It is astounding to me how few riders think of themselves as athletes. “We just ride horses,” I have been told. At horse shows, I have seen even trainers chowing down on junk food all day, and guzzling sodas. Many riders and trainers do not exercise outside of riding. In my opinion, equestrians are athletes and we should take care of ourselves as such. We must pay attention to what we put in our bodies, and we must keep ourselves fit. Health and fitness gives us more energy, helps us to ride better, and prevents injuries.
Now, I am not referring to weight or what the ideal rider body should look like because that is irrelevant. If we keep ourselves healthy and in good physical condition, our bodies will come to our natural weight. I do not believe that there is any one specific body type that makes a good rider. There are many shapes and sizes in the sport of equestrian, but the great riders have one thing in common: they are fit. Being “fit” for equestrian does mean that you wear a specific size or see a particular number when you step on a scale, but rather that you are strong, healthy, energetic, and athletic while on and around horses.
What we eat…
Food is fuel. It can give us nutrients, energy, and make us stronger. Or it can make us sluggish, and even ill. Eating a balanced diet is important for anyone, but it is especially important for athletes. We need the energy to be able to handle long days out in he heat (or cold), riding a lot of horses, riding difficult horses, and even just being around horses in general. You will have far more energy starting your day with eggs or oatmeal than with donuts, for example.
I eat a very limited diet, thanks to food allergies. I am also a vegetarian (that limitation was my choice!). Without crazy restrictions, a diet of primarily whole foods and grains (and little sugar) is great. At horse shows, I typically pack lunches and healthy snacks since I never know what the show grounds provide. Coming prepared is always a good idea!
Drinking plenty of water throughout the day while outside and physically active is important. Adequate hydration gives us energy, and can keep junk food cravings away. Also, heat exhaustion is no fun. Salt and electrolytes mustn’t be forgotten. Gatorade and coconut water are my go-to’s; I also increase my salt intake during the summer months. I pack salty nuts, and add a little extra salt when I cook.
I am not a gym person. I don’t lift weights, I don’t go to work out classes, and I hate doing cardio on machines. Outside of riding I run and practice yoga. Also, living on 63 acres, I walk around a lot, pick up heavy things, and do a little manual labor here and there.
Right now, I am running about three times a week. I practice yoga six times a week. My yoga practice is pretty dynamic – I mostly practice in the Ashtanga Primary Series – but some days are lighter than others. I usually practice for thirty minutes to a hour. It is my strength training, stretching, cardio, and therapy all at once. Yoga has helped my in my riding more than other type of exercise I have done. I have more control over my body, I get fewer aches and pains (practically none, actually), I am stronger, my equitation is better, and the last time I fell off I was barely even sore! Flexibility is so often overlooked in fitness plans, but I believe that it is so important – even if just for injury prevention.
Equestrian is one of the few sports that can be done at essentially any age. There are so many great riders out there in their sixties and seventies! We can ride for our whole lives if we take care of ourselves. If that is not motivation, I don’t know what is. If we remember that we are athletes, and treat our bodies well there is no limit to our riding years.