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Monday, 27 May, 2019

Is practicing yoga beneficial for equestrians?

“I did not take enough care of myself in the past and now I feel it physically.” confided Thierry Rozier in I am an Equestrian’s podcast[1]; a gap that is proving today to be a brake in the pursuit of his sporting career. Indeed, the physical preparation of the horse and the monitoring of his condition[2] are the main topics tackled in horse riding. And yet, horse riding is a sport that is practiced by twos, the horse and the rider!

In this article, we will discuss the physical condition of the rider with a particular emphasis on the practice of yoga that has already won many top athletes’ heart. Renowned as beneficial for the body and mind, we will address the riders’ needs and see if yoga can be an ally in this sport.

1. Riders’ needs

Riding is a sport like any other that requires both partners to have a good physical condition. Of course, as a rider, we often emphasize the well-being[3] of our horses and neglect ours.

But riding requires many physical and mental qualities to the horse and rider. This is why each rider must also take care of his physical condition to progress.

But then, what are my needs as a rider?

Physical fitness is a combination of factors leading to performance. These factors are physical, technical, tactical and mental[4].

In horse riding, the rider is subject to the locomotion forces of the horse in addition to his own. Indeed, the whole body of the rider works:

  • his joints
  • his muscles
  • his balance
  • his vision
  • his reflexes
  • his controlled actions

In addition to an adequate posture in the saddle, the rider must be able to adapt to the horse reactions. Thus, several physical qualities are necessary[5]:

  • Endurance to resist fatigue and stress
  • Static strength (pressure of the legs on the side of the horse, etc.) and dynamic strength (seat thrust, etc.)
  • Speed ​​of action on the legs to react quickly to the horse’s movements
  • Mobility, or flexibility, is required to secure the link with the horse
  • Coordination to maintain balance in all situations and be in harmony with your horse

The rider must therefore control his body and be both flexible and resistant. We had already discussed in a blog article how riders should physically prepare[6] and especially how a warm-up can be beneficial once on horseback.

Now, it is also important to underline that riding enable an internalization and self-awareness, by what we do and think. On that matter, practicing yoga might be a great support.

2. The practice of Yoga

Yoga is constantly gaining popularity. The first representations of yoga postures date back to 2500 Before Christ, and for centuries it was a marginal practice in India. Today, yoga is practiced around the world and there are many styles and approaches.

Yoga is a practice that allows, through sequences of postures called "Asanas", coupled with breath management "Pranayama", to harmonize the physical and psychic condition of the individual.

The two "official" branches of yoga are Ashtanga (dynamic yoga) and Hatha (quieter yoga), but within these two branches, there are many subparts.

  • The dynamic yogas correspond to a quick succession of postures connected to the breathing rhythm. These types of yoga are rather physical and challenging. The Vinyasa for example, is a yoga that does a series of postures in a fluid and rhythmic way. From the outside it looks almost like a "yoga ballet"!
  • Quieter yogas can have different goals. Iyengar for example is a static yoga that focuses on the body alignment. This is a style of yoga where you take time to analyse each of the asanas (positions). Hatha yoga is a gentle yoga where you stay for several minutes in a posture to help relax and enter a state of meditation in motion.

Many people think that yoga is not for them because they are not flexible or because they do not have time. However, all you need to do yoga is your body and your breath! Flexibility is not a prerequisite either, it is the regular practice of a sport such as yoga that relaxes your body.

The benefits of a regular practice of yoga are huge on the physical level (flexibility, muscular reinforcement, strengthening of the joints, prevention and improvement of various physical disorders, rebalancing energy, etc.), psychological (relaxation, improvement of the sleep, stress management, etc.), but also in terms of personal development (letting go, welcoming feelings, listening to oneself, acceptance, self-esteem, etc.).

Yoga goes beyond impressive positions; so do not confuse acrobatics and yoga!

Depending on what each individual wants to work on, a style of yoga can support him. The first thing to understand is that yoga is non-violent. This also implies non-violence towards oneself. To avoid injuries, we must therefore ensure that the ego does not take over, with the desire to excel.

We can advise to start practicing yoga with a coach to learn the basic techniques but it is also quite possible to start yoga at home with the help of online videos, applications or books.

3. Does Yoga help riders?

The first thing to emphasize is the link between the physical or psychological difficulties of a rider and their direct impact on his horse. A flexible, available rider with a clear mind and a healthy body will achieve much better performances.

This is also a prerequisite for the renowned French rider Michel Robert who lives with a constant desire to evolve mentally and physically. This is based on an adapted lifestyle: sophrology, yoga and a healthy diet[7].

By harmonizing the body and mind, allowing the individual to improve his physical form and managing his stress, each rider will be able to be more attentive to his sensations and understand from where his difficulties come.

Depending on his level, practice and goals, each rider will have unique needs. Whatever the chosen yoga style, the benefits of a regular practice will be multiple.

Strength & endurance

Yoga helps develop strength and tone through series of positions. Some postures will solicit your flexibility, others will strengthen your muscles, including your deep muscles. Unlike practices like bodybuilding, yoga offers a gentle work that respects the body and strengthens it for a long time.

The majority of yoga positions will work on strengthening the core and working on the spine alignment. These exercises are perfect to improve your upper body position which is a key once on horseback.

This body workout enables to prepare oneself for the effort, but it also helps better recover from heavy trainings and reduces sore muscles. A tonic and relaxed body will be more able to hold many hours on horseback without suffering.

Flexibility & balance

Yoga does not ask to be flexible at the first session. On the contrary, yoga is one of the sports that allows you to become flexible. The human body is physiologically flexible. Flexibility is not a gift or a gain, but something that can be found or revealed!

The flexibility offered by the practice of yoga helps prevent injuries, especially when falling off a horse. In addition, working on your flexibility allows better leg aid and offers more connection with your horse.

By working on postures that demand balance, yoga helps become aware of our body strengths and weaknesses. This is a great way to reconnect with your feelings and eventually find physical blockages that you were not aware of.

Perhaps there is a link between these blockages and difficulties encountered on horseback. A horse tightened on the right hand might be the result of a contraction of the rider's right shoulder.

Thus, yoga practice can help establish a better relationship with your horse through a clearer body language.

Concentration & mental

Yoga helps reduce stress. During the session, the attention is entirely directed to the body and the breathing. We are in "the here and now", which is a form of meditation. A Boston University study published in 2010, showed that yoga was effective in relieving anxiety.

On the mat, we are invited to take time to listen to our body and constantly bring back the attention to the breath. This allows you to develop your ability to concentrate. For example, balance exercises require all our attention to maintain the posture.

These exercises are excellent to work on our abilities to focus and free ourselves from other opinions. So that, you will be in the best conditions to listen to your horse.

Furthermore, the practice of yoga allows better management of emotions through breathing techniques. In competition, we often see riders holding their breath during their course. Learning to breathe helps to manage stress and be present in what you do. Therefore, this can easily improve your performances.

Regular practice and patience are the key ingredients to feel the benefits on horseback. Be careful not to push too much and want to go too far: it would be counterproductive, and the potential benefits of the practice would be destroyed.

The cumulative effects of a progressive work balanced with regenerative periods are the determining factors for improvements of physiological capacities, physical and technical abilities. In this way, long-term performances of the rider are ensured.

Harmony with your horse, improvement in your position and coordination, controlled breathing and stress management: does it sound like the keys to improve our riding? If yoga can bring us there, why not considering practicing it in addition to our riding sessions!

What about you? Do you practice complementary sports that help you once on horseback? What do you do to feel good on horseback?

See you very soon for a new article,

The Seaver team 🙂


[1]https://www.facebook.com/iamanequestrian/photos/a.2238165633176703/2270225906637342/?type=3&theater

[2] https://seaverhorse.com/seaver-valide-scientifiquement/

[3] https://seaverhorse.com/en/what-does-the-concept-of-well-being-mean-in-the-horse/

[4] Source IFCE

[5] Source Equipédia

[6] https://seaverhorse.com/en/physical-training-what-about-the-rider/

[7] Horse Academy by Michel Robert