Yoga for
Equestrians

25 September 2018

Remember the days as a kid when it was common for a friend to hop on your back for a goofy “piggy back ride”?

There was always that one person whose knees would dig into your back, or who would just jar against your shoulders in the way they sat. If we are unbalanced in our bodies, this could be how our horse feels, even through the saddle.

 

This article is written with the aim of finding balance to improve your riding and, ultimately for the health and happiness of your horse. 

 

As we talk about the health benefits you will gain as a rider, keep in mind that our ultimate focus is giving our horses the best experience possible - which includes a rider with a comfortable seat- not to mention a well rested and vibrant disposition! 

 

To make this simple yet effective, we have examined the qualities and ailments that riders tend to have. We have then complied this list of therapeutic exercises inspired by yoga postures to alleviate issues and bring the body into balance.

 

These exercises can also be applied to better performance, which ultimately prevent injury and make you a better rider.

 

Here we outline postures that will benefit riders, specifically focusing on hip health. To help you understand what we mean by “hip health” think of our bones as a set of sticks bound together by rubber bands. Too much tension could pull the bones out of place or cause damage, while not enough stability leaves them susceptible to damage from the outside or to slipping too easily out of place.

 

When it comes to caring for our bodies, health is about finding balance, in the hips specifically this is mainly a balance between strength and mobility in the muscles and attachments of the pelvis and upper leg. We want to stress the importance of moderation, emphasizing that both too much tension as well as too much mobility can be an issue. 

 

Believe it or not, many issues you may not consider actually stem from misbalance in the hips. These may be but are not limited to lower back pain, anxiety and even poor sleep. Specific rider issues could be a lack of connection with your inner thigh, misbalance with weighting your stirrups or seat bones in the saddle, or even result in the confusion of aids for your horse due to lack of control and precision in your movements. The mental benefits are also important, as we want to avoid riding while anxious, tired, or in pain. 

 

These yoga inspired exercises will focus on common equestrian misbalances including tight adductors (think those inner thigh muscles that help you grip the horse) as well as IT band and hamstrings and a number of conditions that cause lower back pain.

 

Go ahead and read on and follow along with our videos, as we talk you through our choice of the best yoga inspired exercises that equestrian athletes should be doing for optimal hip wellness!


1. Mountain Pose on Mounting Block

 

Start by standing with one foot on mounting block, step or elevated surface. Place your hands on your hips and make sure your pelvis remains completely level. This means that if your hands are placed on your hips, they are at the same height. 

 

The most important part of this exercise, is to keep the standing hip strongly engaged, while remaining totally aligned and tall. In other words: prevent your hip from jutting out to the side… save that sassy hip lean for another day! This exercise helps to stabilize whatever part of the hip you may be weakest, so leaning on the outside hip may indicate weakness. 

 

 

If this exercise feels “easy” you are most likely shifting the weight too much to the side of the standing leg; so take care that stand as you would if you were simply standing on both feet. 

 

It is also important to make sure your “floating” foot remains at precisely the same height as the grounded foot, while at leat hip distance apart (don’t let it drop or let it come too close to your other foot).

 

Hold this posture for 30 seconds before repeating on the other side. This is a great way to mentally check in with your body, and begin to notice if you have any imbalances or weaknesses between your left and right legs. 


2. Modified Tree Pose


In a similar fashion to the mounting block levitation, the integrity of this pose comes from level pelvis and stability in the standing leg. It is best to start by placing the foot on the inner ankle of the standing leg. As a variation on this classic pose, imagine you are drawing a semi-circle with your bent knee. Gradually open and close the hip in this way, noticing if there are any points where the hips feel stuck or grabbing. 

 

 

This therapeutic movement will both strengthen and mobilize your hip joint in many directions, with the goal to have smooth movements throughout the entire range of motion. 

 

3. Standing or Kneeling Camel Pose


This posture gives a great sense of opening and space created across the front of the chest; however, the focus here for the hips is the lengthening of the hip flexors - or the front creases of the hips. 

While this movement may not be very drastic in appearance (you may not actually “move” more than a few centimeters) the focus is upon creating space in the front of the hips ie. the area that is shortened when we sit in a chair over time. Imagine you are ironing out these creases, breathing new space into the front of the hips. Feel free to start by doing this for just a few breaths, you can build or hold longer if it feels good to do so over time. 

 


The following exercises can be completed as a series using a mounting block, bench, fence or elevated surface: 

 

4. Modified Crescent Lunge

 

Step your left foot onto the mounting block and stay standing tall. Reach your right hand over head until you feel the stretch at the front of the right hip flexor. Hold for several breaths and then repeat on the side. 

 


(Note: 5-7 go directly together as a series)

 

5. Hamstring Stretch

 

Place one leg onto a step or the level of the mounting block that allows you to till comfortably stand tall without bending into the standing leg. You may first enjoy the stretch down the back of the leg and hamstring area. 

 

 


6. IT band Stretch


When you feel ready to move on, gently start to turn your upper body and shoulders towards the side of your lifted leg. You may wish to flex your top foot back towards your face. Breathe as you feel this stretch the entire length of the outer leg. 


7. Inner thigh Stretch


Twist the other direction to bring the stretch to the inner thigh and groin area. To increase the stretch you may gently lean the upper body forward and softly bend the standing leg.

 

 

8. Seated or Reclining “Figure 4”

 

Turn around and now sit down on your mounting block. Flex your left foot and cross it over your right thigh, just above the knee. To decrease the stretch, sit in a taller chair or higher step so the crossed leg is further away from your chest.

 

 

You can also try this same figure 4 position starting from lying on your back. In both variations, make sure to flex the foot of the bent leg to protect the knee joint. This stretch targets the outer hip including the glutes and piriformis, and may help to prevent and relieve back pain.  

 

9. Reclining Butterfly

 

Laying on your back, allow your knees to open as the soles of your feet come together. To modify, place something such as a blanket, or even props such as shoes or boots, under each knee so they are supported and to not open as far.

 

Take this time to begin to wind down, with a few belly breaths. Opening the hips helps to relax the mind and body, which is imperative for full recovery and ultimately helps to increase blood flow and prevent injuries.

 

 

Avoid pressing the hips beyond their natural range of motion or excessive pressure and torquing of the knee. The target of this pose is to achieve a soft opening of the hips while also mentally relaxing and unwinding.

 

Our hips are one of - if not the single - most important connection in our bodies. As riders in particular it is important to have both the stability and mobility in the hip joint, allowing us to move freely and intentionally with our horse, while also giving purposeful aids that are not limited by stiffness or hindered by pain.

 

Balance in this way (equal amounts mobility and stability) will allow for a sustainable and healthy riding career; it may also help to prevent acute injury, as is the case for example after your horse takes an unexpected jolt, or darts away from a rustling bush. 

 

We hope that this introduction to poses that are targeted specifically for equestrians helps you whether you have been practicing yoga or never stepped on a mat before.

 

Please let us know if you enjoyed this article, and what else you would like to learn about all things health and wellness specifically for equestrian athletes! 

 

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