Question: After riding my hands ache terribly. This is worse on long rides and if the weather is cold. Can anything be done? Gloves don’t seem to help much.

Answer: Equestrian hand problems are some of the most fascinating that I encounter in Equestrian Medicine. Osteoarthritis (wear and tear arthritis) is the most common, followed by carpal tunnel syndrome. Rheumatoid arthritis and carpal-metacarpal arthritis bring up the rear about equally. All of these have a loss of hand, and particularly finger, flexibility. If you think of a fully extended finger as 180 degrees, and a fully flexed finger as 0 degrees, in theory, our fingers function well from about 150 to 30 degrees when we’re young. This range of motion decreases as we age, and the buildup of those annoying arthritic lumps and bumps provide resistance to effective finger function. This resistance produces the cramping and finger fatigue experienced by middle-aged riders.

When you can no longer move your fingers down to the reins to grip them effectively, you need to move the reins up to your fingers so they can function within their effective range. Within reason, the larger the rein, the more effective the grip. Barrel racers have known this for years. They live in mortal fear of losing a rein, so they have generally gone to the thicker reins covered by a nonslip surface material. These were subsequently adopted by eventers and endurance riders, who noted less hand fatigue. Thick braided cotton reins are better than ordinary reins, but accumulate dirt quickly and don’t have the nonslip surface. Thin reins with a nonslip surface are available for show type situations. Reins in large and smaller sizes with nonslip surfaces are inexpensive and readily available through ThinLine, which holds the patent on the nonslip surface material. The combination of a larger rein with a nonslip surface is the first step in eliminating riders’ hand problems caused by fatigue.