Rider Fitness: Are You Holding Up Your Part of the Team?

How many times have you thought, “I don’t need to work out because I ride horses, clean stalls, carry hay bales, feed bags…” Lets be honest, most of us riders have said that justifying our lack of extra effort to become more physically fit.

We expect our horses to be finely conditioned athletes; why do we not expect this of ourselves? Simply put…because it isn’t easy. There is no easy button to push or magic pill to take to get us fit. We have to put in the work.

Yes, riding a horse helps you more than if you were a couch potato, but how many couch potatoes expect to be athletic and win at a physical sport? Not many. So why do you think you can do nothing and run a 1D time with your horse? It is a team effort; YOU AND YOUR HORSE need to be in great shape if you expect great things!

How many times have you watched a barrel race and saw a rider who gets left behind coming out of first barrel? Then she uses her reins to pull herself back into balance, which in turn slows her horse at the very least. She may even use the reins to balance herself in the turn and end up pulling the horse of pattern and he runs back across the time line? Then she gets mad at the horse when the horse was only doing what it was told!

The other problem that happens when we become imbalanced in our run is that we end up hurting our horses. Dr. Mark Zinc and I watched numerous runners at the NE 4D finals this fall that were unbalanced in their run, which he saw in the horses as poll problems, pelvic problems, back pain, neck pain, etc.

I could go on and on about different scenarios, but the main point is that you have to be a balanced and strong rider if you expect to win!

So what are we going to do about it?

Let’s start by getting a stronger core!

What is the “core” anyway? Here is the definition of core from Wiki: “Major muscles included are the pelvic floor muscles, transverse abdominis, multifidus, internal and external obliques, rectus abdominis, erector spinae (sacrospinalis), longissimus thoracis, and the diaphragm. Minor core muscles include the latissimus dorsi, gluteus maximus, and trapezius.”
So, in short, the core is your abdominal muscles, your back muscles, your diaphragm (you use this to breathe), along with your butt muscles, hip muscles, and your pelvic floor (the muscles that keep you from wetting your self after a great run!).

Let’s start with a fairly simple exercise that will give you the most bang for your buck—the plank!

The Plank

I love this exercise if I don’t have a lot of time to spend on doing an entire workout routine. The plank works your shoulders, your abdominals, and your legs in one “shaking and burning” exercise.

If you have never done this exercise before, start on your forearms and knees, holding for ten seconds, working your way up to holding for one minute. Try to stay as close to a straight line or plank as possible; but if you have back pain, you may flex up a bit more to alleviate the back pain. Also, as you are doing this exercise, try to push you shoulders further toward the floor, away from your ears. This will engage the muscles of your shoulder blades better.

When this gets easy on your knees and forearms, progress to your toes and forearms. Again you can start at a shorter hold time, working your way up to one minute. Enjoy these exercises and be thankful your body will allow you to do this. And remember, “You won’t get the butt you want by sitting on it!”

As you want to progress your core strengthening, try these other great exercises to strengthen your core to help you stay with your horse in the turns. If at any time you start having more pain (other than sore muscles that haven’t been used in a while), consult with your physical therapist or doctor to help you figure out what is causing your pain. Good luck and happy planking!

Pilates 100s 

  • Lie on your back with legs straight.
  • Lift legs one at a time so they are straight and at a 45-degree angle, and lift arms as shown.  If you have back pain, you can modify with legs bent slightly or in a 90-degree angle.
  • Pulse arms up and down 100 times. When you are beginning, you can start with five sets of 20, or four sets of 25, or two sets of 50, but the goal is to get to 100.
  • Make sure low back is flat. If it is not, raise your legs higher.

Pilates Scissors

  • Lay on back with one leg pulled up toward your chest as shown and the other pointed downward.
  • With your head, neck, and shoulders lifted off of the floor, gently pulse your leg toward your head using your hands for two pulses.
  • Switch legs.
  • Repeat for one minute for two to three sets.

Side Plank

  • While lying on your side, lift your body up on your elbow and feet.
  • Next, slowly raise up the topmost leg upwards, then return.
  • Try to maintain a straight spine the entire time.
  • Try to perform this for one minute on each side.

Lower Ab Crunch

  • Start by lying on your back with both knees bent.
  • Bring both knees up to your chest so that your hips are flexed to 90 degrees (thighs are perpendicular to the ground).
  • From this resting position, curl your hips toward your chest (as shown).
  • Now lower your hips back down so that your thighs are again perpendicular to the ground.
  • You can place your hands under your tailbone to protect your back.
  • Perform one-minute sets two to three times.