Fall may seem like a strange time to be thinking about fitness. You’re putting away your tank tops, shorts, and riding tights, and before long you’ll be pulling out your sweatpants, thick socks, and if you’re lucky enough to have access to an indoor riding arena, super-heavy-duty-insulated breeches. If you’re not so lucky, you might be preparing to put on that Snuggie, grab a mug of hot chocolate, and read a book until spring. However, remaining sedentary during New York’s long winter will do more than cause swimsuit-panic come May. Your horse might not say anything, but he’ll feel the effects of all that Thanksgiving pie when it comes time for the first ride of the year.
One of the great appeals of horses is the fact that they are non-judgmental. Your horse doesn’t know if your boots are Ariat Monacos or the unfortunate rubber creations you found in the back of Uncle Pokey’s Tack Shop. A horse will not judge you by your race, religion, gender, culture, or physicality, but that marvelous quality should not be abused. Equestrian fitness is not (should not be) about how you look but what you are capable of. It goes without saying that if you are carrying an extra 50 pounds, so is your horse, but weight is not always the issue. Even if you are not overweight, a lack of fitness will (will, not might) seriously hinder your ability to ride well and connect with your horse. Not everyone can be a size 0 and not everyone should be, but every rider should have the well-being of their horse in mind.
Riding is itself exercise, especially as you move toward higher levels of competition. However, even top riders like Steffen Peters and Beezie Madden actively work to maintain their health and fitness. There are many great resources available to help equestrians gain and maintain physical fitness. The focus is on helping you become a more efficient, more effective rider, not a swimsuit model.
Equicision is a wonderful local resource for all things physical and equestrian. This Rochester-based company offers clinics as well as one-on-one evaluations and is very active throughout the horse community of New York. Other resources that offer training programs include BioRider Fitness and equifitt.com. Whether you are a beginner rider looking to develop the muscles necessary for correct riding or an advanced rider looking to maintain those muscles, these programs have something for you.
Yoga and pilates have long been popular forms of exercise for riders. A class at your local gym or health club will always be beneficial, but if you’re looking for something designed with riders in mind, try Equestrian Pilates or the highly recommended book Yoga for Equestrians. If you’re not ready to commit, check out this video to see if yoga or pilates is something for you.
If you prefer a book to a DVD or personal encounter, there are a large variety of options available to you. However, some tried-and-true resources include Centered Riding and The Rider’s Fitness Program.
If you still need some help getting started, talk to your trainer or instructor. Most professional equestrians have experience with an array of fitness options, and they know what works and what doesn’t. However, in the world of exercise, there are few “wrong” answers; it’s usually a matter of determining which form of exercise is the most effective and enjoyable for you.
As with any exercise routine, you should check with your doctor before starting an equestrian fitness program. Chances are, if you’re healthy enough to be riding, you’re healthy enough to work out, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
This article is by no means a comprehensive list of options for equestrian fitness, nor does it explore workout options that are not centered around riding. Any effort you make to improve your health, be it diet or exercise, pilates or running, taking the stairs or spending two hours in the gym, is a positive change. Maybe you’ll drop a dress or pants size, maybe you won’t, but regardless, your horse will thank you for your efforts.