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Improve Your Riding Fitness ... Be Fit To Ride
The importance of rider fitness and why you'll be a better rider and a better competition team if both you and your horse are fit to ride.
Horse Riding is a physical activity and you being fit to ride is just as important as your horse's fitness.
Toning your adominals for dressage, or strengthening leg and ankle joints for cross country and show jumping is essential.
So what is rider fitness
Why do you have to be fit to ride and how can you improve your riding fitness.
Contrary to what most non-riders think, there are really two athletes in the sport of riding.
While some riding disciplines, such as polo, eventing or classical dressage may demand a higher fitness level than others, any rider who is fit to ride is likely to have more fun riding no matter what discipline they prefer.
Riders spend time and money exercising, training and caring for their horse every day.
The horse will almost certainly be in tip top condition; but to be a winning combination, both you, the rider, and your horse need to be in the best possible physical condition.
A fit rider is physically stronger, has more stamina, is well-balanced in the saddle, and has the flexibility and suppleness necessary to move with the horse as one unit.
A rider who is fit to ride can give direct, clear and consistent riding aids.
NOTE : Yes; mucking out, filling haynets, pooh picking and walking back and forth to the field will help with your general fitness. But yard chores can sometimes fix muscle groups in rigid positions and can over-develop your forearms or biceps on just one side. Making you over-use the rein or lean more on that side.
Rider fitness is a special type of fitness, a combination of suppleness, stamina, muscle strength and flexibility. Being fit to ride allows the rider to move in balance with the horse; with free and flexible movements.
As with any physical sport, a rider needs the correct type of fitness and being fit to ride means having supple and flexible joints and developing the correct type of musculature.
This in turn, helps you ride more safely; helps you avoid injuries and pain, makes you a more effective rider, increases your mental confidence and enhances your enjoyment of the riding experience.
A balanced rider needs to be flexible on both sides, to be supple and strong, to be soft in the hands and firm in the shoulders, to roll through the hips and be steady in the legs.
Being properly fit to ride requires attention to your whole body, not just a strong right arm.
How To Develop Rider Fitness.
Novice riders tend to ride once a week which is sufficient for the first few months; and the rider, especially the yourng rider, will begin to develop the correct muscles and suppleness provided they are taught correctly from the start. This makes it very important that you find and ride at an approved riding school or with a qualified instructor.
Doing exercises at the gym or jogging will increase your general fitness and strength of muscle and it is helpful. But, too much gym fitness increases your muscle mass and the strength in your muscles and this will eventually impede your riding.
To be fit to ride it is important to develop the correct type of fitness, with strength in your muscles, but not to much muscle mass, suppleness and flexibility in your joints and freedom of movement in your lower back and hips.
If you use a gym and can consult a professional trainer, ask them for exercises that build strength in your lower back and in your stomach; and exercises that stretch and supple the muscles in your thighs and calves, that open your chest, increase the flexibility in your joints and help you develop stamina.
Use a range of simple daily exercises at home to help you increase and maintain your suppleness and fitness. Regular and more frequent riding will help too, as will having lunge lessons with a qualified instructor.
Why you need joint suppleness and flexibility.
Your ankle joint - acts as a shock absorber and needs to be supple, fit and flexible. Keeping the heel down through a supple ankle joint, gives the rider stability, which is important in general riding and particularly important when jumping.
Your knee joint - allows free movement of your lower leg and allows you to give aids while keeping your upper leg relaxed against the horses side. Your knee also acts as a shock absorber when jumping.
Your hip joints - are probably the most important joint of all, and are the very centre of your riding. Your hip joints need to be fit, supple and flexible to allow free movement of your body both in flatwork and jumping. Your hip joints also allow the free movement of your horse under you. Stiff, unyielding hips will impede both your and your horses movement since you use your hip joints more than any other. Even when mounting you twist your hip and this can create strain within your hip joint.
Your lower back - includes several joints between the vertebrae. Your back needs to have strength in the muscles so that you can control the horses movements through your lower back, and maintain your own body posture while allowing the free flowing movement of the horse with flexibility, balance and relaxation, at the same time.
Your shoulders - your shoulder joints are often forgotten when riding, yet they are one of the foundations of good hands. The shoulder joints need good muscle strength combined with good flexibility and suppleness. This will allow you to ride with a rhythm and softness in your hands, but to still remain poised.
Why you require physical and mental fitness?
Your mental fitness is also an important a part of riding your horse and as a novice rider you will probably have been anxious and nervous, but will have benefited from initial riding lessons using a solid, bomb-proof horse or pony to give you that basic confidence required to ride
If you are a more advanced rider you need to be mentally aware and focused enough to control and ride your horse.
Mental fitness develops from confidence in your own physical ability. As your riding ability and confidence grows, so too will your mental confidence increase.
It cannot be overstressed that riders at all levels must, not only develop and maintain their physical fitness, but also try to develop a superior mental confidence.
Being both physically and mentally fit to ride will increase both you, the rider, and your horses enjoyment of the sport.
Getting Young Riders Fit to ride.
Mental fitness is particularly important for young riders, who may be apprehensive though incredibly eager and excited, at beginning to ride and at being around ponies.
A young rider needs to understand that being taught to ride is different from being taught at school.
The riding instructor may need to shout and although merely raising their voice so that the class can hear.
The young rider should not be made to feel that this is ‘shouting at them’ and should not become overly sensitive about the loud or focused instruction.
Parents, in particular, need to understand and be aware that their child may be overly sensitive about this and they should take the time to explain to the young rider, the reasons for this direct type of instruction.