If riding is the sole source of physical activity in your life, you might be selling yourself–and your horse–short. (Unless you’re a professional who is riding a gazillion horses a day, in which case you are are excused from this lecture.)
Today, we’re introducing a new column by Biz Stamm called “Fit to Ride.” Biz is a professional rider who recently discovered, at the bottom of an ice-cream carton, that she doesn’t treat herself like she athlete she is. She’s going to allow us to tag along on her own journey toward increased fitness, hopefully imparting some wisdom, tips and exercises along the way. I, for one, am looking forward to stalking her progress.
Let me tell you: I am not the most athletic person. I’ve never been involved in any sports besides riding (I have a phobia of balls coming toward me), and the only racing they let me do at grade-school track meets involved a potato sack. And for exactly these reasons, I’ve always tried to carve out a space in my life for exercise–I don’t want my horses to suffer any more than they have to from my lack of coordination and general physical awkwardness.
With equestrian sports, it’s easy to transfer some of the emphasis on “athleticism” over to the horses themselves. They’re the ones who have to pack our butts around, after all. Historically, my horse is the one who’s had the chiropractor, the acupuncturist, the masseuse, the witch doctor, etc. And then there’s everything else, ranging from special supplements to custom-fit saddlery to all the latest newfangled razzmatazz that’s supposed to help our horses run faster and jump higher.
Meanwhile, riders tend to forget about taking care of themselves. Like, how I sometimes forget that a Diet Coke, a McDonalds hot fudge sundae and a handful of ibuprofen does not equal a balanced meal.
I do believe there’s a way to live a healthier life that doesn’t involve celery sticks and water Zuumba. Myself, for example, I HATE going to the gym. The idea of going nowhere on a treadmill holds about as much appeal for me as getting beaten with a dressage whip. I’m a little ADD and have trouble sticking with one type of exercise for very long, be it the treadmill or anything else.
I get obsessed with one activity just long enough to get decent at it, at which point I feel compelled to move on to the next. For example: Last spring, I ran two marathons; by early summer I’d logged several hundred miles on my bike; at which point I decided to take up pole fitness (yep, as in stripper pole–it’s SO good for your upper body); which evolved into trapeze classes (yep, you heard me right again); and at the present moment I’m a rabid CrossFit fanatic.
But the thing about exercise is, you’re free to follow your own bag–whatever you do, it’s going to make you a better rider. The fitter and more body-aware you are, the more precisely and effectively you can communicate with your horse. It’s also a safety thing: If you get tired, whether during a lesson or while you’re out on your cross-country course, you’re more likely to make a mistake, and we all know how costly mistakes can be.
I’m not saying, “go sign up for a marathon.” There are lots of things you can do outside of riding that will make you a better rider: sports, biking, swimming, yoga, pilates, dancing on bars, etc. There’s only one thing that is guaranteed to be yours for your entire life, and that’s your own body. Start considering yourself an athlete and see what a difference it makes in how you value and take care of yourself. I bet your horse will thank you.