Often, I write about exercises to do in the off-season, or out of the saddle, to complement the exercise we get while we’re in it. In the spirit of efficiency, this month’s article is about warmup exercises we can do while in the saddle at the walk to stretch and limber up. Obviously, this comes with a word of warning – know your horse and stay alert. If your horse gets easily spooked, you can modify accordingly.
A lot of effectiveness in the saddle comes down to core stability and thoracic and hip mobility are key factors in this. This warm-up routine is designed to maximize those factors to help achieve a stable but mobile seat.
1. Modified saddle hip flexor stretch:
Sitting in the saddle, take one foot out of the stirrup. Tuck your bottom under you into a posterior pelvic tilt to stabilize your lumbar spine and stretch the free foot back and down. We spend a lot of time in the saddle in a hip-slightly-flexed position and over time this can cause our hip flexors to tighten and pull on our lower back, affecting our core stability. Feel free to use the pommel in one hand for a little leverage. Hold for 30 seconds per side.
2. 3-D thoracic mobility stretch:
Keeping your pelvis square in the saddle, raise your right arm overhead and reach back slightly, lifting your sternum for sagittal plane mobility x 5 pulses. Then reach the same arm to the side for frontal plane mobility x 5. Lastly, bend that arm at the elbow (think field goal position) and rotate your upper body to the right and back to neutral x 5. Repeat on the opposite side. This gives you some practice controlling your core while looking over your shoulder for the next jump, for example, and teaches your body to dissociate pelvis from thorax.
3. 3-D pelvic mobility:
This last exercise complements the thoracic mobility and works on keeping your thorax neutral while focusing on letting your pelvis move in three planes with your horse. If you pay close attention and try this with your horse walking in both directions on a circle, you might notice what your horses’ mobility strengths and deficits are in three planes as well. Noting any tightness in any of the planes in your own body can help you target those deficits on the ground. As we focus on each dimension, try to slightly exaggerate the movement (by about 30%) to work on both stability and mobility.
Keeping your shoulders square, spend 30 seconds focusing on the sagittal plane – the anterior and posterior tilt of your pelvis as your horse moves. Then spend 30 seconds focusing on your hips moving side to side in the saddle (frontal plane) and the next 30 on the rotation of your hips as the horse steps forward with one leg, then the other.
These simple exercises should take no more than about 6-7 minutes and by that time your horse should be limber and you can start schooling with your core firing and your hips and thorax mobile and stable.