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Archive for the ‘Equestrian Fitness’ Category

Photo by Dell Hambleton

It is always so interesting what we bring to our horse lives in terms of experience. Our pursuits or interactions with the world outside the barn are destined to impact those inside it. Consider what an argument with a colleague can mean to your lesson later that day, or how traffic can add tension to an already tight schedule between work, horse, and home. Yoga teacher and horsewoman Cathy Woods says that making yoga a part of your horse life offers wonderful benefits, in and out of the saddle. We caught up with Cathy to talk about why she feels yoga and horsemanship aren’t so different from each other and her new book YOGA FOR RIDERS.

TSB: Your book YOGA FOR RIDERS provides a number of parallels you have designated as illustrative of the similarities between yoga and horsemanship. How do these parallels provide horse lovers a new or different path to better horsemanship and/or improved riding? 

CW: Many people seem to view yoga as a form of stretches done on a mat, but when true yoga is examined deeper, it becomes clear that it’s really a way of life – a way to live with greater awareness. There are 8-limbs/aspects to yoga which teach us how to better interact with our inner and outer world. This enhanced way of living can apply to horsemanship as well as other areas of life. In essence, the parallels are things we should be doing in our yoga practice but also principles we’d want to apply to good horsemanship. Some parallels include: slowing down; mindfulness; and becoming body, breath, and energy aware, to name a few.  These can deepen our experience with horses, expand our learning on the ground and in the saddle, and enrich our relationship with our horses and other sentient beings, which enhances personal growth and adds richness to life. It’s a win/win! 

TSB: Were you a yogini or a horsewoman first? What made you first connect the two pursuits? 

CW: As odd as it may sound, I was born a yogini (a female drawn to and dedicated to yogic tradition). I had an inner pull toward yoga and had yogic awareness from a very young age and long before I was formally introduced to the practice. I quickly realized that being a yogini was not separate from anything thing else, such as my dance and fitness interests and my horsemanship. Being a yogini is a way of life – “How you do anything is how you do everything.” It has put me in touch with subtle energies, and equestrians know how important that can be in horsemanship, from energy shifts to intuition. I clearly saw that applying a yogic attitude to my horsemanship made a positive difference.  Things like being “present,” or what head and energy space I was in when I went to the barn, factored in to what my experience with my horse was on a given day. I organically came to realize that yoga and horsemanship were not so different from each other and instead, actually, a likely pairing. 

TSB: You teach people a combination of postures, breathing, and meditative exercises, on the mat and in the saddle. Is there a balance to strike between yoga practice off the horse and yoga practice on the horse? Which do you prefer? 

CW: I personally find it quite enjoyable and beneficial to do some gentle yoga poses, breathing techniques, and meditation in motion on horseback. However, I would say the mat practice is more important. I like to think of the mat and meditation cushion as a training ground for life – a place for personal groundwork and collection. Once skills are honed or mastered there, we naturally begin applying them to our horsemanship and other life situations – things like, breathing through challenges, heightened focus, body awareness, and the ability to self-correct when out of alignment or tense. We learn these skills best when practiced regularly on the mat. Then they become second nature off the mat as well. 

TSB: If you had to name one, most important benefit of exploring yoga in order to improve your horsemanship, what would it be? 

CW: The heightened self-awareness that comes from practicing yoga, along with becoming more mindful and present.  “Yoga is an awareness practice” – we become more keenly aware of ourselves on all levels, including our inner workings. This also translates to tapping in to inner wisdom, making decisions and choices from a clear, centered place. We also gain the ability for improved situational awareness, which is paramount in horsemanship. 

TSB: What is one lesson you hope readers will take away from your book? 

CW: That true yoga is SO much more than just twisted, contorted poses on a mat! It is really a practice for living well and a path for self-realization. It’s a means to spend integrated, quality time with all aspects of ourselves — body, mind, and spirit – and then carry that integrated awareness into all that we do.  

TSB: You are based in the Smoky Mountains. What is the best part about where you live and where you ride? 

CW: There is so much I love about this region, but one of the best parts is the sacredness of these ancient mountains (they are the oldest in the world). They feel deep-rooted, comforting, and safe. We have no crowds, and we get to live very close to nature. As far as riding, the Smokies have endless and diverse trails – everything from vistas, beautiful creeks and rivers, lovely lakes, and amazing vegetation, to abundant wildlife and rich Appalachian history. I’ve traveled and ridden in many parts of the United States, yet I’m always amazed at what the Great Smoky Mountains have to offer in comparison.  Though rugged, it’s truly some of the best riding ever! 

TSB: If you were trapped on a desert island with a horse and a book, what breed of horse would it be and which book would you choose? 

CW: The horse breed is easy: I’d go with a Quarter Horse. In my opinion, they are the best, all-around breed. A Quarter Horse could be a good companion, a leisure horse, or a working horse. As far as a book, a survival book would likely be a smart choice, but I’d probably go with The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. In a nutshell, the Yoga Sutras are a collection of 196 short verses that serve as a guide to attain wisdom and self-realization through yoga. What better to do if trapped on a desert island than to become self-realized and extrapolate Universal Truth! 

TSB: If you could do one thing on horseback that you haven’t yet done, what would it be? 

CW: A European or Icelandic village to village, several-day ride/tour with my good friend and program assistant Amanda – we travel well together and have had many great adventures.  

TSB: What is the quality you most like in a friend?

CW: Authenticity. 

TSB: What is the quality you most like in a horse?

CW: Good sense.

Photo by Dell Hambleton

TSB: What is your greatest fear? 

CW: Loss and dying. Clearly if these are issues to me, I’m not yet an Enlightened Yoga Master (nor do I claim to be).  I’m also a bit of a germaphobe – getting sick or injured scares me a bit, so I try to use these concerns to make good choices. 

TSB: What is your greatest extravagance?

CW: I love owning and residing on 30+ acres in the Smoky Mountains. Though it may sound extravagant, it’s actually pretty rustic, and it really allows me to live simply.

TSB: If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

CW: I’d love to be calmer and more patient. I’m not naturally wired that way, and it’s a constant practice for me. One might think being a yogini I’d be super chill, but that’s one of the reasons I practice yoga – it’s a tool that helps bring balance to the imbalances. 

TSB: What’s in your refrigerator at all times?

CW: Cheese! I like to think I have no addictions, but I might be slightly addicted to cheese 😊

TSB: What is your idea of perfect happiness?

CW: Being soul-content in all life’s situations. 

TSB: If you could have a conversation with one famous person, alive or dead, who would it be? 

CW: That’s a tough question, because I miss my parents greatly, and they were full of good, practical wisdom – I’d love to converse with them again. But a bit more outside the box, probably Paramahansa Yogananda, an Indian monk and guru who died in 1952. There was something special about him (some deemed him a saint), not to mention his profound understandings and teachings about life, death, and beyond. I am drawn to adept individuals with this kind of life-knowledge and wisdom. 

TSB: If you could go back to December 2019 and go one place anywhere in the world with as many or as few people as you would like, where would you go, who would you bring, and what would you do?

CW: My husband Robert and I enjoy taking extended RV trips. Though I’ve traveled to many places in the US and abroad, I’ve still not made it to the Red Rock Parks of Utah (Bryce, Zion, etc.). This was on our 2020 travel list, which was of course postponed. We’d sightsee, spend time in nature, hike, and make more good memories! The trips we enjoy most are to natural destinations and just the two of us (and our cats)! 

TSB: What is your motto?

CW: Live well, live creatively, live deliberately, and live in a balanced way. Be present and take journeys (inward and outward)! 

Cathy’s book YOGA FOR RIDERS is available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information or to order.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and videos, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.


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RidersPainFreeBack-horseandriderbooks

Photo by Charles Hilton.

Apparently, equestrians played a key role in popular bar design. Never mind the obvious (sometimes a horse girl needs a drink)—theory has it, back pain, likely related to hours in the saddle, was the key influencer in this equation.

Riders Pain-Free Back-pb

Click for info.

“Back pain affects four out of five people at some time during their lives,” explains retired neurosurgeon and horseman Dr. James Warson in his book THE RIDER’S PAIN-FREE BACK. “It is the leading cause of disability for people between the ages of 19 to 45. Back pain is second only to the common cold for causing adults under 45 to miss work. Furthermore, as we age, low back pain becomes more and more common—affecting half of the population older than 60 at any given time.”

Uplifting, right? But the kicker is, whatever causes the back pain—be it sources outside or within our equestrian pursuits—it ultimately affects our ability to ride, as well as our enjoyment of it. And that, my friends, would surely drive a man to drink.

Drunk Bojack Horseman GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

So what does all of this have to do with bars?

RidersPainFreeBackpin-horseandriderbooks

Photo by Charles Hilton.

“A posture characteristic of people who have spine problems or pain is a tendency to flex the hips and knees somewhat,” says Dr. Warson. “This takes traction off the nerves—particularly the sciatic nerve—and makes them a little bit more comfortable. Extending the back—especially when standing with a straight leg—may irritate the nerves. This is why people who have severe back problems tend to bend forward somewhat, as well as flexing their hips and knees, in order to get some relief.

“In the ruins of Pompeii are a staggering number of saloons, bordellos, and bathhouses. Each of these entertainment places featured a long, low, stone step that ran in front of what was the equivalent of the bar. Since most of the people who rode horses in that era were either soldiers or politicians, and since the proprietors of the various establishments wanted to keep their elite clientele happy, the low step encouraged the power players to gather around the bar. Riders were generally wealthy and worthy of courting as patrons. Long hours in the saddle, however, contributed to a host of chronic back problems. The low step allowed clients to flex the hip and knee. It would alleviate their pain somewhat, enabling them to stay at the establishment longer—and spend more money.

RidersPainFreeBack2-horseandriderbooks“The bar owners knew that the people who rode in on horseback were probably hurting. They also knew that flexing the hip and knee would make them more comfortable. People standing at the bar could rest their feet on the step and ease some of their chronic pain. If the patrons were feeling no pain, they would tend to hang around longer, and they’d tend to drink more.

“Later on, especially in Europe, the stone steps were replaced with a brass rail, which is commonly seen and still used today at the base of bars almost everywhere.”

There you are, folks…a rider’s reason for that foot rest at the bar. Party people everywhere have equestrians to thank for their hours of comfort, belly-up.

Cheers.

THE RIDER’S PAIN-FREE BACK is available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information or to order.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and videos, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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RidingintheCloud-horseandriderbooks

I’m guessing I’m like a lot of you–a job, a family, a gym I try to frequent, friends I try to see, books I try to read, promises I try to keep, and oh yeah...horses.

Needless to say, the above list is not compiled in order of preference.

So how, when one is so dang busy, does one actually become a better rider? Obviously, I think books are a pretty great means of continuing an equestrian education…but I’ve recently tried something else that is an awesome fit for those who want to feel closer to the individual imparting the knowledge. I’m taking TSB author Janice Dulak’s Pilates for Dressage® Ridermanship® Course. She calls it a “Clinic in the Cloud” as it is (mostly) all virtual, but at no point do you feel like you are floating or alone! Janice has constructed the course so not only do you feel fully engaged with her–and even other students–but you have plenty of reminders to help ensure you don’t forget that you are working to improve yourself…and that’s not just for you, that’s for your horse, too.

Janice’s course platform is seamless and very simple to use. Everything is laid out in progressive steps and there are interactive checklists that update your experience and allow you to move on when you are ready. Moreover, all the myriad pieces of the course (video instruction, worksheets, audio lessons, chats, and live phone calls) remain archived and easily accessed if you need or want to review at any time.

RidingintheCloudPin-horseandriderbooksSo what are you learning, exactly, up in the Ridermanship cloud?

A former professional dancer, Romana’s Pilates Master Instructor Trainer, and USDF Bronze medalist, Janice specializes in the integration of Pilates concepts and riding. She has created a vocabulary with both the instructor and the rider in mind that is meaningful, and she helps riders understand their bodies and move them differently so they can do what the instructor is asking.

“In Ridermanship,” Janice adds, “you’ll learn to create self-carriage in your body, and practice correct biomechanics to ride your horse with greater feel and harmony. Lessons and exercises will train you how to develop your physical self, so you will know what you need to do in your body to help your horse perform—and the partnership with your horse will be complete.”

Her Ridermanship Course provides guidance and exercises that lead to posture improvement and an independent seat and legs, that refine your seat and enhance your rider influence, and that ensure your overall continued development as a rider. There is no lack of substance–the sheer volume of information provided is impressive! But it is so neatly packaged in friendly and easily consumable parts like video lectures and short workouts, you don’t really notice…until you see it is almost the end of the week and you are only halfway through your checklist of action items! Luckily, Janice keeps the virtual experience a flexible one, and the course automatically adjusts to your busy schedule. You might miss a live call with Janice and your Ridermanship group, but you can listen to the recording after the kids are in bed and ask any questions on the Facebook group page, still getting the help you need almost in real time.

JaniceDulak-horseandriderbooks

Janice Dulak can help us find balance, in and out of the saddle!

It has been such a pleasure to feel that the rest of my busy life hasn’t interfered with my desire and ability to improve as a rider and horse person. Having an option to “fit it in” as best suits each day or week, to do a little or pour a glass of wine and absorb a lot, to practice an exercise with Janice’s guidance before committing to the full workout, and to feel I have her support throughout it all, has been terrifically affirming.

Thank you, Janice. When I’m next in the saddle, I’m sure my horse will thank you, too.

For more information about the Ridermanship “Clinic in the Cloud,” CLICK HERE.

CLICK HERE for Janice Dulak’s books and DVDs.

-Rebecca Didier, Managing Editor

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and videos, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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MovementQuizFB

Can you tell which movement this rider is “riding” from the correct position in the left photo above, and the common mistakes depicted in the middle and on the right?

When correctly positioned (left photo), the rider is looking to the inside, her shoulders and pelvis are likewise turned to the inside and aligned. The left leg (when on the left rein as shown here) drives sideways and the right leg is guarding the horse’s hindquarters.

Common mistakes when riding this mystery movement include: collapsing to the left in the waist with the weight shifting too much to the right, with the shoulders and pelvis lower on the left side (middle photo); and leaning to the left away from the direction of movement, the rider’s weight on the left side as she pushes the horse away, and crooked shoulders and pelvis (right photo).

Which movement is she riding?

 

shoulderin

 

The answer is the shoulder-in!

In the shoulder-in, the horse’s inside hind leg and outside front leg are on the same track (as you can see here). The rider’s upper body is turned slightly toward the inside of the arena without collapsing or succumbing to the other common mistakes mentioned above.

In classical dressage authority Anja Beran’s new book THE DRESSAGE SEAT, she breaks down the physical requirements of the rider’s seat on the horse, as well as its responsibilities during various movements—from the gaits and paces to lateral work, lead changes, piaffe, passage, and pirouettes.

Watch the trailer here:

 

THE DRESSAGE SEAT by Anja Beran is available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE to download a free chapter or to order.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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neckmuscles

 

Many riders have neck and shoulder tension, which derives from the body’s reaction of “turning on” the trapezius muscle (see illustration above) in their daily lives. When there is a neuromuscular “highway” to an unproductive area such as the trapezius, there will be an almost automatic physical reaction, collecting tension in that area, regardless of what the rider is trying to do. Shoving tense shoulders back during a ride only makes the problem worse: Exertion used to “fight” a tense muscle area creates additional tension.

The answer is not to fight the muscles that are involuntarily tense, but to reduce tension with a) extensive stretching, and b) to learn to use the muscle’s “off” switch, which is found by training the body to make better use of other areas.

Believe it or not, stretching your neck muscles makes a difference. Stretching your neck actually stretches the elevator scapula as well as the trapezius muscles, in addition to neck muscles. If you carry tension in your shoulders and neck, this exercise is especially important, but if you are relaxed and supple, doing quick neck stretches on a regular basis can just be part of healthy spine maintenance.

Holding your arms down to keep your shoulders down, tilt your head from side to side, bringing your ear toward your shoulder with a deep breath each time.

 

neck stretch

 

You can also tuck your head forward as if looking under your armpit on each side.

Do not roll your head back because this compresses your neck vertebrae. If you have a lot of tension in your neck and shoulders, you can help release it by taking a free hand and squeezing your trapezius muscle or pushing down on it gently as you lean into the stretch. Do not hold the stretch very long before switching to the other side. These stretches should be done slowly and rhythmically.

A rider with shoulder tension can make a habit of doing this stretch, holding it longer, at the end of the day. When doing a deep neck stretch (any stretch can be turned into a “deep” one by holding it longer), it is important to use your hand to help raise your head afterward, since a deep stretch in the neck muscles will stretch the fibers and you can strain something by trying to lift the weight of your head using the same muscles that you just elongated.

For more from Certified Fitness Trainer and Riding Coach Heather Sansom, check out her bestselling book FIT TO RIDE IN 9 WEEKS!, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information.

 

 

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.  

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