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How Does Yoga Benefit Horse Riding?

My name is Nicole, and I work at DVR HQ. I have been riding for 15 years & owned my horse Basil since 2012. However, I am also a qualified Yoga Teacher with 4 years experience in the fitness and yoga industry. Pulling my knowledge together I have produced a blog post as to how yoga will benefit your horse riding, and how you can see physical and mental changes in your body through the power of yoga practice. 
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What is yoga? 
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Yoga is both physical and spiritual, using movement, breathing techniques and meditation. Enabling you to improve your overall well-being, health, and happiness. Yoga is fantastic for learning about body awareness, increasing flexibility overtime and improving strength, as well as overcoming negative thoughts and boosting self-esteem. 
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How will yoga benefit my horse riding? 
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Not only will yoga help your physical body by improving imbalance which you may feel while riding, and body awareness. It will also help you spiritually, looking at your mindset, controlling nerves and having a better mental focus while riding and competing.
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Did you know that yoga promotes the same posture as riding? While in any yoga practice students are continually reminded to elongate their spine and to engage  their core muscles. I like to use the phrase "imagine a piece of string drawing you from the crown of your head to the sky". While riding your core muscles are constantly at work as well as finding the correct balance in the saddle. The two link together and you start to understand how yoga and riding mirror each other. 
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You may have been told in the past to alter how you ride or change your posture in some way. This can be hard to understand how your body should look and feel while riding. Sometimes it is best to look at these changes while dismounted. Everyone has their own strength, mobility and awareness limitations, but yoga provides poses allowing you to understand the skeleton and muscle structure of your body better, enabling you to improve your riding. 
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Breathing can change when under pressure, nervous, or excited. A common yoga breathing exercise I use in practice is called ujjayi breathing. Breathing in and out through your nose, as you exhale you take the awareness of breath into the throat and make an 'ocean sea' sound. This is a great technique to learn as it warms the throat, relaxes the body and allows you to focus. Known to control nerves and eases tension in the body. 
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Yoga poses (asanas) that horse riders with benefit from; 
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1. Mountain Pose 
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Yoga for horse riders mountain pose
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First and foremost mountain pose is fantastic for understanding the form of your body, controlling your posture and aligning your body. This standing posture allows you to feel the unbalances in the body to correct, and creates a foundation to all yoga poses. Simple but effective. Toes facing forward, tail bone tucked under slightly, upper and lower abdominal muscles engaged, shoulders rolled back and standing tall. 
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2. Warrior 2 
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Yoga for horse riders warrier 2 pose

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This asana primarily focuses on opening the hips, and controlling the arms, keeping fingers inline with your shoulders and chest staying open.  Fantastic for activating the inner thighs by not allowing your front knee to dip inwards. Great leg strengthening pose which can be progressed by tilting your hips and taking your front arm down the inside of your front leg. Work on R and L sides. 
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3. Tree Pose 
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Yoga for horse riders tree pose
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Tree pose has many progressions. It is great for improving balance, which can help in the saddle, core stability and leg strengthening. Over time allowing your lifted knee to turn further outward working on your hip openers. Begin with lifting your R foot off the ground and placing it either above your ankle or below your knee or higher in the inside of your L leg. Keeping your shoulders open and engaging your core to help with balance. Making sure you repeat on both sides. 
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4. Chair pose & Figure 4 
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Yoga for horse riders tree pose

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These two yoga asanas are possibly my personal favourites for horse riders. They target the correct areas of the body a horse rider primarily uses. Chair pose comes from mountain pose (pose 1) arms come above your head and stay inline with your shoulders. As you exhale you hinge your hips back and bend your knees as if you were about to sit in a chair.
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Important Tip - Make sure your knees are not over your toes, your weight needs to be back, more in the heels and chest stays open, looking forward. This asana targets your quadriceps, adductors, glutes and upper body. 
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A progression pose off chair pose is Figure 4 - This can be done sitting on a chair or staying in chair pose with no aid. As you inhale lift your R foot off the ground and exhale to place you R ankle above your L knee, allowing your R knee to be open and relaxed. This power pose targets the glute muscles and increases the strength in your legs. 
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5. Crescent Lunge   
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Yoga for horse riders crescent lunge

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.This is the first asana that works on your hip flexor muscles. These are located at the top of your leg and connect from your hip to your thigh muscles. They become tight and while riding because they are shortened. 
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Important Tip - Make sure your knee is not over your toes while doing this asana as this will put unnecessary pressure on your knee. More weight needs to be in the front leg to allow you to open your hip flexor muscles and push the hips forward. Make sure while doing this you are not collapsing your lower back. Keep engagement in your core and chest open.
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6. Warrior 3 - This asana is a progressive pose from Tree pose of you feel you can control your balance well. Starting in Warrior 1 (image below)
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Yoga for horse riders Warrier 3 pose

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Important Tip - Make sure your hips and shoulders are facing forward.
As you inhale, lift your back heel off the ground and keeping your eyesight looking forward. Exhale to bring your upper body over your toes and lift your back leg off the ground. No need to have your leg inline with your hips/back and shoulder, this asana is designed to be a great leg strengthening exercise, improves core stability and balance. Single leg exercises are good as it allows you to understand if you are stronger in one side of the body. 
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7. Pigeon
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Pigeon pose is best done when your muscles have become warmer and you have more movement and flexibility. From hands and knees, bringing your R knee forward between your hands, your R foot pushing away to the L, then sliding your L leg back, away from you finding extension. This asana works on stretching our 2 primary hip flexor muscles, your glute muscles, it is a great hip opener. This asana has added progressions of taking your forearms down to the ground too, or forehead. 
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Yoga for horse riders pigeon
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Important Tip - Make sure in the asana that your hips don't drop to one side. Keeping them in one line is key. Stretching on both legs.
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8. Reclined butterfly 
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Yoga for horse riders reclined butterfly

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A lovely asana to end your practice on. Reclined butterfly allows you to let gravity do all the work. Lying on your back, bend your knees outwards and bringing the soles of your feet together. This asana opens the hips, stretches the inner thighs, works the hip flexor muscles to loosen and become less tight. The longer you hold this asana the better as you will slowly feel your legs relax more and fall closer to the ground. 
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Thank you for reading the post, I hope you found it interesting, useful and eye opening. Be great to hear your feedback below in the comments, or contact me via Instagram at @salty_fitnessyoga_ 
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Nicole 
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