We warm up before exercise, so why not do a little pre-ride preparation to improve mental focus before a ride?
To begin your pre-ride preparation, decide to let go of any concerns that may be weighing heavy on your mind. Identify where you may be holding tension in your body, and affirm that you deserve this time to escape with your horse. Next, start to bring your attention to your breathing pattern. Don’t panic – there is no need to fix anything just yet. Simply notice the repetitive nature of inhaling and exhaling. Slowly start to generate an exhalation that is slightly longer than the inhalation, without forcing an immediate change. Allow that weight on your shoulders to just melt away, as you continue to focus on the elongated exhalation.
Now just because you are carefree and breathing deeply, that doesn’t mean you are truly centered and ready to ride. It’s important to establish your mind-body connection in order to stay focused, but just as your mood fluctuates from day to day, so does your physiology. Random aches and pains can crop up as unexpectedly as an emotional outburst on a daytime drama. How many times have you thought, “Gee, I must have slept funny?” Sure, blame your mattress and not the 50 bales of hay you stacked yesterday. Take a couple of minutes to tackle those physical trouble spots with three practical exercises you can do once you arrive at the barn.
• Grip the lead rope slightly wider than shoulder width, open your chest, and focus your eyes on the horizon.
• Exhale, and slowly reach both arms overhead, moving just beyond vertical.
• Take a few deep breaths and slowly return to the start position. Repeat three times, then change legs for three repetitions.
Riding application: This exercise is a great pre-ride preparation for your entire body and improves posture (shoulders, back). It encourages you, as the rider, to lengthen up from the waist up, and stretch down from the waist down.
• Gently bend the standing leg, keeping your knee tracking over the center of your foot.
• Exhale and close the hip angle.
• Keep your front foot flexed with your knee toward the ceiling, and send energy out though the front heel.
• Elongate into the stretch for three deep breaths, slowly recover, and switch to the other side.
Target area: rear portion of upper leg.
Note: Remember to keep your hips parallel to the floor, open your chest and lengthen the back of your neck. Maintain a slight arch in your lower back (natural lumbar curve). Over time, increase the height of your front leg as necessary to increase the stretch.
Riding application: This pre-ride preparation exercise will improve your awareness of how to close your hip angle without rounding your shoulders. It helps alleviate lower back tension, deepen the rider’s seat, and will allow the legs to reach down and long around the horse. Practicing “heels down” with straight legs can virtually eliminate tension behind the knee.
• Bear your weight evenly in both feet, and rotate your torso towards the front leg.
• Take three deep breaths, recover to the start position, and switch to the other side.
Target areas: entire spine, outer thigh.
Riding application: This exercise helps you to efficiently rotate your upper body through turns, while staying neutral in the pelvis. It helps develop subtle use of the spine without collapsing, and will ultimately improve the rider’s shoulder-line symmetry.
These pre-ride preparation exercises are simple to do, and don’t take up much time or require any fancy equipment. They will assist you in being a more balanced rider, and help prevent strains and injury. Try adding them to your routine – your body and your horse will thank you!
Authors Dan Weltner and Kristi Weltner Redd are creators of the home workout DVD series Equi- Stretch®, Strengthening and Stretching Techniques for the Rider, including Level One, Level Two and The Seated DVD. Along with the Express Toning Pak and Pre-Ride Poster, the series offers a wide range of rider specific exercises. For more information, visit www.equistretch.com or call 740-625-6636, toll free U.S. 1-800-590-4264.