The Athletic Rider: Long in the Tooth, Loose in the Cage?

By Leah Hinnefeld


I am not sure if any of us remember the exact moment when it happened, but one thing we do know: At some point, for some of us (OK most of us) there was a fork in the trail and our minds went right (still thinking we were 18-25 years old) and our bellies, triceps and saddlebags went left. Maybe it happened after getting a “real job” or maybe after having a baby or maybe it just… happened!

Are you a rider over say…. 35-40 years old? Or one rapidly approaching that mystical cut-off age where the identity of a young adult is replaced with one of (dare I say) middle age? If you are, I bet you can fondly look back to those days when you could ride all day, show all weekend, even eat horse show food at that show… and never gain a pound. I know I could! Shoot, in college I could polish off a pizza with friends and “jog it off” with a five-mile run the next day! OK, maybe not literally, but it sure seems that way in my mind and looking back on old sorority photos!

I speak to so many riders who lament the loss of those athletic riding bodies from earlier years and wonder if anything could have been done or can be done to implement some damage control.

So today I am going to ask and answer that question on the mind of every “rider of a certain age” and the one that should be on the mind riders of every age:

Does Long in the Tooth Have to Mean Loose in the Cage†?

The fact is that approximately 95% of adults (riders or not) will show a 2-4% decline in resting metabolic rate each decade after the age of 25. This decline in metabolic rates is usually accompanied by a 5-lb loss of muscle mass during each of those same decades.

What does this mean in terms of the scale and how my breeches or chaps will fit?

It means that if I could eat 1,500 calories per day at age 25 and maintain my weight weight, I could only eat 1,200 at age 65 or I would GAIN weight.

It means that I would gain 31 POUNDS during those 40 years if I continued to eat 1,500 calories per day and nothing else changed.


Is there anything I can do to prevent the loose cage, tush and tri syndrome?


A properly designed exercise program will help prevent muscle loss and replace the muscle that has already been lost — with proper nutrition, of course.

There is a catch, though: The program needs to be designed to include intense exercise. OK, there are actually two catches. For most of us, riding will not qualify as intense exercise. Intense exercise includes activities like circuit training, hill running and a favorite in the Athletic Rider Fit Club — burpees!

Won’t riding help at all? 

Riding is a calorie burner — no question about that; however, riding alone will not give a “post-exercise metabolic boost” that happens with intense exercise. This boost causes your body to burn additional calories even after you complete your intense workout. Riding will also not build muscle, an essential player in keeping your metabolism high, even when resting.

Bottom Line? Every rider needs a fitness program that is tailored to her current fitness level and future goals — no matter what age he or she is. The Athletic Rider Fitness Boot Camp was created to give all riders a 60-day jump start to developing that lifelong habit of fitness and health.

† Loose in the cage is hip young phrase that refers to those “less than” six-pack abs.

Leah Hinnefeld is a lifelong equestrian who spent over a decade studying hoof health and metabolism in horses before turning her attention to rider fitness. Leah is a personal trainer certified by the National Academy of Sports Fitness and offers Virtual Fitness Training for riders and horse lovers. You can learn more about how to get fit to ride at Please contact Leah if you are interested in learning more about the Rider Fitness Boot Camps offered by The Athletic Rider.



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