Straining vs. Strengthening: Are You Hurting or Helping Your Body?

If you’re constantly in the barn, chances are you’ve dealt with a few aches and pains by the end of the night. Fitness and nutrition expert Kelly Altschwager explains the importance of strengthening your body to complete all your barn chores pain free and avoid having any injuries in the process.
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Kelly talking to a horse owner, who has her horse standing next to her in a halter and lead rope, demonstrating why it's important you stretch your hip flexors.

When you strain your body—in or out of the saddle—you're going to cause unnecessary pain in your body and it'll keep you from riding your best.

It’s no secret that when you own horses, you’re constantly on the go. But do you know if you’re accidentally straining your body in the process? While it’s easy to want to hurry through barn chores so you can get to the fun part of owning and riding horses, it’s important to slow down and take a few minutes to ensure you’re properly moving your body to avoid causing any injuries that might leave you out of the saddle down the road.

Mind Your Movement

As you’re unloading hay or grain bags, carrying water buckets, or swinging a saddle onto a horse, are you being mindful of your movement? If you just go through the motions when you’re doing chores, chances are you’re not engaging the correct muscles. Instead, you’re probably rounding your back and shoulders and putting unnecessary strain on your body, which can result in aches and pains by the end of the day.

Instead, when you go to grab a heavy object, put yourself into a power stance, roll your shoulders back and down, and keep your chest up. Take a big, deep breath, pull your belly button into your spine and squeeze your midsection to engage your abs and muscles along the spine. Rather than pulling the object up, squeeze with your glutes to help lift the rest of your body up. You’ll also want to think about driving through your heels.

If you take a few extra minutes to ensure your body is in the correct position to lift a heavy object, or swing a saddle over your horse, you’re going to better avoid the kind of pain that leaves you out of the saddle for weeks at a time. And while you can’t always avoid all the aches and pains that come with being active all day, doing this will allow you to strengthen the muscles you use every day instead of straining, or even permanently injuring said muscles.

End with a Stretch

The best thing you can do for your body after a long day at the barn is take a few moments to stretch your body out—even if it happens to be when you’re in bed calling it a night.

Kelly in a barn on a rug, doing a pigeon pose to help stretch her hip flexors before she rides.

Including a pigeon pose to your stretching routine can help you stay balanced in the saddle.

Pigeon pose: Tight hip flexors create an imbalanced seat forward to back as well as decreases your ability to keep a strong, upright posture throughout your entire body. Avoid having tight hip flexors by including this pigeon pose into your daily stretching routine. To begin, put one leg straight behind you, and the other forward, bent in and toward your groin. Bring your arms up, stretching down into your hip flexors. As you inhale push into the stretch, and as you exhale sink down through the stretch.

Modified pigeon pose: Tight extensors inhibit range of motion through your hips and glutes and inhibit your ability to drive your horse forward effectively through your seat. Instead of reaching your hands up over your head for this stretch, drop your hip, putting your glutes on the floor, and stretch forward keeping your back nice and flat, your chin toward the ground. Just like with regular pigeon, you want to inhale and push against the stretch and then exhale and relax into the stretch.

Knee to chest: Stretch out your hamstrings, glutes, and lower back by laying down on your back, and bringing your knee to your chest. Keep your foot flexed, release as you inhale, pull and stretch as you exhale. Do this until you start to feel tension release.

Kelly in a barn on a blanket doing a modified pigeon pose before she rides.

A modified pigeon pose will help you stretch your extensors so you can have full range of motion in your hips and glutes when you're riding your horse.

Always Hydrate

I’m constantly reminding my clients that drinking plenty of water is the best thing you can do for your body. While drinking water isn’t going to solve all your achy problems, it is going to allow your body to function better. Especially in the summer, make sure you always have a water nearby when you’re in the barn. Your body will thank you in the long run.

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