Fit for Kit, Part 2

Fitness and exercise tips for horse riders

Following on from my previous entry Fit for Kit here are some simple suggestions/ exercises that we can all do at home in order to improve our riding. These easy but effective ways of keeping ourselves in shape have come from a dear friend, Janet Barnard Brown, who is both a ballet dancer and a dressage rider/trainer whose awareness of both our body and the horse’s body allows her to have a complete understanding of both horse and rider. Much to Kit’s dismay she has had me hulaing around the stable in order to get me to loosen up my hip joints before riding!

We expect our horse to be an athlete, equally the rider should also be an athlete. Both horse and rider need training, both mentally and physically. Physically before you can commence your training (on the horse) you should prepare yourself with a few simple warm up / stretching/ body awareness exercises. Before you start stretching go for a brisk walk or a short jog or skip on the spot !! The aim is to raise your heart rate and to prepare your body by warming up as many muscles as possible in a general , non specific way.

Next you need to focus on specific muscle groups so your body is really prepared for the demands of riding.

At the very least aim to lightly stretch 4 areas:

1. Hips / Pelvis
2. Shoulder girdle / Chest
3. Lower back
4. Legs (to include calf , hamstring and Quadriceps)

1. In order to achieve a deep supple independent seat you need work on your hip flexibility.

To stretch the front of your hip , take a medium lunge position without allowing your pelvis to tilt or twist. If your left leg is back you will feel a stretch in the front of your left hip as you gently stretch it forwards.
Hold the position for 10-15 seconds before repeating on the other side.
To stretch the side of your hips start in an upright position, legs a little apart.
Allow your body to bend to the left side reaching down with your left arm , you can increase the feeling by reaching over with your right arm. Allow gravity to assist the stretch rather than forcing the bend , hold for 10-15 seconds..Repeat both sides .

2. Flexible supple shoulders that are open without tension are necessary for both good posture and independent hands.

Circle your shoulders forwards and backwards, coming back to a neutral balanced position in between. Give yourself time to allow your shoulders to feel wide and open without tension.
Repeat with wide circles of each arm , both forwards and backwards.
Another good exercise is to take hold of your left elbow with your right hand and softly stretch your left arm across the front of your chest. Again hold for 10-15 seconds before repeating on the other side.

3. Flexibility in your lower back is essential to maintain good posture whilst allowing supple hips and legs to work independently in rhythm with the horse.

Stand in a relaxed attitude with slightly bent knees. Slowly roll your back forwards , starting by dropping your chin and rolling down through your spine feeling as if the crown of your head is leading the way. Roll as far as possible with your arms dangling !!
Again hold the position for 10-15 seconds allowing gravity to take you further. Recover by uncurling your spine in exactly the same way.

4. Flexibility through different muscle groups in your legs is necessary for a supple and effective leg position.

To stretch your hamstrings, repeat the exercise above but with straight knees.

To stretch your quadriceps stand on one foot bending the other knee and grasping your foot with your hand. Gently pull your foot towards your buttock keeping your knees together and your back upright. Again hold for 10-15 seconds before changing legs.

A simple calf stretch is to stand on a step placing the balls of your feet on the step and letting your heels hang over the edge. Your body weight and gravity will allow your calf to stretch as much you comfortably can. Try to relax as you hold for 10-15 seconds. This can be done by alternating each leg or both legs together.

Never force or bounce while you are stretching or you could cause more damage than good. Often one side of our body is more stiff than the other and will need more attention to even yourself up.

Body awareness is absolutely essential in any athlete and as a rider you owe it to your horse to be riding fit AND fit to ride!!

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