Why rider exercise is an important factor in keeping your horse sound
For many years now I have been fascinated with the puzzle of how to keep our riding horses sound. Horse Wellness is my motivation and as much as I believe and have witnessed how powerful equine bodywork & gymnasticizing can be in the prevention of unsoundness and performance problems, there is more that can and needs to be done.
Let's not kid ourselves: It is not easy to be a riding horse. The horse has to deal with additional weight on it's back-something it is not by nature set up to do-balance itself under the rider, pay attention to 'aids', meaning commands by the rider in form of body language, adjust tempo, gait, and direction at the will of another creature, and do all this in a relaxed, willing, and 'forward' manner.
Now, enter the rider: As riders, we can either support our horses in these tasks or-depending on our fitness level or lack thereof-become quite a hindrance, even to the extent of causing habitual imbalances that put strain on muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments.
The equine athlete - or the lone ranger?
The equine athlete–talking about the riding horse here–is always part of a team: The rider and the horse. You don’t have to be an Olympic competitor to be an athlete, even a horse that is ridden on the local circuit or strictly for recreational purposes is an equine athlete. And being ridden means there is that second team partner: the rider. In other words, our horses are not ‘lone rangers’, the success in our riding activity of choice does not only depend on the physical fitness of the horse–but to 50% also on that of the rider.
What does rider fitness mean?
In a nutshell, the rider needs to be flexible, balanced, and strong enough to have an independent seat. Only then can the horse move freely under the rider and can the rider support the horse in the requested movements. A rider who can move harmoniously with the horse is an ‘enabler’ of performance. A stiff, unbalanced rider gives conflicting messages with his body language–the ‘aids-–and causes stiffness and restrictions in the horse.
How fit does the rider have to be?
The fitness level of the rider largely depends on the extent and level of athletic activity with the horse. Many recreational riders–like myself–are mature women with a full-time job, who turn to their horse for enjoyment and recreational riding. We don’t want to compete at a high level, but want our horses to be sound and our riding experience as positive as possible.
Here some guidelines for this ‘middle of the road’ rider:
Balancing means movement, not stiffly sitting in the saddle like a ships mast, leaning to the left and right. Precondition for balance is flexibility. And then practice, practice, practice! Let your brain strengthen it’s ‘balance muscles’ by practicing balance any chance you get: Stand on one leg while brushing your teeth, go roller skating, get a balance or bosu ball, etc. It doesn't have to cost anything! There are excellent videos on youtube, like this one by FitnessBlender.
Fitness, flexibility, balance, start off the horse!
Incorporate small exercises to improve these three areas into your daily life. No need to join a gym, there are plenty of opportunities to incorporate playful exercises into your activities. Let your imagination gallop away with you and have fun with it. Your horse will be grateful and your barn buddies and instructor will notice the difference in your riding.
Enjoy your horse!
The above exercises are beneficial in my own personal opinion. Please ensure fitness of your horse for any exercises described on this website by consulting your veterinarian, if in doubt. Equine Massage is NEVER a substitute for proper veterinary care. If you are in doubt about the physical condition of your horse, please consult a veterinarian.
*) Please note: Equine massage and bodywork is a non-invasive, gentle wellness modality aimed at enhancing performance in the healthy horse and never replaces proper veterinary care. If in doubt regarding the physical health of your horse please consult your veterinarian.