Head Up, Shoulders Back

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You’ve got to feel good to ride well. This includes the basics of maintaining a healthy weight and ensuring adequate exercise, of course, but it also includes more subtle things like your posture and how you conduct yourself throughout your daily activities.

If you think about your riding position all day — when you’re walking, sitting, turning or talking — you’re going to feel stronger when you mount your horse. But if you spend the day slouched in your chair, barely getting up to stretch, you’re going to find it a struggle to get your body to behave when you ride.

A professional rider spends most of the day in the saddle, perfecting his or her position, constantly strengthening muscles. The trick for those of us who can’t spend six or more hours in the saddle each day is to make non-riding hours count as training time, too.

Developing a supple waist — one that allows you to turn your shoulders in the direction you want your horse to go while maintaining straight hips in the saddle — can be practiced when you’re photocopying, dusting the house or even unloading groceries at the checkout. At work, every once in awhile, take your hands off the keyboard and shake your shoulders and elbows. Loosen things up, so you don’t automatically brace and stiffen at the elbow when you pick up the reins.

Concentrate on walking with your shoulders back and head up, eyes on where you’re headed, as if it were the next fence or the judge at C. You’ll look elegant — and feel elegant. It’ll affect your job performance, too, and the way people react to you. Best of all, when you ride that position will come naturally.

Even your attire can make a difference in the way you feel. We all want to look polished when we ride. While there’s no reason to school in show clothes, a crisp, form-fitting shirt tucked into your breeches or jeans — maybe even with a belt — will positively affect your image. Microfiber-blend collared shirts have just a touch more cling than cotton t-shirts and can help portray grace and beauty in the saddle. They can make your shoulders appear straighter and your back a little taller.

There’s a strong mind-body connection to everything we do. It’s why job hunters pay close attention to the clothing they choose for an interview. It’s why they practice a firm handshake and making eye connection before a meeting. It’s more than first-impression worries. It’s a way of oozing self confidence — and feeling it, too. Give it a try: If you think you look good, you’ll feel good. And if you feel good, well . . . you get the picture.

-Cynthia Foley