We have discussed how important warming yourself up with dynamic movement is before getting on your horse, now let’s look at what you should do once you get off your horse. Whether it be a grueling lesson, clinic, or a long day of showing, an effective cool-down will ensure your body is ready to perform at its peak the next day. Here are five exercises to start with, and some guidelines to follow along the way.

Why cool-down is important for the equestrian athlete:

  1. It facilitates the recovery process and allows the body to adapt to the repetitive training stress riding imposes on our bodies, which will ultimately improve performance in the long-term.
  2. It can help to decrease delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), particularly if you have had an extended break from riding or several weeks of long show days.
  3. It reduces muscular tension and helps with muscle symmetry and avoidance of muscular length differences or postural changes, all of which affect your position in the saddle and your ability to provide effective cues to your horse.
  4. Adding static-type stretches helps to prevent gradual muscle shortening over time, especially for the muscles that are in a constant, shortened state due to the rider’s position in the saddle (i.e. hip flexors and hamstrings).
  5. As with a proper warm-up, cool-down can decrease the risk of injury, by ensuring adequate joint mobility and muscle length for the demands of equestrian sport.
  6. It allows you to mentally recover from the focus and intensity of your show or lesson. Take the time to reflect on the goals you set for yourself during your warm-up.  How did your lesson or class go? Did you maintain focus? Would you have done anything differently? What are your goals for your next ride? Reflect and recover for tomorrow’s training. 

Dynamic or Static?

Unlike your warm-up, which used dynamic stretches and movements that gradually progressed in speed and intensity to prepare you for your ride, the cool-down will typically consist of static-style movements or stretches to aid in recovery from your ride. These are a series of movements around a joint that occur slowly —not at the speed of activity—and are held for a longer duration of time to allow the muscle(s) to release tension.

The 5 Golden Rules of Stretching from Stark (2012) is a great method to follow when performing your cool-down static stretches:

  1. Isolate the muscle group you want to stretch (pick your favorite static stretch).
  2. Find zero tension.
  3. Less is best—begin with a gentle initial load (the muscle will initially contract, so load gently to allow the muscle to relax).
  4. Allow loss of tension—keep a gentle and steady load on the muscle until the tension is gone or dissipates significantly.
  5. It cannot be timed—use biofeedback! Stop when you feel the tension decrease considerably or disappear.

Try these five, cool-down stretches after your next ride. Aim for 1-3 repetitions per stretch.

Hip Flexor Lunge Stretch

  • Start with the legs in a lunge position.
  • Lower the back knee toward the floor (do not touch the knee to the floor).
  • Tuck your bum under and tilt your hips/pelvis up toward your chest.
  • To lengthen through the upper body, you can raise both hands up over your head.
  • Repeat on the other side.
  • Tension should be felt in the front of the extended back leg.

Standing Hamstring Stretch

  • Lift one leg and place it on a tack box or another elevated surface.
  • Stand tall, try to keep your knee straight.
  • Lean forward to increase the intensity of the stretch.
  • Tension should be felt in the back of the thigh.

Inner Thigh Side Lunge

  • Bend one knee and lunge/lean over to same side.
  • Keep opposite leg straight.
  • Tension should be felt in the inner thigh/groin of the straight leg.

Chest Stretch

  • In a seated or standing position, bring your hands behind your head (interlocking your fingers) and allowing your elbows to flare out to the sides.
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together and slowly open up your chest by moving your elbows backward.

Child’s Pose Back Stretch

  • Kneel on the floor (alternatively, you could sit on a tack box or chair).
  • Place your hands in front of your body, sit back on your heels and try to reach your hands out as far as possible. Allow your head and neck to relax between your arms.
  • Tension should be felt all through the buttocks, upper and lower back, and the upper arms.
  • Try walking the hands out to one side, then the other, to create a more intense stretch through the back muscles.

(Reference: Stark, S.D. (2012). The stark reality of stretching (5th ed.). Surrey, BC: Dr. Steven D. Stark Podiatric Corp.)

There are many alternatives to these stretches, so choose the one that you like the best that targets the above muscle groups. Tag me on Instagram or Facebook with your favorite cool-down stretch post-ride!

Meryl Wheeler is a former equestrian athlete who has a passion for physical fitness and health. As a Certified Athletic Therapist and adult educator, she brings her knowledge of the musculoskeletal system and injury prevention to create effective online strength and conditioning programs designed to help clients realize the power, opportunity, and potential they have to reach their own health and wellness goals. To learn more, follow Meryl on Facebook and Instagram

-Photo credit: Tori Repole; Bret St. Clair; courtesy of Meryl Wheeler (2).