Riding

Stretching for Better Horsemanship, Part 2

Try these five stretches prior to horseback riding to increase your connection with your horse.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

Stretches such as the kneeling hip stretch shown here are ideal for loosening up your muscles and joints to help you connect better with your horse. Journal photo.

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. Equestrienne Monica Brant says she gets connected to her horse much quicker if she rides with her muscles still warm from exertion.

Warming up your muscles before you ride can make a big difference, and Monica recommends some stretching exercises to get started. See Part 1 to understand why stretching is so important, and how often you should do it.

Leg Swings

This exercise is great to encourage movement and to get the blood flowing in your hips, core and midsection muscles and glutes - the muscles of your rear. Monica says leg swings are ideal for pre-riding because they stretch out your abductor and adductor muscles in your thighs, your hips and hip flexor muscles and the ilotibial bands down the sides of your legs.

Start by holding onto a door or rail, standing with your feet square. Swing the leg closest to the wall forward and backward for the movement, keeping your base leg’s heel on the ground and your swinging leg fairly straight. You can put your free hand on your hip for balance. Swing smoothly forward and backward 20 times each way, or 40 total per leg.

Even after all that stretching, it might still be hard to get on your horse if he’s really tall or you’re really … not tall. Not to worry, AQHA’s How to Build a Mounting Block report is FREE for you to download today.

Next, swing one leg in front of you from side to side 20 times each way, 40 total per leg. Facing the rail and holding it with both hands, swing one leg from side to side with as great a range of motion as you can while remaining upright and steady in your core muscles.

Chest and Shoulder Stretch

Spending hours working at a computer desk or driving every day results in poor posture and stooped shoulders - neither of which is helpful for riding. Snap out of your slouch and by standing next to a doorway and placing the back of your arms against the length of the doorjamb. Press your body forward to feel the stretch in your arm, chest and shoulder. Hold for desired amount of time. Switch sides and repeat.

Then, with your back to the rail, grab the top of the rail with both hands, lean forward and bring your shoulder blades together to open up your chest. Hold for desired amount of time.

Back Stretch

This move opens up the long muscles in your back and shoulders and will wake up your oblique muscles on the sides of your stomach. Face a rail or door and grab hold with both hands. Bend from the waist until your head is between your arms and stretch one leg back to add resistance. Hold for desired amount of time. Repeat with opposite leg.

Monica recommends dropping your head between your arms and focusing on feeling the stretch in your back. Alternate your legs to get full oblique stretching. Hold this stretch for 15-20 seconds per side.

Yoga Salutations

This challenging set of movements is excellent for waking up your entire body, creating awareness of your movements and preparing yourself for riding. You can do this with or without a mat, and with or without shoes. Transition from each movement smoothly to the next for one complete set. Monica recommends starting with three to five salutations and working up to 10.

After making sure your muscles are warmed up and stretched, using a mounting block to climb onto your horse can help him avoid stresses and strains, too. To build your own mounting block, download AQHA’s FREE How to Build a Mounting Block report today.

Begin in a plank position: Weight on toes and palms, arms straight in front of you, core muscles engaged, body in alignment.

Next, lower yourself to a pushup position, keeping your elbows in and your core tight. Hold this position for several seconds without sagging to the floor.

Lower your hips until they touch the ground, point your toes and gently push your upper body up and away from the floor. Keep your shoulders down and your head level or slightly upturned.

Then, bring your toes in to touch the ground and raise your hips upward, bending from the waist to form a “V” position as your head goes between your arms. Focus on pushing through your heels and bringing your chest closer to your thighs. To repeat, return to plank position.

Kneeling Hip Stretch

Opening up your hips is one of the most important things you can do pre-ride. Monica recommends this stretch to increase your flexibility and to stretch out your inner thigh muscles and glutes. Kneel on the ground and spread your knees as far you feel comfortable. Bring your elbows to the ground and lean on your forearms, putting weight in your glutes to encourage a good stretch. Hold for the desired amount of time.

Monica says an exercise mat is helpful, but not mandatory. As you gain flexibility, you’ll be able to increase your hip angle.

Get more great exercise advice in The American Quarter Horse Journal! Subscribe today to get in on the Q-Fit exercise series running throughout 2015.