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Tips for the Rider

Tips for the Rider: Equestrian Fitness

Equestrian Fitness

Did you make a New Year’s resolution to get fit and healthy? As equestrian athletes, we face a unique fitness challenge.  Good riding requires a certain degree of fitness and strength. Yet, unless you are a full time rider and trainer, riding alone is probably not enough to keep you fit.  In general, riding qualifies as moderate exercise.   You’ll burn about 300 calories actively riding for an hour. By comparison, jogging (not running!) for an hour will burn about twice that. We know we need to be fit to ride, but how do we do it if riding itself doesn’t keep us fit enough?!  

There are three general areas of fitness to be concerned about – strength, aerobic fitness, and flexibility:

Riding and barn work actually give us a fair amount of strength training. Throw a few hay bales around, and cart multiple wheel barrows of wet manure, and you’ll feel plenty of muscles burn! Riding is excellent for developing leg strength, as well as core strength and balance. Still think you are not getting enough strength work at the barn? Check out the workout in The Riders Fitness Program, with a foreword by Anne Kursinski.  

Aerobic fitness refers to your body’s ability to use oxygen to meet energy demands during exercise.   Feel out of breath after a cross country ride? That’s lack of aerobic fitness.  Regular running, walking, and swimming are all examples of ways to improve your aerobic fitness. Our horses tend to be aerobically fit; us riders, not so much!  Most of us are too busy with families, jobs, and horse chores to add running a few miles to our daily routine, so the trick is try to add more aerobic activity to your day.  The CEO of Equestrian Collections recently added a treadmill to her computer office set up; she walks while she works. This is perfect! If you can’t do that, try a brisk walk on your lunch hour, or give up the elevator for the stairs. At the barn, consider taking a cue from the endurance riders and jog beside your horse a couple days a week. You’ll get some exercise and your horse will benefit from practicing their ground manners. Extra perk, you’ll have a much easier time next time you have to jog your horse for soundness! There are some great sneaker style boots that are designed to transition from the saddle to ground. 

Flexibility is a particular problem for riders. The strength and stillness in the saddle that we value so much tends to create rather inflexible bodies. “Stiff and sore” is how most of us feel much of the time! Stretching before, during, and after riding is critical. Many riders borrow from Ballet, Yoga, and Pilates to create stretching regimes that help their riding. Check out the Equibarre Fitness DVD,  for a ballet based workout, or our selection of books and dvds on Pilates just for equestrians. Yoga is another possibility for improving your flexibility and balance.  Create a more flexible body, and you will have a more effective ride. You know that heels down thing your trainer hounds you about? Yoga can really will help!

Of course, we all know riding is a partnership. Don’t forget your horse’s fitness! Check out Build a Better Athlete and Equine Fitness   for ideas on how to get your equine partner on his own fitness program!  

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