Rider Stretches

Written by Sue Morris

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NEW!!! Please be sure to read the article following the stretches about a new 10 minute per day  stretching program I have found which will help almost every dressage rider to achieve correct posture greater endurance.

Please Read The Info Below - Before Beginning Any Stretching!


Important Considerations For Safe Stretching

You can do a disservice to yourself when you stretch past the point of pain. We always say you should never hold a painful stretch. You should back off just to where it's not painful, and that's what you want to hold during the duration of the stretch.

The goal of routine stretching exercises is to improve flexibility. Flexibility, aerobic conditioning and strength training are the three broad objectives to focus on as you maintain your body for the rigors and enjoyment of sports. Proper stretching actually lengthens the muscle tissue, making it less "tight" and therefore less prone to trauma and tears. A stretching routine also feels good and can be a relaxing period of your day.

Don't Stretch These Rules

Everybody's different We aren't all gymnasts. Focus on maintaining adequate flexibility for your sports and activity level.

Start slowly Example: A ballet dancer begins slowly, with one hand on the bar, before beginning high kicks out on the floor.

Hold your stretch It takes time to lengthen tissue safely. Hold your stretches for 10 to 15 seconds, relax and repeat until no further stretch can be made.

Stretch 'heated' muscles Stretching a cold muscle can strain and irritate the tissue. Warm up first. Walk before you jog, jog before you run, etc. It's most beneficial to stretch after you exercise, when the muscle is heated by blood flow and is more accommodating of a stretch.

Do not bounce! Bouncing can cause micro trauma in the muscle, which must heal itself with scar tissue. The scar tissue tightens the muscle, making you less flexible and more prone to pain.

Think equality Strive for balance in flexibility on each side of your body. For example, if one hamstring is tighter than the other, you may be more prone to injury.

Don't be afraid to ask. A sports medicine specialist, athletic trainer, physical therapist, or health-club advisor may help improve your stretching technique.

Please read my review of the PowerPosture programme after the Stretch illustrations. I have found it extremely effective and recommend it thoroughly to all equestrians.

Whilst the illustrations shown here are a guide to general warm-up stretching, they don’t aim to achieve any permanent posture changes in the way working with the PowerPosture programme does!

After only two weeks into the programme, I have already noticed that my chest is much ’ freer’ when sat at my PC.

The following diagrams illustrate some good stretches for the muscle groups often injured in sports.

 “Cat” Stretches

Get down on your hands and knees. Slowly let your back sag toward the floor in order to get movement throughout your back and pelvis. Then slowly arch your back away from the floor.

cat Stretch (down)
cat stretch (up)

Calf Stretch

calf stretch

Stand at arm's length from a wall with your palms flat against the wall. Slowly bend your elbows and lean toward the wall. Keep the involved leg back with the knee straight and the heel flat on the floor. Hold for 30 seconds.

hamstring strtetch

Hamstring Stretch

Keep your back straight as you lie in a doorway. Raise one leg against the wall until you feel a gentle stretch behind your knee. Keep the leg on the floor straight, well-aligned with your back. Hold for 30 seconds. Switch legs.

Quadriceps Stretch

Stand facing the wall. Place your free hand against the wall for support. Grasp the top of your right foot with your right hand and gently pull the heel toward your buttocks until you feel mild tension in your quadriceps muscle. Tighten your stomach muscles to keep your back from sagging inward. Do not lock the knee of your supporting leg and keep the leg you are stretching directly under you. Relax as you hold the stretch for 30 seconds. Repeat with the other leg.

quadriceps stretch
hip adductor stretch (ii)

Hip Adductor Stretch (i)

Lie on your back on a firm surface with your hips and knees bent and feet flat. Gently let your knees fall apart, keeping the soles of your feet together until you feel an inner thigh stretch.

Hip Adductor Stretch (ii)

Sit on a firm surface and place the soles of your feet together forming a circle figure with your legs. Gently lean forward to feel an inner thigh stretch. For a stronger stretch, use your arms to gently push your knees toward the floor.

hip adductor stretch (i)
hip flexor stretch

Hip Flexor Stretch

Lie on your back on a table or bed with your leg and hip as near the edge as possible. Pull your other thigh and knee firmly toward your chest until your lower back flattens against the table. Let your other leg hang in a relaxed position over the edge of the table or bed. Hold for 30 seconds. Switch legs and repeat.

Low Back Stretches

Remember that back stretches are important but they are not your only method of protecting the back. Also focus on two other training objectives:

1. Strengthening of abdominal and back muscles.

2. Working on flexibility in your leg muscles as well as your back muscles. Tight hamstrings and hip flexors can distort the curve of your back, making you more prone to injury.

low back stretch (i)

Pull your left knee toward your shoulder with both hands. Hold for 30 seconds. Return to starting position. Pull your right knee toward your shoulder with both hands. Hold for 30 seconds. Return to starting position.

Lie on your back on a firm surface with your hips and knees bent and feet flat on the surface.

Lifting one leg at a time, pull both knees toward your shoulders. Stop when you feel a stretch in your lower back. Hold for 30 seconds. Return legs, one at a time, to starting position.

low back stretch (ii)

How helpful have you found these stretches?
Read on to discover a new Stretch Programme - that really works!.

I know from my Web Stats that the Rider Stretches is one of the most often visited /requested pages on my web site. For those of us who are serious about improving our posture, I believe I have discovered something Very Useful and Important! And it is something that can genuinely help improve our posture off-horse too. All riders – and non-riders too – will find the following very beneficial. I certainly have!

I sent for the PowerPosture tape after some email conversations with its founder, Dr John Christman. Now, anyone who knows me, will know I am by nature quite a cynical person, so Dr Christman’s promise of improved posture and flexibility didn’t excite that much. I’ve suffered from debilitating back pain, after a nasty fall from a youngster, and have been down several different routes to try and alleviate this.

Dr Christman asked if I did any other sports or specifically trained for riding. My answer was -other than the stretches, illustrated on my website and barn chores; which I said included weight lifting, walking and stretching – NO.

Dr Christman asked me to conduct a survey amongst riders to see what the general picture showed. Of the 25 riders polled, half said fatigue was a limiting factor in their riding and some cited ‘‘mental”’ fatigue after a lesson.

Asked if they participated in other sports, the most popular answer was to do some form of Martial Art.

The surprise came when asked what riders did to specifically train for riding. Many, like me, cited – and presume - barn chores to be enough ‘extra’ physical activity. Other things included walking, lifting weights, AT/yoga.

 Doctor Christman asked me to conduct this survey to help him with an article he is writing for his website. He initially contacted me because he'd seen the Stretches that I have on my site, but he informed me that “they are generally good, especially as warm-ups for actual riding, but are not sufficient to enable people to develop automatic good posture."

And as for Barn Chores being my listed 'other sport/ training' - he was particularly concerned with that. He wonders why we, as athletes, don't specifically train our body for the task we want it to perform in connection with riding.

After several more Email conversations with Dr Christman, I requested a copy of his video tape. I – as a professional horsewoman - was totally unprepared to discover how 'tight' I am. Some of my range of motion is appalling. On horse, there doesn't appear to be any glaring problems as regards suppleness and flexibility, but I know that I do hunch (bad person) when sat at my PC for a long time -despite trying to be conscious of not doing so!

This programme isn't another "Get fit with Celebrity X" type of regime,  that ends up being watched a couple of times and then going to a car boot sale. This is a pure, simple tape about stretching to gain correct posture. There are no ''extras' that you need to buy to be able to complete the programme.<g>.

There are a set of  12 simple stretches that aim to improve the forward head posture/ round shouldered-ness, that according to Dr Christman 95% of adults suffer to some degree. This, of course, correlates to not having a 'stretched/ open' front line when riding. I was shocked to find that I couldn't  do a couple of the stretches to the degree that I would have  thought I should be able to.

 This isn't a fly-by-night gimmicky fad, but - I think - an honest opportunity to target an exercise programme that will genuinely help riders learn about correct posture in general and one that is equally transferable to on horse. It takes very little time out of a busy person's day (always my prime excuse for not doing other sports) and once you know the exercises and your own areas of improvement, you can hone it down to 5 mins a day. I am already feeling the benefit, sat here at my PC without my habitual slump.

Dr Christman is in the process of writing an article aimed specifically at horse riders, and will be published here, but in the meantime, if you’d like to check out his other findings and read more about the PowerPosture program, please go to:

And if, after that, you’d like to buy a tape, please be sure to tell Dr Christman that you saw this article on my web site and quote “Classical Dressage Notebook” (in the “Comments” box) to guarantee receiving preferential, immediate shipping.    Especially important if wanting for UK / Europe Xmas delivery!


Copyright © Sue Morris 1998-2004