Tara La Bree explains how being in shape gives her a leg up in the tack.
I love to ride. No, seriously, I really love it. The problem is that I’m not very good at it (which anyone who has seen me ride will verify in a hoofbeat). If there were minor leagues for adult amateurs, I’d be the last one picked for the single A farm team.
Some riders are blessed with talent. You know who you are — you can hop on any horse off the street and make it look like you’ve ridden it for years. Your distances are exact, your hands are still, and and your leg is always in the perfect position. You make it look easy. Let’s just say you’re on one side of the riding talent line, and I’m a few zip codes in the other direction.
Despite my lack of natural talent, I desperately want to be a better rider, which means that I am committed to working hard to make progress, even if it comes slowly. Unfortunately, I can’t be at the barn every day, so my ‘practice makes perfect’ opportunities are limited to a few times a week. That’s where rider fitness comes in for me.
While I can’t just magically make myself more talented (apparently wishing to be a better rider isn’t an effective strategy), I can focus on my fitness in a way that helps me ride better. I can work out at home to improve my strength and flexibility to help my balance and seat. I can increase my cardio endurance to help maintain the right pace all the way around the ring or up the approach, not just through the first corner (OK, so I’m still working on that part). I can improve my core strength so when little miss mare decides to land after a jump and immediately put her head down — HARD — or when the big man decides that thing he’s passed 10 times now is going to eat him and he MUST. GET. AWAY, I can engage my abs and back muscles to keep me in the saddle rather than contemplating the view on my flight over their heads. Go ahead, ask me how I know.
The perfect example of what rider fitness can do for my ability to ride happened on a recent day at the barn. Between two horses, we had three spooks, two trips, one refusal, a literal ton of attitude, and zero involuntary dismounts. For me, that’s a blue ribbon day.
Improved rider fitness — 1
Great horses that sometimes like to check to make sure I’m paying attention, and occasionally conspire together to test me on the same day — 0
Just to be clear to any ponies reading this, that last part was not a challenge. I am fully aware that you let me win.