As nearly all equestrians know, horses mimic in their bodies what takes place in the rider’s body. So, if a rider is not physically fit, they cannot expect their mount to perform at his highest potential. Stiffness and rigidity in the rider’s body can translate to stiffness in the horse’s body. So, the rider may think that their mount is being stubborn or disobedient, when in actuality, the horse is being held back by the rider’s own inadequacies.
That may be a hard pill to swallow for those who are not in good physical condition. It was a hard realization that I had just recently. I read a book by Betsy Steiner which has a fitness program: “Equilates.” And I attended a clinic on rider biomechanics. These two events opened my eyes significantly. I’ve always felt that I was in good physical condition. After reading the book and attending the clinic, I became aware of how un-fit I am. And it has been mirrored in my horse for months or more, but I perceived it as disobedience on his part.
How often do equestrians “supple” their horse’s body through different patterns and/or drills? Shoulder-in. Counter canter. Circles. Serpentines. The list can go on and on. We move their bodies through these patterns and over time they may begin to loosen up. But they can only do so much. They cannot make up for lack of fitness in the rider’s body. They can be soft and supple but if their rider is stiff and rigid, they will not be able to perform at their best.
So, what can happen when a rider IS fit for equestrian sports.
Have you ever watched an accomplished rider? A rider at the upper-most level of performance? Say the Olympics? These riders are in top physical condition. They don’t sit on the couch all day eating chips or ice cream and ride every other weekend. You can bet that they hit the gym regularly. Working on strength training as well as flexibility training to supple their bodies. They ride nearly every day and they ride “hard.” What do I mean by hard? They WORK! They are not a passive passenger in the equation.
I imagine that if you were to ask any of the top equestrians, they would tell you that they workout regularly. They don’t oversleep and miss their workout. They don’t blow off their trainer. They don’t say, “I don’t really ‘feel’ like riding today.” They get up, hit the gym, ride their horse and prepare for the task at hand.
Notice how the word ride has a certain amount of “action” in it. It’s not intended to be a spectator sport. Riding is an action. Can we be in activity if we are just a passenger on the back of an animal? My point of view: No! To be a rider requires action on the part of the person. Engaging the horse in the activity and allowing the momentum of the action of the two beings to result in the beauty of the poetry in motion that is equestrian sports.
How can a rider become physically fit?
So, what does it take to be fit for equestrian sports? I’ve started a new fitness program to increase my overall strength and flexibility. I’ve incorporated yoga and pilates for now and will add weight training when I can easily handle the yoga and pilates routines. The yoga class is a fitness yoga class so it helps to stretch and supple the muscles but it’s fast paced and we move through poses quickly and smoothly to help build some strength as well. Between the yoga and pilates, I expect in the next 60 days to have increased my riding fitness significantly. Then I can incorporate other exercises to really ramp up my fitness.
**Anyone seeking to begin a fitness program should check with their physician to make sure that they are healthy enough to begin a program. And once approved by a physician, they should find a qualified professional to help tailor a program that suits their fitness needs and lifestyle.**
Rider fitness and the horse.
Once you’ve started a program with the help of a qualified professional and your overall fitness is increasing, you should begin to notice a difference in your performance and skill on horseback. Your cues to your horse will be more effortless and he will likely respond more effortlessly as well. Your overall balance will begin to improve. And as you continue to use supplying and balancing exercises in your riding routine and continue your own fitness program, you and your horse will become the poetry in motion that you desire.