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Can Hula Hooping Improve Your Riding?
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Can Hula Hooping Improve Your Riding?

What an interesting and strange question. I'm not even sure when I first thought about giving this a try. It must have been a cold, wet, dreary day, too nasty to head out to the barn, but perfect for lounging on the couch and browsing the Internet for some fitness ideas.

I had been looking into new ways to improve my fitness, specifically core work and came across a video of hula hooping with a large weighted hoop. They are available in a variety of sizes and weights, so I chose one appropriate for my body height and weight. Several days later it arrived. Some assembly required, but a short while later I was ready to "give it a go".

This was pretty easy, I had done it a lot in my childhood and the muscle memory was still there, at least while rotating it clockwise. However, now that I was looking at this as not a toy but an instrument to improve my body, I considered I should be working equally in both directions. I tried counterclockwise. Wow! It wouldn't work, one circle and plop to the ground. I pondered for a while why this was so. What was I doing clockwise that I was having trouble with counterclockwise? You might be wondering what the heck this has to do with riding, but I'm eventually getting to that.

Pretty quickly I realized the problem was in my hips. I was good at being particular about the motion in my left hip and this was helping me rotate the hoop, check my speed and keep the hoop nicely around my waist. Going counterclockwise the opposite was true of my right hip. I had no control over the motion at all. Wow!

Since horses and riding are almost always uppermost in my thoughts, I began to consider that perhaps some of my issues with riding might just stem from lack of control over my hip. This could be subtle at times but more apparent in moves such as haunches in. One of my trouble spots is haunches in going to the right. It suddenly made sense, no control over my right hip meant I could not place it a little further forward, while keeping my upper torso straight and help the horse feel the movement. Therefore, I worked on teaching myself to hula hoop counterclockwise. As a result, I have noticed a marked improvement in being able to move my right hip on demand, and I was getting better at my own body awareness.

First came the hip, I can now control its position better, when I need to move it a little forward, I can do it consciously. Haunches in to the right is improving. I am also refining it a little more too, becoming aware of other body parts while hula hooping. Can I put a little more weight in my right foot, my left foot, can I move my feet a little closer together, can I move one foot a little more forward than the other, all the while maintaining a constant motion with the hoop. These are all positions our legs and hips need to move into, depending on the what we are asking the horse to do for us.

10-15 minutes of hula hooping a day has made a big difference in my riding, with the added effect of improving my core muscles as well. Who would have thought a childhood toy could make such a difference in my body awareness and ultimately improving the quality of my riding.

Photo: courtesy of Page McCarthy.

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