Stretch and Flex before you Ride
12 Simple Exercises to do at the Barn with your Horse
Stretching, before we hop on our horse, loosens our muscles and encourages flexible joints. Thus we will improve our riding, improve the communication with our horse, keep us fit and minimize injuries to our body.
I like to do these exercises with my horse before I groom and tack up. But to tell ya the truth I usually forget and remember when I go to put my foot into the stirrup, and I can't quite reach it. So I do my exercises right then and there, with the horse waiting. He has become accustomed to me throwing my arms in the air or me squatting on the ground and he relaxes with me until I finish.
All of these exercises are just gentle stretches. This is not a Jane Fonda workout where you "feel the burn". Rather stretch til it pulls a little, then back off and take 4 or 5 slow deep breaths. I try to hold a position or perform (or repeat) an exercise until I feel looser or stretched or stronger then when I started. Movements should be slow and deliberate.
It is so very, very important to be aware of your breathing. Think about breathing deliberately, deeply and slowly. Our aim is to perform the exercise, or hold a position keeping our muscles as relaxed as possible. Believe it or not, this builds great strength and benefits the health of your heart, circulatory system, glandular system, digestive system in addition to your muscles and joints.
Build a strong Back
A word about keeping your back straight. Think of what we ask of our horse. We ask him to tuck his butt under him and lift his back to us. Well, we need to also tuck our pelvis under us, bend slight forward below the rib cage, engaging our abdominal muscles. (Remember, once you feel your muscles working hard, relax them and keep the position. No need to strain) This creates a strong and straight back.
The 12 Stretches
1. Greet the Sun
Stand with your legs a comfortable distance apart. Don't lock your knees but keep them soft and slightly bent. Straight back. You will keep this same stance for the first 4 exercises. Start with your hands at your sides. Look up into the sky and feel the sun on your face. Swing your arms toward the middle of your body and create a big circle bringing your arms up and over your head and out to the sides. Go slowly. Feel your back stretch and round as your arms flow in a circle. Lower your shoulders back as your arms come down and around. Breath in on the upswing. Breath out on the down.
2. Neck and Shoulder Circles
Start by bending your neck so your chin is on your chest and your forehead is facing the ground. Roll your head in a circle around the base of your neck. Go slowly. I hear my neck bones creak and crack, but I am no spring chicken. Do just half-circles, roll your head around your shoulders, go one direction and then the next. Roll in complete circles. Stop when your neck feels loose, or, if you are like me, stop when your neck stops cracking.
Next, roll your shoulders in circles ..bring them up to your ears and roll them back to the middle of your back. Down and around and back to your ears. You can do both at the same time or one at a time.
3. Leaning Tree
With one arm raised and the other down at your side, stretch the upper arm over your head and reach your other arm down your leg. Stretch the open side of your body. Stay looking forward. Your head and torso can lean over too. Don't go too far. Just stretch and when it feels too far, back off and hold it a little while. Repeat on the other side.
4. Swinging Torso Twist
Spread your legs out a little farther to get a solid base. Twist at the waist and hip and swing your arms gently around your body. Look as far behind you as is comfortable. Keep swinging around from one side to the next. Get your whole body involved but keep your feet grounded. Get into a rhythm and feel your arms getting heavier as you swing a little faster. When you want to stop, slow your swinging and gradually come back to center and breathe.
5. Hanging Mane
Bring your feet closer together again, under your hips. Bend forward from the base of your spine, and let your arms hang down towards your toes. Let your head hang down. Bend your knees to stay comfortable. Let the weight of your head and arms stretch your lower back and behind your legs. Breathe. When you are ready to come up, round up from the bottom of your spine straightening out one vertebrae at a time until you are back up, straight and looking forward (hopefully at your horse standing quietly).
6. Squatting Frog
Keeping your feet still under your hips, squat down. Grab around your knees and pull yourself into a ball stretching across your back and squeezing your hip and knee angles. Breathe. Next, place your hands on the ground directly under your shoulders and in front of your feet. Place your arms on the inside of your knees. Now you have added a stretch to your inner thighs. Try to keep your feet flat on the ground but don't fret if you need to be on your toes. Get your butt as close to the ground as you comfortably can and spread your knees apart for a gentle stretch. Breathe. When you are ready to come back up, lift your butt up first, and roll your back up and lift your arms up into the sky and stretch out your body. End by swooping your arms in an arc to your sides and hang your arms down at your sides. Keep breathing.
7. Chest Expansion
Clasp your hands together behind your back. While lifting your arms up, lean forward from the waist. Hang your head down and stretch your arms forward over your head. Remember go only as far that is comfortable. Breathe slowly. Return to standing position.
8. Propeller Twist
Spread your feet slightly more than shoulder width apart. Bend forward at the waist and bring one hand to the floor halfway between your feet. Reach your other hand straight up into the sky. Look to the side towards your arm reaching up. Breathe. Now place your hand on the foot or in front and around your leg on the side you are facing. Breathe. Return your hand to the middle and propeller your arms to switch positions and repeat on the other side.
9. The Triangle
With your legs and feet still slightly more than shoulder width apart, stand with a straight back, hands at your side. Stretch one arm up into the sky and keep it close alongside your ear. Bend from the waist and travel your other hand down your leg as far as it can go. Make both legs strong. Breathe and stretch the sides of your body again. Repeat on the other side
10. Ride a Two-Point
Starting once again standing with the spread legs and a straight back, be sure your toes are facing straight ahead, and you are looking also straight ahead. Squat down while lifting just your forearms bending at the elbow. We are riding now! Extend your arms straight out in front of you and extend your back with them. Keep your back straight. Breathe. Rock forward and back on your feet keeping your balance.
11. Cow's Face
After raising your upper body from the last exercise, stand tall and place one hand behind your lower back and raise your other hand around to the back of your neck. See how close your hands can get to each other. This opens your chest and draws your shoulders back. Breathe. Repeat with the opposite hands.
12. Center Mountain
Stand with your feet together and your arms at your side. Do not lock your knees but keep them soft. Look straight ahead. Imagine being held up by a string pulling from the top of your head that pulls straight down thru your spine to the ground. Ground yourself to the earth. Breathe and think of being balanced, and even and square.
End this set of exercises by lifting our arms open and raising your face to the warmth of the sun.