Horseback riding is an athletic endeavor; just ask anyone who's felt head-to-toe sore after a long day in the saddle. And, like any other sport, the more physically fit you are when you ride, the better you'll perform. You'll also be less likely to suffer a riding-related injury.
Pre-ride stretching can prepare your muscles for the rigors of horseback riding and help prevent injury. Here are three stretches you can do before every ride, from Katie Mital, BS, ACE, CPT/CES, a certified personal trainer in Bend, Oregon. She's an avid rider, as well as a fitness professional. She does local and long-distance consultations for equestrians, with her clients ranging from trail riders to competitive jumpers.
It's not the actual stretching that helps your horseback riding, but rather the long-term flexibility created by including stretching in your daily routine. Long, limber muscles help prevent riding injuries such as pulled or sore muscles. Many riders develop stiffness in their hips, hamstrings, chests, and shoulders due to our constant position in the saddle, says Mital.
When you ride, your heels are down, which stretches your calves, but your knees and hips are closed in a sitting position, allowing the muscles around these major joints to become tight.
"We also tend to roll our shoulders forward and ball up," Mital says.
Before you do your stretches, warm up your muscles by increasing your heart rate. "You can catch your horse and lead him around the arena for a couple of laps or even just vigorously brush your horse," Mital says.
When stretching, don't push past the point of comfort. Hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds. "Longer if it feels good," Mital says.
Stretch #1: Barn-Door Chest Stretch
Technique: Find a vertical edge, such as a door jam, to use for the stretch. Here, Mital is using a cross-tie beam. Raise your arm to create a 90-degree angle at your elbow, and press your forearm against the door jam.
Turn your head and look away from the door jam to add a stretch for your neck. Repeat on both sides.
Payoff: Opens the chest by stretching your pectoral muscles and shoulders, making it easier for you to sit up tall when riding; reinforces "shoulders back" in your riding position.
Stretch #2: Arena-Rail Overhead Stretch
Technique: Standing half a body's length from the fence with your feet shoulder-width apart, bend at the waist, and place your hands on the top rail. Your arms, shoulders, and back should be flat. Relax your neck, breathe deep, and let your body settle into the stretch.
Payoff: Creates flexibility in your shoulders and promotes good posture before mounting up; stretches tight hamstrings in the back of your legs; stretches your calf muscles to allow for deep heels when you ride.
Stretch #3: Crossed-Leg Stretch
Technique: Stand with your feet slightly apart, then cross your right leg over your left one. Your right leg will be slightly bent, and your left leg will be straight. Bending at the hips, reach toward the ground. For added balance, rest your hands on your right knee. Repeat on opposite side, this time crossing your left leg over your right one.
Payoff: Another stretch to create flexibility in your hamstrings and calves, which gets your legs ready for the heels-down riding position; also stretches your lower back in preparation for sitting the trot.