My ankles are killing me!
Hi everyone. I have a bit of an annoying problem, but let me give yall some background before I get into it.
I work at a trail riding facility in Texas, and we get a ton of tourists and kids' birthday parties all the time... part of my job is to go out on the trails with the group as a "wrangler", a sort of hands-on, real-time coach to make sure everyone's doing what they should be doing. (How to cross a creekbed, watch out for that branch, don't let your horse snack, yadda yadda.)
Anyways, this puts me out riding for the majority of the day, and keeping my heels down is becoming super painful on my ankles. At first I thought my joints just weren't used to that kind of flexing, but it's been a few months since I started this job, and by now you'd expect my ankles to be in shape for it.
But they're not. It's mostly a tired, "please let me rest" type of pain, and it goes away within 30 minutes of getting off my horse.
My stirrup length is never a problem, I always adjust and readjust since they switch horses on me constantly. I have a hunch that this is probably a dietary thing, where I'm not eating enough of whatever oil or vitamin or mineral to keep those joints in tip-top shape.
Has this happened to anyone else? Am I doing something unconsciously with my leg that's contributing to the pain? Comments and suggestions would be awesome, please help me!
If you are comfortable riding without stirrups, just take your feet out at intermittent times, but make sure to remind everyone else its for experienced riders only :)
I agree taking your feet out of the stirrups will help. Rotate your ankles clockwise slowly and than counter clockwise slowly. When you put your feet back in your legs will feel longer or like someone has shortened your stirrups. Helps with keeping the heels down.
Taking your feet out of the stirrups and rotating your toes should help, but also keep in mind that you should not consciously be "holding" your heels down. The idea is that the weight of your leg resting in the stirrup and along the horse's side results in your heel sinking deep. This is most effective when your legs and your seat are relaxed. Your muscles should have nothing (or very very little) to do with maintaining the proper position.
Try lengthening your stirrups. I had my stirrups up just one hole higher for a while (it helps me feel secure on a new horse) and was experiencing some serious cramping in my ankles. When i lowered them, everything went back to normal. In shorter stirrups, your kinda forced to keep that heel down...when they are a tad longer you use them as they are to be used...light pressure and a slight slope. Also, what kind of boots do you ride in? I have weak ankles and have to ride in lace ups for the support. Regular pull on boots(ie cowboy boots) just dont offer much support. If none of these help, look into stirrup swivels for your saddle. It offers a bit of range of motion and can help with joint pain. A girlfriend swears by them for her knees. Good luck!
You may need more vitamin D or calcium, if you are looking for something vitamin wise that you may be lacking...a lack in either can cause joint troubles, and weakness.
Otherwise, I would try some of the suggestions the other posters put. I know for myself, I will take my feet out of the stirrups to rest my knees, especially. That little bit of a break can make a huge difference.
I remember clearly when I started riding 4 - 6 hours at a stretch how much my ankles hurt. For me the solution was good boots and light taping with ace bandages. At the time I was wearing cheap paddock boots; better options are Ariat boots (the lateral support is a huge help), Red Wing boots or an exercise rider's galloping boot (available at a racing speciality store.)
Agree with the other posters about stretching, not forcing the heel down, etc. Also make sure that you don't cock your foot or ankle to the outside - this is something I sometimes see in riders, and it can be extremely wearing when you're riding long distances.
Finally, consider getting yourself a set of distance or endurance riding stirrups that have some flex and give, or the English version, the Sprenger type jointed stirrup. Sounds like you change horses and perhaps tack through the day, but having the more forgiving stirrup on a couple of the horses you ride might make a difference.
I worked the same job you do - I worked there for 5 years, guiding trails all day long every day, and giving lessons in my little time to spare. It doesn't matter how much you've been riding, going out over and over and over again on those trails, not to mention the amount of up and down off your horse, your ankles would always hurt after a bit. Like others suggested, I would spend a good amount of the ride letting my feet dangle out of the stirrups, making sure the riders didn't follow suit. Another thing that helps is, often, you don't realize it but when you are in a hurry, you dismount hard on that leg, flying off the horse to go help the customers dismount, and that takes it toll as well. Practice dismounting quickly but still coming down easy on your joints, not throwing yourself off the horse. As Maura mentioned, good quality, ankle supporting boots are very important - these days I don't ride in anything but ariats.
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