Yoga and Equestrian Excellence

Jenny and I just completed our second go-around in an intro Yoga class. I don’t think I’m ever going to make it beyond the intro class, but that’s okay. I was just looking for some stretching exercises that might help with my riding and Yoga had been recommended to me more than once.

Our instructor’s name was Joy.  Well, of course it was. And she looked and sounded like someone named Joy. Which meant she was hard to hear.

Joy’s voice was very soft and soothing and had a hint of a southern drawl and I couldn’t understand half of what she said.  So I had to modify all my Yoga positions by turning my head to the center of the room to see what the hell she wanted us to do.

Yoga is complex. It includes murky terminology such as left & right and up & down.  Not that these are difficult concepts, it’s just a matter of degree. As in how far up or how far left. There were times when I glanced at what Joy was doing and the girl looked like a pretzel.  I can’t do that.

The key is to focus on your breathing, get your mind to stop running in its usual dog-chasing-tail circles and to listen to your body. Which, due to how some of these exercises work to release tension in the body, sometimes meant the emanation of actual sounds. But this was a sophisticated group we were in and nobody laughed.

Yoga does relax you. Jenny caught me snoring more than once. Especially at the end of the session when we all laid still on our mats, listening to Deuter and thanking our bodies for not dying during class. I told Jenny the snoring was a gesture of respect to our instructor.

I think in order to do it properly, you have to learn to focus. Which is obviously a good thing for horseback riding too. Focus, balance, and strength: The Triad of Equestrian Excellence. I believe Yoga can help develop all of it. So while I don’t plan to take any more classes, I do want to keep working on it on my own.

While I may never be like Joy and learn to how to get my body to flow like a wet noodle with a purpose or discover my Buddha Nature, I can certainly make an improvement.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Stretching Truths

Hiliary came with me on Lesson #20 to take photos.  H is a Physical Therapy Assistant and whenever I complain about being sore after a lesson, she says things like:

“You should work your bi-deltoids and interior flexors more. And if you’re going to ride horses, you need to stretch out your maximal incisors of the upper tarsal. And don’t bounce.”

So before we left the house for Lesson #20, I asked her about stretching again. I wanted to behave responsibly.

Groan. Sigh. Groan again.

Hiliary got to our house a few minutes early and planted herself on the couch in the Semi-Fetal It’s Too Early For Conscious Thought position. I had been scrambling around the house, getting ready for my lesson, having already eaten two breakfasts, posted on the blog and downed four cups of coffee.  I had been up for three hours.

“C’mon H.  C’mon. Just show me a couple of things. Just five minutes…”

Hiliary pushed herself up off the couch and cupped her forehead in her hand.

“Oh… all right… all right.”

She spent the next ten minutes demonstrating basic stretching exercises, reminding me each time not to bounce.

I’m not sure why I bounce when I stretch. I think maybe it’s because it seems unnatural to me to take all the trouble getting into a position and then not do anything. Or maybe it was the four cups of coffee.

When we got to the barn, we resumed stretching. I tried to remember not to bounce and did my best to hold the position for an appropriate amount of time.

Karin saw what we were doing and, as instructors are wont to do, took advantage of the teaching moment.

“Here, use this.” Karin pointed to a mounting block near her barn desk. Then she demonstrated a different sequence of stretching, but no doubt going after those same interior bi-upper flexors Hiliary had been talking about. There’s more than one way to skin a cat. Although, it’s never been entirely clear to me why you even need one.

Karin pulled out her balancing board. “Have you been using this?”

“As a matter of fact, I haven’t, Karin.”

“Didn’t you read the book I gave you?”  She was referring to Ride Right with Daniel Stewart.  Apparently balancing board exercises are in this book. How could I explain to her why Bubba to the Rescue took priority over Daniel Stewart?

“Yes, I’ve started it.”

“You’ve read a quarter of a page, probably.”

Actually, that was a little generous. I haven’t gotten past looking at the photos of the people yet. I get a little distracted, wondering who these people are and what’s happened to them since the picture was taken. I hope they’re all okay.

Anyway, we worked on the balance board for a bit. I sort of like it. Karin threw stuff at me while I was on there.

There was nothing systematic about any of this. Nothing like a list of things that I could use as a routine part of my program.  Maybe I’ll get that from Daniel Stewart’s book.

But I tell you what: it was enough. For the first time since I started riding last June, I was not sore after my lesson.  And I wasn’t sore the day after my lesson. Nor the day after the day after.

This stuff really works.

Next time, I’ll tell you about Lesson #20. It was a good one.

Stretching and a Book

Karin began Lesson #13 by asking me if I did any stretching exercises and I said no. She began Lesson #14 by telling me, “Come here and do these stretching exercises,” and I said okay.  It’s good to see that she’s learning something from these lessons.

Actually, I did a bit of stretching before leaving home. Nothing systematic, I just tried to touch my toes a few times before saying “Nayh… that’s good enough for now.” You have to start somewhere.

Karin had a more extensive program in mind.  In fact, she had a book with her. And some stretching notes from the book. The book was Ride Right with Daniel Stewart. So it was two against two: Karin Schmidt and Daniel Stewart vs. Bob Goddard and his Lazy Butt.

Karin demonstrated several exercises from the book, following her notes. I returned each demonstration, resisting my inclination to “bounce” while I stretch. I don’t know why I do that.

Karin and a cat demonstrate proper technique

“You just need to hold it for 15 seconds Bob,” Karin instructed.

Fifteen seconds?  I hate guessing. And I’ve never had much faith in that “one-Mississippi, two-Mississippi” thing. Not since the Exploding Boiled Egg at Midnight Incident, anyway.

This exercise can get a little exciting balance-wise

But my excuses ran out when I looked up and noticed that someone put a clock on the wall. And it had a second hand. Damn it.

Excuse Killer

Now, I have to admit that even the few stretches we did helped me later. I wasn’t nearly as sore the Day After the Day After my lesson as I usually am.  I think a more rigorous application of these exercises is in order. And maybe, at some point, I’ll get in some strengthening drills.  I hear tale that “The Core” is a very important thing to an equestrian.

Karin lent me the book. On the cover the author says he is going to: “Balance Your Frame and Frame of Mind with an Unmounted Workout and Sport Psychology System.”

So, Daniel Stewart is going to work on my psychology? I look forward to this and I wish him luck. I’ll give it an honest once-over and if I like it, I’ll get my own copy. And use it.

As for the mounted portion of Lesson #14, it was awesome.  But I’ll tell you about that next time.

The Best Part of the Lesson

For Lesson #13, Karin put me on Krystal, a 16-plus hands Percheron-Thoroughbred. Krystal is a real sweetie, but she’s another one of Karin’s wide-bodied babies. I knew I would be feeling the effects of this lesson for the next several days.

Karin and Krystal

Karin must have read the thought bubble above my head when she brought Krystal out: “Did you do your stretching, Bob?”

I, in turn, read the thought bubble above Karin’s head to catch the unspoken portion of her question:  “… like you said you would?”

“No Karin, I didn’t do any stretching this morning,” I confessed, slowly shaking my head and speaking to the floor.

There is no sense in lying to someone who can read your thought bubble. And to expand the truth telling, I have to admit that I have not done one bit of equestrian related stretching since I began taking riding lessons.  At least I have a deep database for comparison when I do start stretching like I should.

Krystal mentally prepares for her new challenge

In any case, we had a good lesson in the indoor arena. I had my new riding trousers after all. And Karin’s half chaps.  What a difference! I did my up-downing attempts at posting pain free – except for the saddle slams. And nothing can be done about those except doing it right.  Besides, as Karin likes to remind me, “It’s not exactly comfortable for the horse, either, Bob.”

I have to control the down part so that I’m just touching the saddle before going back up again. Karin – and the horse – frown upon any manner of flop, slap or slam.

“I don’t want to hear anything when you make contact with the saddle.”

Now, my natural inclination at this point would be to suggest that Karin use some adaptive equipment of her own, such as earplugs. But I didn’t even dare think it due to the thought bubble issue.

“Just get with her rhythm, Bob.”

We kept trying over and over again until everyone was out of breath and ideas. It was quite a workout, I can tell you. But I think we made some good progress.

At the end of the lesson, Karin let me take Krystal around the arena at the walk to cool down. This was actually my favorite part of the lesson. No exertion, no flopping, no goals, just the horse and me, very much relaxed and content. And finally in sync.

In Sync


Another Issue

I was warned. When I first started my lessons, people said this could happen. I got some good advice and I ignored it. Hah, I said. It won’t be that bad.

My good friend Lauren Baker said to take ibuprofen and do some stretching before my lessons and then have beer afterward. I followed some of that. I like how she says “beer” without the “a” in front of it.

When I rode Caspian for the first time, I felt it a little. Riding the big Percheron is like riding on the roof of a school bus.  But it was tolerable and I functioned normally afterward. So my “Hah, It Won’t Be That Bad” approach seemed to work.

But now that Karin is teaching me to post, things have gotten serious. This has become more like an athletic event and I am sore and stiff in places that I don’t know the names of.

To me, the real mystery is the timing of the stiffness and soreness. I’m never sore right after riding. I take my lessons in the morning and then off to work I go, smelling like Karin’s horses, but walking normally. At least it seems normal to me.

And I’m never sore the day after a lesson. I don’t know why, but it always hits the day after the day after.  Then it sticks around for several days.

I do okay, mind you. I can still ride a bike, but sometimes mounting takes multiple attempts. My right leg doesn’t always cooperate enough to clear the seat and I find myself doing that one-legged backwards hop, dragging the poor bike with me as I attempt to reestablish my balance.  And as I limp around the workplace, moaning and groaning, I just hope it gets lost in all the moans and groans of whatever happens to be wrong with everybody else.

Right now what I need is some good advice on pre-riding stretching exercises.  This time, I promise to listen. The less ambitious of my usual advisors just tell me to “go on-line”.  I don’t want to go on-line. I get lost on-line, wandering to and fro across Cyberworld, so easily distracted. I fear that I will end up like the young lady in the car commercial who “really got aggressive” with her mountain biking parents regarding Facebook and having attained 614 friends/fellow inmates, declares: “This is living.”

I have a book (that’s ink and paper together) that suggests some exercises. I would like to share these with you next time. Meanwhile, I think it would be fun to hear how all of you deal with this issue.