Rider Fitness: Part One

Rider fitness is something that is near and dear to my heart. I think it is important as riders to have stamina to keep up with our horses, as well as have sufficient strength and bodily awareness and control for the equestrian sport we choose. In the beginning (and even now!) I would tell myself, “If you are asking her to put HER maximum effort on the table, the least you can do is the same.”

And while I suppose riding in and of itself could be considered decent exercise on some horses, I am blessed with a couch with legs.

A couch with legs that I generally ride for 45 minutes-1 hour, give or take, depending on what we’re doing.

If we break that down it looks something like this:

20 minutes of walk work (even without stirrups I would not consider this exercise, despite what My Fitness Pal seems to think)
15 minutes of trot work (warming up seems like work, but it only lasts for 5 minutes at most)
10 minutes of canter work (we are getting closer, but still…nope)
10 minutes of cool down walk (nope)

I am getting some light activity in. Light activity is not bad! But it’s not enough.

Now, I know some people do not ride couches with legs. I have ridden narrower, lighter horses. They take more work to stay on. Cho would take work to come off of. For the most part, I do not have to focus on balance at all when I’m on her. Lighter horses take an engaged core at all times. I have to really work and focus on engaging my core with her because it’s easy to just…not. Cholula has this magical ability to suck you into a black hole of laziness and being behind the movement. She is sneaky and manipulative and ninja-like in this talent.

So, couches. They are easy to sit on. They are also inherently lazy. Cholula’s basic MO in life is to do things with as little energy expended as possible.

Case in point:

Cuddling with the round bale: Don’t have to waste energy standing, the blanket of hay assists in warmth, and you can eat it.

While I have it easy in the balancing/staying on department, I work harder in the keeping her going department. Every single ride (every. single. ride.) Cho must establish that you are ABSOLUTELY SERIOUS about going forward and doing the things. If you do not establish swiftly and firmly that you are ABSOLUTELY serious, she gets a little glint in her eye and tools around behind the leg, hollow, and does whatever she wants. This is why she’d probably be infinitely happy with beginners on her back for all of time.

Now, at this point in our journey, it doesn’t take much to establish that you require her to do what you ask, when you ask. A little tap with the whip, a bump with the spurs. Very rarely do we have to have a bigger discussion than that. In the past, it frequently involved tears and multiple whips, sometimes even with a ground person chasing us with one. Just to trot. Those days are (very thankfully) behind us. Once we do have “do as I say” established, we get down to work and she is light, super responsive off of the leg, and riding her is a dream.

Once upon a time I did not have the fitness level I do now, therefore my horse did not have the fitness level she has now, either. You can only bring your horse so far if you have strength or stamina limitations. And for some people, that’s fine. They are happy to work within that. But if you want to push yourself and your horse? You want to see what you can both do?

My trainer in Minnesota always said that if you’re going to event and do a cross country course, you need to be able to run a mile first. It doesn’t have to be a fast mile, it doesn’t have to be a pretty mile, but you have to be able to do that to have the fitness to do a cross country course.

And once upon a time, I struggled through training level tests. Little prayers would be offered up along the lines of “pleasedon’tbreakpleasedon’tbreakpleasedon’tbreak.”

My horse was beginning to progress faster than I could keep up. Even a training level test was nerve-inducing, as I could never guarantee we could do all of the things when we were supposed to.

Like canter. (Pleasedon’tbreakpleasedon’tbreak)

To keep my steamboat mare cantering when she didn’t really feel like it? It was hard, I was all over the place, and there are a lot of pictures of me with my knees bent at a horrific angle and my heels facing the sky, as high as they could go, as somehow in my head this equated more leverage.


Oh my god shorten your reins and drop your legs down for the love of god. And put your hands togetherwhatareyoudoing. (Photo taken by Ellis Photography)


Just in case you thought the first picture was a fluke. You can absolutely see in my posture that I’m going “CANTERCANTERCANTEROMGSHITCANTER”

Please note: I still have this habit and it is not something I consciously think about doing (though I’d hope that’d be obvious). Now at least I have the bodily control to realize that I am doing it and correct it and keep the canter while this is happening. And maybe someday I won’t do it at all. Work in progress. No legs cantering is helping both of us.

The bottom line was that something had to change, as I wasn’t content struggling at training level. But that’s a story for part 2, I do believe. And hopefully I can dig up some pictures to show that I have, in fact, improved in the process.

Rider Fitness: Part One

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