3 Body-Awareness Exercises
by Shelbie Fredenhagen
“Movement is a medicine for creating change in a person’s physical, emotional, and mental state.” Carol Welch
The first step to an effective leg while riding is to create body awareness and relaxed control. Without this, we either consciously or subconsciously block and hold in our bodies, which in turn blocks our horse. If the horse feels blocked in movement his only option is to move through that resistance.
Your tight legs will essentially teach your horse to move against you. We want to give the horse the opportunity to demonstrate his natural energy and movement — energy you can then direct. This is where we can use mobility in our own body to achieve relaxed engagement.
Here are three exercises to achieve more awareness, find better timing, and maintain better balance around your horse. These exercises can be done on your horse while someone holds him. If your horse isn’t relaxed enough, a barrel with your saddle on it acts as a great substitute.
Note: There should be no pain in these movements. These aren’t stretches or muscle-building exercises, but awareness-building movements. Remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect! This is supposed to be fun and give you better feel of your body so it is easier to move and play with your horse.
1. Swing ‘Em Up
Try to keep your hands from resting or pulling on the pommel of your saddle. Kick both legs (you can start with one) up over the knee rolls. Then relax. Feel how you have to rock backwards and relax your lower back to make this movement easy. Try to make this movement smooth, easy and effortless with both legs at the same time.
2. Slide ‘Em back
Rest both hands on the front of your saddle or the horse’s neck (or the barrel if you’re sitting on one) and fold forward. Don’t hyper-flex your back, just feel your belly button lower near the pommel. Feel how your hip and top of your thigh roll forward and down. Bend your knees and really let your leg move back and forth from the knee joint. This isn’t a stretch, but enables you to explore your leg’s range of motion while in a relaxed position.
3. Shake ‘Em Out
Lift and open one leg a little bit at a time, then let it drop down and shake it out with your hand on your thigh, or with the help of someone on the ground. Your iliotibial band, or IT band, is a wide strip of fibrous tissue that extends down the outside of the upper leg; if it’s tight you might experience cramping, so do this movement slowly and only a little at a time. As you rest your hand on your thigh, let your thigh hang relaxed and wiggle as you let go of any tension in your hip and leg. Do this multiple times with each leg. Notice any difference between your two legs.
In the coming series, we will focus on gaining awareness and relaxation in your seat and hands to create more efficiency and better timing in your riding.
Shelbie Fredenhagen is a classical equitation trainer originally from Anchorage, Alaska. Now based in Alachua, Florida, Shelbie offers lessons, clinics and training opportunities for all levels with a focus on preserving the health of both horse and rider. She frequently returns to the Pacific Northwest to teach. More information can be found at http://www.bodhiequus.com/