Book Review: ‘Fit & Focused in 52’

By Coach Daniel Stewart.

Trafalgar Square

I’m going to cut right to the chase with this book review: this is a book that I wish I had had when I was riding more competitively, especially on an intercollegiate team. This is a book I wish I had had when I was coaching an intercollegiate team. The beautiful thing with rider mind-and-body fitness, of course, is that it’s never too late, so I’m really glad I have this book now.

Okay, let me back up: author Daniel Stewart has trained and coached internationally for over three decades, including several American equestrian teams at various World Championships, World Equestrian Games and Olympics. He leads Equestrian Athlete Camps at US Olympic Training Centers and is widely regarded as one of the nation’s leading experts on equestrian sports psychology. Fit and Focused in 52, or it’s shortened in the text, FF52, puts the wisdom and experience of Coach Stewart into any rider’s hands for any application, regardless if they’re Olympic dreams or simply being a better rider for the horse’s sake.

FF52 introduces Stewart’s philosophy of equestrian sports psychology — the equestrian part of that phrase is important, because as we all know, our sport is quite different from most in that we partner with a large animal able to think and react for itself, influenced by the lightest signals from the rider. Stewart outlines the importance of confidence and mindset as well as happiness and a sense of enjoyment in riding, plus the importance of rider fitness with unique exercises tailored specifically to horseback riding.

In a week-by-week format, Stewart then introduces 52 focus tips to help a reader’s mental game and 52 fitness exercises, plus methods to work both focus and fitness into our weekly routine. Stewart’s program builds week by week, but it won’t feel like work, as focus exercises build on previous weeks and fitness exercises can be swapped and tailored to an individual rider’s needs.

As I perused the “52 Tips and Exercises” section, the genius of it all struck me: typical sports psychology books usually lost me within a few chapters due to their generality and, well, sports metaphors — I respect that riding of any kind, whether you’re training to compete or training for non-show-ring-related goals, is a physical sport, but it’s a world apart from “typical” athletic pursuits, and books directed towards athletes such as various ball players or distance runners just don’t grab my attention. At last, however, here’s a book written by an experienced equestrian for equestrians, addressing our unique and specific needs, fears and strengths.

Even the physical fitness exercises are rider-focused, targeting not only specific muscle groups and positions we would use in the saddle, but including mounted exercises and stretches as well. Plus, Stewart includes ways you can work these exercises right into your riding arena using things you’ve already got around the barn, such as the mounting block, cavalleti poles or buckets.

Lest you worry that this book is geared specifically towards a particular discipline, or only for competitive riders who want to head to the show ring, Daniel Stewart’s Fit and Focused in 52 is intended for all riders, from the goal-oriented showman to the recreational trail rider. All you need to possess in order to get something out of this book is a desire to improve as a horseman — mentally and physically.

Learn more about this book and order a copy via Trafalgar Square.

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