Riding Dressage with a Labral Tear, Part 2

When we last left my labral tear journey retelling, I'd just started with my new physical therapist. I wasn't expecting major changes with this therapist, but she really surprised me. The initial work was very similar to the first round of therapy I had done. However once I started opening up, we realized how much this injury was tied into my riding issues and overall balance.
It's basically making me ride like I'm a contortionist.
I started analyzing my rides from a physical therapy standpoint. Mid-canter I'd find myself activating different muscles to try to solve my leaning problems, or keep my right hip from tipping off level. I began bringing this insight back to my therapist, along with photos and videos both recent and from riding Pig in his "prime".
Look at that hip do it's thing. Sorta. Kinda. Mostly held up by abs and tight psoas.
This process took a bit of a mental shift. Instead of feeling out of place in physical therapy (where the focus was on being able to stand, walk, do the dishes, shower normally, etc.), I started considering riding part of my normal daily activity. With this in mind, I felt empowered to demand changes at a larger scale than I did before. Sure, I could stand and wash dishes like a normal person, but why couldn't I keep my hip from pulling me off the right side of my horse? Why were my right stirrup leathers constantly stretched out? Why was my horse coming up with unexplained NQR inconsistencies in the same areas? Why couldn’t I turn my horses left without my reins or get a left hand shoulder in?
Why was I always falling off to the right?

My therapist rose to the occasion. She started pulling exercises out every session that were more and more creative and challenging, each one teaching me something new about how my body was compensating for my longterm injury. She had me doing things like kneeling on a balance ball while doing resistance twists, planks while sliding my feet in patterns, and flattening my back on the floor while holding a ball in the air and stretching alternating legs and arms out.

All of this taught me my hip was fundamentally unstable. My coping mechanism has been to hold my tension in my shoulder and upper back to keep my balance. My psoas do get tight easily, which causes my hip to be pulled out of alignment more easily. The entire joint is weak, and when I'm relaxed it drops on the side with the injury. I must constantly be aware of the flatness of my back on both sides, and think of pushing my right hip up and forward.

My whole experience with this process has given me back my athletic ability. I can lift again. I can run again. I can ride my horse effectively again. However, I am coming to the realization that this injury is never going away. The labrum of the hip protects and stabilizes the entire joint, without it intact my right hip joint is wobbly. The joint seems to be causing more problems as the years pass, which does not bode well for my future. Surgery is probably in the cards.
Can't we just gallop away from this sort of problem?
Research into hip labral tears is making it clear to me that there will be continued degradation of my hip. The lack of stability that I feel is quite common, and dressage riding's requirements makes that instability more obvious. The joint itself will break down without the cushion provided by the labrum. Further imaging or arthroscopic surgery will be needed to make this issue less of a problem. Unfortunately the length of time since the original injury may mean I'll be forever planking in an effort to just hold my hips even.

I'm still coming to terms with all this and deciding how to proceed. In the meantime, I'm so excited to be able to ride my horse without screwing him up with my own issues. At least most of the time. I'm so thankful that my time with this therapist has lead to understanding my own issues in such a useful way. It's pretty magical, actually.


  1. I ride with a woman who has a labral tear in her hip. She is in quite a bit of pain with it. It affects her job as well (let's say she's a dancer). She hasn't been riding much as of late so I don't know how she is doing, but I believe that she is anticipating that she will have surgery.
    Good luck with your injury. Have you looked into what other's who have had the surgery have said about the results?

  2. So glad you're regaining your athleticism and are able to pursue your passions again without pain! Bummer that surgery will likely happen though. Hopefully it's a ways away...

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  4. This is the second time ( in what, a week?) it feels like you are in my brain.
    I have similar issues, without the tear. I've been (its been a year probably) seeing a personal trainer that focuses more on correcting our issues and trained with physio therapists, and she sounds very similar to your physio therapist. She's also a dressage rider.
    It makes a world of difference when I actually do all of my exercises. Starting up yoga has also made me much more aware of my body. Hopefully we both get all the things worked out in us to help our ponies!

  5. I also ride with a woman who has issues with a labral tear in her hip, she recently shared this article on FB. I thought you might find it interesting.


    Sorry - I had to fix the link

  6. I'm really glad you pursued additional physical therapy. When my husband first did PT for his back, it was basically useless. It wasn't until we found the right PT and exercises that he started to see results. It's a bummer that not all PTs have the education to help all injuries, but they CAN be great

  7. That is so awesome you found a great PT! I mean it does suck that you might possibly need hip surgery but I think at some point we'll all need bionic parts lol


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