Improving Posture With Equitation
Over the ages, we have relied on horses to pull goods, cross the finish line, wrangle livestock, plow fields and discover uncharted territory. Of course, none of this would have been possible without physically fit riders to care for and control 1,400 pound animals.
Whether you’ve always been obsessed with horses since a very young age, or are simply looking to get reunited with nature, natural horsemanship is a great way to improve strength, stamina, balance, and posture.
Improving Posture With Equitation:
Standing on a curb or lowest step, balance on the balls of your feet and stretch your heels down for intervals of ten seconds. This will ready your heels for bracing yourself with the stirrups. You can also practice jumping on your toes, which helps stretch out calf muscles.
Thighs of Steel:
Sitting at the edge of a seat that allows your knees to bend at a right angle, place a basketball between your knees for as long as possible. (If you plan on riding for 45 minutes, you should be able to hold this ball between your knees for 45 minutes!) If you have a gym membership, check out the hip abductor machine.
When standing or walking on horseback, your shoulders should be in line with your hips, which should be in line with your heels. (This is called your “Center of Balance.”) This requires hip flexibility (your hips should move with the rhythm of the horses gait) as well as abdominal muscles to keep the upper body as still as possible. Exercises that will strengthen your core include planks and crunches.
Crossed Leg Stretch:
In a standing position, cross your legs and reach for your toes, bending at the hips. Switch legs and repeat. This will stretch your hamstrings and calves, helping you wrap your legs around the horse. Additionally, this will help you at the sitting trot as it stretches your lower back.
Standing in a door jam, raise your arms to create 90-degree angles in your elbows, pressing your forearms against the sides of doorjam. Turn your head to the left and right slowly, which will help stretch the muscles in your neck. A strong chest will makes it easier to sit up while riding. (Sit up as if someone is pulling the tag of your shirt to the sky!)
Two-Point or Jumping Position:
Starting at the walk, stretch your heels down, raise your seat bones off the saddle, keep your eyes straight ahead and hold onto the bottom ¾ of the horses mane for 20 seconds. Let your legs move with the rhythm, and keep your upper body completely still, balancing in the stirrups and not leaning on the horses neck. This improves your balance and core strength. Repeat this exercise at the trot and again in a relaxed canter. More advanced riders can hold this position for a few minutes each exercise.
As controlling your horse relies mostly on your legs, your arms should always remain still, as if you had a bucket of water in your hands and you aren’t allowed to let it spill. Starting at the walk, raise your arms straight out so that your hands are as high as your shoulders (like a ‘T’). Keeping your arms raised, increase to a sitting trot, an extended trot and a canter. This will train your body to rely on your lower body strength. Depending on your horse, you may want to use a lunge line with this exercise.
While balanced in the saddle, reach one hand as far forward up the horses neck as possible, trying to reach the horse poll between his ears. It’s OK to lean forward, so long as you are not leaning on the horses neck. Follow this stretch with a hand reaching to the dock of the horses tail. Repeat this with the opposite hands.
Take your feet out of the stirrups and roll up the stirrup leathers so that the stirrups do not hit your calves. Starting at the walk, practice turn-on-the-forehands, roll-backs, halts, backing-up, and walking over ground poles and cross-rails. Beginner riders can try this while the horse is being lunged by a trainer. Advanced riders can try these exercises at the trot and canter as well as upgrade to vertical jumps.
This is essentially riding without a saddle, and at the most, a bareback pad. Depending on the horses withers, this may be uncomfortable, however this vastly improves a riders balance and leg strength. Use the same exercises as mentioned above in “Stirrup-Free.”
While all gaits keep the rider physically active, the posting trot requires the most perfectly-timed body movement. Raising yourself out of the saddle with the horses outside shoulder will quickly tire a beginner rider. Practice the posting trot for 10, 15 and 20 minutes to improve your stamina. Alternatively, force yourself to sit the trot for 10, 15 and 20 minutes as well.
Most people find that improving posture with equitation also benefits their everyday life. After all, it doesn’t take being an equestrian to be physically fit, although it certainly helps!