Obviously yoga postures benefit riding with the stretching and strength building. However, some people are doing yoga on the horse's back. Why you ask? Because yoga helps us get grounded and centered. This is important when working around horses and riding because they are sensitive creatures that pick up on our emotions.
Also, there are yoga stretches for the horse to do too! So, this is about yoga for you, yoga for your horse, and yoga for you and your horse together! Yoga is great for overall health and better riding, yoga is for centering and grounding on and around horses, and yoga stretches are for the horse.
Before I saddle one of my horses to ride, I do a brief yoga stretch sequence for the horse. First, I ask my horse for the Carrot Stretch. This stretch frees up the use of the front end of the horse and increases muscle development. The goal for the horse should be to bend his/her head and neck all the way back to the stifle. If they can’t bend that far, it tells us they are tight in the shoulders.
The second horse stretch I do is the Front Leg Stretch. This stretches all the way up to the withers. This opens the scapula to the withers. The goal is to hold the ‘drunken horse pose’ for at least 60 seconds.
Third is the Tail Pull. This stretch is a traction hold that stretches the hind end. This is a gentle pull of the tail and should ONLY be done if the horse is safe to stand behind. This stretches out the lower lumbar and psoas muscles.
The fourth stretch in the horse sequence is the Bumm Tucks. This helps free up the lower back. The goal is the horse should be able to roll up all the way to their withers. This is NOT a speed event. Keep the spine straight and just ask for a little bit at a time.
The last stretch is the Belly Lift. The horse’s back is like a suspension bridge. This stretch helps the ribs raise and expand to keep the horse’s topline from dropping and losing its development. The ribs need to come up in order for the hind end to engage. By doing a series of five belly lifts and holding for about 10 seconds each, your horse will start to develop a stronger topline and the goal is to expand through the withers.
After I do my horse’s yoga stretches, I mount my horse and spend 10 minutes walking. Walking for the first 10 minutes is very important because horses have no muscles below their knee. It takes 10 minutes for all of the tendons and ligaments to warm-up.
As I do the walk warm-up for my horse, I do my yoga stretches in the saddle. These include a mounted Reverse Warrior and Warrior II. The Warrior II pose has been modified for horseback, but still helps open the hips. This pose benefits the legs and arms, opens the chest and shoulders, and tones the abdomen.
Reverse Warrior is obviously modified for horseback, but it is still a great side-bend that stretches the ribs, which are hard to get to but still important. This pose also strengthens the legs, opens the side of your body, and improves spinal mobility along with balance and core strength.
I am a certified Equine Musculoskeletal Unwinding Practitioner. In my bodywork training, we learned the importance of stretching horses. I also have over 25 years’ experience riding and training horses. Horses are athletes and require proper warm-up and cool down just like a runner, sports player, or swimmer. If one body part doesn’t work like the other body parts, the horse will compensate and that is when you will start to see soreness or even lameness issues. Stretching is about flexibility. A horse can’t engage his/her hind end, stride out in front, or carry the weight of a saddle and rider without being physically and emotionally sound and in shape. Take the time to stretch your horse and yourself. It will bring longevity to both of you!
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