By Debbie Rodriguez with Natalie DeFee Mendik
Every rider out there has seen the blitz of equestrian fitness articles in the press within the last few years. But have you really stopped to think about that fact that riders really are athletes?
We tend to think only of the health and fitness of our horses, knowing that in order for the horse to stay sound and perform up to standard, the horse needs to be fit for the job, whatever that job may be. Time is spent choosing the best feed and supplements, the best farrier, the best trainer, and the most proven fitness plan for the horse. We know that a fit horse is more likely to stay sound and working over the long term. However, the fitness of the rider is often an overlooked part of the equation.
Has your coach ever said ‘sit up straighter,’ ‘shoulders back,’ ‘keep those heels down,’ ‘chest up,’ ‘don’t lean,’ or ‘stay centered’? Do have trouble keeping equal weight in both seat bones, picking up one lead, getting a clean lead change both ways, getting good lateral work or keeping equal weight in both stirrups? Have reached the stage in your life where you have back or hip pain? Do you have past injuries adversely affecting your riding? If you can answer ‘yes’ to any of these (and who can’t?!), you will benefit from increased fitness.
In short, most riders would benefit from increased fitness. Since many riders are very active and athletic, it may seem odd to think of the need for a specific fitness program. However, repetitive tasks encourage one sidedness and create stiffness. There is, therefore, a need to perform some type of different exercises to build the body symmetrically, keeping the muscles and joints strong and flexible.
There are many different styles of exercise available, such as core fitness, yoga and Pilates. The main thing is to choose a form of exercise that you will actually do regularly. Preferably this should be a type of exercise that builds core strength and develops the range of motion.
My personal preference is a core fitness program with aspects of cardio incorporated into the warm-up. I like a work out with a variety of movements that challenge my core strength, balance and mobility. An abs workout leaves me feeling strong, a hip workout makes the sitting trot seem easy, and a shoulder workout improves my posture and reduces the pain resulting from hitting the ground once too often in my life.
In my travels as a trainer, clinician and judge, I have heard over and over the litany of excuses like lack of time and access to equipment. Yet I know that time spent increasing fitness is time well spent; everybody can make fitness a reality if they first choose to make it a priority.
Challenge yourself: take the next three months and add a regular fitness program into your daily routine. Stick to it for three months. In that time, you will notice a difference in your posture, range of motion, flexibility, stability, balance and overall comfort. It is no secret why the popular PX90 fitness system chose a ninety-day period to guarantee concrete results! I bet that feeling these changes after just three months will encourage you to make a lifestyle change that incorporates fitness.
Your horse will appreciate it. Your friends and trainer will notice it. Your riding will go to the next level. And with any luck, you will look a lot better in your jeans! Join me over the next few months as we look at different exercises and aspects of being a fit and effective rider.
Debbie Rodriguez, creator of the Success in the Saddle equestrian fitness DVD series, is a United States Dressage Federation Gold Medalist, USEF ‘S’ Dressage Judge, USEF ‘r’ Dressage Technical Delegate, USEF ‘r’ Eventing Judge and USEF ‘r’ Eventing Technical Delegate and International Sports Sciences Association certified personal fitness coach. This active rider, trainer, instructor judge and competitor is based in Williamsburg, Virginia. See Success in the Saddle online at www.successinthesaddle.com