Bluebird Lane Blog
Bluebird Lane Blog

The Habit of Daily Stretching

by Lori Albrough

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” ~ Aristotle

The foundation of a horse’s training are rhythm and relaxation, sometimes expressed as rhythm and suppleness. These elements form the base upon which all the more advanced work is built. Similarly, for riders our foundation is suppleness, or flexibility.

For riding we are also going to need core strength, cardiovascular stamina, muscle tone and balance, but without that base of suppleness, tightness in our body will have us constantly working against ourselves. The tension or tightness will block the horse’s motion and cause us to fight against our own bodies in order to sit properly and use our aids correctly.

Well, the other day I was reading an article about excellence. This article said that our lives (jobs, marriages, companies, families) are made or broken ‘in the daily’. That it’s not the big things that hurt or heal, accomplish or fall short. It’s how we live the moments of our everyday lives that matters.

That got me thinking about riding, and how — when you are looking for excellence in your riding — you can be tricked into thinking that it all hinges on major things, like getting the time and money to clinic with a big name trainer. But the truth of the matter is, excellence is actually built on the small things that you actually do in the moments of your daily life.

Excellence is not an accident, and it doesn’t require boatloads of talent. Excellence is you, showing up daily and consciously doing the work. It’s you, building a strong relationship with your equine partner. It’s just you, deciding to do the daily steps necessary to build your foundation. A lot of the time, the steps are so tiny, so boring, so baby-step-ish, that you could trick yourself into thinking that they aren’t leading you to excellence. But they are.

One of those baby steps is building a habit of dynamic stretching throughout your day. Taking a one to five minute stretch break will gently move your muscles throughout their range of motion. This practice will build the suppleness which is the very foundation of your riding. In the same way that in our mounted work we use exercises intended to mobilize the body parts of the horse through their full range of motion, dynamic stretching will loosen and limber up your muscles, giving you the best chance to be supple and effective in your riding position.

The following stretch is a good one to start your stretching habit. It is excellent for preventing tightness in your back muscles and hamstrings. Tightness in these areas would prevent you from being able to easily sit the trot, influence your horse with subtle shifts of your weight, and use your leg aids properly.

Fold, Drop, and Roll

The Fold, Drop, and Roll will first extend and then flex the whole back line of your body, as well as stretching the abs and opening the chest. I like to use this stretch first thing in the morning, and before I get on a horse. Your goal when doing it, is to keep flowing smoothly from one moment to the next, don’t stop and hold or hang out in any one part of this stretch.

Start by standing with feet shoulder width apart, knees and hips soft, and pelvis level. You will then fold over with a flat back, aiming to place your hands on your knees or shins. You want the feeling of your seat bones pointing out behind, which you will get if you keep a flat back. This will give a nice stretch to the hamstrings.

Once you are folded as far as you can while keeping a flat back, you will drop your hands to the floor, flopping down like a rag doll. But don’t hang out here, immediately begin the next step.

Immediately begin to roll your spine back up to the vertical position. Where we extended our spine in the last step, now we want to flex it as much as possible, rolling it upwards bit by bit, ending with our neck stacked vertically over shoulders, hips, and heels.

Then immediately bring the arms up forward and upward, and finish with a brief extension backwards, to further stretch the spine and abdominals and open the chest.

Repeat this stretch 4 to 5 times in a row, throughout the day. If you aren’t getting the exact range of motion that you see in the photos, don’t worry about it. The act of going through the stretch gently and repeatedly will loosen your muscles and increase your range of motion. This will immediately have a positive effect on your performance in the saddle. After a while, when your body realizes how nice this feels, it may start to remind you during the day that it is time to do it.

See the related post: Loosen Up to Sit Up, for more dynamic stretches.


7 Responses to “The Habit of Daily Stretching”

  1. sue freivald wrote:

    an excellent place to begin. Didn’t realize how “stiff” I had become over this past year until I did this exercise! An easy first step towards developing some good habits and progressing towards real flexibility. You are never too old! (I’m 74 :~). Sue

  2. Lori Albrough wrote:

    Yay Sue, awesome. I really liked your remark “An excellent place to begin” and that you went ahead and tried the stretch. Keep taking those baby steps and soon you are seeing big progress. I love the stretch breaks because they bring me back into my body and not so much in my head.

  3. Cheri Isgreen wrote:

    We do a similar exercise in Tai chi as we prepare our bodies to do the form. It is called a spine bend. The key to remember is to bend in 1 vertebrae at a time, beginning at the base of the spine and working up. As you go down, you should extend your spine as if you were stretching over an exercise ball. As you straighten up, you repeat the same keys, as going down. Stack each vertebrae from the base of the spine up, stretch & extend over your “imaginary” ball. I’ll add the last part with the arms tomorrow. What a nice way to open the chest.
    I really enjoy your suggestions and directives. thanks

  4. Lori Albrough wrote:

    Cheri, I love Tai Chi too!

  5. JoAnn wrote:

    I really appreciate your postings….thank you so much for doing this! I am an older (I can’t believe that I just wrote THAT!) and have found that riding is not as easy as it was even 5 years ago. Your tips have given me something to look forward to in my attempts to reclaim my former riding ability.

    Thank you.

    JoAnn White

  6. Sabine Lloyd wrote:

    What a brilliant exercise to do in between sitting hunched at my work computer. The boss might look at me a bit funny but he understands as his wife is also a mad horse person. Thank you for sharing.
    Kind regards

  7. Lori Albrough wrote:

    Sabine, I get those funny looks and comments often, but I choose to see them as a badge of honour, like I’m a trend-setter 😉 This is definitely a good feeling stretch for those computer-induced hunchie-scrunchies.

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