Have you ever had one of those rides when you just felt a little “off”? Suppleness, core strength and breathing are only a few reasons as to why Yoga improves rider performance in the saddle. It demands poses which draw your attention to how your body works, and how to control the mechanisms of movement. By practicing yoga alongside your riding, you are improving your understanding of the muscles you use whilst riding, as well as prepping your mind and body with controlled breathing exercises. Our resident Yoga instructor/keen equestrian, Anna Hildreth demonstrates a few key stretches which will improve your riding posture and make you feel more in tune with your body and horse.
Cat and Cow Pose – for spinal flexibility and health
Improves spinal flexibility and suppleness, opening of the chest, throat and shoulders and joining of the breath with movement. Breathing calms the nervous system and promotes relaxation. A relaxed, calm mind in the rider promotes the same in the horse.
- Start on all fours in a neutral position with wrists, elbows and shoulders aligned and knees directly under hips
- On an inhale, create a concave spine (cow) by lifting the head and tilting the tailbone up
- On an exhale, press into hands and round the spine up to the sky, lowering the head and tucking the pelvis under
- Continue for 5 to 10 breaths
Dolphin pose – for upper body
The dolphin pose is a great full body stretch, lengthening the hamstrings, calves, shoulders and arches of the feet. It also aids in strengthening the arms, shoulders, upper back and legs.
- Start in the plank position with your wrists in aligned with your shoulders and your legs fully extended back. Move your hips up and back into a down dog
- Now, keeping your hips up, drop the elbows down, relax your head and draw the shoulders away from your ears
- Press your chest towards your thighs and focus on pushing your heels down to the ground
- Hold for 10 deep breaths.
High Plank Pose – for shoulders and core strength
The plank pose engages your entire core, it is excellent for equestrians as a strong core allows the rider to sit high and strong.
- Hold the position, supporting your body weight either on your elbows or on the palms of your hands with your arms fully extended (hands directly under your shoulders)
- Engage your entire body to maintain a straight line through your neck, back, hips and feet
- Hold for as long as you can.
Crescent Moon Pose – for hip (iliapsoas muscle) and chest (pectoralis major and minor) stretch
This back bend posture stretches the muscles at the front of the thighs, including the deep iliopsoas muscle, which is an area of tightness in many equestrians.
- Starting on the right side with your arms raised to shoulder height and parallel to the floor, step 3 to 4 feet with the right foot so your right foot is now facing the front of the room
- Check that your hips are square and facing the front of the room
- Draw your torso back and up so that your shoulders are over your hips.
Reversed Warrior Pose – strengthens and stretches
A great hip and inner thigh stretch, this also stretches the side body (quadratus lumborum and latissimus dorsi muscles) which get shortened and tight with horse-riding.
- Starting in Warrior II with the right knee bent, turn the palm of your right hand to face the ceiling.
- On an inhale lift your right arm up to the ceiling. At the same time lower your left hand and slide it down your left leg, or for a deeper stretch, reach around your back and rest your arm on your left thigh.
- Firm your shoulder blades on the back and lift your chest as you come into a gentle back bend. Look to your raised hand or gaze to your back foot if you have neck or balance issues.
- Stay in the pose for up to 5 breaths
- Repeat on the other side.
Wide-legged seated Pose – for adductor (inner thigh) and hamstring stretch
This pose stretches the inner legs, as well as the groins and hamstrings, promoting a healthy pelvis and lower body. Forward folding poses are widely known to calm the brain and promote relaxation which is essential when riding.
- Begin seated with the spine tall and the legs extended straight out in front of you
- Take your legs as wide apart as you comfortably can, keeping the feet flexed and active so that the inner legs don’t collapse inwards. Your knee caps should point straight up toward the ceiling and your heels should be rooting firmly into the ground. If your inner legs begin to collapse, it’s a sign that you’ve taken the legs too far apart
- As you exhale, slowly begin to walk your fingertips forward until you find an edge that feels appropriate for your body. Try hooking on to the big toes of each foot with the pointer and middle fingers of each hand and using the strength of your arms to move you more deeply into the fold.
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