Many riders are not lucky enough to have use of an indoor arena and thus don’t have the luxury of riding during the cold months. There are even more of us who shut down completely during the cold months and it’s a miracle we even muster up the will to put on our coats to feed and change out frozen water buckets…nevermind RIDE in sub-zero conditions (EEEEEK!)…Yes, you all know who you are!!!! Needless to say that in most cases, our horses have enjoyed a few months of living the “pasture pet” life while the humas hibernate until Spring.
Well, it’s that time of year again ladies and gentlemen. It’s nearly St. Patrick’s day and early spring is slowly trying to melt through winter’s vice-like grip on the land. The dafodil shoots are ever-so-slowly starting to reach through the frozen earth, the days are getting just a little bit longer, the horses are starting to lose thier heavy winter coats, and we are slowly start to thaw and come out of hibernation. We begin to pull out the tack, saddles, boots, leather cleaner, and lunge lines and begin to prepare for the long anticipated riding season.
After a few months off, we notice that our horses fitness levels have decreased. Muscle tone is slightly diminished, top lines have changed, and the hay bellies are hanging low. <SIGHHH> we have our work cut out for us! We have riding to do! We can’t after all just hop on our horses after months off and expect them to perform at thier very best, right? DUHH! Every good equestrian knows this! Otherwise we’d all have some pretty tired, pissed off, heavy breathing, possibly lame ponies, right? Right! So, like the good horse moms and dads that we are, we dutifully break out the lunge lines and round pens and start our horses on thier spring workout schedules.
2 months later….
It’s late April/Early May. We’ve lunged, ground worked, and schooled our horses back into relatively decent shape. We’ve overcome the “spring silliness” (you know, the energetic behaviour that many of the horses show when the weather warms and the blankets come off) and we are ready to ride!! We get on, beyond excited to FINALLY be back in the saddle after such a long winter, and we prepare for the <perfect> first ride of the season. An hour later we are sweating, our thighs and calves are killing us, our lower backs are sore, and we just can’t figure out why this ride was so much less pleasurable than our last ride of last season. Our horse wasn’t listening, they were lazy, cutting corners, not collected, not on the bit…WHY?!? We are the same rider we were a few months ago afterall, right? So what went wrong? It MUST be the horse! The horse was off, not in shape yet, not listening well, etc… It was definitely the horse, right? WRONG!
A sucessful (or unsucessful) ride is just as much the result of OUR riding as it is a result horses level of performance. Our horses have had the winter off and we’ve worked hard to get them back into shape, but what abous US? Look in the mirror for a moment. Have we also had a winter free from excercise? Are we too out of shape? The answer for most of us is YES! (unless you are just a superstar and have been going to the gym all winter and in that case, GO YOU!). If our leg, arm, back, butt, and core stregnth has diminished over the winter, then we are NOT the same rider we were a few months ago! Maybe our horses performance wasn’t perfect for the first ride of the season, but maybe ours wasn’t either. Maybe our aids were off, maybe we weren’t as balanced as usual, maybe our leg and seat weren’t as quiet as they should be…maybe while we were working so hard on getting our horse back into shape for spring, we should have worked a little on OUR fitness level too?
I brought my new horse home in January. I have an indoor, so I was lucky enough to have all winter to get her back into shape after years of pasture pet life. I lunged, groundworked, and round penned my girl all winter and I rode her casually in between. She’s in pretty darn good shape now, so I figured that when we started lessons with my new trainer I’d be ahead of the game. Well…I was wrong. Don’t get me wrong, Willow can trot up a storm and her stamina is getting up there, but ask her to get on the bit, collect and drive from behind and she falls apart. Why? Because I’m not in shape! I hadn’t ridden for YEARS before I bought Willow. Sure I workout, but I majorly slacked on my fitness after I got married in October and it shows in my riding. My instructor pointed out to me (in a friendly and helpful way) that I have trouble keeping my leg quiet and I struggle to sit up tall while I ride. I am struggling with keeping MYSELF collected and therefore my horse falls apart under me. BUT, when I do stay collected Willow goes BEAUTIFULLY! My instructor actually even commented on how gorgeous a mover she is when I’m doing what I’m supposed to! Funny how that happens, huh?
So kids, the moral of the story is……lets start working out to improve our riding seaso! Our horses will thank us for it, I promise!
(tomorrow I will follow up this blog post with some fun and easy workouts that you can do to improve your ride!)