Riding is a team sport. It requires both, horse and human to work as partners, to have a good physical condition and a set of mental qualities. Our horses are extremely well groomed, nourished, trained under expert guidance, physically strong and intelligent.
The rider, therefore, to ensure the safety and accomplishment of both, should also take care of his physical and mental condition.
When riding, the horse´s entire body is working, think about the musculoskeletal system, their vision, balance, reflexes and ability to control their actions. The rider has to be able to adapt to the horses’ reactions and respond, with some crucial qualities aiding in achieving a much better performance for both.
The rider must be, not only comfortable in the saddle, but in control of his body, flexible and resistant. Qualities such as endurance, static and dynamic physical strength, speed of (re)action and coordination are needed to maintain balance in all situations and to be in harmony with the horse.
Imagine a flexible, resistant rider, who´s mind is clear, their body healthy and available – the performance of this rider and their horse will be much better than when the rider is experiencing psychological or physical adversities.
By unifying body and mind, creating space for the individual to improve his physical form and finding ways to manage their stress, each rider will be able to understand where their difficulties come from and be more aware of themselves and their horse.
A regular yoga practice can be a perfect addition to benefit each rider individually, depending on their needs, level, practice and goals. With so many various styles to choose from, this type of movement, combined with deep breathing and meditation, helps to develop strength, tone, flexibility, awareness, concentration and mental clarity. Additionally, unlike other popular workouts such as body-building or CrossFit, yoga offers a much gentler alternative that respects the body, encourages the development of (self) awareness and strengthens the body for a long time.
Aside from targeting core strength and correct spinal alignment, which are essential to improve one´s upper body condition and position once on horseback; yoga is known to reduce stress, aid in managing our emotions, soothe sore muscles, helps to recover from heavy training and improve coordination – qualities which can help advance our riding and acheive harmony with our horse (and ourselves).
The type of physical flexibility that is developed through the practice of yoga allows better leg aid, offers more connection with the horse and helps in injury prevention, especially when falling down.
Through a regular asana practice, we become more aware of both our strengths and weaknesses, which creates space for self- improvement. When adding breathing exercises to the equation, we learn how to be present and develop the abilities to focus and liberate ourselves from the opinions of others and our ownn- preparing the rider to be in the best condition to listen to his horse.
Incorporating yoga into your and your horses life will benefit both parties, as a toned and relaxed rider will have more ability to hold on comfortably on horseback for many hours and the relationship between the two will flourish, through a clearer body language, mutual understanding, cooperation and partnership.
Regular practice and patience are the key ingredients to feel the benefits on horseback and eventually improve one´s performance, however tread carefully, one of the most important lessons that yoga teaches us is to respect and listen to our bodies. Therefore, always be careful not to push too much and respect your (physical) boundaries, as doing so may prove counterproductive and harmful.
In more than one way, we can always improve our riding, and yoga can definitely help to bring us there.