Flexibility workshop. Part I. Riders.
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Wednesday, February 15, 2012 10:34 PM
I have audited a clinic. It was a flexibility workshop for horse and rider. The instructor was Alixa Sutton. She is an acrobat and contortionist artist, rider and trainer. She worked for Cavalia show. She has been working with athletes and dancers as a flexibility specialist for 10 years. She took her knowledge on how to develop flexibility in humans and applied it to horses creating an interesting program. This program is done under saddle and exercises from it can be used as a part of rider's warm-up routine or a suppling moment during the ride when needed.
In this blog I will talk about exercises for riders. Alixa was stressing out the importance of flexible hips and ability to move each hip independently in all directions. Without such mobility it is very hard to have a clear "conversation" with your horse using the seat aids. Movements would be too big, cumbersome and a horse would have a hard time separating aids for bending, shoulder-in, canter, travers, etc.
Alixa did ground sessions with riders with some amazing stretching exercises. Many exercises were too complex to describe and are not safe to execute without clear understanding what to stretch and how. Because of this I will only explain how to do one exercise. This is hamstrings stretch. However, as all her stretches it is not stretching just one muscle group and different people find different tight areas in their bodies while performing this stretch. The stretch is executed as follows (warm up a little bit before starting):
  • Find a sturdy flat surface at the hight of your hips. It can be a fence, a table, a back of a sofa, etc.
  • Put one of your legs on top of it keeping the leg straight, foot perpendicular to the leg with toes pointing upward.
  • The other leg which supports your weight is straight, knee and foot facing forward, hips as square and level as possible. If you find it difficult to balance put something by your side to work as a prop for you.
  • With a free hand press gently on the knee of your horizontal leg. Bend your spine slowly starting with the head, tuck your chin and roll down one vertebra at a time. Do not lean forward from the hips, pull your stomach in and up and round your back.
  • When you feel you are reaching the end of you flexibility range you can massage or gently shake the areas around the tight spot. Slowly turn your head left/right.
  • Relax into the stretch for one minute or a few breaths. Slowly unroll yourself into a straight position. Notice how it is much more comfortable to stand now.
  • Now without pushing on your knee rotate your whole leg inside the hip joint and turn your foot in. Keep your knee straight and start rolling your spine forward one vertebra at a time. Upon reaching the tight area massage and vibrate around it and relax into the stretch for one minute.
  • Now rotate your whole leg and turn your foot out. Notice which way you turn further before reaching the tightness. Roll your spine forward one vertebra at a time. Do not lean forward. Massage and shake around tight areas. Relax into the stretch for one minute.
  • Unroll slowly and position your foot straight up again. Feel the ease of the stance.
  • Change legs and repeat the whole procedure again. On a difficult side spend less time in the stretch but rather repeat it again later. Afterwards, lightly jump and dance around to move your hips and feel the new mobility in them.
As you probably noticed the above exercise differs from conventional stretching exercises. It includes a few principles that Alixa was stressing out for all her stretches. Here they are:
- During the stretch never get stuck in one position, keep changing it a little bit to stretch different muscles fibers.
- Use massage, vibration or gentle shake to ease your muscles into the stretch in tight areas. It is better to massage around the tight spot then directly over it.
- If you have a very tight area do not try to push through it and "attack" the stretch. Go around it. Change the position a little bit, try a different stretch or work on it in short sessions. If you are tensing up to hold the stretch you are inviting your body to fight it and it will be very counterproductive.
- Never work against the pain!
- Do not use the same stretching exercises over and over again. You will built "tracks" in your muscles and they will stretch only a certain way. Have 2-3 different stretches for each muscle group and each time do a new one.
Alixa is writing a book on stretches for riders and horses. I cannot wait to get my hands on it. In the next blog I will talk about her work with horses.
Happy riding...
 
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My blog is about teaching, riding and training. I share what is important to me in my work with horses and riders. The writing helps me to think things over and have a better understanding of training ideas and priciples.
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