Being a rider myself for as long as I can remember, and also recently starting to event affiliated, I have always considered fitness of my horse to be very important. My own fitness however, I never considered to be especially important, always assuming that riding every day, pushing around a heavy wheel barrow and lifting bales of hay was exercise enough.
In the last 10 years I took a turn, I realised that actually I couldn't eat as much as I wanted even if I was riding frequently and attending to my horses needs at least on a twice daily basis. My fitness I assumed would be much better than average, but after going out for my first run with friends I was soon put in my place! So I decided to do something about my fitness and diet, but at first I admit it was not to help improve my riding fitness.
It wasn't until I started to take my riding more seriously that I tried to tailor my fitness to riding. I also decided that if I expected my horse to be fit enough to perform a dressage test, show jump, and go around a cross country course of at least 18 fences, that actually I should be just as fit. I don’t mean to be fit enough to run the course as well! But fit enough to not tire on our ride, so that my fatigue did not affect the ability of my horse, but also to improve my own riding ability as well. Or how is it fair to expect my horse to let me ride her around on such an arduous task?
Sport persons, whether they play golf, rugby or tennis, don’t just get fit by playing their sport. They spend time doing exercise to strengthen and condition themselves for their sport, so why should horse riders who want to do well at what they do be any different?
How we ride, as we all well know, has a huge impact on how our horses perform. Even if you don’t compete you should strive to ensure the comfort of your horse and minimise the risk of musculoskeletal pain for you both, by improving your body awareness, stability, balance, strength and stamina. Our horse feels and compensates for the subtlest of muscle movements, plus changes in weight placement, leg, seat and rein aids.
There is an increasing awareness of rider imbalances being a contributor to back pain and lameness for horses, and researchers at The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies and Duchy College have shown how exercise can improve rider symmetry and therefore welfare of the horse.
So as a personal trainer, keen to help riders improve their fitness, but as a vet with a knowledge of equine health and performance, I will be writing further blogs to help riders improve their performance.