Your legs are working constantly when you ride horses, from your thighs to your feet, so your calves are under strain as well. Every athlete benefits from strong and elastic calf muscles, and equestrians are no different. As Runner's World observes, flexible calf muscles soften the shock when you land on the ground, whether you're running or dismounting from your steed, and calf stretches and exercises help prevent such injuries as plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendonitis. Horseback riders are especially vulnerable to specific injuries from tight calf muscles, since they ride with heels down and put strain on the calves. As a result, inelastic calf muscles can cause cramps or prolonged leg pain when you're in the saddle. So work your calves and ride in comfort.
You'll want to stretch both of your calf muscles, the inner and the outer. The outer calf muscle, the gastrocnemius, starts above the knee and runs to your ankle. As Runner's World explains, if this muscle is tight, it can impact everything from your thigh to your foot. The inner calf muscle is the soleus. Stretching this muscle balances the two calf muscles. You also should stretch your Achilles tendon, the link between your heel and calf, to protect against Achilles tendonitis.
Basic Calf Exercises
A basic calf exercise for the outer calf is to sit with both legs straight in front of you, loop a rope or elastic band around the ball of your foot and pull your foot toward your knee. For the inner calf, sit with one bent leg and one straight leg, grab the bottom of your bent leg foot and pull it toward your body. You can also use machines at the gym to do calf stretches.
Yoga Calf Stretches
To develop extra flexible and strong calves, consider yoga stretches. As "Yoga Journal" notes, your calf muscle lifts your entire body weight when you push off from the ground. Since muscles tend to shorten as they're worked, stretching your calf muscles is necessary to prevent them from becoming short and tight, which can lead to ruptured calf muscles and Achilles tendons. It takes "a frequent, persistent stretching program to improve overall calf flexibility." Yoga poses such as downward dog, reclining big toe pose and standing forward bends can help prevent serious calf problems.
Women often are particularly susceptible to calf problems, since high heels -- or even heels of just 1 or 2 inches -- shorten calf muscles. So you might want save the skyscraper heels for special occasions if you are an equestrian. You'll also need to stretch your the other major leg muscles to prevent injuries. Tight quad muscles pull on the hip muscles and create poor posture, leading to imbalances and stress on the body. Tight hamstrings can lead to lower-back pain. One multi-purpose exercise from Equisearch, a cross-legged stretch, prepares you to hit the trail by stretching our hamstrings, calves and lower back.
Jim Thomas has been a freelance writer since 1978. He wrote a book about professional golfers and has written magazine articles about sports, politics, legal issues, travel and business for national and Northwest publications. He received a Juris Doctor from Duke Law School and a Bachelor of Science in political science from Whitman College.