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5 Reasons Equestrians Should Try Stand-Up Paddleboarding

Cross-training!

The author (and faithful barn dog) enjoying the SUP. Photo by Erik Bentley.

At least until an algae bloom forced me to stay ashore, if I wasn’t riding this summer then I was out on the lake on a stand-up paddleboard, enjoying some sun and fresh air and the cool breeze on the water. SUP is a great form of low-impact exercise, and like any good horse girl, I’ve put together a (mostly serious) list of reasons that my fellow equestrians should give it a try.

1. SUP is great for your core.

For a while, I felt like SUP was more of an upper-body workout as I was using my arms to paddle — until I realized I was using a terribly inefficient technique and made a few adjustments. With a proper paddle stroke, most of the effort to propel the board forward in fact comes from my core muscles. And if there’s one thing I remember from years of taking and teaching riding lessons, the best muscle group for equestrians to strengthen is the core — whether you’re a competitive rider or a recreational enthusiast. I find an hour on the SUP to be much more enjoyable than a boring core workout in my living room.

2. SUP is also wonderful for your balance.

In horseback riding, most equestrians pick up the basics of balance pretty early on (keep the horse between you and the ground — that’s a great place to start). As we develop as riders, “balance” comes to mean not just sitting straight over the horse’s center of gravity, but continuing to move with the horse as a partner over varying speeds, motions and terrain, whether you’re galloping a horse cross-country or trying to sit out some bucks from your overenthusiastic cow horse.

SUP is remarkably similar: when I initially started out, a lot of the process of finding my balance meant being able to track steadily at what would amount to a walking pace. Now I’m comfortable working the board over wind-driven waves, big wakes from passing boats or fighting my way into a strong headwind while actually steering and holding a course. I’d like to think that my equestrian abilities made this a bit easier for me to develop, but I’m also confident that my abilities to balance over a wave help me out in the saddle as well as my horse shifts beneath me.

3. SUP will help you keep your eyes up!

Okay, who is also guilty of dropping their eye while they’re riding? I’ll raise my hand and freely admit that this is one of my biggest issues while riding. On the board, however, if I keep my eyes buried at my feet, it’s easy to quickly lose my sense of direction and my balance. Keeping one’s eyes on the horizon on the board is pretty critical to keeping the board between you and the water, and the more I paddle the more this carries over to my riding as well.

4. It’s totally okay (and healthy) to get out of the barn now and then.

As Meagan DeLisle so eloquently described in her article “How to Be the Best Adult Amateur You Can Be,” “it is perfectly fine to mow your lawn and spend the afternoon enjoying being a normal human.” Equestrians can be pretty single-minded in their attempts to accomplish a goal, which is a great quality — but it’s necessary to keep a work/life/barn balance at the same time so we don’t face burnout. I love my horses and cherish the time I spend at the barn, but it’s also nice to have a few minutes of quiet time on the lake enjoying some non-horsey time as well. I come back to the barn mentally refreshed and ready to ride again every time.

5. Get rid of the equestri-tan.

Hey, I warned you there might be a less-than-serious reason in this list. Wouldn’t it be nice to get rid of that farmer’s tan you developed from a summer in jeans or breeches? Grab a board and let’s go for a paddle!

Go SUP. Go riding!

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