The holidays can be a stressful time; let's not even think about your full-time job sitting at a desk all day, the long hours in the library cramming for college finals, and any of the other day-to-day stresses that comes with being an adult (whew, that can really add up!)
Going to the barn and getting in the saddle is supposed to be a fun and happy time, but that stress you're feeling relays to your horse and distracts from a productive ride, potentially causing more stress - we all know that blah feeling after a bad ride.
In this week's guest blog, Kat gives some tips on how to keep stress from interfering with your ride.
I often battle with my body and mind when it comes time to ride my gelding, Dante. He’s a great horse for an amateur rider, but if I’m tense (mentally or physically) it really makes him unhappy. Think about it – horses are flight animals, and it’s our job to reassure them as our partners. If we are tense before we get in the tack (What’s going to happen? Why are you worried? Did I do something wrong? Is something out there?) or in the saddle (Why are you scared? I can’t move forward with you gripping like that! A monster is going to eat us in those corners!) we send all the wrong signals to our horses. And it’s SO EASY to do, especially if you’ve had a rough day at work, have been sitting at a desk all day, or had to sit through rush-hour traffic on the way to the barn. I’m going to walk you through my routine of how to get past this road block and hopefully it makes all your rides a better experience!
First, take a deep breath. No, really! It’s so easy to get caught up in our own heads that if I feel stress the first thing I do is put a hand on my horse, and take a deep breath. Just take a minute to stand with your ponies in silence and let them know your there, and in that moment you aren’t expecting anything of them. It takes repetition, but eventually you’ll learn to instantly “chill” the moment you get in the barn.
There are a ton of great stretches any Adult Amateur can do before riding, but I actually do most of my stretching in the saddle. If you’re looking for an easy, full-proof set of stretches before you get on your horse, I always recommend the yoga stretch called “forward fold,” and lunges!
I came from a Hunter/Jumper background, but now I ride Dressage. The most obvious difference between the disciplines is how much more open the hip angle needs to be.
Turns out, the stretches that help with that open hip angle are also great for relieving tension in the lower back, hips and quads. By being more relaxed through your seat, you can also be a more effective rider and reduce the amount of time you need to spend warming yourself up!
When I first get on my horse, I do two laps of the ring, one in each direction, on a loose rein and without stirrups. During this time I really focus on letting my hips follow my horse, relaxing my back, and letting my legs swing with his movement. I’ll roll my shoulders and sometimes even do a back twist to loosen up. And this is all with my horse plodding along at a walk around the perimeter of the arena. I then do my hip stretches.
Please note - *Only perform these mounted stretches with supervision or on a horse that is reliably quiet**
Hope this helps! I got most of these ideas from my trainer (and Bronze Medalist) Ali at Forward Strides LLC.