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  • Writer's pictureHayden Therapies

Rider Fitness, How Fit is Fit Enough?

Updated: Jun 6, 2023

How fit do we need to be to ride? The age old question. As equestrians, it's presumed we're already fit, right? As most of us are dragging buckets full of water around (none of that split the load between two buckets thing no no no, we'll just drag this one huge one across the yard from the tap that's conveniently positioned approximately 2.5miles away from the furthest field that the horse is in).. or lugging overfull haynets uncomfortably around on our shoulders like a crap Santa's sack. Or moving bedding bales on a wheelbarrow stacked so perilously high we'd give the health and safety officer a heart attack. Shall we even bother discussing moving haybales off the field? Stacking endless small square bales if you're lucky, rolling tonne round bales if you're not so lucky. Poo picking until the wheelbarrow tire is screaming and you can only just balance the pooper scooper on top because you're absolutely NOT going all the way to the muck heap and back to the field for the last four poos. Then there's the endless daily walking to the fields and back. On hard ground, soft ground, frozen ground, in mud, sometimes leading a well behaved horse, sometimes flying a kite or trying to tame a snorting dragon. All these things are exercise to some degree, so we can assume we've got some fitness, right?
The trouble is, stacking haybales makes you good at well, stacking haybales. So it's really the context we need to look at. Yes the average equestrian may be fit enough to lunge a lively youngster and carry out all stable duties without breaking too much of a sweat, but how relevant is that to riding?
We may gain some strength and general fitness from all the tasks associated with keeping our beloved cash munchers but is it enough?
It's becoming more and more commonplace for horse owners to work full time to pay for their animals, and with rising costs it's not uncommon to see the average horse owner keeping their pride and joy on part or full livery to allow themselves enough working hours to pay the bills. The irony. You buy a horse to enjoy then spend most of the week working in order to pay for it. Then have to find the time to go to some kind of hellish HIIT class in order to be fit enough to ride it.
The truth of it is, you don't actually have to be super fit in order to ride effectively. But you do need to be fit in order to ride at your best. A happy hacker who sits in an office all week doesn't necessarily have the same fitness requirements as someone who competes regularly. SO it's really important to keep things in perspective. After the birth of my first child I went back to personal training at 4mnths post partum. At 6mnths I started riding again. On the 10th time in the saddle I competed at BD medium on horse I'd already trained to that level so it was just a case of putting the moves back together as opposed to training and practicing test riding. So you see the fitness I gained away from the saddle meant that my body was as prepared as it could be, it didn't magically make me a better rider though, much to my dismay.

The point I'm trying to make, is that personal fitness goals need to be relevant to the task at hand. If you're going to do planks daily in order to get better at riding with your core muscles, you won't. You'll get better at planks. Exercise and fitness plans need to be sport specific if that's your goal. There's so much more to riding than just fitness too. There's co-ordination, control, breathing, emotional state, all these things affect how we ride. You could be super fit but if you're not self aware enough to have a coping strategy for your stress levels you could end up in a situation similar to the recent appalling showjumping round of the modern pentathlon where both the German rider, and trainer it seems, lost their minds for a few minutes to the pure frustration of horse loving onlookers who witnessed a stressed out horse being roughly handled in the ring.
So pick your fitness plan according to your goals. Be honest about how much weekly time you have and spend it wisely. If 10mins before you ride is the only spare time you have, then pick exercises that will benefit both of you. If you have tight hips when you ride maybe 20 wide leg squats before you get on will help? The main thing is, don't torture yourself over the time you don't have, just train smarter in the time you do have. Quality over quantity. Get into good habits. Do what you can, when you can, and forgive yourself for the times you can't. Most people get into riding for the love of it, not to torture themselves about not being fit enough, skilled enough, or experienced enough to enjoy it fully. Go out there and enjoy your sport, breathe it in, you'll never regret spending time doing the things that bring you joy.

Until the next time folks, keep on trotting on!

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