When you’re working with a young horse, chances are you spend some time on the ground developing fundamentals before ever swinging your leg over the saddle. Groundwork builds your horse’s strength, balance, and ability to follow direction, which are all important skills to have. But it’s also a great way to help build his confidence.
Groundwork doesn’t have to stop with your horse, though. You can also apply a form of groundwork to your own routine to build fundamentals that’ll help you in the saddle by practicing meditation and yoga to prepare you mentally, and physically, for your ride.
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Why It Works
Meditation and yoga can be a great way to become more in-tune with your horse. They allow you to collect your thoughts and be more aware of your body alignment, balance, and breathing prior to a ride. Your horse listens to your body language to understand what you’re asking him to do, and if you grip the saddle when you ask for a lope off, or fidget around when you’re telling him to stand still, he’s going to feed off of your behavior when you’re in the saddle.
If you struggle with nervous energy when you ride, take time to include meditation and yoga into your weekly routine to help you focus on your thoughts and calm your breathing. Yoga can also be a great way to warm up your muscles and get a good stretch in before heading to the barn.
Here I’ll cover a few quick exercises you can do prior to your ride—or even during a ride—that’ll help you stay centered and more self-aware when you’re in the saddle.
Find a place in your barn that’s free from distraction where you can focus on deliberate breathwork—deep, correct breathing that helps energize and oxygenate your system. You can sit, stand, or lie down—whatever is most comfortable for you. Start by closing your eyes and relaxing your shoulders. Take a deep breath in through your nose and then exhale. As you do this, avoid letting your mind wander and concentrate on your breathing.
Once you can hold focus on your breath, try counting to 10. Notice how far you can get before your mind begins to wander. The more often you practice this the easier it’ll become to manage your thoughts and feelings.
Before you get on your horse, check in with yourself one more time to ensure you’re ready to go. While standing next to your horse, hold your saddle horn and cantle, settle into your feet, wiggle your toes, and take a deep breath. As you take in a breath, scan your body for any tensions and breathe a relaxing breath to those places. This moment helps you connect with your horse and have good energy running through your body before you even mount up.
If at any point during your ride you feel yourself get anxious or nervous, bring your horse to a stop or a walk, relax your body, and begin to work on your breathing. (For safety always keep your eyes open when you’re on or near your horse.) Pay close attention to what your horse is doing when you do this—chances are his body will relax when yours does.
Yoga can help improve your balance and range of motion and allow you to be more aware of any areas where your body has pain or tightness. When you ride, you use your back and abdominal muscles to keep you balanced in the saddle. Developing strength in these specific areas will create better overall health that will help you stay in the saddle for years to come.
Use these yoga stretches to help loosen your muscles and relax your body before you mount up. You might also find these stretches great for post rides to loosen up any stiff muscles.
Spinal Twists: Find a spot in your barn or house where you can use a yoga mat and begin by lying on your back. Gently hug your knees to your chest and focus on the stretch you feel in your lower back. With your knees still bent and at center, place your arms in a t-position on the floor even with your shoulders. Inhale your breath and as you exhale, drop your knees over to one side and turn your head in the opposite direction. Take several breaths before moving to the other side. Repeat until the muscles along your spine start to loosen up.
Eagle Arms: Standing on your yoga mat, extend your arms out in front of you, and place one arm on top of the other, crossing them at the elbow and intertwining them by bending both elbows. Keeping your arms intertwined, try to bring your hands together as close as you can—you should feel a good stretch in your shoulders, but it shouldn’t be painful. Remain in this position for a few deep breaths. As you release and unwind your arms, shake them out before placing your other arm on top and repeating the stretch.
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