It is amazing when you talk to anyone who doesn’t have any experience of riding. They have no concept of just how hard it is. Riding, to the outsider, is simply a matter of sitting there while the horse does all of the work.
Anyone who does ride will be well aware of how very different the reality is. Riding is hard work, kicking on an unwilling horse, working a novice horse, coaxing a youngster over a round of fences is hard… add rider nerves into the mix, tense muscles and lungs that are only getting short, tiny breaths and there is no wonder the rider is exhausted.
Rider fitness is a relatively new concept in the world of equestrianism. There is an understanding in the sport horse world that the horse must embark on training programmes to meet the demands of competition, if there is ever to be a hope of success. But for the rider many of the problems in the saddle can stem from a need for more flexibility, strength or stamina. Very simply, sport and competition put stresses on the body and through fitness training you can build up the capacity for your body to meet the demands of your sport.
What are the benefits of being fit?
A fit rider will gain all of the standard associated benefits of being fit such as weight and body fat management, increased endurance, improved posture, good heart health and so on. The benefits directly affecting riders are improved body awareness, straightness, improved balance, a reduction of potential injury, quicker recovery from exercise and ability to take more from coaching sessions. A physically fit rider will also gain a psychological advantage. While the rider prepares themselves with a consistent training programme, they will also gain confidence through hard work and understanding their body, reaffirm commitment, improve control and concentration. A fitness programme is focusing, stress relieving and rewarding.
What are the main areas of fitness you should focus on for equestrian sports?
Staying fit specifically for equestrian sport should involve strength and suppleness conditioning (core work) with differing levels of stamina work depending on the discipline.
Is just riding not enough to stay fit?
People who have the opportunity to ride many horses every day will be fit, however, everyone can gain from a training programme to improve, maintain or fine tune fitness. Those who ride regularly also need to follow a programme which prevents muscle imbalance caused by riding, stereotypical signs of this are riders with bowed legs, lower back pain or rounded shoulders and of course stiffness and imbalances caused by past injuries.
How about core stability?
Core stability exercises (pilates) and balance work are particularly beneficial for the rider to keep good posture, reduce the onset of injury and fatigue and develop both sides of the body as evenly as possible. The stability of the core (deep trunk muscles) is particularly important in equestrian sport as the rider’s limbs must move independently of one another while using the seat and weight aids and as if that is not tricky enough, do so while balancing on a moving horse!