Are you fit enough to ride?

I recently emerged from a very short show jumping lesson extremely red-faced and panting. A brief dressage session had similarly left me tired out, and even worse, the next day I had a sore back and aching legs. All this got me thinking – it being New Year and all – am I fit enough to ride? The answer came back a resounding ‘No’.

We may think we’re fit; we muck out stables, we spend hours grooming and cleaning tack. We traipse around fields searching and chasing after our horses, but all this succeeds in doing, is making us sofa riders.

And it’s not just us, spare a thought for our horses – an overweight, panting rider bouncing around on their backs, it’s just not good. Someone on the yard where I ride was telling me how a very overweight woman she knew had bought a nice young horse and announced her intention to get fit by riding it. She’d felt sorry for the horse, surely it would have been better for the woman to get fit first – how very true.

Some years ago, I took up yoga, nothing too obsessive, just 20 minutes or so doing some basic ‘salutes to the sun’ and ‘downward dogs’. But the flexibility it’s given me is spot on for riding, I can lean down to open gates without over-balancing and toppling off, and my core muscles are quite strong, which is more than can be said for my cardiovascular strength, which is seriously wanting.

A quick look at the fitness regimes of professional riders reveals a different story of course.

A successful partnership for them requires both horse and rider to be in peak condition, which for the rider means a lot of extra work out of the saddle. Event riders need to get their heart and lungs going by running, rowing, cycling or swimming; show jumpers need to be both fit and flexible.

While dressage riders need to have good core strength, to keep them clamped to the saddle.

There are many ways to get fit, to improve stamina, core strength and flexibility. We’re not all professionals, but we will benefit from devoting some time every week to improving our fitness.
FitnessTime will be an issue, we have horses to look after and ride after all. But it is possible to make some changes to our lifestyles which will reap results. We can park our cars further from work; we can carry out stretching exercises while at our desks and can go out for brisk walks at lunchtime. There are endless numbers of exercise DVDs to suit all tastes which can be carried out in the comfort of our homes – there really is no excuse, get exercising now – the results may well be surprising, and our horses will thank us for it.

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