We know our horses are strong incredible athletes who endure all of the physical work and impact. Therefore, we take the time to stretch and warm our horses up before we ride, rope or run barrels. But have you ever considered taking the time to stretch your muscles before you prepare for your next run? Tight hips, hamstrings and calves, or a sore back can affect not only our riding negatively, but our daily lives. Not only do our muscles benefit from stretching, relieving stiffness and creaky joints, while increasing blood circulation which is good for handling our ropes, research shows that our brains benefit from a stretch as well. Stretching can increase our memory, reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, boost our mood and may even help us think clearly, making for a better performance.
“Stretching,” Suzanne Martin, a physical therapist, likens stretching to a neurological panacea. “Stretching affects not only our muscle system but also our neurological system, which includes the operation of the brain,” she states. “When you stretch, you lengthen some areas while relaxing others. The brain in turn regulates automatic functions such as heart rate and blood pressure. It secretes hormones, which act as chemical messengers to help insulin control, metabolism, mood and emotion.”
So, before you jump in the saddle, try these five simple stretches to get your mind focused and your muscles ready to make a fast run.
Standing back stretch: Better known as toe touches - Stand with your feet about hips-width apart and hands in front of your thighs. Bend forward at the waist, running your fingers down the front of your legs toward your feet. Round your lower back as you lean forward and try to touch your toes. Perform six to eight repetitions, stretching slightly farther with each one so the final repetition brings your hands as close as possible to your toes.
Low-back rotation stretch: Sit on a hay bale, bench or sturdy chair, with your feet flat on the ground while twisting your upper body so your shoulders rotate to one side. Go only as far as you can comfortably. You should feel the pull from your lower back up to the middle.
Wall slide: Standing against a wall or the back of your trailer door, make sure your tailbone, shoulder blades and head are all pressed against your chosen wall. Hold your hands at shoulder level with your elbows bent at 45 degrees and palms facing forward. Slowly extend your hands as far up as they’ll go, not moving your tailbone, shoulder blades or head and keeping them pressed against the wall. Be slow and controlled and try to reach as high as you can.
Standing quad stretch: Stand on one leg and pull the other foot up behind your bottom. Keep your knees together and push your hips forwards to increase the stretch. Hold for between 10 and 30 seconds.
Scapular setting: Start in a comfortable standing position with arms at your side. Move your shoulder blades up, then out, pushing away from your body, then down. You only need to move about one centimeter in each direction. Maintain proper postural alignment throughout the exercise. Hold each position for 10 seconds or longer.
All of these stretches are quick, easy and can be done anywhere. Taking just the little bit of time before you ride will help contribute to your health in the long run. Not to mention, improving flexibility and your posture!
The author of the blog, California Dreamin’ (www.calidreamin.com), Amy Witt’s articles have appeared in magazines and newspapers around the world. A fashionista, cowgirl and journalist, Amy strives to motivate and inspire people around the world.