Yoga for better golf. Yoga for better swimming. Yoga for better tennis. Yoga for better kickboxing. Yoga for better volleyball, softball, baseball, and soccer. Yoga for runners, cyclists, weight lifters. Yoga for professional football players. Yoga for better basketball. Even yoga for better sex! All of these have been the topic of recent articles, DVDs, and/or books.But yoga for better horseback riding? What does yoga provide to benefit all these other activities that may benefit horseback riders? The physical practice of yoga, doing poses or “asanas,” takes the body through a full range of motion, making you stretch and balance while requiring full mental concentration. Yoga also develops or enhances strength by using your own body weight. Yoga can contribute to flexibility, strength and endurance, a stronger core, better breathing, and a calm, centered mind, all of which can benefit horse riders.Flexibility. According to a recent article by the staff of the Mayo Clinic, yoga postures or asanas, which range from lying on the floor completely relaxed to difficult postures that can have you stretching to your limits, are designed to increase both strength and flexibility. According to WebMD, yoga safely stretches muscles, releasing lactic acid which causes stiffness, tension, pain, and fatigue as well as increasing range of motion in joints and possibly lubricating the joints. Indeed, yoga poses can stretch your muscles to open up shoulders and hips and increase spinal flexibility leading to increased fluidity and grace. Less pain and rider discomfort will make those long trail rides, western pleasure classes, or lengthy hunter/jumper competitions more enjoyable for those affected and lead to better performance.Core Principles. Some yoga classes focus on movement and precise alignment of the body and require that poses be held for relatively long periods of time. It’s the holding of the pose that builds strength. Some poses require more use of arm and shoulder muscles, some demand more of the legs, quadriceps and hamstrings, while almost all yoga poses require use of the “core” muscles. Greater strength makes everything easier, requiring less effort. Saddling that mare, mounting without a block, cantering around for long periods all become easier and therefore more pleasant. With increased strength, particularly in the “core,” comes better posture and therefore better balance. Having better balance, aside from the obvious of keeping you in the saddle instead of on the ground, allows better control of your horse.Calm Breath, Quiet Mind. Almost everyone feels stressed at some point, including horse riders. Just climbing up on a 1200 lb animal that is 16 hands high is enough to cause a panic attack in some. Transmitting pre-competition or pre-trail jitters to a nervous horse can only make matters worse for horse and rider. Yoga teaches you to observe, deepen, and control your breathing. The amazing thing is that while normally you might breathe shallowly and quickly if you are stressed or anxious, yoga teaches you that if you have the concentration and control to breathe deeply and calmly, you make your body believe and behave as if you are calm and serene and pretty soon, you are calm and serene. Control the breath, control the body through yoga. Control the breath and you can engage in your sport of choice with a clear, quiet mind free of distractions that detract from performance and enjoyment. Control the breath with yoga and learn to have that trail ride without unnecessary stress and actually enjoy the journey. Free your mind to compete at the horse show and concentrate fully on the task at hand. Deep breathing also will actually make more oxygen available to all muscles, once again reducing fatigue and increasing endurance.If you seek to be more flexible, be stronger, have better balance and endurance, improve core power, and have a calm, centered mind, try yoga. These qualities will improve your life in general and likely will make you a better rider with more control and confidence in yourself and make your rides more comfortable and enjoyable for your and your horse. Yoga for better horseback riding? Yes! Find a yoga class near you or attend a weekend or week-long retreat to fully immerse in the experience. You and your horse will be glad you did. Namaste (commonly said at the end of yoga practice, it means ‘the light in me honors the light in you’), or at we say at the ranch, Neigh-maste (it means the same thing).