A subject often overlooked is rider conditioning. Most riders who compete their horses are focused on their horses’ condition, but rarely do they think of their own. Just as with horses, riders have aerobic and anaerobic exercise. Riders can also do interval training. The question is, how fit should the rider be in correlation to their horse?
Most experts agree for a majority of riders a fitness program other than horseback riding should be completed at least 3 times a week. Riders need to be able to support their horses with a good strong core, stamina, and leg and arm muscle strength when riding. Riding as the only form of exercise for a person does not provide enough demand on the muscular system to develop strong physical conditioning.
Just like horses, a good measurement of fitness/condition is heart rate. Depending on your age you will need to work out with a certain heart rate for a established amount of time to increase fitness. According to research, during your workout you will need to keep your heart rate up 65-85% from resting for a sustained period of time to create the energy for stamina and strength building. The period of time depends on the speed and intensity of the workout. Also, like horses you should start slow, building over time. You wouldn’t ask your horse to come out of the pasture and compete at the upper levels, meaning the same goes for you.
Other Types of Exercise
For most people the thought of running, riding a bike, or swimming are loathsome. They can be boring and hard on the body in ways that riding is not. If you like the gym workout, the United States Equestrian Federation has a high performance rider workout page found here that has useful workout ideas used for upper level competition riders. If you don’t like the gym, there are other types of exercise riders can do that will not only make them stronger, but will help them develop stamina. The simplest form of these are the following:
Pilates– a system of exercises using special tools or apparatus, designed to improve physical strength, flexibility, and posture
Yoga– a Hindu discipline that teaches strength of the mind through the body. It is often used in collaboration with Pilates
Tai Chi– directly translates to “ultimate boxing” is a Chinese martial arts exercise that uses controlled movements to strengthen the core
Extreme workouts– these include mud runs, P90x, Crossfit, and Insanity. These are usually workouts (and races) that push a person’s body to the extreme by packing a tough workout into a shorter amount of time.
Alone any of these will help strengthen the rider, but when combining some you achieve different targets. They are also a fun way to get past the monotony of riding and training every day.
As with any form of fitness for yourself or your horse, remember that good nutrition and rest are just as important as the workouts and training you are completing. Remember to give yourself a day off the same as you do for the horses! Individually eating right or getting enough sleep or working out all of the time will not have the desired effect. We treat our horse’s condition and health with the utmost respect, but to achieve a winning combination we must also take care of ourselves!