Stretch and FLEXIBILITY
Writer and photographer DUSTY PERIN and sports physiotherapist STACEY LINGMAN team up to take exercise out of the gym and into the stables, to help riders make fitness part of their equestrian lifestyle
Many riders spend many long hours training their horses to get them fit and flexible, yet they invest little effort in their own personal fitness.
The most common excuse is a lack of time. We think that we get plenty of exercise just riding, but that is not always true. You do get some exercise trotting and cantering, but it is not always sustained and continuous. When you are conditioning a horse, the trot segments might be less than 10 minutes, then you walk, and do other transitions. The horse is getting fit – after all he is carrying you around – but the rider ends up with tight muscles from doing short bursts of exercise.
Muscles that are worked have a natural tendency to tighten; stretching is the only exercise that will loosen them.
Being loose and flexible is the first building block of developing good rider fitness. Suppleness in your spine and hip is as important as relaxed shoulders and a heel that can stay down.
Novice riders especially tend to get tight in the inside thighs from gripping, and their spines suffer when learning to sit the trot. Instructors take note: instilling good fitness habits in your students now, will improve their riding for years to come.
New Zealand physiotherapist and personal trainer Stacey Lingman answers some questions about the importance of stretching. Stacey also has also developed a quick and easy pre-ride warm-up and after-ride stretch. There is definitely debate as to whether stretching prevents injury.
The notion that stretches must be performed before and after a given exercise is now believed to be outdated. But studies have shown that a warm-up programme prior to athletic performance will decrease injury risk by 50%.
With this in mind, I generally prescribe for my clients a dynamic warm-up programme.
The benefits to warming up include increased blood flow to muscles, circulation, nerve receptor sensitivity, range of motion, decreased stiffness of connective tissues and enhanced cellular metabolism.
After the ride, static stretches can be completed to ensure adequate relaxation of the tissues that can tighten up with repeated workloads. For your warm-up, follow a similar type of exercise that you would do while riding.
Walking briskly beside your horse should be enough to get the blood flow really going.
Try to engage as many of the muscle groups as you will be using during your ride. For example, a few squats will translate well to warm up the muscles you use for rising to the trot and jumping.