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Women & Horses by Mary D. Midkiff - horseback riding fitness techniques for women

Women & Horses, knowledge for the female equestrian; female equestrian fitness training and riding tips

EQUESTRIAN BALL AND BAND EXERCISES

Six excercizes using the Equestrian Ball and Band

1. Pelvic Circles
Hands on hips. Identify your hip bones and concentrate on them. Begin with pelvic circles as if you are using a hoola-hoop. Try not to move your legs or upper body. If you have trouble at first, have someone hold your knees while you do your circles. Focus on the pelvis and the movement of the ball while you do your circles each direction.

Work on spiraling down to small circles and back out to larger circles, again concentrating on moving the pelvis in a smooth manner throughout the circles. Start with 10-20 circles in each direction and repeat as you feel comfortable and more flexible.

2. Pelvic Tilts
Hands on hips. This time you are rolling the ball forward and backward with the pelvis. Isolate your pelvis and tilt your belly button up toward your chest and then move the pelvis backwards by arching your back. Roll through this process slowly and evenly by going with the ball. Do 20 rolls.

3. Side to Side
Hands on hips. Roll your pelvis from side to side (left to right) by bringing the hip up on one side and roll through to the opposite side. Make this motion smooth and notice any uneveness. Do 20 side to side rolls.

These 3 pelvic exercises are the best way to gain flexibility, stretching and strengthening, and range of motion in your lower back and pelvic area. You are preparing your body to receive motion on the horse freely.

4. Upper Body Work on the Ball
First make sure your shoulders are relaxed and in alignment by doing the Bubble Gum exercise in my book.

You may also want to sit on the ball to do all of your upper body strength work with hand weights (2-3 lbs each) or with the Theraband. Make sure, however, that if you use the ball this way you watch yourself in a mirror. It is very easy to arch your back when you are lifting weights while sitting on the ball. Keep your back straight, in alignment and your arms level and even with your shoulders.

5. Alignment/Posture on the Ball
Use your ball to find your body alignment.

Sit on the ball as you would on a chair with your feet pointing straight ahead, 12-14 inches apart and firmly placed on the ground. Make sure your hips are even with your knees or slightly above your knees.

Place your hand under your belt and feel your lower back. Notice the vertebrae in your spine and where you may have a hollow space. Most women have this hollow space naturally. Notice when you bend your upper body over you can feel your spine sticking out, you can feel the knobs of your vertebrae. Now come up and arch your back and notice how the spine disappears. In between those two places is a straight spine.

Next step, while keeping your hand on your lower back, is to slightly drop your tail bone down into the ball. Release your lower back. Did that change the way your spine feels? Hopefully it feels less hollow and more filled in where your hand is.

Keep your hand on your lower back and place your other hand flat on your chest. Slowly "float forward". Meaning bring your chest slightly straight forward without lifting your rib cage up. Now notice how your lower back feels.

The ideal is to feel just the tips of your vertebrae with soft muscles surrounding the spine. This is a place of alignment and straightness for your body. Play with this until you get that feeling in your lower back. Take in a breath and blow it out like you would a birthday candle. Notice how that changes your back.

The goal here is to be able to sit on the ball and find your place of balance. It is always best to have someone knowledgable work with you to help you identify your body's biomechanics. But most of the time you will need to be able to find this on your own while in the saddle.

Use this same technique in the saddle. After you mount, bring your knees up (have your horse headed or if your horse is safe, standing while you find your balance) on the pommel, place one hand on your lower back and notice how your spine feels. Now, place one hand on the pommel and one on the cantle and adjust your pelvis, slightly (and I mean a sixteenth of an inch, tiny movement)underneath you and check your lower back again. Now place your other hand on your chest and slightly float forward. You should begin to notice the middle place where your spine is straight and your pelvis is in neutral. Now drop your legs and check your back again.

This will take time and practice but it gives you a check list to go through on the ball and on the horse.

6. Horse/Rider and Instructor/Student Ball Work
Have one person sit on the ball and another person facing them by sitting in a chair or on another ball. The roles here are interchangable but for a lesson let's say the instructor is on the ball and the student is sitting in the chair. The Theraband becomes the connection or reins between the two people.

The instructor on the ball is the rider and the student in the chair is the horse. The student holds the band in her hands which simulates the mouth of the horse. The instructor picks up the other ends of the band like she would hold the reins.

The instructor begins to bounce on the ball as if in a trot and asks the student/horse to close her eyes and just feel. The instructor/rider demonstrates different ways people give commands and move on the horse's back such as: Sit up straight (statue like) and what does that feel like to the student/horse, holding the breath, leaning back, see-sawing the reins, dropping all contact with the mouth, one hand tighter than the other, etc. Be creative and ask the student what each change of the body feels like through the band. Is there a message? If so what is the instructor asking the horse to do? If the student is stunned and confused, wouldn't the horse be too?

Next the instructor will try to find her balanced place. Again, continue to ask the student what it feels like as the body changes. Let out a breath, soften the elbow, keep the connection on the reins but make them more elastic and try turning each direction.

Then trade places. Work on posture and body alignment together. Notice where the tight places are in the body. Are the wrists relaxed, can you use your stretchy elbows with your upper body to turn and maintain an even bounce? Keep trying new issues which are a part of your riding on the ball, it can be a very helpful tool.

All of the ball work is much more easily understood in person. Try to attend one of my workshops, clinics or presentations to better grasp these concepts. Keep going on your ball this winter, your horse will be glad you did!

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female equestrian fitness training and riding tips

Mary D. Midkiff - Equestrian Resources, Inc.
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