Thanks for your great service!
I have a rather delicate question for you that I'm sure other folks have had to deal with. I recently bought a horse after not riding much for nearly 20 years. I have a mild case of hemorrhoids, and sometimes riding seems to exacerbate it. Also, I tend to get rubbed raw (fortunately fairly mildly) in various parts of my seat, which never happened in my younger days. Is there anything I can do to prevent this discomfort? I am taking lessons and getting a more solid seat, and I also have taken to putting Vaseline on the most likely areas to rub before I ride, but is there any sort of underwear or breeches (or anything else) that might help prevent this problem?
First, check your saddle! I find that a great many riders are trying to cram themselves into too-small saddles, and experiencing a great deal of rubbing and pain as a result. You should have enough room in your saddle to let you sit in the deepest part of the seat (that should be the middle - if it isn't, then something is wrong). You should have room to put a flat hand between your crotch and the pommel, and room to put a flat hand between your backside and the cantle.
If you are satisfied that the seat is large enough, check the position of the seams and the location of your seatbones. If they match perfectly, you're going to be uncomfortable. Largely because of pelvic conformation, some riders can be comfortable only in a saddle with a wider twist, some - usually female riders - can be comfortable only in a saddle with a narrow twist. Other factors that affect a rider's comfort are hip and femur position, roundness of thigh, and - yes, really - tightness of riding pants.
If your saddle fits and suits you very well, but you are still uncomfortable, you may want to look at your riding style. If you find that you are sitting hard on just your seatbones, or that you are putting more weight on the back edges of your seatbones, you should spend as much time as possible in a half-seat until your riding position is more balanced. Remember, it's not a sitting position, but a standing one - if the horse were to disappear suddenly, you should land on your feet, not on your face or your back.
If your position is already good, that is to say that you are balanced on your crotch and seatbones, with some of your weight resting there and the rest carried by your thighs, then it's time to start investigating the possibility of padding either your breeches or your saddle.
Endurance riders know all about the various discomforts that can arise from long hours in the saddle, and stores that cater to endurance riders generally offer breeches and tights with built-in padding made from various materials. Gel and gelfoam padding can make an enormous difference to your comfort level. Shops catering to bicycle riders also have padded shorts and tights, but I would recommend investigating the endurance riders' catalogues first. Padding designed for horseback riding is more likely to cover all the vital areas.
If you'd prefer to pad the saddle, look at just about any major tack catalogue. You'll find various types of fleece, foam, and gel pads that fasten to the saddle seat and provide additional cushioning. Of these, the gel pads are probably the most effective. Note to Western riders: These pads aren't just for "English" riding - they also exist in models made to fit Western saddles.
If chafing is the problem, there are also products such as "Bodyglide" that may help in the short term. I know that Dressage Extensions carries this, and I'm sure that many other catalog companies do too. Less expensive alternatives are Bag Balm and Chamois Butt'r, both popular with many riders (of horses and bicycles!). All of these lubricants serve to cut down on friction and possible chafing. Some riders dislike these sorts of lubricants, and prefer to use powder - baby powder, cornstarch, talc, or some of the lighter medicated body powders that are available everywhere.
Good lessons are your best long-term investment - you're right about that! But in the meantime, try some of the above-mentioned options. You'll learn better and more quickly if you can relax in your saddle and not tense against pain.
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