While most riders and trainers are adamant about their horses fit and healthy, we sometimes overlook our own fitness. This is easy to do since riding – especially riding multiple horses a day – keeps us in fairly good shape. However, riding also causes a lot of wear and tear on our knees, hips, and back (just to name a few). Using the same muscles over and over every day will create imbalances and weaknesses in our bodies. Thus, it is very important that we take care of ourselves so that we can ride well into our senior years without needing new knees or hips!
Since riding is hard on our knees, hips, and back, it is important to keep our legs and core strong. Strong legs and a strong core will protect these areas from the daily wear and tear of riding, as well as in the case of a fall. I have had two bad falls in the past couple of years – one in which the horse fell on me – and my injuries were minimal because I was in good shape. When the horse fell with me, I was left with a mild concussion, whiplash, and bruising on the leg he landed on. I am convinced that if I had not been in good shape my injuries would have been much worse. Being fit does more than help us to ride better, it keeps us safe when accidents happen; and when working with such large animals with minds of their own, accidents are inevitable.
Apart from riding, I am an avid runner. I am actually training for the “Tower of Terror Ten Miler” in Disney World this October. While I enjoy running in and of itself, it also helps my riding by keeping my stamina and endurance up. I can jump multiple courses in a row without getting out of breath because I run. I do not have a problem riding in the summer which, in Texas, is pretty brutal! I would highly recommend starting a running a program if you want to increase your stamina. Even just a mile or two a couple days a week will make a difference.
My other favorite form of exercise is yoga. I primarily practice Bikram yoga. The classes I go to consist of twenty-six postures in 100+ degree room, with humidifiers. The heat helps to loosen up my muscles so that I can stretch harder, with a lower chance of injury. Also, many of the poses are strengthening. It is basically a total body workout – working legs, core, upper/lower back, arms, etc. Yoga is all I do for strength training. It has greatly improved my riding posture and equitation. I am much more solid than I used to be. Also, I used to get a lot of aches and pains – especially after riding several horses in a row. I had nagging knee, hip, and lower back pain. That has completely vanished since I began practicing Bikram yoga a year and half ago. If yoga in a 100+ degree room does not sound appealing, there are many different types of yoga you can practice that I am sure have just as many benefits. Yoga is great for any athlete; for, it helps to stretch, strengthen, and balance out the body. And it is very relaxing!
Running and yoga are the activities I use to keep in shape, but there are many other forms of exercise that benefit riders. I urge any rider reading this to start some type of work out program, not just to help your riding, but to preserve your joints for years to come – and keep you safe when accidents happen.