Flexibility is the range of motion of a joint.
How Flexible Do You Need to be For Riding?
Flexibility is affected by the bone structure of the joint and the extensibility of the tissue surrounding and connected to it: the ligaments, tendons, muscles, and skin.
Inactivity can cause your muscle and connective tissues to lose their extensibility. A flexible rider conforms to the horse and moves fluidly with the horse. A lack of flexibility can result in improper movement, poor form, and injury. Too much flexibility, however, can also cause injuries such as dislocations and sprains.
TEST: A rider must be especially flexible in the pelvis and hips. Lie on your back with your head and hands on the floor. With one leg stretched out in front of you and keeping your pelvis flat on the floor, bend your other leg at the knee and bring it close to your chest. Have a friend note the angle between your spine and femur (thigh). (When your knee points to the ceiling, your femur is at 90-degrees with your spine). Can you close the angle to 60 degrees? Is one hip more flexible than the other?
TEST: Thigh muscle suppleness allows you to wrap your legs around your horse’s barrel yet use each leg independently to give aids. Sit on the floor with your back straight and legs straight out. Spread your legs making as wide an angle as possible. If your legs won’t open to 90 degrees, you need stretching exercises to limber up for riding.
TEST: While sitting on the floor, bend your knees and bring your soles together. Move your feet as close to your crotch as you can, keeping your knees as close to the floor as possible. If the distance between the bottom of your knee and the floor is more than 9 inches, you need to stretch your inner thighs. Is one of your knees higher than the other?
TEST: The “heels down” position desired in Horsemanship and for security in any fast moving event requires that your “hamstrings”, gastrocnemius muscles, and Achilles tendons (“heel cords”) are stretchable. Sitting on a chair with your legs straight out in front of you, flex your ankle so that your toes reach backward as far as possible toward your shins. If the angle of your sole and the back of your calf is greater than 80 degrees, you need to stretch your calf muscles and tendons.
TEST: For a long western or dressage leg, hamstring and lower back muscles should be loose. Stand with your knees straight and your feet flat on the floor, hip width apart, and bend at your waist to reach for the floor. The tips of your middle fingers should at least touch the floor. Do not bounce – it’s dangerous and results in an inaccurate indication of your flexibility.
TEST: Shoulder flexibility is especially important to ropers, bull doggers, vaulters, and eventers but it is essential to everyone who grooms, saddles and wants to ride with shoulders back. Stand with your arms in front of you, hands 12 inches apart, holding a rope or dishtowel. Bring the rope up over your head and behind you, letting it slide through your hands only enough to let you bring your hands behind your back. If you are 25-45 and can keep your hands closer than 35 inches, you’re looser than average. If you need 45 inches or more, you need shoulder exercises to prevent tendonitis. Extremely loose shoulders are prone to dislocations and need strengthening exercises.