Many riders focus on what the horse can do for them. But what about the horse’s ridden experience, and what can the rider do for the horse? “There is this sense that the horse is the athlete and the instrument that the rider wields… but the horse is not the only athlete on the field, and it is time that we empower equestrians to embrace their athleticism.” This piece was written not from a position of impertinence, but rather I am offering practical advice that will improve rider and consequently horse’s physical outcomes. After all “work on a horse and that horse gets better. Work on yourself and all your horses get better.”
From this Horse Fixer’s point of view, too many riders put too great an emphasis on their horse’s physicality, diverting their attention from their own! Don’t get me wrong… the horse’s physical well being is integral to its ability as a steed. However a large percentage of horses are seriously undermined by their rider’s average physical strength, flexibility, balance, symmetry and/or coordination. Don’t forget that every little action care of your own riding body, impacts on not only the horse’s well being, but your horse’s ability to move in the way nature designed it to!
One of the first things that occurs in an initial Horse Fix consultation is we do a physical and conformational assessment. But it’s not only the horse that gets the once over!! When I do this brief, general assessment of riders, time and time again I’ve discovered tension (especially in their shoulders, hips and back), poor core strength and very ordinary posture. Whatever your size or shape if you are carrying problems in your own body it will transfer through to the horse in a negative way. So with my own learnings in the body improvement department, coupled with an athletics background and coaching qualification, I’ve been sharing the following with all my clients, who agree that they too need to improve their physical selves for their horse’s benefit.
So how do we start working on our physical short comings to support what we are asking of our horses? The first thing to do is adjust one’s mindset! Keep reminding yourself that “..equestrians can harness the powers of good training and diet to improve their riding. But, in order to do that, we first have to start thinking of ourselves as athletes. Real, sport-doing, blood-sweat-and-tears, ass-kicking, cross-training athletes.” Here follows some pointers for getting physically and mind fit for your steed’s benefit!
Firstly know your healthy weight range and BMI. Not only does being in your healthy weight range contribute to your overall health outcomes, it also makes it much, much easier to get and stay physically fit. Check out http://www.heartfoundation.org.au/healthy-eating/Pages/bmi-calculator.aspx and then set your goals accordingly!
If you are in your healthy weight range start to focus on getting fit, strong and supple to benefit your horse. If money is no object get yourself down to have a full assessment from a top notch Exercise Physiologist https://www.essa.org.au/essa-me/how-can-an-accredited-exercise-physiologist-help/ or Exercise Scientist https://www.essa.org.au/essa-me/how-can-an-exercise-scientist-help/ and follow up with their prescribed fitness program to transform yourself into the best version of your physical self that you can be.
I am a massive fan of cardio/weights/core sessions and yoga to improve my riding. If you need some direction and can’t afford to get to an Exercise Physiologist/Scientist and/or don’t have the time to get to a gym or yoga studio – there is stacks of help for you online. Check out some of the links at the end of this piece to get you started. As well as riding, two yoga classes and two 30 minute cardio/weights/core workouts a week will noticeably improve your core strength, posture and aerobic fitness. Here’s some links to get you going with yoga. Obviously work into it within your comfort zone, modifying the poses to work with your limitations and if necessary with your Doctor’s approval:
Something you could work towards after a few months of yoga practice and increased fitness – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZveGs7Udaw
You can mix it up and do one day of yoga, followed by one day of cardio/weights/core work. Manage your cardio fitness increase slowly and carefully. You can ride a bike, swim or perhaps embrace a program like this – http://www.c25k.com/ You might even like to incorporate your horse into your fitness regime http://www.equisearch.com/article/buddy-system-shape-program-17079 and start leading it out while you walk and jog. The full HD version of this workout is via the online gym – http://foreverfit.tv/online-gym
For more core workouts and dressage specific fitness check out – http://dressageridertraining.com/programs/
Day by day core strength work if you are in a sedentary job can be seriously assisted by a consideration like the Balimo Chair http://www.balimochairs.com/ Recommended to me by my dressage instructor, the Balimo Chair is a great investment to assist riders. I credit my better-than-my-teenage-sons core to the Balimo Chair. Alternatives to the rather expensive (but cheap in the terms of health benefits) Balimo Chair are http://www.everfithealthcare.com.au/physio-med-air-cushion/ Coupled with a standing desk such as the Varidesk http://au.varidesk.com/ and you have made a great investment in your long term well being and are getting a workout at the same time! You can rotate hourly between seated on the chair and standing.
Read this to motivate yourself even further – http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-06-02/office-workers-should-stand-british-journal-of-sports-study/6513798 I can personally attest to the positive impact that the Balimo Chair and Varidesk have had on my posture and core. I’ve been using it for a number of months now whenever I’ve had to do desk work. I feel stronger and straighter than when I was in my 20s. Furthermore it’s loosened up my pelvis and hips so significantly, that I’ve come down a stirrup hole, within a few months of sitting on it. Because the Balimo Chair makes you active when you sit, my core strength has improve out of sight.
Another sensitive issue which is worth addressing, is rider weight. As a rider I decided to do something about my physical self in an attempt to improve my horse’s ridden experience! In my determination to be a better rider I’ve lost 9 kilos (over 19 pounds) and 2 dress sizes in the last six months. But my weight loss goals haven’t all been about looking good in breeches….. it’s about getting myself fit enough to ride well. Being 47 now I realised improving my fitness wasn’t going to happen overnight. I’ve still got a way to go before I think I’ll be working with an appropriate level of fitness, coupled with optimum riding shape to be the best rider I can be. Being ambitious with my dressage I am totally focused on this goal. So having tried EVERYTHING in recent years to lose weight (gained no thanks to the problematic autoimmune condition affecting metabolism – Hashimoto’s Hypothyroidism) I’ve finally hit the jackpot with the ‘secret’ I’m about to disclose. I do appreciate that everyone has different goals – but this works for me!
If you aren’t in your healthy weight range perhaps consider ‘The Fast Diet’ (AKA 5:2 which has been the facilitator of my own weight loss). It shouldn’t be called a ‘diet’! It should be called a lifestyle. It’s transformed my eating habits and I haven’t even been as diligent with it as advised. Two days a week you reduce you calorie intake to 500 for women and 600 for men. Once you are over the intimidating ‘day one’ you won’t look back! It basically gets you used to being hungry and helps you reduce your portion sizes and make better food choices – permanently. Watching the video illustrates how it’s no fad and well worth considering http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x18a1b6_michael-mosley-eat-fast-live-longer_lifestyle I’ve put more links at the bottom of the article related to The Fast Diet.
The other thing riders can do to help their horse is to get completely ‘present’ prior to visiting their steed. So many people talk about their horses being their therapists….but how do you think that would make your horse feel? Horses are prey animals, so they are always present – ready to run away from the lions and tigers! As we all know horses are highly intuitive. There is no doubt that they pick up on their ‘significant’ human’s state of mind and stress levels. So if we as owners take our sh!t to the horse, the horse is more than likely going to acutely feel it and behave accordingly. So perhaps consider leaving your personal rubbish at the gate. If you need a Psychologist or Psychotherapist get one, don’t impose your tension on your horse!
I’ve found a regular meditation to be a very useful way of helping me interact more successfully with everyone in my life – especially the horses I’m riding! I can vouch for the fact that meditation has made me calmer and more focused in disposition. It’s clearly obvious to myself and my instructor that the horses I ride experience me in a more positive way as a result. A great place to start with meditation is to take a couple of minutes (or longer!) with the ‘Smiling Mind’ app
Furthermore yoga can help you with mindfulness as is outlined in this article – http://www.horsecollaborative.com/flexible-insights-yoga/
You can also consider the methodology of your riding. Does your instructor require you to ride forcefully? Perhaps have a read about Sylvia Stössel one of Philippe Karl’s School of Légèreté Master Instructors and how her body represents how she goes about her business – https://www.facebook.com/notes/horse-fix/rider-tension-or-lack-thereof-an-inspiration/1143120462444626
A few parting words of wisdom from elite Eventer Amanda Ross, who puts into perspective priorities relating to being a great horse person:
“Given all the time, money and effort we dedicate to our equestrian pursuits, weigh up these options –
- Spend $300 on sticky-bum breeches? Or $300 on a gym membership and program? Gain a stronger body and you’ll stay on board better than with sticky breeches alone!
- Sleep properly. Plan ahead to ensure you have a comfortable place to sleep at the comp, and don’t sit up to midnight chatting when you have an 8am dressage session the next day.
- Instead of Googling how to ride better, spend time actually exercising and doing something about it!
- For every grain of feed/electrolytes/joint supps you methodically mix into your horse’s feeds,consider how you can do the equivalent in your own diet.
- Your horse needs to work long and low? Well, so do you – stretch! Relate your horse’s training needs to your own… you’ll probably find some scary similarities!”
Rider fitness resources to set you up to do your horse justice!
- Be inspired – very inspired! https://www.facebook.com/notes/horse-fix/rider-tension-or-lack-therof-an-inspiration/1143120462444626
- Equilates at Garfield http://www.flyinghorsetours.com.au/equilates
- http://equipoisepilates.com.au/ and https://www.facebook.com/Equipoise-Pilates-163295900485089/timeline/
- How To: Stretches for Equestrians https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XLz5qqeqfCU
- How To: Fitness for Equestrians https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M6qyFSFMda4
- YOGAmazing: Yoga for Equestrians https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZveGs7Udaw
- http://equipoisephysiotherapy.com/2015/01/09/the-low-down-on-the-importance-of-aerobic-training-for-equestrian-athletes/ Find more under the articles tab – http://www.equipoisephysio.com/ and you can purchase their fitness program via their online store.
Helpful links associated to The Fast Diet:
If you are in Oz check out this great Facebook support group for people having a crack at it:
Here follows some useful content pinned to the top of the page of the above mentioned group:
- 5:2 for beginners – https://www.facebook.com/groups/52DietAustralia/980493058633520/
- Fasting day tips for beginners – https://www.facebook.com/groups/52DietAustralia/980493758633450/
- Frequently asked questions – https://www.facebook.com/groups/52DietAustralia/1003804012969091/
- My Fitness Pal (MFP) – Please note that MFP is not set up for 5:2 so does not take your fasting days into account. It is greatfor counting calories but should not be used to determine your non fast day calorie allowance. Instead we recommend you use the Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) calculator on the Fast Diet website which is run by 5:2 creator, Dr Michael Mosley. You will find a link to this page in the list of useful links below.
- 5:2 Diet Australia Recipe Page – https://www.facebook.com/groups/905769216113814/
- The Fast Guide to the Fast Diet – 6 minute summary of 5:2 – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W9Aj6hRYg4A
- Calorie counter & weight loss tracker – http://www.myfitnesspal.com/
- TDEE Calculator – http://thefastdiet.co.uk/how-many-calories-on-a-non-fast-day/
- Dr Michael Mosley’s UK website – http://thefastdiet.co.uk/
- Dr Michael Mosley answers FAQ’s – http://thefastdiet.co.uk/michael-answers-frequently-asked-questions/
- Dr Mosley’s comments onstarvation mode and non fast day calories https://www.facebook.com/groups/52DietAustralia/permalink/984627601553399/