. Do five repeats on alternate hands and knees.
9. Cat And Camel
Kneel down on all fours and keep your head straight so that you are staring at the floor. Exhale and slowly turn your face toward the ceiling while allowing your lower back to “sag” slowly into an arch. Do not force it down. Inhale and then arch your back in the opposite direction by contracting your lower abdominal muscles as you lower the top of your head toward the floor. All motion should be initiated and controlled by your lower back. Repeat three times in each direction.
10. Hip Roll
Lie flat on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Fold your hands across your chest or flat on the floor at your sides. Roll your knees to the left until they touch the floor, without moving your upper body. Hold for 3 seconds. Return to the starting position and do the same movement to your right this time. Do 10 to 15 reps for each side.
Select five exercises per session and do the other five the next time. Rotate them on subsequent days. All of these exercises should be done on a firm but soft surface, like a yoga mat or carpet. If you feel any pain, stop immediately.
Drew Morales is a Certified Journeyman Farrier from Tucson, Ariz. He enjoys learning and shoeing with farriers he meets while in the United States Army.