Flexibility and mobility help us stay fluid and supple in the tack, which translates to fluid and supple horses.
There are a few areas of the body that are commonly neglected in the equestrian athlete, and surprisingly enough, they are some of the most important ones. Here are a few of my favourite stretches and mobility exercises; these are focused, of course, upon what’s going to benefit our athletic prowess the most.
First up: the hips. Tight hip flexors can cause lower back pain, knee pain, and many postural issues. How can you tell if your hip flexors are tight? Lay on your back and draw one knee up to your chest, hugging it in. Does the leg that should be resting straight on the ground want to lift up? If so, your hips are tight.
My favourite stretch/mobilization for your hips is the proposal stretch.
Start in a kneeling (proposal) position. From here, rock forwards using your butt muscles, feeling for a stretch in the front of the hips. Rock in and out of this position, attempting to increase your range at each pass. Go for ten passes, then switch sides. Watch out for knees going too far past the toes, as the pelvis should be doing most of the moving here. Repeat this two to three times per side, either pre-ride, post-ride or both.
Next up is the latissimus dorsi muscle, the intercostals (muscles between the ribs), and the upper back; all very common spots of tightness for riders. As shown below, get into the child’s pose position. I find having my knees slightly wider than my hips to be the most comfortable.
After you’ve sunk your hips back and your hands are stretched out in front of you, walk your arms to one side, feeling for a stretch and opening sensation through your side body and upper back. Take ten to fifteen deep breaths here, trying to fill up your lungs completely to add an extra benefit for those intercostals and upper spine. Switch sides, and repeat two to three times per side. This is amazing both pre- and post-ride.
Next is pigeon pose. This one will focus on the glute muscles and hip capsule, two things we use a lot in the saddle.
I find it easiest to start in a low lunge position, and then rest one leg on its side in front of you, while stretching the back leg out straight. As shown in the picture, you’ll see that the front leg is resting at an angle. Once you’re in this position, you can either stay upright with your upper body, or you can lower down and rest on the ground, deepening the stretch. If you have knee issues that this pose may aggravate, skip it. Hold the position for ten to fifteen deep breaths before switching sides. Repeat this two to three times on each leg. It’s great post-ride.
Last up is a spinal twist. This mobilization exercise works the entire spine, stretches the glutes, and feels amazing. You can do this seated or lying down; it’s awesome before bed and when you get up in the morning.
Seated, as shown, bend one knee and cross the other foot in front. Then twist, put your elbow on the raised knee and twist away. Hold for ten to fifteen breaths before switching sides. If you’re lying down, begin flat on your back, draw one knee towards your chest, and then across your body towards the ground. Let the opposite hand reach out to the side and feel your spine twist. There should be no pain. If you have a spinal issue that this may aggravate, stick to the seated version or the other stretches only. Repeat two to three times on each side pre- and post-ride.
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Kathlyn Hossack is a Certified Athletic Therapist and Kinesiologist from Winnipeg, Manitoba dedicated to helping riders improve their movement.