Stretching for Better Horsemanship, Part 1

Learn the importance of stretching before horseback riding.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

“Doing a few stretches on the rail before you get on will really help you feel connected to the horse,” Monica Brant says. “You’ll feel better, feel more energetic, and you’ll sit up straighter.” Journal photo.

We know our horses are incredible athletes. That’s why we always take time to warm the horse up before we work them hard. Have you ever considered preparing your own muscles before you ride? If you can spare a few minutes before you saddle up, AQHA member Monica Brant has five stretches that can improve your riding experience.

Why Stretch Before You Ride?

There’s nothing like riding your horse right after you’ve gone to the gym. If you’ve never tried it, you might be surprised how much your horsemanship improves after a workout. Monica says she gets connected to her horse much quicker if she rides with her muscles still warm from exertion.

“I feel so much better riding after I have done a workout and my body is warmed up,” she says. “Even if I’m a little tired, I always ride better. In contrast, if I’ve been sitting at the computer all day, it takes me a while to get connected to the horse.”

While hitting the gym on the way to the barn might not be feasible for your schedule, you can incorporate some of Monica’s techniques to reap the benefits. Start by arriving at the barn 20 minutes earlier than normal, and take a few laps around the barn or arena at a brisk walk to get your blood flowing. If your horse is in a far-off pasture, you’re in luck.

The stretches you’ll learn from Monica are great because you can perform them right in the barn aisle. Now, learn some exercises to do with your horse in the barn aisle too with AQHA’s FREE Barn-Aisle Exercises report.

“You don’t ever want to just stop and stretch - you need your body warmed up prior to stretching,” Monica says. “I would take five to 10 minutes warming up. You could walk, briskly walk or jog, just to get moving.”

Dynamic vs. Static

Stretching can take several forms. Monica performs dynamic stretches initially to wake up cold muscles and get her blood pumping. Dynamic stretches are exercises in motion, such as leg swings, swinging your arms in circles or skipping.

“I’m a huge fan of dynamic stretching,” Monica says. “I like to get some movement in the stretch because it helps get your body loosened up.”

Once your muscles are warm, you can do static stretches, where you hold a position - while breathing regularly - for a set amount of time to encourage lengthening and flexibility. Monica mixes these types of stretches throughout her workouts at the gym, but you can do a series of stretches before you get on your horse, and if you have a break during the day, you can also do a stretch or two.

Now that you know how to get yourself warmed up right in the barn aisle, check out AQHA’s FREE Barn-Aisle exercises report to learn how to get your horse tuned in and ready to ride.

“Doing a few stretches on the rail before you get on will really help you feel connected to the horse,” Monica says. “You’ll feel better, feel more energetic and you’ll sit up straighter.”

How Often Should I Stretch?

Smart athletes stretch every single day. Since most of us lack the time to devote to that part of exercise, Monica recommends stretching as often as you can, and especially before you ride.

“Ideally, doing a little stretching every day for even five minutes will help your body,” Monica says. “But especially before you ride, taking a few minutes to prepare your body will improve your experience.”

These exercises can be done in 15 minutes or less - at home, the barn or wherever you are. You don’t need any equipment other than a nearby wall or rail. If you’re doing them on a dusty barn floor, you might prefer to use an exercise mat, but Monica says a mat is optional.

Check back next week, when Monica outlines the stretches that can help you sit taller in the saddle.