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Building a Partnership with Your Horse
Respecting the Rider’s Form, Upper Body Exercises, Part 3”

by Lynn Palm

Do you consider “e-x-e-r-c-i-s-e” a four-letter word? Exercising can be fun, and the right type of exercises can help you improve your riding.

In this article, I will teach you some simple stretching and flexibility exercises to help build relaxation, proper form, and balance. For these exercises you will need a consistent, well schooled horse tacked up with saddle, bridle and leg protection. Practice in a large enclosed area like a paddock, corral, or arena to give you and your horse more security.

Here are a few pointers before we get started. As with any physical activity, if you experience any pain or have medical conditions that could be complicated by doing any of these exercises, STOP! Seek advice from a health care professional before continuing.

All of these exercises should be done very slowly. Be sure to breathe when doing them. This is important because it encourages relaxation. If you find yourself holding your breath, try to talk or to sing to encourage regular breathing.

As you do these exercises, I want you to think, “CENTER-SQUARE-BALANCED.” Continually analyze your position using these three key words to maintain proper rider position while you work to improve your flexibility.

Upper Body Exercises At The Walk: Head and Neck Stretch:

The purpose of this exercise is to stretch neck and shoulder muscles. Looking straight ahead, very slowly lower your chin to your chest as far as you can. Hold this position for a few seconds, and then very slowly bring your head back to the straight- ahead position. Next, very slowly drop your head backward as far as you can and hold. Then return to straight-ahead position. Gently drop your right ear towards your right shoulder, keeping the left shoulder down and relaxed. Hold a few seconds, and then return to straight-ahead position. Repeat the same stretch with the opposite shoulder. Continue these stretches until your neck and shoulders feel relaxed. I like to close my eyes while doing this exercise because it helps me relax and move slowly.

Bent and Straight Elbow Arm Swings:

The purposes of this exercise are to flex the shoulder joint and relax the arm. Let’s work the right arm first. Put both reins in your left hand. Start with your right arm in the position it would be in if it was holding the rein. The right elbow should be bent with the forearm following an imaginary straight line to the horse’s mouth. Very slowing swing the entire arm back, leading with the elbow, while retaining the line from elbow through the forearm. Keep the arm close to your body and the elbow bent. The movement should be in the shoulder joint not the elbow joint. Next, very slowly swing the entire arm forward from the shoulder joint enough to bring the elbow in front of the body. Do several repetitions with the elbow bent.

For a variation of this exercise, straighten the elbow and continue to slowly swing the arm backward and forward from the shoulder. Alternate between swinging the arm with the elbow bent and with the arm held straight. After you have done several repetitions of arm swing stretches on the right side, switch the reins to your right hand without looking, and repeat the arm swing exercises on the left side.

Upper Body Exercises At The Trot

There are two benefits to the following exercises--they help stretch the upper arm area while improving the rider’s balance. They are best practiced at the trot. Work on a large circle within an enclosed area like a paddock or arena to give both you and your horse more security.

Arm Rotations or “One Arm Backstrokes”:

While riding your horse at the trot, put the reins in your left hand. Extend your right arm in front of you with the palm down. Keeping your eyes on your hand, rotate the arm in a full 360-degree arc: up overhead, behind you, down alongside your leg, and then back to the starting position. Always hold the palm facing towards the ground. The challenge with this exercise is to maintain proper lower body position and not twist your body as the arm is rotated. Do several repetitions. Change the reins to the right hand, and repeat with the left arm.

Practice a variation of this exercise by bending the elbow at a 90-degree angle and closing the hand. In this exercise, the elbow not the palm will be “drawing” the arc. Bring the elbow up in front of you, rotating it overhead and then back behind you, and returning to the starting position. Look at your elbow instead of your hand while doing this exercise. Do the exercise using the other arm.

Arm to the Side:

Holding the reins in your left hand, bring the right arm straight in front of you with the palm down. Keeping your eyes on this hand and the arm straight, rotate it out to your side, and then extend it behind you. Slowly bring it back to the starting position. Do several repetitions and switch arms. The challenge with this exercise is to keep your lower body from twisting out of proper position as you follow the motion of your hand with your eyes. Try the same exercise but without looking at your hand. Alternate between looking at your hand and not looking at it.

Here is another variation of this exercise: Bring the arm straight out in front of you. Close the hand and bring the lower arm towards you so it is at a 90-degree angle to the elbow. This is the starting position. Now rotate your arm from the shoulder to bring the elbow to your side, behind you, and back to the starting position. Keep your eyes on the elbow while doing this exercise. Do several repetitions, and then switch arms.

Shoulder Rotations:

With the reins in your left hand, place the fingertips of your right hand on top of your right shoulder, keeping your elbow at shoulder height. Rotate your shoulder in a 360-degree arc from front to back and vice versa. Imagine you are drawing a circle in the air with your elbow!

Overhead Single Arm Stretch:

This one is just like it sounds. With reins in left hand, extend the right arm straight overhead with the palm facing forward. Then bring your arm back into your body and extend it straight down to your side with the palm facing backwards. Concentrate on stretching the shoulder joint up and down. Keep looking straight ahead during this exercise. Do several repetitions and change sides.

Shoulder Shrugs:

With the reins in either or both hands, inhale and bring both shoulders straight up as if trying to touch your earlobes. Hold this position for a few seconds, and then exhale and relax the shoulders down. Do a several repetitions.

My five-part Dressage Principles for the Western and English Horse and Rider visual series has a section on “Respecting the Rider’s Form” that gives you more exercises. To order this or other instructional tapes as well as to learn about our courses, please visit our website at www.lynnpalm.com or call 800-503-2824.


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6/7/07 10:21 PM