Rider Fitness – how important is it?
As riders, we often hear people tell us that riding is not a sport and that the horse does all the work. Well, if you have ever sat on a horse for any length of time, you will have felt the burn the next day, with muscles hurting that you didn’t even know you had!
As riders, we need to be fit. We have heavy loads to lift, we have miles to walk, we have half ton animals to control. However, the main reason we need to be fit is so that we can give our horses the best riding experience possible. Our horses give their all for us and we ask them to perform to a high level and to do things that they wouldn’t choose to do in the wild. The least we can do is keep ourselves fit so we can ease their burden.
“Dressage is the art of teaching the horse to carry you. Riding is the art of learning to be a good load to carry” – Richard Weiss
The above quote is something which we as riders should all focus on and live by. If we as riders are not fit enough to ride effectively from the beginning to end then our fatigue will only inhibit our horse’s ability and performance – no matter how fit they are. I think sometimes, we get so caught up in our horses’ fitness regimes that we can forget about our own.
Now, riding and caring for our horses is obviously exercise in itself and I would say that riding fitness is different from anything else as it really is a full body workout. However, there are lots of fantastic fitness options we riders can explore, in addition to riding, to help us complement our fitness and ensure we are helping our horses out as much as we can, as well as improving our effectiveness in the saddle. These days there is a huge amount of research and knowledge that has gone into the makeup of both horse and rider fitness, compatibility and well being. One of the main spearheads for this field of research is Centaur Biomechanics, who provide fascinating information about the way in which your horse moves and functions physically, as well as yourself as the rider.
Strength and core stability is hugely important to enable us to achieve the best possible position in the saddle and to ensure our aids are as clear and precise as possible. Pilates is a fantastic way to improve suppleness, flexibility and strength. It is also a great way to relax, unwind and release tension from both your mind and body. There is lots of availability for Pilates all over the place and there are classes you can join which have been specifically designed for riders, by riders; check out Form & Function Equine or Sussex Equi-Fit to name a couple.
Stamina is also vitally important for us as riders. A cross country round, a good gallop or even an intense dressage test can get the blood pumping and have you huffing and puffing by the end. There are loads of things you can do to up your stamina and plenty of riders will regularly attend the gym, go running, swimming, cycling, spinning and more. If you haven’t really regularly exercised before, it could be a good idea to join your local gym to get some tips from their trainers regarding the level of exercise to start with and how to build it up. There’s also some great ways to get into running; like Park Run, which is a free weekly 5km timed run. It’s run at various parks all around the country and you can just turn up and run 5k with lots of like minded people, so it’s a fab way to keep a check on your progress and meet exercise buddies.
If you’re short on time, there are things you can do to combine stamina and strength training. There are plenty of boot camps around our local area which combine cardio and strength, mainly focusing on circuits which allow your heart rate to rise and fall throughout the workout, thus increasing fitness whilst burning more calories and keeping the workout challenging and interesting – check out Up & Outdoor Fitness. Aerobics and dance workout classes are a super fun way to keep fit and work on your core strength. Have a go at something like Zumba, Boxercise or Pole Fitness. One of my personal favourites is BOOSTFit, as it’s such a friendly, non-judgemental, pressure-free environment and great for anyone who might be a bit nervous joining an exercise class for the first time.
So the above are just a few suggestions, but there are a million and one more ways to exercise and everyone will find different things that work for them. The main thing is to find something that you enjoy and that you can fit into your life. There is a fab event called Fit Fest South which is being run at Tulley’s Farm on 22nd August, where you can try out lots of different fitness activities to help you decide what might be best for you. The fitter you can be, the better it will be for your riding and your horse, so get involved in something today!