HN contributor Biz Stamm guides us through a series of simple yoga poses that could make a big difference in your position.
Let’s face it. For most of us, good equitation doesn’t come naturally. I bet you’ve all had those lessons where after an exhausting hour of contorting your body into the “correct” position, you think to yourself, “how am I suppose to do this ALL THE TIME!?” Well, after some investigating, I’ve discovered that this so-called “correct” position isn’t just some cruel joke, but is actually correct for many reasons (a story for another day).
Here’s the good news. There are some things you can do to make achieving good equitation a less torturous task. Recently, I have taken up yoga to address my own awkwardness in the saddle, and despite my new found awkwardness on the yoga mat, I think it’s working. Not only am I stronger, more flexible, and more focused, but there are certain poses that seem like they were designed for us equitaionally challenged riders.
No yoga pants? No problem! Last time I checked, most breeches were pretty stretchy, and your horse’s blanket can make for a killer yoga mat. Here are a few poses performed in a flow that address some of the position problems that drive our instructors crazy.
The position flaw: Chair seat
Your horse will be the first to tell you he is not a chair, and sitting on him like he is one will do nothing good for your balance. Generally the classic “chair seat” position is the product of tight hip flexors, and can be fixed by stretching them out. It can also be caused by an ill-fitting saddle, so be sure to investigate that possibility as well.
The pose to fix it: Cobra
Lay face down on the floor and place your hands next to your shoulders. Press your chest and shoulder up until your arms are straight while keeping your hips on the floor. Really focus on pressing your hips towards the floor, but don’t stretch to the point that you’re uncomfortable. Hold the pose for at least three long, slow breaths, but feel free to hold it as long as it feels comfortable.
The position flaw: Weak core/sloppy seat
I know at one point or another you’ve all been told to pretend like your midsection is a sack of potatoes or bowl of jelly in order to sit the trot. Well I hate to say it. You were lied to. Your instructor was probably just looking out for the well being of her lesson horses’ backs, but at the expense of your sitting trot.
The pose to fix it: Plank
Disclaimer! The sitting trot is far too complex to fix with one single exercise, but strengthening your core is a giant step in the right direction.
From the upward facing dog pose, tuck your toes under your feet, and lift your hips so that they are in line with your back and legs. You should feel your abdominals contract. Hold this pose as long as you can. Yes it’s hard. Yes, you’ll probably start shaking about 10 seconds in, but power through!
The position flaw: Heels up
This flaw is the bane of all riding instructors’ existence. They can’t actually enjoy screaming “HEELS DOWN!” all the time. Can they? The only one who hates this position flaw more than your instructor is your horse, who constantly has your heel, or worse yet, spur, in his side.
The pose to fix it: Downward facing dog
From the plank pose, lift your hips up and shift your weight backwards so that your heels are pressing down towards the floor. If you can make them touch the floor, fantastic. If you can’t, it’s no big deal. You should feel the stretch through the back of your legs and if your lower back is tight, you’ll feel it there too. Hold this pose for at least three breaths, or as long as is comfortable.
These poses are not an instant fix by any means, but over time can really help to improve your equitation. I hope this has been useful and can make future equitation lessons a little less painful.
About Elizabeth (Biz) Stamm: I’m originally from Hudson, NH, now living in Corvallis, OR. I started riding lessons at the age of 6 years old when the Dr. recommended that it may help with my bad balance and lack of coordination. While I am fairly coordinated and balanced on a horse these days, I’m still somewhat of a mess on my own two feet.
Since that first lesson, I have become absolutely horse obsessed. I live, sleep, dream, and breath horses. I have dabbled in eventing and hunter/jumpers in the past, but am now a dressage queen wannabe. Despite my fascination with the often elitist sport of dressage, I am usually attracted to horses that would be considered misfits by most. While in high school, I worked at an OTTB rescue, and while in college, I spent my summers at a mustang rescue starting wild horses under saddle. I am a bit of a misfit myself, so there is something incredibly relatable about these horses to me. I recently purchased a kiger mustang (a type of mustang with strong genetic ties to baroque breeds) weanling that I plan on bringing along as my next competitive mount. He is amazing and I have no doubt that he can go FEI:-)
I have tried out a careers in science and academia, and though I am a self-proclaimed science nerd, I have discovered that the only way I can tolerate any type of job is if horses are involved. In September I launched Stamm Sport Horse, and have begun training professionally. My main focus is on dressage, but since I am in OR, it’s not unusual that I’ll find myself with a training horse that will go on to compete in western pleasure, cutting, or reining. It really doesn’t matter to me since I’m yet to find a horse I don’t like and they all teach me new things.