So what does being “fit” in the saddle mean? Being fit in the saddle means that you can support yourself in the saddle. It means that you can maintain a stable leg and core, a correct upright posture, a balanced quiet seat, and give quiet correct aids. You should be able to do so at every gate.
And why is being “fit” in the saddle so important? An unbalanced rider bouncing and flapping around on a horses back at any size poses a challenge for a horse. When the rider is unbalanced and unable to maintain a quiet connection through their seat, it makes it that much more difficult for the horse to balance himself. I will repeat this: If you are unbalanced on your horse, it is difficult for your horse to balance himself. Here is a great article featured on HorseChannel.com that explains at length what I mean. Please note that nowhere in this article does the author mention weight. Only fitness, and as I already stated fitness can be achieved at any weight.
What can I do to improve my fitness? You don’t have to run marathons, hike Mount Everest, or bench press your horses full weight at the gym to be considered “fit”. You don’t have to look good in spandex, have six-pack abs, or rock an oompa loompa spray tan to be considered fit. Fluffies can be fit too yes, it’s true!
- core exercises: This article by HorseChannel.com goes over a few basic moves you can do to strengthen your core. These moves are easy and can be done by anyone. Having trouble with the plank? Modify by doing them on your knees!
- lower body exercises: This video by Horsechannel.com gives a great series of moves to help strengthen your butt, inner thighs, hamstrings, quads, and core. Watch out for the squats, which can cause knee pain when not done correctly! If you have trouble or feel pain, modify! Put a chair behind you and s l o w l y lower yourself down into a sitting position allowing your behind to just touch the chair, before you s l o w l y raise yourself back up to stand. Does that still hurt your knees? Keep the chair behind you but squat half way down to the chair. This will still engage your behind and hamstrings but will help keep strain off of your knees.
- exercises to increase your stamina and cardiovascular fitness: Adding a little bit of cardio to your day a few days a week will drastically improve your stamina. (Just think, you wont be huffing and puffing after a long posting trot!). I am a runner, and I try (weather permitting of course) to incorporate three 5K runs and one 10K run into my week. I’ve noticed a HUGE difference in my riding stamina since I started running. I can trot for all day without getting winded! I know that not all of you can run and many of you don’t want to run. Fear not, there are so many other cardio exercises you can do! Anything that gets your heart rate up and makes you start to sweat can be considered cardio. Some examples are; Walking/hiking, spinning/ cycling, swimming, snow shoeing, cross country skiing, rowing, vigorously cleaning your house, playing with your kids, Nintendo Wii sports and/or fitness games, Xbox Kinect sports and/or fitness games, and SO MUCH MORE! Try adding 30 minutes of cardio to your daily routine 3 days a week and see how much your stamina improves after just 1 month!
- pilates for equestrians: Pilates is GREAT for riding! It helps to improve core strength and builds long muscle, and the moves can be modified to fit any level of ability. Kerrits offers a great, FREE series of videos called “Pilates for Riders” on their website.
- mounted exercises: HorseChannel.com provides us with yet another great article reviewing a few mounted exercises that will help improve your ride. My instructor is going to have me doing no-stirrup work tonight, eeeeeek!!
I would like to end this post by stating clearly that I am not a fitness coach, nor am I a riding instructor or trainer. The above examples of fitness exercises for equestrians are samples that I use in my personal life to help me improve my riding ability. This post is intended to simply give you ideas of how you can use fitness to improve your riding and these exercises should be modified to fit your personal needs.
Enjoy, and RIDE ON!