We love our horses and consider them athletes. We provide them with the best nutrition, the right amount of exercise, and plenty of rest for proper recovery . We know these basics are essential for the health and well being of our beloved equine friends.
What about us? Are we putting the same emphasis on our own overall fitness? If we think about our horses' success under saddle, we have to admit that we contribute to 50% of this equation. Our horses are clearly affected if we are out of shape, tired, or stiff as we work them. Our human body, with all its 650 muscles, 260 joints, and 206 bones is an incredible gift.
The first step to becoming a more athletic equestrian is to make a commitment to invest in yourself. Off-horse fitness training helps to build balance, strength, endurance, and flexibility which will help you and your equine partner.
Balance training is a key foundation for just about everything - including walking, getting out of a chair, and leaning over to put your shoes on. Balance on a horses back is obviously very important for proper riding. Well-developed core muscles will result in elegance in the saddle, proper posture, and is essential in maintaining rhythm, relaxation and suppleness in both horse and rider. Balance training involves doing exercises that strengthen the muscles which help keep you upright, including your legs and core.
Strength training is an essential component of fitness for all equestrians, as a strong musculoskeletal system is crucial for enhancing performance. Riding requires physically demanding skills involving a strong musculature, in both the upper and lower body. Strength training provides muscular strength, hypertrophy and endurance, as well as neuromuscular improvements such as a faster reaction time, enhanced agility, speed, power, flexibility, and fluidity of movement. Riders who engage in a comprehensive, and consistent, strength training routine will quickly see improvements in their balance, seat, and coordination. Strong muscles result in better control over the horse, both from the ground and in the saddle.
Endurance exercises, also called aerobic exercise, include activities that increase your breathing and heart rate such as walking, jogging, swimming, biking, and riding at moderate intensity. Endurance activity keeps your heart, lungs and circulatory system healthy, and improves your overall fitness. As a result, your regular physical activity can reduce the risk of many diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
Flexibility is very important for physical fitness and is frequently overlooked. Equestrians of all disciplines will greatly benefit from stretching all the major muscle groups. Riders who possess strong, supple muscles move more comfortably with their horse as one unit, whereas inflexible riders, who exhibit muscular tension and stiffness, produce similar responses from their horses, often interfering with rhythm, suppleness and relaxation. Equestrians require muscles that can withstand the physical demands of riding yet stay both agile and limber, allowing freedom of movement. The goal of stretching is to lengthen muscle fibers, increase elasticity, and improve the range of motion within a joint. Stretching targets the connective tissue surrounding a joint, which is frequently prone to stiffness and inflexibility.
Here are some tips for your fitness routine:
1. When you pick your endurance/cardiovascular training try to pick something you truly enjoy. Swimming is ideal for cross training.
2. Select strength training which encourages joint movement in 3 dimensions. Free weights, elastic stretch bands, bodyweight exercises, or cable-based machines you can use creatively are a lot more beneficial than traditional exercise machines.
3. If you’re doing strength training, avoid high repetitions with low weights; instead pick heavier weights with less repetition. Nope, “You won’t get bulky ”, but you will put on lean muscles which help your riding, protect your bones, and provide more stamina. Do strength training at least 2 times per week.
4. Work your shoulders and back muscles.
5. Practicing less time intervals of core exercises daily is more beneficial than longer intervals less frequently per week. So better to do 5 minutes a day for 5 days than 15 minutes 2 days per week.
6. Remember your core includes your abs, obliques (your sides), and lower back too.
7. Watch for repetitive movement patterns and make sure you stretch the muscles you over-use and strengthen the ones you neglect.
8. Learn to breathe into your abdomen, and use deep breathing when you exercise and ride your horse.
9. Look for accountability partners, join a group exercise class, or hire a personal trainer if possible.
10. Give your body a day off. You do it for your horses. All athletes build rest into their schedule because overtraining and overworking breaks you down.