While working toward fitness goals is a worthwhile endeavor, it’s also important to love the body you’re living in today. Equestrian fitness coach Leah Hinnefield of The Athletic Rider explains.
When did we become of society of self-loathing women? When did women find comfort in food and discomfort in self-acceptance? What is it going to take to turn this horse on his haunches?
As a rider-fitness trainer and coach, my hardest job is not convincing a rider how important it is to get fit to ride better: that hurdle is actually more like a baby green jump. The most challenging part of what I do is to convince a rider to forgive herself and love herself: not all riders, but many. Too many. Think of that as something like a Grand Prix jump-off kind of hurdle.
I encourage and coach a rider to love herself on Day 1 with all the jiggles and rolls that may go with it, on Day 30 when things may not have changed as much as hoped for, and on Day 60 when it is time to graduate and take on more personal responsibility surrounding her daily fitness and nutrition choices. I coach her to forgive herself for not doing as well as she hoped or for missing a workout (within reason … they don’t call me Coach Tough Love for nothing.) Dusting off and starting with a clean slate are unwritten policies of boot camp. Here is the tricky part:
Self-acceptance doesn’t mean you stop trying to improve for tomorrow.
Working to improve does not mean you have to hate yourself today.
I am going to let in you on something that might freak out some of you. We take “before” pictures in our rider fitness boot camps. Yup: the ladies take photos on Day 1. Those most committed to the process will share those photos with the group. While posting “before” photos is not a requirement, it is strongly encouraged. Why? There is, interestingly, a strong correlation between those who do post “before” photos and overall success rate in boot camp. Something happens after a rider takes that leap of faith. She sees her starting place. She can reflect on the path that led her to Day 1. A rider sheds the clothing she hides behind and sheds denial. She has a chance to embrace who she is while preparing herself to make a change without judgment.
Now, not all riders join boot camp to lose weight. Some are thin and need to gain muscle. Some are fit and just want a challenge. With the variety of goals, one thing remains constant: many riders don’t see their own beauty and value, at least not on Day 1.
The act of sharing photos also creates an instant community among the ladies in the group. They go from strangers in an online group to a fitness family. Virtual high fives and posts of “well done” fill the group newsfeed. The groups with the greatest success develop that incredible connection early on. They carry each other in ways I simply could not do were I coaching each of them alone. There’s an incredible power in positive peer pressure. Don’t knock it!
We also have a no-weighing or measuring rule for 30 days: no scales, no daily judgments. No chance to feel failure because you are retaining water and the scale went up 1 pound — as is expected in a new fitness program. During those 30 days (and all of boot camp,) riders are encouraged to take “sweaty selfies.”
YES … and with good reason.
Something magical happens around the three-week mark. A rider’s skin starts to glow. By four to five weeks, she looks younger, and her face looks firm. Fine lines disappear. She can’t see it just yet because she is likely focused on something else — like whether her saddle or breeches or jeans or whatever makes her butt look too big. She is worried about the scale or if she is doing her workout properly. But we can see a change — every single time, in every single rider. Someone will comment. And another. Then another. And finally the rider will see herself with fresh eyes.
Bingo. Win. Success.
Concerns over saddle size are replaced with selfies full of smiles. Instead of posting about how many pounds she wants to lose, she will post about how excited she is to do her first unmodified burpee. Sure, by Day 60 a rider shares how many girth sizes she went down or how many pounds vanished — but it is different. It is more factual. It is less important. The sense of completion far outweighs the scale. She is looking forward to meeting a new challenge. Dare I say… she likes herself?
The Athletic Rider is about helping riders get fit to ride better: there is no question about that. But along the way something even more amazing happens. A rider learns to get fit to be better, to love better, to live better.
It’s time all riders worried less about if the saddle makes any butt look big. Instead each one should simply take the steps to make sure she is fit enough to perform in that saddle. Focus on fitness and I can tell you without question — that saddle size will take care of itself.
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 http://theathleticrider.