Bra-vo: They’ve discovered why women riders are saddled with pain

The dressage at Yorkshire's 
Bramham International Horse Trials.
The dressage at Yorkshire's Bramham International Horse Trials.
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THE PERFORMANCE of female horse-riders is being affected by breast pain because of ill-fitting bras, according to new research.

A survey carried out by the University of Portsmouth and Sparsholt College Hampshire found that 40% of women experienced breast pain while riding.

The report found that breast pain was experienced most frequently during the sitting trot, and that 21% of participants with symptoms reported that breast pain affected their riding performance.

The trot and canter involve large vertical movements of the horse’s body, requiring considerable effort by the rider to maintain postural stability.

Dr Jenny Burbage, of the university’s department of sport and exercise science, said: “For female horse-riders, breast pain, bra issues and having large breasts may be important concerns which have yet to be considered.

“Previous studies have investigated breast pain and bra issues in the general population and a marathon-running population, but this is the first time research has investigated a horse-riding population.

“Breast pain, breast size and bra issues can impact upon the performance, health and well-being of women and should be investigated, as they can be a barrier to participation in physical activity.”

The authors said educational initiatives are needed to ensure female horse-riders are informed about appropriate bra fit.

Dr Burbage said: “A correctly fitting bra for exercise is essential, as an incorrect fit can contribute to upper body musculoskeletal problems, poor posture and deep bra furrows in the shoulder caused by excessive strap pressure.

“It is particularly important for women with large breasts to wear a well-fitted and supportive bra, as insufficient support for large breasts can also lead to upper body pain and poor posture, yet they are more likely to have an incorrect fit.”

A correctly fitting supportive bra would be of benefit not just to the rider, the authors believe. A previous study has shown that horse heart rate increases as a direct response to tension in the handler or rider.

Co-author Lorna Cameron said: “Bra issues such as poor fit or insufficient support for larger-breasted riders may negatively affect rider posture, which has implications for dressage performance, as the horse is trained to respond to subtle cues and maintaining a relaxed and upright riding posture can be crucial.”

More than half of the riders who complained of breast pain said the severity was discomforting, with 8% describing it as “distressing, horrible or excruciating”.

Although sports bras were the most frequent type of bra worn for horse-riding, only 14% of small-breasted riders and 19% of large-breasted riders opted to exclusively wear a sports bra when they rode a horse.

Dr Burbage said: “Perhaps this is due to the vast majority of sports bras available for purchase being marketed towards runners, leading to the perception that sports bra use during other sports such as horse-riding is not important.”