Sandra Sokoloski, a physiotherapist in Black Diamond, AB (esportphysio.ca), treats equestrians in various disciplines, from amateur to Olympic levels, to help them move and ride more effectively. In this article, she presents two of her favourite stretches for horseback riders which target the hips to allow more flexibility and comfort in the saddle.
Full Squat Hip Stretch for Riders
This exercise helps to maintain the flexibility of the entire spine and lower extremities, as well as improving hip joint health. It is one of the most important exercises you can do for
Spread your feet wider than your hips and turn toes out slightly. Slowly lower towards the ground, keeping knees apart and aligned with toes. Use elbows against inner knees to push knees apart and help balance. Feet should remain flat on floor and lower back must relax to allow tailbone to hang down. Breathe into lower belly and feel ribs expand in your back. With each out breath, let go in the thighs, spine and shoulders. Sense if you are keeping even weight in both feet. Hold for 5-10 breaths and return to upright by dropping your head down and lifting your tailbone to the ceiling while straightening your knees, then stand up slowly. If your calf muscles or ankles are too tight, then start with your heels propped up on a book or towel roll. If you fall backwards because of stiffness, start teaching your body to let go while hanging onto a secure object which is about knee height from the floor. If your knees are stiff or sore, put a pillow or yoga bolster behind the crook of your knees so the back of your thigh can rest against it. Perform 10-15 times daily.
Hip Fold Squat Back for Riders
This multi-purpose exercise maintains hip and spine mobility, relaxes breathing and stretches the back of the inner thigh (adductor magnus) – one of the tightest areas in riders. With feet more than hip-width apart, fold forward by pushing hips back, allowing knees to bend, but keep tailbone lifted to feel a strong stretch in back of inner thighs. Arms reach forward equally, keep equal weight on both feet and ribs connected in the front to avoid over-arching your back. Breathe into back of ribs, four breaths. Then allow body to hang with arms and head relaxed down. The stretch in back of thighs should continue. Breath into belly and feel your back releasing as the ribs move for four breaths.
Keep glutes relaxed as you curl up. Start by pulling your pubic bone towards your belly button, tipping tailbone down to the ground, then uncurling spine one vertebrae at a time. Use tummy muscles to push spine up straight, not back muscles to pull body up. Unfurl all the way to top of head. Glutes and back stay relaxed as you pull up with abdominal muscles and continue to breathe into belly. Repeat 8-10 times throughout the day.