The Importance Of Rider Fitness

sandrabanner3This article has been written by Sandra Blampied a qualified osteopath who specialises in working with horse riders. Please visit her website for more information.


So as the nights are beginning to draw out, spring seems to have finally sprung and with the eventing season reaching its start I’m sure most of you have your horses’ fitness plan well under way but how about your own fitness plan??


Although I have always been involved in the world of horses over the last few years my work has brought me into contact with many other sports where the focus on performance is purely on the human as the athlete. It struck me that as a sport riding in general is rather unique in that so many riders place the importance on the horse and completely overlook that they themselves are also an important piece in the partnership. How many of you also have a fitness plan or nutrition plan for yourself as well as your horse? Ask most other amateur sports participants and they will have at least a rough goal or training plan in place and have knowledge of what they should or shouldn’t be eating to give themselves the correct energy levels required for their sport.


I bet most of you reading this could tell me, if only roughly, what your horses’ fitness and nutrition plan is for the coming season but when asked about yourself would probably reply well I ride each day – that’s enough right? Well is it? Riding as an activity is predominantly an endurance event, low level effort but with the odd burst of power required, so think Mo Farah rather than Usain Bolt!


In order to develop you endurance levels you have to do just that, endurance, so yes you could argue that riding your horse for an hour a day will build your fitness levels sufficiently providing that hour a day is not just a wander round the block. Ideally your level of fitness should be slightly higher than required for the activity performed. However let’s face it most of us work full time and fit the horse around other commitments, the idea of going to the gym or out running is probably the last thing on your mind! So theoretically yes as you increase your horses fitness your own fitness to ride will also improve, but fitness is not just about your cardiovascular prowess it is also about your strength.


When I say strength I don’t just mean how many bales of hay you can lug about on your wheelbarrow in one go I’m talking about core strength. Core strength is what helps keep you in the saddle when you horse leaves a leg, it is what helps you stay in a 2 point position without tiring and what helps stop you finding yourself sitting on the floor wondering what went wrong!


Unlike cardiovascular fitness developing core strength does need extra work off the horse particularly if like many riders you carry adaptations from previous injuries. However unlike cardio work it doesn’t require quite the same amount of time or effort. Just 10mins of your day spent doing a few simple exercises will do no end of good for your core strength. These exercises can be easily picked up and learnt from Pilates books or videos or if like me you prefer a class situation find a local Pilates class and make the effort to go once a week, you may even find rider specific Pilates classes running in your area.


Core strength exercises are great as they don’t require any special equipment or environment, get yourself a routine and do them when ever or were ever – in front of the TV, in the kitchen whilst the tea cooks any where you find yourself with a spare 5 minutes, you will soon notice the difference. If you find your motivation lacking just remember “A tired rider on a tired horse is a dangerous combination, a fit rider on a tired horse is less so but a fit strong rider on a fit horse is, lady luck allowing, a successful combination.”

A perfect example of core strength 'stickability'. Here an unfit rider would almost certainly be out the side door, instead the rider recovers well keeping balance and goes on to jump cleanly the second part of the combination only 3 strides later

A perfect example of core strength ‘stickability’ a unfit rider would almost certainly be out the side door in this circumstance, instead she recovers well including jumping cleanly the second part of the combination 3 strides later

Phew, minus a stirrup but still in the plate!

Phew, minus a stirrup but still in the plate!

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