As a result of the demands put on their bodies and minds due to the rigours of the sport (not to mention the thrills and spills), many equestrians seek ways to stretch, strengthen and destress at the gym, in a pilates class, or at a yoga studio. We spoke with Ashley Ward-Williams, RYT, a co-founder of Country Zen Yoga which has been operating in Schomberg, Ontario, for over seven years, about some specific exercises that target rider problem areas. Ashley, a rider and former ‘A’ circuit competitor herself, says of her clientele, “I would estimate that about thirty per cent or even more are riders. They come for not just stretching, but all-around fitness. Probably some stress relief, too. There are a lot of benefits to yoga.”
Good for: One of the best all-around poses for core strength.
Technique: Hug in your abs and keep your body straight without letting your back sag as gravity pushes it down.
Duration: A beginner will likely only be able to do 30 seconds to a minute; work up to five minutes or more. As with all exercises, if you start to lose form, stop and take a break. “For someone who right away it is too much for them, they can drop to their knees if they need a little break,” suggests Ashley.
Good for: A good stretch for the hip flexors, front of the thighs, front of the body and the chest. “It counteracts the effects of riders being in a flexed or seated position all the time by stretching your thighs and chest. People love it – I pretty much include it in every class.”
Technique: Weight is on the shoulders, arms and heels; hips are pushed upwards. An easier modification (below) is to place a block under the back which allows resting.
Duration: Hold 30 seconds; repeat short holds 2 or 3 times with a break in between.
Good for: Targets and opens the front outer hip and stretches the glutes. Can help lengthen the back thigh and quad area. “This is one of Erynn’s favourite hip-openers!”
Technique: Bring your right knee forward, slide your ankle in front of your left hip. Slide your left leg back, straighten the knee and point the toes.
Duration: Hold for a minute; do both sides.
Cow Face Pose
Good for: This two-part pose is a shoulder and chest opener with the linked hands, while the crossed legs are another great hip opener. “It targets the TFL (tensor fasciae latae) muscle in the side of the hip that is chronically tight on riders.” Also good for improving posture.
Technique: Cross right leg over left with right knee stacked over left; sweep right arm behind the torso with the palm out and work it up your spine, keeping it parallel; stretch the left arm up, bend elbow and reach for right hand. If you can’t hook your fingers, just aim to get as close as possible.
Duration: Hold for one minute. Repeat on opposite side.
Good for: Balance, core strength, focus. “Surprisingly, riders that come to me always have balance issues! There is also a hip-opener going on here with the inner thigh.”
Technique: Shift your weight slightly onto one foot, draw your other foot up and place the sole against the inner calf or inner thigh, depending on experience level. Beginners may want to do this with their eyes open; the more advanced can close them.
Duration: 30 seconds to a minute