Fit to Ride. We spend a lot of our time talking about keeping our horses sound. They are athletes and we ask a lot of them physically and mentally. I am a big proponent of taking care of the horses. I feed joint supplements, ice after hard workouts, pay a lot of attention to their feet and legs, controlled workouts according to fitness level, pay attention to conformation and the list goes on. Keeping our horses sound and happy is paramount. With that being said we cant forget about the rider. No matter how sound and healthy our horse is, if the rider hurts to perform then it is going to affect the overall performance also.
To somebody watching it may look as though we just sit on the horse whether it be just a trail ride or performing a reining pattern but actually we use a lot of muscles to sit there balanced and ride our horses. I used to watch people show cow horses and puff and pant as they came out of the arena and think they must be out of shape. Then when I showed in the cow horse futurities for the first time I came out puffing and panting and I was young and in shape. And on top of the cardio there is a lot of quick motion going on and if your body is not strong and flexible it wears on muscles, joints, ligaments and tendons just like any athlete. As with our equine partners we need to take care of ourselves in order to make the most of our riding opportunities.
All my life I have known people with back trouble having it aggravated by riding. The back is the big motion absorber when we ride between our butts moving with the horse and our shoulders staying still. If it hurts for us to use our back then the motion of the horse is sure going to hurt nether lone any sudden movement it has to absorb. If you are running down to a stop and know it may hurt when you stop then you are going to try to protect yourself and maybe change the way you set up or que for the stop affecting the maneuver. When you are performing a reining pattern or working a cow there are already too many things to think about without the voice in the back of you head going “crap, this is going to hurt”.
For me it is my hips. Sitting astride a horse all day and sudden motions jerking and pulling at them can make them pretty sore. This is not something new but has occurred over the years. When I have kept myself in good shape, strong and flexible, I haven't had any trouble. The last few years with a young family and new business, time has been short and I haven't maintained my fitness as well which has led to the problem arising again. Now that I am getting my self back in shape again, the pain is going away and sudden motions of the horse don't aggravate them. Now on the big picture I wasn't fat or badly out of shape but I wasn't keeping my body strong in the areas that got worked out or stressed when I ride. Keep in mind I ride 10 to 12 horses a day or more so the workload is a little higher than the average person.
The point I am trying to make this month is whether you are a non pro riding one horse one day a week, or riding daily it is important to keep your body in shape. You also are an athlete. In doing this you need to know your physical limitations, strengths and weaknesses. Don't injure yourself getting in shape. That wont help either. Consult your doctor if you need to, maybe some physical therapy if you have an issue or some classes at a gym. Strengthen your weaknesses and learn to minimize your risk of injury while improving your riding ability and performance.
I think flexibility is as important as anything. You need to be in shape for the riding you are doing. I'm not saying everyone needs to go run 3 miles. The ability of your muscles and connective tissue to handle the work and not get injured is what we are after. The higher the workload the better shape you need to be in. For a lot of people keeping flexible will help prevent injuries. Stretching exercises or yoga may be all a lot of people need for their riding. If your skeletal structure cant stretch to the motion, particularly unexpected quick motion, then it may tear instead, leading to injuries. The stronger and more flexible everything is the better you can also perform. Once you start to hurt you change the way you ride and subsequently change the way your horse performs.
Now I understand some people have existing conditions or injuries. These definitely need to be taken into consideration. You need to do what you can to strengthen you body but also consider other things as well. You need to make sure your horse is suitable for you. If you have a bad back, have a horse that is smooth to lope and stop. Saddle fit for both you and the horse can make a big difference to your comfort. Help with your equitation, as in riding position, can also reduce the chance of injuries and create a better performance.
All this can also lead to greater confidence which again improves performance. I am lucky enough to have seen this happen within my own barn where a client went from surviving the ride to dominating the ride and it all started with getting in shape. She started to ride better, had better stamina, got a better performance, gave her more confidence so rode better again and it all snowballed. And it all started with some exercise to get in shape.
Injuries can happen in a heartbeat and take months or a lifetime to heal. We pay a lot of attention to the horses but don't forget you are an athlete too and like any athlete need to keep yourself in shape for what you put your body through. It can minimize injuries, maximize performance and increase your career lifespan. Until next month ride, slide, keep fit and have fun.