As an avid horse show competitor, I work very hard to get (and keep) my horses fit for competition. A fit horse is stronger, sounder, more supple, more balanced/lighter and more athletic overall. They are athletes that when in top condition perform at the “top of their game.”
What I sometimes fail to remember is that I too am an athlete and must be in top condition in order to perform (with my horse) to the best of my ability. A fit rider is no different than a fit horse; he/she is stronger, less prone to injury, flexible, balanced, and more in control of his/her body position and aids creating a more effective rider. The combination of a fit horse and fit rider maximizes performance and can prevent injuries.
I have come to realize that riding multiple times a week does not automatically translate to being in top condition. It takes an actual fitness program tailored to the equestrian to improve overall athletic conditioning. A fitness program with these 7 key elements:
Core Stability: Aids in posture (self-carriage), stamina and effective aids and cues. Your seat, weight, and torso are at the “core” of your riding with your limbs being secondary aids.
Balance: Achieving “oneness” with your horse is paramount to successful riding. “Oneness” is accomplished through balance and body awareness. Balance is a facet of core stability. Without it, riders cannot properly “sit” in the saddle; will grip with their knees/legs; and have heavy/pulling hands.
Strength: Muscular strength and endurance go hand in hand. The idea for the rider is to build muscular strength that can be repeated over time (endurance). A rider’s legs are second in importance to balance. Stable leg position is critical to overall balance. A rider’s legs must also work independently of each other and lay close to the horse’s side. Knees and ankles act as shock absorbers. Upper body strength translates to upper body control, proper posture, and soft/steady hands.
Cardiovascular Conditioning: Improves stamina; prevents a rider from getting out of breath during riding. Allows the rider’s muscles to work efficiently (energy stores).
Flexibility: Flexibility is critical to having freedom of movement in the saddle thus reducing every day aches and pains as well as the potential for injury after a fall.
Nutrition: A healthy diet is especially critical for riders who want to achieve optimum performance, both mentally and physically.
Mental Edge: Riding is just as much a mental sport as it is physical. Effective mental strategies help riders become confident, relaxed riders. Peak performance encompasses motivation, confidence, and concentration.