Train your body to become more balanced and flexible with these simple exercises.
By Emily J. Harrington
How do you know if you are a balanced rider?
Many horses travel better going one direction than another, and the same is usually true for us as riders.
Physically, we are not the same from one side to the other. Either due to injury or what we have inherited from our parents, we are not naturally balanced. If you’re wondering about whether or not you “ride balanced,” I suggest having someone watch you who can give feedback on how you look in the saddle. If you feel weaker going one direction versus another, then spend more time working in the weaker direction.
You might be asking yourself, why does it matter? The answer can be found in your horse. Your horse may have habits that reflect unbalanced riding. A horse will not travel straight unless he stays evenly between your hands (or reins, if you ride one-handed) and between your legs. You can find out a lot about your horse and the way he moves just by taking a closer look at your own habits in the saddle.
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You can also test your strength and flexibility from one side to the other in the gym.
- To test your leg strength, perform a single leg curl either standing or while prone (on your belly). Pay close attention to the differences in strength between the right and left legs.
- Now try a single leg extension, experimenting from one leg to the other.
- These two exercises will show you the strength and balance in your hamstring muscles (located in the back of your thigh) and the quadriceps muscles (located in the front of your thigh).
- Test your flexibility by placing one leg up on a weight bench and stretching the hamstring muscles. Keep your hips square to the bench and lean forward with good posture. Do both sides and determine which side is more flexible.
- Finally, while standing, pull your heel to your seat and hold the top of your foot with the same side hand. This will stretch the quadriceps and the hip, if your quadriceps muscles are not too tight. Perform this exercise on both sides.
Get the idea? Go through the whole body at the gym or at home. These exercises can provide useful insight into your ability to ride balanced.
— Emily J. Harrington, CPT, equestrienne fitness trainer, is a multiple AQHA world champion and top-10 World Show finisher. Visit her website, www.bodybalancefitness.org.