There are three topics that are the most popular and widely read on internet blogs.
Personal finance, cooking/recipes, and health/fitness.
I know practically nothing about finance (beyond how to keep a horse and show on a limited budget, which might be a good blog topic later), and my cooking prowess is laughable (which is why I asked for a subscription to a meal delivery plan for Christmas – I still like to eat decent food even though I can’t cook – and that might be another good topic for a later blog post). But one thing I can discuss from a rider’s point of view is fitness.
Don’t get me wrong, I am by no means a fitness guru, and I am certainly not a doctor, so….
Disclaimer: Please consult the advice of a physician before starting or changing a fitness routine.
Although if you tell your doctor that you ride 1200-pound flight animals over uneven terrain and random obstacles, they are likely to tell you that you’re crazy. So there’s that.
And let’s get one thing straight. When I talk about fitness, I am not talking about the size of your body or the number on your bathroom scale. There are good riders of all sizes and shapes in just about every riding discipline and there are suitable horses out there for riders of all sizes and shapes.
But in order for us to be the best riders we want to be, and DO EPIC SHIT like we want to do with our horses, then we need to achieve and maintain some minimum level of fitness to allow that to happen.
For the sake of our own physical and mental health, we need to be at least fit enough to be able to do the things we are passionate about.
I’m not talking about running marathons here. Although, If you are passionate about running marathons, ROCK ON YOU ARE A BEAST AND I SALUTE YOU.
I’m also not necessarily talking about riding competitively at some upper level of the sport, although that too is definitely something to be admired. But let’s face it, the vast majority of us just want to ride and enjoy our horses in any way we can. Maybe you want to show every weekend or maybe you want to gallop out in the fields or maybe you want to hook your little mini horse up to a cart and go for a drive. All of that is awesome!
One of the most inspirational people I have ever met was a woman in her 70’s who still managed her own farm by herself and every day tacked up her equally elderly horse for a walking-little bit of trotting-trail ride around the property. She was DOING EPIC SHIT.
That’s how I want to be. I am 51 years old, and it’s not unusual for me to be the oldest competitor riding at a horse show, and twenty years from now I still want to be doing it. And I want there to be enough of us oldsters out there doing it that they have to create a division just for us. We’ll call it the “Adults Who Qualify to Collect Social Security” division. Or “Adults Who Wore Rust Breeches Before It Was Trendy.”
Just. Keep. Moving.
I truly believe this is the key. Barring injury or infirmity or other circumstances beyond your control, JUST KEEP MOVING.
And if you have horses in your life, the horses can be both the means to follow that directive and the incentive as well.
The best way to make fitness easier to achieve is to make movement a part of your regular life routine.
I keep my horses at home and I have for years and years. I hate, loathe, and despise going to the gym and I won’t do it. But I’ve never needed to! I clean stalls, stack hay bales, move jumps, unload feed bags. I walk horses in from the field and turn them back out. I dump water buckets, repair fences, and shovel sawdust. Who needs CrossFit?
You can do it too and you don’t need to live on a farm. If you own a horse and keep it at a boarding barn, offer to clean your own stall. Help turn horses in and out. Set jumps for your trainer. At the end of your ride, get off and walk your horse for ten minutes in hand. If there are trails on the property, walk the trails and do some cleanup and maintenance.
If you don’t own a horse but ride at a lesson barn, ask if you can groom and tack up the horse yourself instead of having it done for you. Offer to assist with beginner lessons as a leader on foot, jogging alongside the ponies as their little riders learn how to post or walking with them as they learn how to steer. Volunteer to help with hand raking the ring and jump repair.
Just. Keep. Moving.
Walk everywhere that you can. Get a dog and walk it. Get your neighbor’s dog and walk it too. Get your neighbor and power walk the neighborhood while you discuss the world’s problems and solve them one by one. All of this will make you feel better and will support your goal of becoming a better or stronger rider.
And of course, you get stronger as a rider, by riding.
A few years ago I was riding in a hack class at a horse show, and for whatever reason the class went on, and on, and on. It felt like we never stopped trotting, and then we cantered for a few more miles. I was out of breath, and furious with myself. It’s hard to show your horse off to his best advantage when you can’t breathe, and it’s not very nice to be hoping that someone will fall off so that the endless cantering will stop.
After that, I changed my riding routine to specifically address fitness, both mine and the horse’s. In the ring, after a suitable warmup, I spend a continuous 20-30 minutes on solid flatwork. Mostly trotting, but also including good, engaged walk work and a mix of forward, medium, and collected cantering, with lots of transitions, lateral exercises, and changes of direction. Outside of the ring I have a long, moderately sloped hill where I alternately trot up the hill and walk down or canter up and trot down, again keeping my horse engaged, on the aids, and interested.
This type of routine works to improve the fitness of me AND my horse and helps me to reach my goals.
We went from this: