Wednesday, 01 February 2017 11:48

Yoga for horse riders | Equestrian Fitness

What is yoga?

Yoga is an ancient mind/body exercise that originated in India. Literally, it means ‘to unite’, regular practice unites the mind and body. When we are riding, we have to unite not only our own mind and body but the horse’s mind and body, and our own with theirs!! A rider who is in united in a strong, supple body and a calm, focused mind is in a very positive position to achieve harmony with their horse, before they even put their foot in the stirrup.

 

Yoga promotes strength, flexibility, mental focus and wellbeing. There are a variety of different types of yoga, to suit all levels and ambitions. However, the general aims of improving breathing, calming the mind whilst strengthening and aligning the body are present throughout the various different types. A strong, long, lean body with regular, considered breathing are all things I promote when I am coaching riders, which makes yoga fit so well.

Why is yoga good for riders?

Various forms of exercise are good for riders, including swimming, cycling, Pilates and yoga. Each have their own benefits and drawbacks from a horse rider’s perspective, but work best as part of a balanced exercise regime. Yoga specifically, may be useful for riders who sit for long periods at work or are tight in their hips. Tight hips cause riders to grip with their knees and make it difficult for the lower leg to hang long and around the horses’ side. At a more advanced level, hip opening exercises can really help to improve the sitting trot and prevent bouncing, and thus increase flow and harmony.

Riders often treat their horses – to regular training sessions, to physio, to the latest gear. We rarely, however, treat ourselves, often because of the cost. Yoga is a great and cheap way to treat a rider to a good workout, and a well-being session. Contrary to popular belief amongst the people I speak to, yoga is a great workout, and excellent to improve core stability. It is also fantastic for improving flexibility, especially in the hamstrings, shoulders and hips.

One of the key advantages to yoga and Pilates, is the focus on the breath. Focus on breathing is very important during riding because it helps to improve the mind/body connection, and reduce any mental chatter that may exist from a long and busy day. The best riders practice mental focus, thinking only about the horse, his way of going and their goals for the session.

Horses pick up on subtle changes in our mood and having a focused mind allows us to communicate more clearly with our horse and make our partnership more harmonious. As our body acts as a whole unit, our pelvis and diaphragm are linked; when the breathing is shallow the hips will be tight. The horse’s way of going will mimic the posture of the rider. If the rider is gripping and tense, the horse will not be ‘through’ and flowing, will tense its back and take short, choppy strides. This can have long term implications, not only on performance, but also for the soundness of the horse.

Basic yoga to try at home

The following stretches are yoga stretches that are really effective at increasing flexibility for riding. They are straight forward enough to try at home too! Make sure you are warm before attempting any of these stretches and have a comfortable mat or blanket to lie on. Complete them as often as you can for maximum benefit to your riding. Remember that these exercises should be completed as part of a balanced programme; stretching without strengthening can lead to excessively mobile joints that are prone to injury. Further advice on fitness for individuals can be gained by contacting This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Low lunge - What it does

This stretch really opens out your hips and stretches your groin, hip flexors and quadriceps. Flexibility in this area is essential to have an open and supple seat for dressage. Flexible quadriceps and hip flexors allow the leg to lengthen and your seat to become deeper. The low lunge in particular helps to counteract the effect that long periods of time sitting down has on shortening your hip flexors and quadriceps, for example in riders that work in an office...

How to do it

Start on your hands and knees. Extend your right leg out in front of you, resting your right foot on the floor so that your right knee is at 90 degrees to the floor and your weight is between your right foot and left knee. Make sure your knee is not over your toe, otherwise you can damage your knee.  Engage your core muscles and push your pelvis forward until you feel a good stretch along the front of your left leg (as in the picture), without the stretch being painful. Hold for at least 30 seconds, breathing deeply throughout. Change legs and do two sets each side.

To make it harder

Once you are accustomed to this stretch, you can try the more advanced version. Once in the low lunge position, Take a deep breath in, and as you exhale bring your arms into the air and behind your head. Open up your chest and feel a good stretch along your chest as well as in your hips. Continue to breathe whilst you enjoy the stretch that this position provides along your whole body.

Pigeon - What it does

The pigeon stretches out your gluteal muscles (your buttocks), which get tight from riding and can compromise your leg position and can cause lower back pain. It is also great for relieving tension in the hips, which can be caused by spending long periods of sitting, and also stress related tension is stored in the hips, so the pigeon pose enhances wellbeing.

How to do it

Start on all fours, with your hands directly below your shoulders and your knees below your hips. Bring your right knee forward until it touches your right wrist, then bring it across the midline of your body. Gently and slowly straighten your left leg out behind you, and lower your torso down so that your weight is over your bent right leg until you feel a stretch in your right buttock. Try and make sure your hips are pointing forward and you aren’t leaning over to the right. Hold for 30 seconds and change sides. Repeat until you have completed two sets on each side.

Cobra - What it does

The Cobra position helps to simultaneously strengthen and elongate your spine and stretches across your chest, to help improve your posture. Stretching your back and chest in this way is particularly beneficial if you spend long periods of time slouching, for example over a computer or mucking out.

How to do it

Start by lying on the floor, face down. Keep your feet together.  Bend your elbows, tucking them in by your sides, and rest your palms on the floor under your elbows. Contract your abdominals and your buttocks to protect your lower back, and exhale as you lift your torso up, so that your bodyweight is resting on your palms and pubic bone (as in the picture). Keep your head facing forward so that you don’t strain your neck. Take at least 5 deep breaths in this position and return to lying. Repeat twice.

If this stretch is too much for you, or you experience pain in your back, you can rest on your forearms, and only come up as far as you can whilst your bottom rib is in contact with the mat and floor. This is more suitable if you suffer with lower back pain, and is still a very beneficial stretch without risking damaging your back.

How do you find these exercises? Are you more flexible in some joints than others? Answer in the comments below!


Lucy Field-Richards : Lucy owns Ride Fit Equestrian, and is from Nottinghamshire.RFElogo
Qualifications : First class BSc (Hons) Equine Sports Science (Equestrian Psychology), BHSAI, Diploma in Equine Sports Massage Therapy
Lucy is a lecturer in Equine Science at Nottingham Trent University.
 
 

 


 

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Desperate to go skiing but struggling to justify such an expense so soon after Christmas? Here's several reasons skiing can help with your riding, and ensure a guilt free holiday!

Active Family Holiday

Many horse riders are accustomed to an ... READ MORE

 

 

Published in Front Page

Desperate to go skiing but struggling to justify such an expense so soon after Christmas? Here's several reasons skiing can help with your riding, and ensure a guilt free holiday!

Active Family Holiday

Many horse riders are accustomed to an active lifestyle and dislike sitting still (or sunbathing!) Skiing offers an active, exhilarating and sociable holiday. You can enjoy skiing guilt-free because you will be having a holiday, keeping fit and improving your riding simultaneously. Sounds too good to be true, but (apart from the price tag) it's not!

Core Strength

Skiing involves moving all 4 limbs separately, whilst keeping your torso strong and centred, exactly as riding does. Practising skiing helps you to develop an independent seat because you learn to separate the limb movements from each other and from your core.

Balance

To stay centred over your skis, you have to be in perfect balance. If you lean too far back you will go too fast on your skis; too far forward and you will fall on your face! When we ride, minute imbalances in the rider don’t always cause a significant or immediate change in the horse’s way of going (particularly on a less reactive horse), which makes it difficult for the rider to learn when they are in perfect balance and when they are not. In skiing, if you aren’t in perfect balance you will fall over, so you have no choice but to perfect your balance very quickly!

Co-ordination

Good skiers turn in an even rhythm, constantly shifting their weight from one leg to the other. This closely mimics riding lots of changes of rein, or doing lateral work on both reins. Riders that ride only one horse tend to find that they and their horses become accustomed to each other’s crookedness, and compensate for one another. With skiing, the live element of the horse is eliminated so if lateral imbalances exist you will fall over. Skiing forces you to learn new movement patterns that are equal on both sides.

Sports Psychology

If you haven’t skied before, it can be very daunting at first. Whilst you are finding it difficult to turn, keeping in rhythm and balance, experienced people are flying past you at speed, often far too close by! Sounds a bit like a showjumping warm up?! This forces you to keep focused on your own performance and to stay ‘in the zone’, otherwise you will fall over. So, skiing is great practice at keeping your cool in intimidating situations, which can only benefit your competitive riding.

Do you find that skiing helps your riding? Do you have other ways of keeping active on holiday?


Lucy Field-Richards : Lucy owns Ride Fit Equestrian, and is from Nottinghamshire.RFElogo

Qualifications : First class BSc (Hons) Equine Sports Science (Equestrian Psychology), BHSAI, Diploma in Equine Sports Massage Therapy

Lucy is a lecturer in Equine Science at Nottingham Trent University.

 

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Published in Trot On Blogs
Thursday, 04 August 2016 09:44

Life Lessons Learned from Injury

I laid on the gallop track in the sand with my foot on backwards for 45 minutes waiting for an ambulance. The pain was unbearable. I knew the break was bad because the vet who was vetting the horse I was planning to buy (the same one that decked me!) couldn't stomach it and had to leave! All I could think of is that if I have damaged the joint badly, my riding days are over.

The surgeon told me that, following the shattering and dislocation of my ankle and subsequent reconstruction, it would never fully recover and I would have arthritis, never run again and 'might' be able to ride. It would take 2 years to recover as well as it is going to, and in this time I would learn how much function I will get back into my right leg and foot.  As the second anniversary of the injury approaches, it seems appropriate to reflect upon the life lessons I learned and how the injury has shaped me as a person. Hopefully some of these thoughts may resonate with some of you, and give anybody who is going through a similar situation some hope and comfort.

Six of the many lessons learned as a result of my injury

1. Don't trust anyone, you can never be too careful - I injured myself riding a horse that was being vetted for me to buy. I had previously ridden it (after the yard staff had ridden it), but at the vetting, I got straight on because I assumed that the horse had been in normal work since i last saw it, given the horse was for sale and it would surely be in optimum condition and prepared for sale? Once on board, I lasted about 30 seconds before it napped and decked me, leaving me with my right foot hanging on backwards. The damage caused to my foot (and the secondary problems further up in my body), in those two seconds whilst I was hurtled into the air will be with me for the rest of my life.

8 day stay in hospital                                                                                      2 weeks after my operation I had the stitches out

As I was waiting for an ambulance, I heard the owner state his disappointment at losing the sale of the horse. He had kept the horse in a stable for 4 days so that it would pass the vetting, and was now gutted because this had happened. He was seemingly surprised to have to call an ambulance to scrape an unsuspecting, trusting and naive client off the floor. It has taken me 27 years to appreciate this, and I learned that day that not everybody treats other people in the way that they would like to be treated and that the only person that really cares about you is YOU. Looking after number one is essential, because you are the only person that has to live with the consequences, even if it is as a result of somebody else's negligence.

Some of my dear friends who kept me smiling         Fun times with glitter and a plaster cast and the lady who lights up my life

2. Never underestimate the value of friendships - during my recovery I learnt a lot about myself and my friends. There were some people I barely knew who bent over backwards to help me during my recovery, and others that I thought I was close to, who dropped me like a stone when I was no longer mobile. My true friends got me through some tough times, not just during my first round of surgery but then the next round too a year later. I rekindled a relationship with my oldest friend that I had lost touch with, when she brought me round a lemon drizzle cake and from that moment forward we were inseparable again, and I was lucky enough to be her bridesmaid when she married this year.

3. Life is short and you never know what's round the corner -  accidents happen when we least expect them, and the way they happen often seems so futile! I remember wondering why I couldn't have done it out eventing, because at least it would have been worthwhile and made me less angry at the owner of the horse.

As a direct result of what happened, I take the view that if I want to do something with my horse, I seize the moment and go for it. I worry less about nerves and what other people think (having historically been a nervous wreck competing), and just feel truly lucky to be fit and well enough to be out there.

4. Horses are the best healers and dressage isn't so bad - When I used to event, the dressage was very much something to get out of the way before the fun stuff started. However, when I was first coming back to riding post-injury, I was lucky enough to be offered two beautiful dressage horses to ride, who 'brought me back into work' and made life enjoyable again. One of these horses I have been lucky enough to buy. He is my absolute pride and joy, and now I would probably choose dressage over jumping, which I never thought would happen! These two horses got me through a very tough time and I will forever be indebted to them.

5. Good comes out of difficult times - I was unhappy at work at the time of my injury. Having completed an equine degree, I decided to get a 'proper job' at one of the Big 4 accountancy firms and qualified as a Chartered Accountant, in order to pay to keep horses. I was desperately unhappy and struggled to sit still for hours on end. I would get home in the evening and have to go for a run just to get into the frame of mind where I could even speak to my family because I was so stressed and had so much pent up energy. My riding was never a relaxing experience either because I was always in a bad mood. Inevitably the horse will have sensed this, and probably not had the most fun either.

I had always taught riding and was an equine sports massage therapist at weekends, but as soon as I was off crutches, I decided to take the plunge and work with horses full time. Despite being less mobile and in pain, I realised that it was now or never. I did a lot of Pilates and strength work as part of my recovery, which really helped improve my balance and got me back riding as well (if not better) than before. I retrained to be an equipilates™ teacher, set up my own business, Ride Fit Equestrian, and have never looked back!

6. There is always somebody worse off than you - The first few months post accident, I became quite depressed. I lost a lot of friends, which devastated me, and the prognosis for my ankle was poor. It was unlikely I could ride properly again, walk long distances or run. Two years on, an MRI scan confirmed that I have an arthritic ankle, with ruptured ligaments and my right is leg shorter than my left (due to bone loss), which causes knee and back pain. Despite this, I am able to ride well on the flat, walk short distances pain-free, swim and cycle. I even managed to climb Kinder Scout! It was very painful, but I managed it and still thoroughly enjoyed the day out with friends. The simple difference now is that my perspective has changed completely, and my focus is on what I CAN DO, rather than what I CAN'T DO (ride X-C, run, walk long distances).

A few months after my injury, I read Claire Lomas' book 'Finding my Feet', which was a real turning point. Discovering the struggles she faced when she became paralysed, I was deeply ashamed of my own feelings over a mere ankle injury.  It would be so incredibly insulting to anybody who is permanently disabled for me to be depressed over my ankle injury, when compared to the problems some people face on a daily basis, and what they can achieve. As a direct result of reading this book, I can honestly say I am a happier person now than I was before the injury. It is said that happiness is only 10% situational, and 90% based on a person's outlook. My ankle functions 90% less well than it did before, but my outlook and attitude to life is probably 90% better.

There are many things I can't do now that I used to do enjoy before, but every time I get on a horse I am grateful for the opportunity. I don't worry about what other people think and whether to go to a competition because I am not 110% ready. I just go, and enjoy every second, thanking God I have recovered as well as I have.

I hope that these ramblings may help anybody else who is injured and having a difficult time. Perhaps it may give you comfort that things always do come right in the end, even if plan A, B and C don't work. Keep trying and never give up hope.

Thanks for reading. If you are going through a difficult time and would like some support, feel free to comment below. There will be lots of people in the same boat.

Lucy xx

Lucy Field-Richards


 

Lucy Field-Richards : Lucy owns Ride Fit Equestrian, and is from Nottinghamshire.

Qualifications : First class BSc (Hons) Equine Sports Science (Equestrian Psychology), BHSAI, Diploma in Equine Sports Massage Therapy

Lucy is a lecturer in Equine Science at Nottingham Trent University.

 


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Published in Trot On Blogs

Do you muck out regularly and therefore spend extended periods bent forward? Alternatively, do you work in an office and find yourself leaning over your screen to concentrate and read the computer screen?

Do you find that by the end of a long, stressful working day your shoulders clunky and feel like they are held up around your ears somewhere?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then it will inevitably negatively impact upon your riding. However, don’t despair, because these simple, yet hugely effective exercises can be performed anytime, anywhere and will help counteract the impact of repetitive tasks at work.

Arm glide

Stand with your back and legs flat against a wall. Stretch your arms out to shoulder height and bend your elbows bent against the wall, so that your hands are at the same height as your head, and slowly straighten the arms away from your body, until they are totally straight. Bend your elbows, bringing your hands back to the start. Do 3 sets of 15 repetitions with a 60 second rest in between...

You should feel a nice stretch along your chest muscles (pectorals), and hopefully will be working the muscles that support your shoulder blades, to help keep your shoulders back. The result will be a more elegant and effective riding position.

Chest stretch

Stand tall, with your core muscles engaged to protect your lower back. Take your arms behind you as far back as they will go and clasp your hands together. Hold for 15 seconds, repeat three times. You should feel a nice stretch along your chest, which helps counteract the postural impact of slumping over a computer or mucking out.

Slow shoulder roll

Sit or stand and take a few deep breaths. Lift your shoulders as high as you can to your ears for a few seconds. Then, take them back as far as you can for a few seconds before you drop and relax them. Your shoulders should have visibly moved back an inch or two. Repeat three times, and try and keep this new enhanced posture when you are back at your desk.

We hope you find these exercises useful, and ride with a taller, proud posture as a result! Are there any others you know of that can help improve riders? Please share in the comments below!

Lucy Field-Richards

 


Lucy Field-Richards : Lucy owns Ride Fit Equestrian, and is from Nottinghamshire.

Qualifications : First class BSc (Hons) Equine Sports Science (Equestrian Psychology), BHSAI, Diploma in Equine Sports Massage Therapy

Lucy is a lecturer in Equine Science at Nottingham Trent University.

 


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Published in Trot On Blogs

The health benefits of walking are well documented, and in my previous office-based career I used to look forward to a walk at lunchtime. It was a great opportunity to alleviate the stresses of the corporate world and develop great relationships with colleagues. Some of my most effective meetings were held on the move, outside of the formal office environment! Recently I considered walking in the context of horse riders who have sedentary jobs and how fantastic a daily walk can be, for not only our wellbeing, but also for our equestrian performance.

What’s the hype?

• Minimal hassle - Walking is a great way to pass your lunch hour, because (debilitating injury aside) it is accessible to everybody, you will not require any equipment and, unlike jogging in a lunchbreak, you will not get sweaty and need a shower before heading back to the office!

• Weight control – Gentle aerobic exercise such as walking is great for fat burning. A 30 minute walk will burn around 150 calories (approximate – actuals depend upon age, gender, weight etc), which over a month is equivalent to a pound of weight loss. Rider weight is a very contentious issue in terms of the maximum percentage of bodyweight a rider should be. More recent thinking suggests rider weight should be a maximum of 10% of our horse’s bodyweight, though some consider the closer to 5% the better, and others suggest up to 15% does not cause the horse any harm. Whatever your opinion on the exact percentage, anybody who has ever worn a heavy rucksack can appreciate that the lighter we are, the easier it is for our horses to carry us effectively and perform at their best.

• Reduction in stress – High pressure occupations cause stress, which is harmful to our health over the long term, if not managed correctly. Simply going for a stroll at lunchtime can help you appreciate the beauty of the great outdoors, get the world back into perspective and alleviate stress. If you are in a positive frame of mind at work, you are more likely to enjoy riding your horse in the evening, and reduce the risk of taking your frustrations out on your noble steed. From a personal perspective, in my past career, I did not realise how effective taking a lunchtime walk was for relaxation, until the day when I was too busy to get out the office, and I felt like a caged animal all afternoon. This inevitably impacted upon my riding performance in the evening. No horse wants a stressed and irate owner turning up to ride at 7pm!

• Postural Improvement – Occupations that involve spending prolonged periods at a desk can lead to poor posture from slouching over a screen, particularly if combined with stress-related hunched shoulders. Extended periods of sitting down, tightens the hip flexors which makes it very difficult to achieve a correct posture on a horse. Walking at lunchtime can help alleviate these problems by stretching and improving circulation, ensuring you return to your desk feeling tall and free in your movement, which your horse will definitely appreciate! Postural improvements will also alleviate aches and pains associated with sub-optimal movement because it will reduce the strain on your back.

• Vitamin D – Vitamin D is important for keeping bones and teeth healthy, and supports good mental health.  The majority of people in the UK do not get enough Vitamin D during the winter months, as it is sourced from sunlight and many occupations involve leaving the house when it is dark to sit indoors all day, and returning when it is dark. No amount of mucking out or riding in the dark will be able to help you! A 30 minute walk during the day will expose your skin to the sunlight and help you to absorb as much Vitamin D as possible during the long winter months.

Maximise the benefit

There are two key ways to maximise the benefits of walking. Research has shown that people who wear a pedometer are more aware of their movement and walk more as a result, than if they are not wearing a pedometer. From a weight control perspective, this is fantastic news and something that is easy to achieve. In addition, wearing weights round your ankles will increase the work your body has to do, and therefore burn more calories and can help with toning.

Still reading? What are you waiting for? Grab your trainers – happy walking!

What form of non-riding exercise do you prefer? Post in the comments below!

Lucy Field-Richards

 


 

Lucy Field-Richards : Lucy owns Ride Fit Equestrian, and is from Nottinghamshire.

Qualifications : First class BSc (Hons) Equine Sports Science (Equestrian Psychology), BHSAI, Diploma in Equine Sports Massage Therapy

Lucy is a lecturer in Equine Science at Nottingham Trent University.

 

 

 


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Published in Trot On Blogs
Monday, 16 May 2016 14:54

Five Tips to Get You Riding Fit

Getting fit for riding can be a real challenge. Going to the gym is hard work and often we lack time and motivation after we have been to work, ridden and mucked out! Let us help you solve these problems with our quick and simple solutions to get you to Ride Fit.

• Do your own jobs - Where feasible, keep your horse on DIY livery, and do your own stable jobs. Mucking out, turning out, carrying haynets and water buckets are all beneficial to your fitness, being strength and conditioning training, without you even knowing it!  Make sure when you muck out and sweep, you do it on both sides of your body, to promote balanced muscles and straightness. Similarly, carry a water bucket in each hand to balance out the weight and protect your back.

• Warm up – Very few riders warm up before they ride and get on the horse cold and stiff. This stiffness transmits to the horse and affects his way of going. Warming up is extremely beneficial because it increases blood flow, gently opens the joints and helps prevent injury. Contrary to popular belief, it is not onerous, and can be done in the stable. Even grooming the horse vigorously will help to open up the shoulder joints. The hips and knees can be warmed up with some simple lunges or squats, and the chest can be opened with some shoulder rolls, or by clasping the hands behind the back and stretching them behind you. All of these exercises will be beneficial not only to your body, but will turn your mental focus to riding, which will optimise your performance.

• Stretch – In our last blog posting, we discussed the importance of flexibility in enhancing riding. Everybody’s target areas are different (and a good coach or Pilates teacher can help you identify yours), but common areas of tightness in riders are: hip flexors, hamstrings, gluteals and pectorals. Stretching these muscles daily will take only ten minutes, and can be done in front of the telly (even with a glass of wine as an incentive), but will improve your riding tenfold. Ask your Pilates teacher how to complete these stretches safely and to give you the best effect.

• Join a class – Equestrian specific exercise classes are fantastic motivators, because you can have fun and make friends with like-minded people. The exercises will be specifically targeted at riders and the instructor will understand the challenges riders face, and help solve them. Often the classes are paid for a few weeks in advance, encouraging you to go each week (even when you don’t feel like it!), gaining the most benefit.

• Cardiovascular exercise – Exercise such as brisk walking, running, swimming or cycling are good for weight control, stamina and all round well-being. All of these factors result in better riders. Try and commit to an achievable amount of cardiovascular exercise each week. This may be half an hour once a week, or five times a week, depending on how much time you have, and how much you enjoy it. You don’t have to be a marathon runner; even the smallest amount will pay dividends for your riding.

Try these tips and let us know how you get on or if you have any questions in the comments below!

Lucy Field-Richards

 

 


 

Lucy Field-Richards : Lucy owns Ride Fit Equestrian, and is from Nottinghamshire.

Qualifications : First class BSc (Hons) Equine Sports Science (Equestrian Psychology),  BHSAI, Diploma in Equine Sports Massage Therapy

Lucy is a lecturer in Equine Science at Nottingham Trent University.

 

 


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Published in Trot On Blogs
Wednesday, 20 April 2016 10:50

Why Horse Riders Need to Exercise too

Commonly we talk about ‘working’ our horses and getting them fit for our discipline, whatever that may be. We spend hours and invest lots of money in training our horses to use their muscles correctly and perform at their best. Having said that, not all riders consider their own physical fitness and how it can enhance their riding performance. Many people assume that because riding itself is physical exercise, keeps us fit and burns around 300 calories a session, we don’t need to do other forms of exercise. Fortunately, equine scientists have found a link between rider fitness and improved riding, raising awareness of the issue. Rider fitness is paramount when taking to the saddle, and we owe it to our horses to stay in the best shape we reasonably can. So, why is it so important?

Weight control

Let’s see it from the horse’s perspective. An eleven stone (70kg)  rider, on a 550kg horse represents 13% of that horse’s bodyweight. If that same rider were to go for a run with a rucksack weighing 13% of their bodyweight, they would be carrying 1.4 stone (9kg). It wouldn’t take very long for the individual to tire. If the weight in the rucksack were slightly off-centre (as most riders’ weight is), the individual’s back could become quite sore very quickly. Using this analogy to empathise with the horse, we can see that to benefit the horse and improve performance, riders should control their weight and improve their straightness by a mixture of cardiovascular activities (eg running, swimming), and Pilates. These exercises will also increase endurance and stamina.

Stamina

Horse riding works a number of muscles including abdominal muscles, hip flexors, adductors (thigh) and calves. These muscles are not necessarily used in every-day life and therefore need to be trained separately, to keep strong and effective throughout a riding session. Riding is a very demanding sport, and as the rider becomes tired, their aids are less clear because it is more difficult to move the arms and legs independently of the seat. A rider with good stamina will be able to bring out the best in their horses, either in the dressage arena or cross country. Stamina is especially important in the cross country phase to ensure safety of the horse and rider, because the rider needs to be fit enough to remain focused on the horse and the fences, rather than working hard to simply remain up out of the saddle.

Prevent injury

A good rider is a well-balanced rider. The rider’s centre of gravity should be directly over the horse’s to allow the aids (seat, leg, hand) to be independent of each other. Apart from the effect on performance, good balance is important, so that if the horse spooks, or misses a stride at a jump, the rider can maintain their balance with the horse, and avoid an accident. Balance exercises used in both yoga and Pilates can help improve the balance, as well as mounted exercises on the horse.

Flexibility

Whilst strength and stamina are very important to keep the rider upright and effective in the saddle, flexibility is of equal importance to maintain balanced and effective. The musculature in the hips and pelvis needs to be supple to absorb the horse’s movement. In order for the lower legs to be long, loose and wrapped around the horse’s sides, the muscles of the hips, inner thighs and calves need to be loose and flexible. Again, these muscles don’t naturally get worked this way in everyday life and so need some help outside of your riding time.

How do you keep fit for riding? What are the best exercises you have found? Please share with others in the comments.

Lucy Field-Richards

 


 

Lucy Field-Richards : Lucy owns Ride Fit Equestrian, and is from Nottinghamshire.

Qualifications : First class BSc (Hons) Equine Sports Science (Equestrian Psychology),  BHSAI, Diploma in Equine Sports Massage Therapy

Lucy is a lecturer in Equine Science at Nottingham Trent University.

 

Published in Trot On Blogs

Welcome to the second of a three-part series of blog articles that will help improve your riding fitness. Last time we studied effective goal setting, which will mentally prepare you for the season and will keep you motivated. The next two blog articles look at our physical rider fitness. Apart from cardiovascular fitness, there are two key elements of fitness that can transform your riding; core strength and suppleness. This blog will cover core strength, and next time we will look at specific exercises to help you become supple and move freely with the horse.

What is core stability?

Your core muscles surround your trunk and are at the centre of your body.  These muscles support your spine and hips, and are involved in performing virtually every movement of the limbs.

Why is core stability important to riders ?

Core stability is essential to riders for a variety of reasons:

• Reduced pain – Having a strong core can help reduce lower back pain because all of the muscles surrounding your spine are stable. Instability in the core area means that you can’t absorb the movement of the horse effectively and over time, this will lead to injury because the ligaments and tissue surrounding the spine will be stressed and overworked.

• Enhanced equine performance –  Having a stable core and supported back will make you a much more elegant rider, and allow your horse to move freely underneath you. Riders that wobble on the horse’s back need to grip with their knees and hands to balance and the result is a tight, tense and short striding horse. A recent study has found the horses whose riders that embarked upon an 8 week core strength programme demonstrated increased stride length by the end of the programme. A top rider will create the illusion that they are totally still on the horse. In fact, they are moving at one with the horse, creating a magical harmony that many of us think we can only dream of. With our exercises, this harmony IS possible to achieve.

• Reduced risk of injury – Your core is your centre of gravity and a strong core will help you stay ‘with the horse’.  A strong core renders you more secure in the saddle so that if your horse spooks you will be far less likely to fall off and injure yourself. Strong muscles around the core will help protect your neck, back and hips in the event of a fall.

• Co-ordination - Your limbs are connected to your trunk, therefore unless you are balanced and stabilised in your core, it will be impossible  to move your hands and legs independently of your seat.

Core Exercises

We have outlined below some simple exercises you can use to strengthen a number of muscles in your body, including your core, lower back and shoulders. You don’t need any equipment for these exercises other than a mat or something comfortable to lie on, and there are several variations to ensure you perform the exercises at a level that is suitable for you. Many of the progressions can be carried out with an exercise ball, which adds a bit of fun as well as an increased level of difficulty.

The Plank. What it is.

This is a very popular and simple way to improve the strength across your upper body and core.

How to do it.

Start by kneeling on the floor with your hands shoulder width apart, as though you are about to do a push up.

Engage your abdominal muscles. Take a deep breath in, exhale and rest your weight on your forearms, and lift your knees off the floor, so that the only part of your body that is in contact with the floor is your toes and your forearms.

Keep your spine in a neutral alignment, and hold the body in this position for as long as you can.

Build up from twenty seconds, to up to two minutes over time.

Variations.

To make it easier:

If the above exercise is too challenging, and you are struggling to keep your spine in a neutral position, keep your knees on the floor whilst you rest your forearms on the floor.

Engaging your core in this position will help build your muscles sufficient to be able to perform the full plank. Gradually introduce the full plank for 10 seconds at a time.

To make it more difficult:

Try the plank, but with lifting a limb, and alternating which limb you lift.

Widen your stance and hold yourself up with your hands instead of your forearms, to increase the challenge.

Once you are good at both of these amendments, rest your legs on a Swiss ball rather than the floor, which provides an uneven base to improve your balance as well as your core stability.

Side plank. What it is:

This exercise works the oblique abdominal muscles and helps to prevent the dreaded ‘collapsed hip’.

How to do it.

Lie on your left side, with your body in one long line.

Take a deep breath in, exhale, engage the abdominals and lift your left hip and knee off the floor so that your weight is in the side of your left foot and in your left forearm.

Hold the position for as long as you can – up to two minutes, and then repeat on the right side.

Variations.

To make it more difficult:

When you are on the left side, rest on your left hand rather than the floor.

You can lift your right arm up and stretch it towards the ceiling.

Once you are confident in this position, you can also lift and lower your right leg, to give further challenge to your oblique muscles and also to improve your balance.

Dead bugs. What it is:

This exercise is aptly named, because when you complete the full extended version you look like a beetle stuck on its back! The exercise involves extending your limbs away from your centre of gravity, whilst keeping your pelvis neutral, which is a real challenge for your core.

How to do it.

Lie on your back with your spine in a neutral position, with your knees bent, and calves parallel to the floor. Take a deep breath in to engage the abdominals.

Exhale and lower your right leg and right arm to the floor, using your core muscles to keep your back flat to the floor.

Return to the start position and repeat on the other side. Aim for 10 repetitions on each side.

Variations.

To make it easier:

If your lower back lifts off the floor when you complete this exercise, you are making it too difficult for yourself and can cause injury. If this is the case, reduce the distance that your limbs move away from you.

The easiest option for this exercise is to have one foot on the floor with the knee bent, whilst the other one lowers. In this situation, the bent leg helps support the neutral position of the pelvis.

To make it more difficult:

Move both legs and both arms away from the body simultaneously. You have to be very strong through your core to maintain a neutral alignment of the spine with this variation of the exercise.

Once you have mastered the exercise with both legs and both arms moving at the same time, use an exercise ball to add additional weight and therefore challenge. Pass the ball from your hands to your ankles, and alternate whether you lift and lower the ball with your hands, or your legs.

If you practise these exercises regularly (at least twice a week), you will certainly notice a change in your riding. Let us know how you get on in the comments below. Which do you find the hardest and which do you enjoy the most?

 

Lucy Field-Richards

 

 


 

Lucy Field-Richards : Lucy owns Ride Fit Equestrian, and is from Nottinghamshire.

Qualifications : First class BSc (Hons) Equine Sports Science (Equestrian Psychology),  BHSAI, Diploma in Equine Sports Massage Therapy

Lucy is a lecturer in Equine Science at Nottingham Trent University.

 

 

 

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Published in Trot On Blogs

Improve your riding fitness. - A 3-part series by Lucy Field-Richards.

Part 1. Goal Setting.

This time of year is fantastic for riders, whatever our ability, ambition and aspirations. If you are a happy hacker, the nights drawing out and warmer spring days is enough to make you sprint down to the yard and leap on almost before you have time to do your hat up! If you are an event rider, planning the season ahead can be hugely exciting and this time of year seems so full of promise.

The flip side to the spring excitement is that it can be a little overwhelming and your regime may be lacking in structure. If hacking is your thing, instead of just riding as much as possible, you may want to constructively plan your hacks, to improve your horse’s fitness, or to school them whilst you are hacking. If eventing is your thing, instead of entering everything in sight, you might consider your finances and reduce the number of events you enter and instead focus on funding your training, so that you are more likely to be successful in the events you enter.

The key is to set goals, to give you something specific to work towards, against which you can manage your progress and keep the high energy and motivation that spring brings, throughout the summer and autumn season.

Goal Setting

Goals help us visualise our ideal future, and take the necessary steps in order to turn our vision into reality. Your goal could be to achieve the next level in eventing next year or to consistently improve your dressage scores. Whatever your goal, you are more likely to achieve it if you set it using the ‘SMART’ goal framework. Your goals must be:

• Specific

• Measurable

• Attainable

• Relevant

• Time-Linked

If your goal is to achieve the next level in eventing this season (let’s assume you compete at BE90 now and are ready to move up to BE100), we need to turn this into a ‘SMART’ goal.

‘It is May 2016, and I have successfully completed my first BE100, with a sub-35 dressage score, and no more than 4 jumping faults.’

Is it ‘SMART’?

• Specific? Yes - it details the level of competition you desire.

• Measurable? Yes – it details the scores you want to achieve. You will need to work with your trainer and/or sports psychologist to break down your overall goal into small sub-goals. These sub-goals will help keep you going and measure whether or not you are on track to achieve your overall goal. You will have to keep revisiting it as the weeks progress to make sure you stay motivated and on target. You might keep a journal to track your progress.

• Attainable? Your scores at BE90, and conversations with your trainer will help you decide this. Notice we have used the future tense in our goal… ‘It is May 2016 and I have’. Positive language is very powerful in enhancing your self-belief. Chances are that if you have been getting placed at BE90, have been working hard over the winter and have a talented horse, your goal is achievable because you have from March to May to work on moving up a level. Goals should be difficult to attain, but never impossible to achieve.

• Relevant? The goal must be relevant to you and what you want. Don’t be tempted to set goals to keep up with what your friends are doing or to please your trainer. This will just lead to heartache and failure later on.

• Time-linked? Yes – May is a set date. Using the BE calendar, you can select which competition you would like your first BE100 to be, and schedule a couple of BE90s in the next week or so, before you move up a level. This will help build your confidence, and having a set date will help build the excitement!

Now that you have your SMART goal, tell people about it! Ask your friends and family to share in your enthusiasm and understand what it means to you. This will help keep you motivated, because you will feel more accountable and let’s face it – they will be so proud of you by May when you are safely home from the cross country!

Lucy and Crouch :)

Lucy Field-Richards

 

 


 

Lucy Field-Richards : Lucy owns Ride Fit Equestrian, and is from Nottinghamshire. 

Qualifications : First class BSc (Hons) Equine Sports Science (Equestrian Psychology),  BHSAI, Diploma in Equine Sports Massage Therapy

Lucy is a lecturer in Equine Science at Nottingham Trent University.

 

 

 


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