California Riding Magazine • September, 2013

Horsey Humor:
Stretching: The Truth

by Bob Goddard

Until recently, I wasn't in the habit of stretching before riding. My reasoning for not stretching prior to riding is that I didn't have to when I was 17. And since I'm about the same as I was when I was 17 (except that it doesn't take as long to wash my hair) stretching seems like a waste of time. That was my reasoning.

Actually, I didn't ride when I was 17. But I played all kinds of other sports. And I never stretched unless I was told to by a coach or other large adult.

Now, I have somebody telling me again. This time, it's my muscles talking and they are less forgiving and a lot meaner than any coach I've ever had. No coach ever made me walk like a cross between Frankenstein's monster and Pecos Bill. Stiff inner thigh muscles do.

Another voice weighing in on the subject is that of my daughter, Hiliary. In addition to being an experience horseback rider, Hiliary is a certified Physical Therapy Assistant. This means she can do everything a Physical Therapist can do except for evaluations. This does not stop her from evaluating her father. In fact, she takes all that pent-up evaluating energy out on me.

"Oh. I see you're limping again today. That's because your upper thoroxic combutable perratoid is strained."

I can't understand half of what she's saying and tell her so. She pulls the time- honored Ignorant American Talking to a Foreign Speaking Person Ploy on me and repeats the same thing only louder: "THAT'S BECAUSE YOUR UPPER THOROXIC COMBUTABLE PERRATOID HAS BEEN IS STRAINED. WHY DON'T YOU WANT TO STRETCH?"

"I'm fine. Everyone gets a little stiff after a good ride."

"Not if they warm up properly."

I turn my head away and say "Not if they warm up properly," in the nasally Mocking Mumble Voice.

"Dad, do you realize what you're doing to your muscles and ligaments when you don't stretch?"

"If I knew what I was doing, I wouldn't be taking riding lessons in the first place. Now would I?"

Hiliary shakes her head. "It doesn't have to be this way. I can show you how to get those muscles supple and ready for a ride."

Actually, there are benefits to the stiffness and aching. It reminds me that I've actually done something and that it's okay to have a beer or two (or three). But, the problem… (or four) … is that it affects my riding. The stiffness and aching does too. I'm just not in my top riding form when my muscles are bitching at me. We all have our own excuses.

Hiliary placed herself parallel to our living room couch and put one leg up on it. She was demonstrating how to stretch my inner thigh muscles. Or the upper interior maxminal incisor.

"Above all, don't bounce. Just go as far as you can go until you feel a 'good ache'."

I don't know about this. Bouncing seems natural to me. If I'm going through all the trouble of putting my leg up on the couch, I want to get the most out of it. Just standing there seems too passive.

And when you're in that position, bouncing is all you have.

Hiliary continues: "Then hold it for 15 seconds. Just be still. If you bounce, you cause a rebound reflex in your muscles."

"I like the sound of that."

"It means you're making little tears in your muscle fiber."

"I don't like the sound of that."

"When you start to stretch, your muscles initially react by contracting. They actually respond to it as a threat."

"My muscles are paranoid?"

"The contraction only lasts a few seconds. Once they figure out you're only going so far, they begin to relax."

"I've always wondered who is really in control… It's not me, is it?"

I really should be taking notes in case I ever get in the mood to write some sci-fi.

"Just be patient, Dad. If you stop the stretch too soon, your muscles won't have the opportunity to relax and you're not doing any good."

"So, fifteen seconds, then?"

"Yes, fifteen seconds is good. And don't hold your breath. That just increases muscle tension."

"Breath rhythmically, not comically. Got it. Are we done?"

"No, you have to do all your muscle groups. Stiffness in one set communicates stiffness to other groups."

They communicate? And plot? There is definitely some good sci-fi grist here.

"You know, Hiliary, people look kind of goofy when they stretch."

"Yes, we do. Your bow-legged, sideways gait and perpetual groaning is way more dignified."

Fine. I'll keep working at this until they call me Gumby Bob.