Are you an Equestrian struggling with shoulder, neck or back pain? Did you know that Physical Therapists work with Equestrians who compete in the sport of Dressage? Meet Emma Grace, a young Equestrian and client at One on One PT, who struggled while riding her horse. Read about the amazing journey how Physical Therapist, Chloe Murdock, helped this Equestrian get back to competition.

Emma Grace first arrived at One on One PT because she was being deducted points in her dressage competitions for asymmetrical shoulder posture. Her mother was initially unaware that Physical Therapy (PT) could improve her daughter’s posture. She was under the impression that PT was only for treating injuries. Physical Therapists are movement specialists. We are able to identify why someone is injured and their injury risk. In Emma Grace’s case, the chronic headaches and low back pain she experienced were related to her posture. Her postural asymmetries were a clear indication that she had some muscular imbalances that we needed to address in PT.

Equestrian riding horseWhat is Dressage? 

Dressage is a classic form of horseback training that involves the performance and demonstration of specific skills in front of a judge. Riders are judged on their horse’s execution of these movements and the rider’s physical appearance and control on the horse. Emma Grace was struggling to keep her right shoulder from elevating toward her ear, giving her a lopsided appearance. When we dug a little deeper in her physical therapy evaluation, we found that Emma Grace’s right shoulder blade muscles, her left hip stabilizers, and her deep core muscles were all weak, which were contributing to her compensatory posture and asymmetry when riding.

When I began working with Emma Grace two years ago, I knew nothing about the sport of Dressage. Riding a horse was very different than riding my bicycle. I was not an Equestrian rider and I didn’t understand the skills that an equestrian had to perform or the training involved. I visited Emma Grace’s barn to see her in action. Her trainer was eager to collaborate and welcomed me to their barn where she talked me through a training session in the ring.  Seeing Emma Grace work through her skills was extremely valuable for our treatment plan. At the end of Emma Grace’s training session, I got the opportunity to ride her horse, Whiskey. It became abundantly clear to me how important the synergy between mobility, stability, and strength are in Dressage.

Making Progress

Feeding a horseEmma Grace showed great progress in PT.  She got stronger, her headaches resolved, her posture improved, and she performed better with the challenges I placed on her. Emma Grace was happy with the goals we had achieved thus far, but we wanted to take it a step further. As we continued to monitor Emma Grace’s progress, we also began to follow how her horse was performing.

As Emma Grace got stronger and her postured improved, her horse responded differently to the cues given. Whiskey was breaking some of his bad habits. Emma Grace’s asymmetries were not only hurting her, but they were hurting her horse as well! A recent study showed that novice and intermediate Dressage riders absorb shock only through their lumbar spine (lower back), rather than through their hips and pelvis, which puts both the rider and horse at risk for back pain. I have immense respect for this unique sport where the athlete is responsible for their health and the health and performance of their horse. 

Learning From an Equestrian

Working with Emma Grace has been rewarding in many ways. She has introduced me to a new sport. Her family and trainer have welcomed me to her training sessions and competitions.  Through these exposures to Dressage, this family has gifted me with the tools to help other riders. More importantly, I’ve seen a young woman mature over the last two years. She has taken responsibility for her health, training, and her sport, and has excelled. She has transitioned to private Pilates sessions to maintain the gains achieved in PT. Emma Grace will finish high school remotely in order to dedicate more time to her sport. I can’t wait to see how far this Equestrian can go! 

Chloe Murdock, PT, DPT, OCS, CSCS is a Board Certified Orthopaedic Clinical Specialist and pelvic health physical therapist, treating patients at One on One Physical Therapy. She is a Slowtwitch (FIST) certified bike fitter and works at Podium Multisport in Atlanta. Chloe integrates her background in strength training, program development, and various manual therapy approaches into her treatment of active patients of all ability levels. Chloe can be reached at