Warm Up I like to offer a gentle warm-up for our equine partners along with grooming and making an intimate connection by walking and a few stretches. It takes 20 minutes for a horse to warm up their muscles enough so they don't hurt themselves. I think it is the same for humans.
Thoughtful Stretching The same is true for our muscles, so we proceed slowly and carefully with gentle warm-up stretches appropriate for you and your abilities before mounting your horse.
Increase Your Flexibility
For people with tight hips and high muscle tone, straddling a horse can be a challenge. I often use a saddle with shortened stirrups to support the legs with the knees higher than optimal, allowing the hips and legs to relax and stretch in their own timing.
We continue to warm up our body once we mount our horse both while the horse is standing still and while walking.
Increase Core Strength The most significant benefit riding a horse has for a human is increased core strength.
The abdominal muscles fire off 800 impulses/minute while riding. That's like doing 800 sit-ups without even knowing it!
Become Aware Of
In these two examples I am demonstrating, on the left, a rider who isn't using any core muscles to sit, and on the right, a rider who has engaged core muscles while remaining relaxed.
Next time you sit in a chair, ask yourself which rider you will be?
Improve Your Ability To Walk
When a horse walks, their hips move in exactly the same three ways that a human's hips move.
In short, a horse's hip mimic the movement of a human's hips while walking.
Some people do not have the strength, coordination, balance or ability to walk with an optimal human gait. Riding a horse can provide the body with the experience of walking.
Medical Science has proven that the body only needs to passively experience the movement of walking provided by a horse for the brain, muscles and nerves to learn how to promote a healthy human gait.
Riding a horse is particularly effective for people who are recovering from Stroke, who are born with Cerebral Palsy, who are in rehabilitation from accidents, and many other situations that limit their ability to walk.
People all over the world who ride in Therapeutic Riding programs have improved their ability to walk, and many have learned to walk independently for the first time from riding a horse.
Once we identify where our core muscles are and how they feel, we can discover where our Center Of Gravity is in relation to our horse's center of gravity. When we sit on a horse correctly, our centers of gravity line up, as if we were both designed from the beginning to share this relationship of riding. Riding truly feels natural to both horse and human.
Self-Acceptance There is ideal posture, which we all strive for, shown in the diagram on the left, and then there is reality.
I am 56 and you can see in this photo that I am constantly striving for ideal posture.
However, Therapeutic Riding isn't about achieving perfection. It is about acceptance and embracing the process of becoming aware of ourselves due to the amazing input the horse has to offer us.
The second we sit on a horse's back, just balancing while the horse stands still, we have an opportunity to become suddenly aware of any imbalances or weaknesses in the body that we may not have been aware of.
Find Harmony Between
You and Your Horse
Now add movement to the picture and our posture, core strength, flexibility all begin to fit together!
These examples might look exaggerated, but they are not. I have seen many people sit on a horse like both of these examples simply because they were unaware of what their body was doing. Some simply may not have the ability or control what their body is doing.
While riding a horse, we are given a vast amount of sensory input and information about every aspect of our body. This is a tremendous gift a horse can give us, and we can benefit from this if we pay attention to what we are learning.
High Muscle Tone: The example top left is typical of a person with very high muscle tone, or spasming muscles. Riding a horse can help relax the central nervous system, and the gentle movement of a horse walking.
Low Muscle Tone: The example top right is typical of a person with very low muscle tone; disengaged core, slumped neck, forward head. Balancing on a moving horse increases strength and muscle tone all over the body, especially at the trot. Once a rider is balanced and feels safe, trotting is very good for people with low muscle tone as it causes all of their muscles to engage in a relaxed controlled manner.
Applying tape to the body and photographing can help some students understand what they are seeking to achieve in their postural changes.
Dressage arenas and dance studios have mirrors for this very reason.
Posture & Balance Lead To Relaxation
When we develop our core strength, and find our center of gravity in relation to our horse's center of gravity, and when we can sit in correct posture, we begin to use the skeleton to support us rather than muscle tension.
When we relax our muscles, we relax our minds as well. And guess what else? Our horse feels that he has our permission to relax with us.
Happy Relaxed Person = Happy Relaxed Horse.
Part of my teaching strategy is to invite students (who do not have severe balance issues) to close their eyes, breathe deeply, and begin to become more present. I invite you to listen to the sound of your horse's hooves, the stream nearby, and feel your hips relaxing with the movement of your horse. Riding becomes a beautiful shared connected meditation between you and your horse.
These are a few of the basics I teach before we even begin learning riding skills.