But Daddy, it hurts!

That's a five year old DEB complaining really quite vociferously that her bottom is hurting. No, she hasn't been naughty and she hasn't been smacked. She has saddle sore. She is stiff and aching and there are small patches of abraded skin, too. She has it because she has been riding for what feels like forever, to her five year old brain at least, but is probably a few hours. The bad news is that it's going to hurt. The good news is that she'll get over it.

Ask any cyclist or horse rider and they will regale you with horror stories of their saddle sore. It's a fact of riding life.

Saddle sore has two interpretations: neither is pleasant but one is definitely worse than the other. Both can—and probably will—afflict you, whether your saddle is of the bi-wheeled or equine variety.

Stiff, sore, and achey

We'll ease you into things and start with the more common, less severe form of saddle sore. It's stiff, sore, acheyness that will leave your upper thigh muscles so tight that they'll feel as if they're burning and your bottom will be excruciatingly tender and delicate. You will tumble out of the saddle and curse having to walk, but sitting down doesn't present itself as an option, either. But if you think it's bad immediately after your ride, wait until the next morning. Then you'll know you've been hit by saddle sore.

This sort of saddle sore is what you'll experience after your first long ride. You will have used muscles that you don't normally use; you will have been sitting in an unusual position for a prolonged period of time; and you will have been bounced around in the saddle. All of this is going to leave you feeling a bit roughed-up. And indeed, even experienced riders might feel miserable after an especially long ride, or after getting back in the saddle after some time off, or after a ride over difficult terrain. (Tentative reminds me that if you ride bare-back for a bit and aren't used to it, you'll feel, ehm, saddle sore afterwards.)

So what should you do about it? The long-term answer is the most painful one: keep riding. The more that you ride, that you use your muscles, that you sit in the saddle, the more accustomed and hardened you'll grow. Yes, it will hurt, but it will get better. In the short-term, try taking a warm bath as soon as you can. If there's someone around who is friendly enough to massage your thighs, do that, too. And then, go for a walk. I'm not suggesting that you hike over hill and dale, just keep moving enough to stop your muscles from seizing.

And remember: it will get better.

Abrasion and infection

Now on to the nastier form of saddle sore: abraded skin. Unless you ride very long distances, you're less likely to suffer from it. But anyway. You're sitting in a saddle. Things are going to rub and chafe, and the friction will be increased when you sweat, too. Not only will you have abraded skin, you will have abraded skin that is open to perspiration and bacteria and potential infection. What might start out as a bit of rubbed skin can become infected, inflamed pustules. Yeah. Ick.

Unsurprisingly, the long-term answer to this is also to keep riding. The more that you ride, the tougher you'll become. But even then, riders who seem to be made of nails can still succumb to throbbing, oozing saddle sore. Sean Kelly quit the 1987 Vuelta a Espana two days from the finish, when he was leading, because of it. So, what to do?

First, take a look at your saddle. Is it comfortable? Does it suit the kind of riding that you do? If I ride a horse, I have to use a European saddle; Western saddles leave me sore. The saddle on my bike isn't the one it came with because I wanted something a bit different. When you're on a bike, check the angle of your seat and your handlebars, and make sure that your seat is neither too high nor too low. It might take a bit of adjustment but you should find a position that reduces the number of pressure points between your bottom and your saddle.

Next, wear the right clothes. Make sure that there aren't any seams sitting between your skin and your saddle. You want proper cycling shorts if you're on a bike or jodhpurs if you're on a horse. (Yes, some people do ride in jeans; I wouldn't recommend it if you're doing anything long-distance.) Seams mean rubbing; rubbing means abrasion; abrasion means soreness and possibly infection.

Third, reduce the friction between your skin and the saddle. Talcum powder will absorb any excess moisture, whilst using a good chamois and chamois cream in your cycling shorts will do wonders on a long ride to make sure that everything stays slidy-smooth.

Fourth, stand up in the saddle every now and again. Someone asked me recently why I stand to canter; there are two parts to the answer, but the one that's relevant here is that I find it more comfortable. I'm not suggesting that you should always stand to canter, too, but every now and again, it'll provide a bit of relief for your bottom. When you're on a bike, stand to go over bumpy bits in the road, get your bottom out of the seat when you're whizzing downhill, and think about standing for a bit going uphill, too.

And then, keep everything clean. As soon as you can after you dismount, take a shower. Launder your riding clothes between outings and make sure that they are properly dry. You want to reduce the opportunity for infection that even slightly sore skin has.

Finally, if you do get some saddle sore, keep it clean and dry, and think about not riding for a few days if that's possible. Daddy DEB recommends the application of surgical spirit to saddle sore. It keeps it clean and helps to harden the skin. Having been on the receiving end of such treatment, five year old DEB most certainly can vouch for its efficacy; meanwhile, the memory of it still brings tears to a 30 year old DEB's eyes.

Remember: it will get better.

Dolly, if you want to ride, it's got to be the surgical spirit.

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