Riding is great exercise that engages body and mind, but the only way to achieve the results you want as a competitive or recreational rider is to take your training out of the saddle. Even if your goal isn’t to win a world championship title, your long-term goals to stay injury free so you can enjoy your horse long into your adulthood justifies prioritizing your personal fitness.
Be Fit for Your Ride
Whether you show for fun or you show to reach an achievement goal, such as a world or local title, your fitness affects your ability to get there. Riding requires physical strength and endurance to do it well. Your legs help you drive your horse forward, cue correctly and consistently, and stay seated as you maneuver. Your upper body strength and endurance enables good position to sit up tall, shoulders back with your arms in the proper riding position. Your core also helps keep your torso and and maintain cadence with his stride.
While you may be able to get by with the exercise you get as you practice, it takes concerted effort outside of the arena to develop the strength to take your ability up a notch. Condition yourself just as you would your horse. For example, you may know that the pattern you’ll ride in competition will only be five minutes long. But, you want to be sure that he doesn’t get tired during that time so you condition him beyond the time and maneuver expectation, which allows him to give you his best effort. This logic is the same for you as a rider. Improved endurance and strength means that you won’t feel fatigued as you drive your horse forward as you ride, and your arms won’t get tired causing you to drop them into a less-effective position. Your ability can mean the difference between getting a call back or not in a tough show class, or being able to physically sustain an all-day trail ride with your friends.
Riding and the horse lifestyle take a toll on the body. Stacking bales, carrying buckets of water, lifting saddles, and riding is physical labor. When you workout your body undergoes stress, adapts, and grows stronger. As you grow stronger you won’t feel as taxed after a day stacking bales, and bonus, they won’t feel so heavy!
Added muscle strength also protects your structure. Similar to horses, we as riders have a dominant side. We always saddle from the same side, throw from the same side, and tend to carry weight, such as heavy buckets of water with the same side of our body. This creates muscle imbalances throughout our entire body from the arms, to the torso, and into the legs. As one side becomes strong, the other lags behind. It’s strength imbalance that’s the primary cause of most injuries. A well-rounded exercise routine, such as Saddle Strong, rebalances your body, which reduces the likelihood that you’ll tweak your back as you throw your saddle up onto your horse.
Consistent exercise, maintained over a prolonged period positively influences the longevity of your body. Even as you’re less likely to sustain injury if you exercise, you’ll also be less likely to experience aches and pains that come from years of riding. Exercise also improves bone density, which riding doesn’t do, which means you’ll avoid long-term ailments and injuries, such as osteoporosis or broken bones as you age.
Improve Coordination and Body Awareness
Regular exercise improves your ability to control your body. As you focus to complete each exercise you improve your coordination and spatial awareness. This develops the body awareness you need to perform in the saddle. You’ll know exactly where your hands and hips should be to nail a tough lead change, and you’ll be physically equipped to put them there. The clear messages you deliver ensure that your horse’s maneuvers are crisp, and that he knows exactly what you expect of him. This consistency delivers the good habits you look for in a seasoned horse. And, the better you learn to control your body, the better your horse becomes.
Be mindful of your personal fitness just as you are your horse’s conditioning. As you do, you’ll become a more able, confident partner to your horse. Through this partnership, you can achieve your personal riding-related goals in and out of the competitive arena, and enjoy many years of horseback riding.
If you aren’t sure where to start to reach your fitness goals, check out Saddle Strong: The 6-Week Rider Fitness Program. It’s online and the workouts can be done at your own pace and place. You’ll also receive dietary guidelines and other helpful advice to help stay on track.