As horse owners, we spend a lot of time thinking about our horses’ fitness and well-being, but how much time do we really spend focusing on our own fitness? The answer is likely not enough. Here are four stretches every rider should be doing to improve their riding.
As equestrians, we focus on our horse’s fitness and nutrition (and by “focus on,” we really mean obsess over), but we have a tendency to neglect our own. This is true for everything from a balanced diet to an appropriate warm up.
When it comes to warming up specifically, we try to do a good job of getting our horses to loosen up their muscles and stretch their bodies before asking them to perform. But what about ourselves? How often do we stretch before getting on our horses or work to keep ourselves flexible and loose?
However, by neglecting our own flexibility, we are doing ourselves – and our horses! – quite the disservice. Our sport is one that requires flexibility in very specific joints and muscles, and the ability to tighten and engage other. Therefore, it’s imperative that we work to stretch and build flexibility in ways that will help us in the saddle.
Specifically, riders often need to focus on their hamstrings, hip flexors, lower back and heels and ankles. So here are four stretches that will help you move more fluidly with your horse, sit in better alignment and improve your overall equitation, according to FEI.
1. Hip Flexor Lunge Stretch
Combating tightness in the hip flexors can help you to achieve a relaxed and independent seat (and make getting on your horse a lot easier). Riders who are stiff in the hip flexors can be very stiff and tight in the saddle, making seat and leg cues hard to execute.
Done correctly, the following stretch will loosen up those hip flexors:
- Start by kneeling down with your back straight
- Bring your right leg forward until your knee is bent at 90 degrees and is in line with your ankle, in a “lunge” position on your knees
- Sink your hips towards the ground while keeping them facing forward
- For additional benefits, stretch up towards the ceiling with the opposite arm to the leg that is outstretched in front of you (the left arm, in the above example)
2. Supine Spinal Twist
Lower back pain and stiffness is a common complaint in horse riders. The lower back works hard to stabilize you in the saddle and is crucial in maintaining correct alignment, so it’s important that your back is both strong and supple enough to handle it. Riders will often find that their back takes more strain in sitting trot or when doing lots of canter work, which both require a lot of mobility in the area.
This stretch can help to improve mobility and to help ease lower back pain. You’ll feel the stretch working in your back, but likely also in your hamstrings and glutes.
- Lie on your back with your legs flat
- Bend your left knee and raise it towards your chest, then reach across with your right hand to hold your knee
- Stretch your left arm out straight to the side
- Still keeping your right hand on your (left) knee, drop your left knee to the right side of your body, while keeping your shoulders straight and your back flat
3. Downward Dog Calf and Ankle Stretch
Stretching your calves and ankles helps riders to achieve a “longer” leg and an elegant look in the saddle. However, it’s also useful for riders who jump as the ankle and calf need to sink down and absorb the movement of the horse’s jump over fences. Plus, riding with short stirrups can make your calves and ankles tight from strain.
This stretch will help to keep you supple, still, and relaxed in your lower leg. Yep, it’s the good old downward dog!
- Stand upright, and then fold at the hip, putting your hands on the ground
- You should make an inverted V with hands and feet on the ground and your hips in the air
- Bend one knee, and push the opposite heel to the ground to feel the stretch in your calf and ankle
4. Door Frame Shoulder Stretch
Poor posture and hunched shoulders are certain to affect your equitation. Not only does it take away from the overall look, but also it makes you less effective in the saddle.You’re likely to round your back if your shoulders are rolled forward, which makes it harder to apply your seat aids correctly. Rounded shoulders will also make your arms stiffer, so you won’t be able to create that soft, elastic contact we’re all striving for. To get those shoulders back and your chest open, try this stretch:
- Find a door frame and stand in the middle with the door open.
- Put each hand on the side of the door frame, just above head height
- Take a step forward with one foot into a very slight lunge, while keeping your hands on the frame
- Alternatively, you can keep your feet where they are and just gently lean forward into the stretch, making sure not to arch your back
- You should feel the stretch open up your chest, shoulders, and upper back
Stretching regularly with a focus on your riding is a great way to improve your riding. As top riders will tell you, you need to be just as much an athlete as your horse, so it’s important to start treating yourself like one.
Stay fit and go riding!