The quadriceps are a combination of muscles that form the large muscle group at the front of the thigh. When posting, these muscles are used in combination with the gluteus maximus (Hip muscle) to lift the rider up and forward. In addition, the gluteus maximus and the quadriceps are used when the rider maintains a straight back or "sits tall in the saddle."
To stretch the quadriceps, stand erect with one hand against the horse, fence post or stable wall. Support your weight on one leg. (Bend the knee of the supporting leg slightly to avoid stressing the knee joint.) Bring the non-supporting leg back in a perpendicular line to the body and bend the knee to raise the foot. Grasp the ankle of the non-supporting leg and gently pull the foot toward your buttocks. Take care not to overextend the knee joint. When performed correctly, you should feel a stretch in the front part of your thigh. Hold this for several seconds, then switch legs.
This stretch will loosen the muscles of the lower back as well the hamstrings. The hamstrings are the group of muscles located at the back of the leg. They are used when extending the hip joint and in lifting and flexing the knee. This stretch is fundamental for all equestrians as the muscles of the lower back and the hamstrings are used extensively in all disciplines.
To stretch the lower back and hamstrings, stand with your feet together and your hands at your sides. Flex forward at the waist while keeping your back straight. Your knees should be bent slightly to avoid stressing the knee joint. At the same time, slide your hands down to your knees and use your arms to support your upper body. Continue bending until your head and back are perpendicular to the ground. Hold this stretch for several seconds. Then round the upper torso (like a cat arching its back) and return to the upright position.
The rider's side-to-side flexibility can be increased by stretching the oblique muscles located on the side of the torso and the gluteus muscles of the hips. Equestrians participating in disciplines that require sharp turns, such as barrel racing, jumping and polo, will find this stretch to be particularly beneficial.
Start this stretch by standing in the upright position with your hands down at your sides. Cross your left leg in front of your right leg. Then distribute your weight evenly on both legs to maintain your balance. Exhale and slowly bend laterally toward your left side. Hold this stretch for the count of five before returning to the start position. For maximum flexibility, repeat this exercise several times on both sides.
This stretch will loosen the muscles in the rider's arms, shoulders and upper back. Start by holding your arms perpendicular from your body at shoulder height. Begin rotating your arms in small counterclockwise circles. Widen the circle with each rotation to obtain the maximum stretch throughout the shoulder region. Repeat this exercise by rotating the arms clockwise, beginning with small circles and progressing to larger ones. The neck and upper back can be stretched simultaneously by bringing your chin down toward your chest while doing the arm rotations.
In less than ten minutes a day, these stretches can improve the rider's flexibility and balance in the saddle while decreasing soreness and reducing injuries. So whether you are a serious equestrian or a weekend rider, isn't it time you tried the three "ups" of riding: Saddle up, mount up and Warm-up!
To further increase the flexibility in the ankle region, ankle rotations are done from the mounted position. To begin this exercise, remove your feet from the stirrups. Then rotate your feet in a small circle, slowly increasing the size of the circle with each rotation. Work in both the clockwise and counterclockwise directions. English riders are advised to cross their stirrup leathers over the horse's neck to prevent the stirrup irons from hitting the horse's elbows.
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The Achilles tendon, which is composed of fibrous tissue, connects the muscles of the calf to the heel bone. This muscle-tendon combo is responsible for pointing and flexing the foot. In the case of equestrians, the Achilles tendon is stretched when riders are keeping their heels down. Stretching this area will loosen the calf muscles and increase vertical flexibility in the ankles.
To perform this stretch, stand with your toes on the edge of a step, ground pole or cavalletti. (Your heel will extend over the edge.) Then slowly lower your heels until you feel the stretch in your heels and calf muscles. Count to five, then return to the starting position. Repeat this exercise several times for maximum benefits.
This exercise warms up the knee region and is particularly useful for English riders who will be posting or jumping. This exercise also requires the feet to be free of the stirrups. To perform this exercise, slowly swing your leg back and forth like a pendulum. This will open and close the knee joint and improve flexibility in this area. Be extremely careful not to overextend the knee in either direction as this can result in strain to the area.
This exercise stretches the muscles in the arms, shoulders and back. In the jump position, reach forward with one hand and touch the horse's poll. Be careful not to startle the horse. To maintain balance, the rider can place their other hand on the pommel of the saddle. Repeat this exercise on the opposite side.
This first series of five stretches are performed from the standing position before mounting. These exercises are designed to warmup the muscles of the legs, sides and back.
The adductors are the set of muscles located in the inner thigh. These muscles are used very differently when riding as compared to the use they receive with normal, everyday activity. Novices often experience soreness in these muscles when they first take up horseback riding. Stretching the inner thigh prior to riding will help alleviate soreness and can prevent stiffness from developing.
To stretch the adductor, stand with your feet straddled about two feet apart. Turn your right foot 90 degrees so that the toe and heel are now in line with the body. With both feet flat on the ground, bend your left knee. At the same time, slide your right foot back as you drop your hips. Continue until you feel a stretch in the inner thigh. To prevent strain to the knee, make sure the left knee doesn't extend over the toe. This stretch should be held for a slow count of five. Slowly raise the hips to the starting position. Point the right foot forward and turn the left foot outward 90 degrees to repeat the stretch on the other side.
Achilles Tendon (Heel Cord) and Calf Muscle Stretch
Shoulder and Arm Rotations
This second set of stretches are performed after mounting. These exercises will continue to stretch the muscles of the legs, back and sides of the torso while improving the rider's balance in the saddle. In addition, these exercises will warm up the muscles of the upper torso, neck and shoulders. Both mounted and unmounted stretches are recommended for maximizing the rider's flexibility.
For the rider's safety, only use quiet, calm or well-trained horses for mounted exercises. Caution should be used when performing mounted exercises for the first time or when doing these exercises on young, skittish, or sensitive horses. Mounted exercises can be performed at the halt or walk, depending upon the rider's stability in the saddle. Novice riders are encouraged to have an experienced equestrian hold or lead the horse during mounted stretches.
Side and Hip Stretch
Horseback riding is an athletic endeavor. Equestrians use muscles to keep their heels down, to sit up straight and to maintain their balance. It takes muscles to ride and a lot of muscle control to ride well. This is evident by the fact that horseback riding burns between 200 and 600 calories an hour. This compares to the calories burned in sports like baseball, tennis and skiing. Equestrians don't just sit on their horses, they ride!
A pre-ride warmup is critical for preventing injuries and improving the rider's performance. Warming up slowly increases muscle activity and stretches those muscles, joint and ligaments that are used strenuously during riding. Increasing muscle activity causes the body's tissue temperature to elevate. It also increases the heart rate which results in more oxygen reaching the muscle tissue. In addition, warming up allows nerve impulses to travel faster, muscles to contract more efficiently and increases the rate at which energy is released into the body.
Stretching progressively increases the rider's range of movement and enhances the ability of connective tissue to elongate. This prevents muscles and joints from being overstretched. Stretching also prevents lactic acid build-up, which is the cause of soreness and muscle fatigue. Together, stretching and warmup exercises prepare the body for the workout that riding gives it. The following ten exercises will stretch those muscles and joints that are most frequently used when horseback riding.
This is an excellent stretch for the rider's shoulders, sides and back. It also helps the rider develop balance and poise in the saddle. To begin the stretch, place your legs in the proper position for riding. Bring your right hand across the horse and touch the horse's left shoulder. Be sure to keep your arm straight as you stretch down the shoulder blade. Repeat this stretch with the left hand touching the horse's right shoulder.
Back and Forth
Lower Back Stretch