YOGA FOR EQUESTRIANS
If you are like most riders, you probably hear these same lines from your instructors: ‘Leg here’, ‘Hand up’, ‘No, not there!’, ‘Yes, there!’ All the while thinking to yourself, ‘But that’s where I had the leg the whole time!’ Keeping tabs on where your individual body parts are on a moving horse can be quite a challenge.
We expect ourselves to do incredible things under saddle that yoga masters have been trying to perfect for years! This idea of ‘body awareness’ is harder to master than it sounds. We cannot expect our body to do something in the saddle that it cannot do on the ground. If a horse could not trot soundly in the field nobody would expect him to all of a sudden become a Grand Prix jumper as soon as you put the saddle on. The same goes for the rider. Thankfully there is a way to make this very daunting task of »body awareness« much easier so first, take a deep breath.
Yoga is a beautiful practice about connecting the mind to the body, becoming more present, while getting stronger and more peaceful. That all sounds pretty nice to me! Being strong yet quiet is a very difficult feat but it is the ideal outcome for riders. We are constantly trying to get more efficient aids, creating more body awareness and making our horses happy to carry us. Professionals in any sport have this way of making things look effortless and the exciting part is that you can too. It does take some work but that work can have vast benefits throughout your whole life and it can make everything you do more joyous!
So let’s talk about the benefits of yoga for riding.
Yoga decreases anxiety and increases confidence, making it easier to move and retain information. A mind under stress will have a harder time taking in information that is crucial (This will not only make your horse happy, but your trainer too!). Letting go of judgment from other riders, or fear of failure is a very hard task. Through practicing yoga regularly it is possible to let these things go and you will start to see a major improvement in your riding with almost less effort. That does not mean less work but it won’t feel as difficult and all of a sudden things start to fall into place. Yoga Nidra and meditation are great practices for the mind and finding stillness.
STRENGTHENING THE CORE
Now that you are calm, let’s talk about power! The core is the most important place for controlling your body, aids, and balance. A stronger core means more stability and accurate aids. That all sounds great but be honest with yourself, can you properly engage your core in the gym? The concept of »engaging your core« can be a mystical one and people often don’t really know how to practice it. If you cannot engage your core on a still chair, can you engage it on a moving horse? Many people, not just riders struggle with this one. But we are here for solutions and yoga offers them! We do so many exercises to fix our position, our hands, our eyes, and really it all stems off of one simple fix. Getting a strong foundation of the core. Ask a yoga teacher what it actually means to engage the core and you may be surprised. Once you learn you won’t be able to look back, you’ll be practicing in the car, at home, all the time! Fixing your core helps develop better posture, all on the ground! That is your body alignment and it will follow you into the saddle. A good exercise is standing against a wall and trying to touch your lower back to it while your shoulders are back. You tuck your pelvis and lift your ribs and I guarantee you will feel it when it is correct. That way while riding you can remind yourself ‘back against a wall’.
Now that our bodies are calm and strong we need some mobility. A stiff body makes for a stiff horse, a supple body makes for a supple horse. In order to ask for proper aids, we need a range of motion, especially in our hip flexors. Go to one yoga class and I guarantee you will find and open those hip flexors! If your horse has a much weaker side, ask yourself if maybe you do too? Could it be possible that you are causing this stiffness? The smallest difference in our elbows on one side versus the other makes a big difference in a horse’s range of motion in either direction. As riders, we are responsible for being strong and supple partners for our horses. It is not their responsibility to carry us correctly if we won’t first do it ourselves! Riding a happy willing horse is the biggest perk to all of the above reasons to practice yoga for your riding. Now go have fun and do some yoga!
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