Do you spend hours a day in the saddle? Riding sets, schooling, stick and balling? As the season approaches for many, it is the time that we put hours in to getting horses brought back in from long winters off. We will be spending a lot of time in the saddle with the sole purpose of getting horses fit for polo but very often we neglect ourselves. We don’t pay any attention to our own fitness regimes or allow ourselves time to prepare our own bodies physically for the challenges ahead. Often we don’t have the time or the inclination after hours of riding to do more specialized physical activity.
I’m going to give you a few really easy stretches and exercises that you can do on horseback that will help you loosen up, but also strengthen your core and rotational muscles. These exercises are especially great because they mimic the exact movements that you do playing polo but can be done without force or under any stress. This allows the body to build the correct muscles in a controlled way, reducing the risk of injury or muscle stiffness. They will also allow you to make the most of the time you spend riding, meaning that exercising horses can be as physically beneficial to you as it is for your horse.
It is worth bearing in mind the horse that you’re riding, making sure that it won’t be spooked by you doing weird movements on top of it. You will be shifting your body weight around so you don’t want to fuss the horse. It is better not to do these exercises with very young or fresh horses.
Ok so the first exercise is a simple move that will stretch out your intercostal muscles and increase your flexibility. The more flexible these side muscles the further you can reach to get a ball or a hook. Remaining sat in the saddle reach downwards with your right hand towards your right stirrup, making sure to keep your torso and shoulders facing forward, bending from the waist until you feel a stretch along the length of your body. Hold this position for 10-15 seconds and repeat on the other side.
Exercise 2 will work the muscles of the core used in rotational movements. Almost every movement in polo utilises these muscles – the nearside and offside swings, hooks, turning, looking for the pass – and so it is vital that these muscles are strong and pliable. This exercise is very simple. Remain sat in the saddle, quickly rotating your upper torso at the waist as far as possible to the right-hand side before releasing and quickly rotating to the other side. With your hips facing forward try to bring your shoulders at least parallel to the horse if not further. Repeat 10 times on each side.