Book Review: ‘The Rider’s Pain-Free Back’

Or “Loving to Ride Doesn’t Need to Hurt.” By James Warson, MD.

Photo courtesy of Trafalgar Square Books

The updated issue (2007, revised 2018) of The Rider’s Pain-Free Back is a useful addition to a rider’s resource library. James Warson, MD focuses on the premise that horse riders are athletes. Whatever the age and level of rider, approaching our time in the saddle with an athlete’s knowledge and discipline can help us escape and/or alleviate back pain. I’ve added his “pre and post-ride” Spider Crawl to my barn routine.

I’m biased. I bought into the credo of “exercise with intention” during my Aerobic Class epoch in the 1980’s. I approach riding with the same resolute intention. My goal is the symphony of human/horse movement. This means I must understand how my body works and how it works with/on a horse. Dr. Warson uses the word “synchronize.” He guides the reader toward synchronizing your body and synchronizing your rider’s body with your horse. I like his focus on approaching riding with purpose as opposed to “winging it” survival.

The Physiology-geek readers will eat up the detailed chapters on the human body. I skimmed through enough to satisfy my curiosity related to my fragile lower back (lumbar), occasional sciatica and two hip replacements.


  • You got a sore something? Many of us do so you’ll find causes and solutions in the book.
  • Are you an older rider (or plan to be)? I squinted through the chapter on the aging back and how to help relieve pain and ways to escape further pain. I took a yellow marker to several exercises.
  • Have or will face a hip or knee replacement? I found a few targeted exercises that have not been part of my routine. That said, I have two hip replacements and I ride. I question a couple of Dr. Warson’s comments/suggestions. If that chapter was not updated, much has changed and improved in hip surgery since 2007. Recovery is vastly different between anterior and posterior surgery. Dr. Warson does not state how long after surgery the rider resumed riding. His “side of the horse” mounting suggestion may hinge on information not stated in the book. My 70 year old friend — who rides western — with bad knees — uses a swivel stirrup.
  • Dr. Warson threads the book with warnings/recommendations to discuss your issues and goals with a qualified physician who understands the mind and body of an equestrian athlete.

The value of this book depends on whether the reader/rider believes she is an athlete and is interested in approaching her riding as an athlete. Those who don’t hurt now, don’t believe they will ever hurt and just want to yeehaw their time in the saddle “’cuz I’m gonna be young forever” may not find this book useful . . . now. Ha! Just wait.

The Rider’s Pain-Free Back is of use to me. I am dedicated to be the best partner for my horse that I can. If you want to learn to improve the care of your body so you can continue to ride into older age — are willing to do the work – are willing to adjust expectations as you age (and are happy to ask one of the younger riders to clean back feet for you because bending, twisting and holding the weight of a hoof just doesn’t work on your back anymore), you’ll find Dr. Warson’s book useful.

You can purchase The Rider’s Pain-Free Back here.