Yoga for Equestrians

Back hurting? Moving a bit gingerly the day after a ride? Yoga stretches may be just the answer for better flexibility both on and off your horse.

YogaFit instructor and medical massage therapist Risa Jackinsky has developed a yoga program specifically for riders in partnership with the Mind and Body center at Hidden Creek Ranch in Harrison, Idaho. She is pleased to share a basic stretching program and yoga poses with Equitrekking.

Jackinsky grew up conditioning endurance horses. Her long-time passion for movement and how the body works, its challenges and limitations led her to Idaho to integrate yoga into the centered riding program at Hidden Creek and believes equestrian exercises are important.

Her yoga classes at the guest ranch focus on how to prepare the body for riding and subsequent movement afterwards. Hour long classes are geared towards a wide range of fitness levels, suitable for everyone.

“Yoga is a dynamic connection between body parts that is strengthening but also fluid, a strong and soft aspect important in riding," says Jackinsky.

Risa begins her sessions by demonstrating breathing techniques. “The first and most essential step in yoga is getting in touch with your breathing. I suggest my students imagine the spine as a tube drawing the breath up into the body, feeling the body expand and then relax as we expel the breath with each exhale."

“Relaxed breathing visualization transfers to riding," Risa emphasizes. “If you have trouble finding your seat, bring your mind back to concentrate on the breath. You'll find slowing your breathing helps shift your weight to a deeper seat, allowing your low back and sacrum to relax, sinking correctly into the saddle."

“Horses respond in kind to our attention and our degree of relaxation," she notes. “If we greet our horse with stress, the horse feels our stress. Getting in touch with our breath slows us down and gives us a more peaceful approach to the greeting of our horse."

The yoga stretches pictured concentrate on opening the back, hip and inner thigh areas and also help build core strength and flexibility. Practiced daily, you should find a difference in how your body feels during and after your equestrian pursuits.

Always consult with your physician before you begining any new excercise programs to make certain they are right for you.

Flowing movement to warm up the body. Begin with inhale in upward position.
Exhale as you lower to second position. Repeat ten times.   
#2 Modified Pigeon

This position encourages hip openings and addresses the low back and lateral portion of the leg. Begin on back. Extend left leg. Cross right leg over left above the knee. Lace hands through opening and grab upper leg under the thigh. Lift head, pull and hold for five breaths. Repeat with other leg. Gradually work towards holding the pose for ten breaths.

#3 Modified Butterfly

Concentrates on hips and inner thighs and relaxes the sacrum. Lay on back, put feet together and let the knees drop. Hold through five breaths. Set a goal of holding the pose for ten breaths.
#4 Cat-Cow

A great stretch for the back and abs. Become aware of the flowing movement of the spinal column throughout the entire exercise. Begin on all fours. Inhale in flat back position, exhale, and stretch your back up like a frightened cat. Hold briefly.
Exhale and let back sink. Repeat four to six times.   
#5 Seated Spinal Twist

Excellent for core strength and flexibility. In a sitting position, extend left leg. Bend right leg and place it over the left leg at the knee. Wrap left arm at elbow around right knee. Twist body to the right. Hold both right and left twists for 5 breaths, working up to ten breaths on each side.

#6 Kneeling Camel

Opens chest and front of the body. In this stretch, contract your abs, chin on chest, hands on front of thighs. Exhale. Inhale as you lift your chin, roll your shoulders back and stretch backwards; exhale as you drop your hands on the back of your thighs, flowing with the breath in each exhale. Use the breath to work deeper into the pose.

Inhale and move back towards the front, exhale as you move your hands towards the front of the thighs. Repeat five times, working up to 10 flowing movements.   

About the Author
Susan Seligman is an equestrian and adventure travel writer from New Mexico.