As well as being the longest day of the year, June 21st is also the International Day of Yoga. As such, we are excited to celebrate two ancient arts – yoga and horse riding – and highlight the wonderful benefits that can come from practicing both in combination!
The ritual of yoga is thousands of years old, as is our affinity with horses. As a result, it’s not surprising that the pair can work really well hand in hand. Yoga for Riders is taught by practitioners like Annabel Bouttle, bringing together the calmness of yoga with the strength of horse riding.
This practice can give a powerful boost to both physical and mental wellbeing, renewing vitality and enabling deeper awareness, as well as strengthening the body. It is a deeply personal practice, and everyone’s journey will be unique.
For beginners, and those with chronic injuries, a gentle retraining of the body may be required at first, but as you progress your improved awareness and strength will guide you through the routines.
Horses are empathetic creatures who are adept at picking up on their rider’s emotional energy. Therefore, taking steps to relax your mind and body will really benefit the health of your equine companion, as well as yourself.
Improve Your Riding
Most riders are no strangers to spending a lot of time and money purchasing items for both themselves and their horses, and on consulting experts, to ensure their horses feel at their best. However, all too often we overlook one key element: ourselves.
Whether you’re new to yoga or have been practicing for years, you may be surprised to know that incorporating stretches and activating specific muscle groups into your daily routine, especially just before you climb onto the saddle, can improve your riding. Even practicing for just a small timeframe each day can be beneficial for your mind and body, not to mention your time spent with/on a horse.
Here are some simple poses, suitable for experts and novices alike:
- Hip opening stretches have obvious benefits when it comes to horse riding. Lunges and yoga poses like Reclining Butterfly and Camel Pose will help you achieve this.
- Balance is important for any rider and practicing positions like Tree Pose will help you find your Improving your balance will also increase your awareness of how your body moves. You can try Tree with your eyes closed and check in with your skills of proprioception. You may be surprised how challenging this is and it’s a good way to find out your natural tendencies, e.g., a lean to the right, and then how this can influence your riding without you really being aware. Awareness is key!
- Plank and Boat Pose are great for strengthening your core, ensuring you sit more evenly while riding.
- Eagle Arms pose will help you loosen your shoulders and also enhance flexibility.
Benefits for Mind & Body
There are a wealth of benefits that come from practicing Yoga for Riders which will aid you when riding, as well as in everyday life. Even simply taking a few minutes to calm your mind through positive mindset techniques, alongside Breathwork and stretching your body before mounting up can improve your form and happiness in the saddle, and indeed that of your horse! Setting a consistent time to practice each day can have positive echoes in all aspects of your life.
Some of the benefits of Yoga for Riders include:
- Building a stronger core (protecting your back from undue wear and tear)
- Your hips and shoulders will open, allowing you to move more freely and be seated more deeply.
- Muscle groups will gently lengthen and strengthen.
- Being in top health, physically and mentally, will help you ride better and for longer.
- When practiced consistently, yoga can really help open your awareness and deepen your connection with your horse.
- Most people naturally hold themselves asymmetrically, which can put pressure on our joints. Yoga can help to retrain your body to a more correct posture. This asymmetry also effects your horse, who will adjust his locomotion to manage the imbalance. There is research looking at the long term effects of this on your horses way of going and general longevity.
- Yoga calms your mind and improves your overall mental wellbeing, on and off the horse.
If practicing yoga alongside your riding is something that interests you, then looking into courses can be a great place to start. Some, like Yoga for Riders by Annabel Bouttle, allow you to participate in person, if you live in the Surrey area, or via a virtual/online course.
Having proper guidance will ensure you’re using the correct form which minimises any risks of accidental injury. Joining a yoga class, particularly one focussed on how yoga can benefit riders, can also be a really great way to meet new people and connect with others who share your interests, while you work towards renewed vitality and strength.