Equestrian Athlete Performance Program

Jennifer Mitchell, PT, Cert DN USEF Certified HSSM Practitioner


I wanted to share some information regarding a great program that you may or may not be aware of. As a physical therapist of 22 years, and an equestrian athlete myself, I was excited to be chosen to attend a certification program thru the US Equestrian Federation in Gladstone, New Jersey last May. USEF High Performance Programs has implemented a Human Sports Science Program, in order to be able to better serve their performance athletes (riders=equestrian athletes). The course was taught by Team Great Britain and USA physiotherapist Andy Thomas, PT, at the US Equestrian Team Headquarters in Gladstone, New Jersey. Ten physical therapists nation-wide were chosen for the May certification program (I was honored to be one); after the certification course, completing SafeSport training thru Team USA, and receiving clearance from the US Olympic Committee, I am now a USEF Certified Human Sports Science Medicine Practitioner!

So what does that mean? As well as offering direct physical therapy treatment in my Falmouth, Maine clinic to equestrian athletes who are injured, I am offering on site (at the farm) rider assessments, treatment, and comprehensive program development to riders who are looking to enhance their performance in the saddle. Just as we would assess a runner, cyclist, or throwing athlete to enhance performance, equestrian athletes benefit from ridden assessments—assessment of balance and asymmetries while on the horse. These rider asymmetries directly impact performance in the saddle, and impact the performance of the horse in the area. If the rider is not symmetric and balanced, the horse will not be either…

So how does it work? I currently travel to farms in Maine, upon request, and perform individual assessments on riders. Each session lasts about an hour, and consists of a 10-15 minute ridden assessment (rider on their own horse), followed by a table (clinical) assessment of rider asymmetries (mobility, strength, flexibility, posture, etc). Each rider is then treated with manual therapy and facilitative exercise (based on their individual assessment). After treatment, I like to have each rider get back in the saddle to ride and see the difference in their performance and feeling of symmetry in the saddle. I also instruct each rider in an individual home program, based on their assessment. The session as a whole lasts about an hour.