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Pre-Ride Stretch - How To Add Value To Your Schooling Sessions In Just 5 Minutes

Following on from my last post regarding attention to detail, I wanted to dive a little deeper into how you can make small changes in your daily routine with your horses, which will lead to big improvements overall.

So let’s start at the very beginning, before you even get in the saddle, with a pre-ride stretch.

Now, the majority of the time that I suggest this to riders, their first response is that they “don’t have time”. I fully appreciate that time is tight, especially now the nights are starting to draw in and you want to spend the little time you may have with your horse actually riding and enjoying him.

However, by taking 5 minutes off your riding time and instead spending those few minutes warming up and preparing your body for the physical activity you are about to take part in, the time you do spend in the saddle will be more valuable, meaning you will get more from your schooling sessions… far more than you would be able to achieve schooling a horse when you're cold and rigid in the saddle.

You would happily give your horse 10-15 minutes at the start of a schooling session to work long and low, stretch down over his back and down into the contact, allowing him to warm up before asking for him to perform any collected work. So why do we not allow the same for ourselves?

We as riders need to warm-up our muscles, lubricate our joints and prepare for physical activity, but we need to complete our warm-up before we get in the saddle and expose our horse to a tight, tense rider. If we get on the horse unprepared, we will be naturally more rigid, tense and less able to absorb the horse's stride through our seat; even a slight bit of tension in the seat can have a ‘closing’ or ‘holding’ effect on our horse's movement. Whereas, once our bodies are warmed up correctly, we become more flexible, relaxed and our muscles perform and contract much more efficiently, which also improves our reaction time.

Our horses are a mirror of their riders; if we are tense and rigid, this will be reflected in the horses’ way of going.

It is for this reason that I believe every rider should complete a pre-ride stretch before saddling up, and it should be seen as an essential part of your routine, especially as the weather starts to get a little chillier.

I have put together a 5 minute ‘pre-ride stretch’ that all riders can do to instantly bring value to their schooling sessions and get their rides off to the best start. Paying attention to the small details will improve the whole partnership.

Remember, the purpose of a pre-ride stretch is to prepare the body for exercise, lubricate the joints and warm the muscles up; this is not the time to be forcing cold muscles and joints into deep stretches – save this for post workout or development stretch sessions.


Your Pre-Ride Stretch

Complete the full routine twice before you get in the saddle!


1st Warm-Up Exercise - Hip Rotations

  • Take up position with your feet shoulder-width apart, your shoulders should be up and pulled back, arms relaxed by your sides, knees soft and not locked out, head and spine in neutral position.
  • Start by lifting your right knee up in front of you, level with your hip.
  • Your upper leg should now be parallel to the floor, making a right angle at the knee.
  • Next, keeping your knee at a right angle and level with your hips, open up your right hip by taking the knee out to the right side of your torso as far as is comfortable; you should feel this in your hip flexor.
  • Bring your knee back central to your body, still keeping the knee level with the hips, and return the foot back to the floor so that you’re in your original starting position.
  • Repeat this 8 times with each leg.

Throughout this exercise, it's important to keep your torso and head facing forward, the only movement should be coming from the hip flexors.


2nd Warm-Up Exercise - Alternating Side Lunges

  • Take up position with your feet shoulder-width apart, your shoulders should be up and pulled back, arms relaxed by your sides, knees soft and not locked out, head and spine in neutral position.
  • Step out to the side with your left leg (as wide as possible), bend your left knee and push your hips back and sit into the lunge; think pushing your bottom out and down.
  • Hold for a few seconds, then return to the starting position and repeat the movement with the right leg.
  • Keep alternating legs, completing 6 on each side.

This exercise is great for opening up tight hips and groin, and will strengthen your inner thigh muscles and your glutes.


3rd Warm-Up Exercise - Shoulder Rotations

  • Stand in neutral position with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Start by holding a lead rope in front of you, with an end in each hand; a little wider than shoulder width apart – the tighter your shoulders are, the wider your grip needs to be.
  • Raise your arms up and over your head, and then lower them behind your back, keeping your arms straight throughout the movement.
  • Hold behind your back for a few seconds, then raise your arms up and back over your head to return to the starting position.
  • Repeat 6 times.

4th Warm-Up Exercise - Cross-Legged Lateral Stretches

  • Start in the neutral position, feet slightly apart, head and neck relaxed, shoulders pulled back and down.
  • Cross the right leg behind the left, as you do this place left arm on left hip and reach your right arm up towards the sky
  • Then, leading with your right arm, stretch over to the left side; feel the stretch all down your right side from shoulder through to hip flexor.
  • Return to neutral position and repeat on the other side, completing this twice on each side.

Don't forget to do it all over again!

For more great tips on equestrian fitness and handy exercises to try, follow Natalie @NMA.Fitness on Facebook and Instagram.
Natalie Alexander
Horsemart Content Contributor
Published on 21-09-2020
Natalie is a qualified Level 3 Personal Trainer who has moved her business 'NMA Fitness' online, providing personalised Fitness Coaching programmes to clients internationally. She is also a keen event rider who competes her own horses that she has produced and is bringing up the levels with big ambitions for the future. Combining these 2 passions, Natalie specialises in working with equestrians to help them achieve their health and fitness goals, focussing on losing body fat and gaining strength to improve performance in the saddle.