Horse Riding is not a sport - the horse does all the work!
Hands up if you have been on the receiving end of this comment before!
I think for the non-horse professional, this statement can be forgiven and even understood - but we all know better right?
The beautiful thing about riding is that (especially for dressage in particular) the whole point is to make it look seamless and effortless (this is not how I look after a good schooling session 😉). We want to see beautiful partnerships, gliding around the arena, floating like some kind of supernatural phenomenon! Unfortunately for most, this isn’t quite the image we portray while riding.
So, what is it that separates ‘THEM’ from ‘US’? Well firstly the obvious, maybe money, luck, training, natural ability, a well-schooled horse, however, I tend to think that fitness is a huge key. Over the years I have played many sports. Hockey, swimming, netball, athletics, baseball, dancing and the list goes on. With most, there are usually other types of fitness training that can help you in your sport….. eg the rowing machine is still good fitness for a rugby player.
I have found with riding though (and this is just personal opinion) that riding is the best way to get rider fit. Riders need to be strong which in my opinion is different to fit. Yes, there is an element of fitness, especially the higher up you go with ANY of the disciplines, but the key to riding is strength in my opinion. The other thing that makes riding so spectacular is that we as riders, need to be able to isolate and use different muscles singularly or together. Not only do you need to be strong but you need to be co-ordinated!
In order for your horse to perform at his best, he needs to have a rider that is balanced, centred and strong on their own without relying on him. Your horse has his own job to do which is to listen and follow what you ask……not to make it round the arena in one piece thinking “I’m glad that’s over”
Now in saying all of this... we all have to learn somehow, and we never stop learning so it’s just as important to not beat ourselves up and be thankful that our ‘best friend’ is so tolerant and forgiving (trust me, I thank my horse after every ride and wonder why she still lets me catch her!!)
Not only are we training our horse, we need to train ourselves and also build a strong partnership with our dance partner. That partnership is what keeps everyone going on the bad days 😉
So what sort of things can help with rider fitness??
Well... firstly, hours in the saddle. Ride, ride and ride and eventually you will stop being red in the face and breathless at the end of a schooling session. I also believe that rather than running or gym training, that core strength and muscle strengthening activities are key. Pilates, yoga, strength training are all brilliant tools to help you, help your horse when in the saddle.
The stronger you are and more independent from your horse, the better your riding will be, the better your horse will go and most importantly you will be looking after your horses back and body in the long run. Horses backs are NOT designed to have riders as I have stated in a previous post.
So here goes…… one more controversial topic coming right up……
WEIGHT! You need to be a comfortable weight for your horse to carry. Not all big horses are strong, and BIG and STRONG often get confused. So, the best thing you can do for your horse, is be balanced, fit and strong.
Treating riders with Bowen at the same time as I treat a horse is a great way to have you both feeling great and have any crinkles ironed out. Horses and riders often get their tightness from each other. So make it a goal this year to do right by your best friend.