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Protect Your Back! Injury Prevention for Horse Owners.

Know your physical limits and use the right tools to get the job done.
by Karen Elizabeth Baril

As horse owners, we do a lot of lifting, bending, and twisting, all of which are hard on our backs. In fact, back, hip, and knee pain are the leading health challenges of horse and farm owners. That’s worrisome, because if that nagging ache turns into a full-blown back injury, who will do the farm chores? It’s a rare friend who can take on that challenge for long.
Even if you’re fairly fit, years of lifting forty to fifty pound bales of hay, lugging water buckets, and pushing heavy wheelbarrows takes a toll on your body. When it comes to back health, an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure. Here are three tips to keep your back strong.

Develop core stability.
We’ve all heard that core strength is paramount to keeping your back healthy and strong, but core strength is not easy to define and the rules are changing. We’ve been taught that the elusive ‘six-pack abs’ are the be all and end all, physical therapists, yoga practitioners, and movement specialists frown on that goal.

The core muscle group consists of the transverse abdominals, the multifidus, the diaphragm, and the muscles of the pelvic floor. These are the muscles that act as stabilizers to the rest of the body. They provide balance and if they’re strong, they naturally promote good posture. The core muscles also help to transfer force during dynamic movements like lifting a muck bucket, sweeping the barn aisle, and even riding your horse.

Most core muscle workouts focus on planks, crunches, and sit-ups to strengthen the muscles and offer definition. The problem with many of these exercises is that simply contracting and holding the muscle tends to decrease flexibility and can even make injury more likely. In patients who do excessive abdominal crunches, therapists report a marked decrease in freedom of movement and even more worrisome, a flattening of the lumbar curve. That’s a serious problem for dynamic movement.

The jury is in; six-pack abs look fantastic, but they aren’t all that practical in real life. That’s good news. Chances are, if you’re over thirty years of age, six-pack abs are going to elude you. It’s natural to carry a little fat around  your abdomen. While excessive belly fat is unhealthy, a little layer of fat is perfectly normal. Instead of focusing on an ultra-thin and flat belly, fitness experts tell us we should strengthen and preserve the flexibility of the core muscles.

The way to achieve this is to diversify your work-out routine. While the planks and crunches can be beneficial, for farm owners and those who ride, it’s better to work your muscles in ways that mimic dynamic strength. Balance balls are a great tool as is yoga, Pilates, dance, or any somatic training like Judo, Tai Chi, or the Feldenkrais Method. All of these strengthen and balance the core muscles.

Lift Smart
Prevent muscle, disc, and joint injuries by learning how to lift smart. Instead of simply bending the knees when lifting (which does not always protect the back), bend at the hips. When the hips are bent, the chest naturally juts forward a bit and helps to stabilize and balance your body as you lift that bale of hay. Keep the weight close to your body at all times and engage your quadriceps as well. 
Stay mindful of your movement awareness practice as you lift. When tossing a bale of hay, use momentum to your advantage. When performing chores like mucking stalls or raking the barn aisle, avoid leading with your shoulders. Instead, keep your shoulders and your hips in line and twist the entire torso in unison. 

Other tips include being aware of your posture throughout your day. Remain conscious of how everyday tasks like sitting, driving, computer work, and texting effect your posture. Take steps to improve your position as you perform these activities.

Know your physical limits and use the right tools to get the job done.
No-one would expect a plumber to fix a leaky faucet with a butter knife. By the same token you shouldn’t expect to complete your farm chores with sub-standard tools. The old adage, ‘use the right tool for the job’, rings true for the farm owner as well. In fact, using the right tools for the job makes good sense for your back. 
Automatic Horse Waterer
Automatic waterers are a great and innovative tool for farm owners. They eliminate the need to haul heavy water buckets in all seasons. Consider that a 5-gallon bucket of water weighs a little over 40-pounds. A bucket of water in each hand means you’re placing an 80-pound load on your shoulders, arms, neck, and back. Maybe it doesn’t hurt today, but you could face some long-term degradation of muscle and bone over time. That’s where the automatic waterers come in.

Choose units that are made of a heavy-duty polyethylene for durability and equipped with drain plugs for easy cleaning. For outside water options, we like the Drinking Post Waterer which operates identical to a hydrant. The unit allows access to clean 50 water year round and never freezes. In addition to saving your back, the Drinking Post Waterer eliminates all that standing water we get from troughs and water buckets which decreases the risk of West Nile Virus.

The best investment you can make to your back health on the farm is a good wheelbarrow. Old style wheelbarrows put tremendous strain on your back, especially as you struggle to empty the load. Electric wheelbarrows get the job done far more efficiently and while they do represent a financial investment, they’re worth their weight in gold, especially when weighed against the cost of a single back injury.  Move bags of feed, bedding, dirt, fence posts, whatever the need with ease.
Overland Cart Electric Wheelbarrow

We like the Overland Cart Electric Wheelbarrow which has a hinged hopper so dumping is easy. Better yet, a single overnight charge offers enough power to keep the wheelbarrow going all day. It’s easy to maneuver and can fit in tight spaces that won’t accommodate a tractor. In fact, this wheelbarrow is like having a tiny tractor at your fingertips. You can haul far more in a single trip and they’re easy to maneuver even in tight spaces and on an incline.

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