Rider Fitness: Part Two

For Part One, please visit here.

We left off somewhere around training level and the realization that if we were struggling there, first level was not going to be pretty. And it wasn’t. I mean, it wasn’t awful, but I went in with the goal of “do not break in the canter” or “pick up the correct lead.”

They weren’t the worst tests in the world, unless you count the time that I counter cantered the entire right-lead portion of first level test 2. I try to remind Cho of that ride when she tells me that counter canter is impossibly hard, because she literally did the entire section of that test without breaking.

But that is neither here nor there.

Cholula’s canter has taken years to develop and was slow to come along. It took a lot of work to get her going, to keep her going, and I soon realized I just didn’t have the strength or the endurance to keep it up, or ever improve and move up through the levels. I knew SHE could do an entire first level test and score in the mid 60s, since she had with my trainer. I, however, took one look at the canter work necessary and knew something had to change if I hoped to get there.

Option 1: Make Cholula canter like a “regular horse.” “All I want is for her to just canter when asked and keep cantering until asked something else.” With my magic wand, I shall make it so. Option 1 is naïve and takes a lot of work. A lot of cantering work. A lot of cantering work we’ve already established I’m bad at. Mostly I was just hoping that Cho would wake up and be like “oh, yeah, I LOVE to canter ALL OF THE TIME AND WILL DO SO AROUND THE ARENA AS THOUGH I AM A THOROUGHBRED WHILST YOU SIT UP THERE AND TRY TO FIGURE YOUR SHIT OUT.”

Cholulas are not Thoroughbreds, and never will be.

Option 2: Get your ass in shape.

In June of 2012, after I finished up the recognized shows for the season, I chose option 2. I joined a local Crossfit affiliate with a 3 day/week boot camp, largely focusing on body weight movements and some Crossfit basics.

I couldn’t actually ride my horse for the first 2 weeks because my legs were that sore.

Eventually though, things got easier. I had more control over my body parts independently and was able to make everything work together as well. I became a more effective rider. I had the endurance to push her enough to improve her canter and my seat.

Bootcamp finished, and I cringed at the thought of quitting and starting over. I’d gained this base fitness that I was terrified of losing. So I joined Crossfit and never looked back.

I even got to the point where I could work out (hard!) and go straight to the barn and have a productive ride after. But in comparison to the high intensity work I did at Crossfit, riding was like a cool-down.

The improvement in my riding was huge, and continues to this day. It was only fair to Cho to work as hard as I could if I was asking her to work hard for me. If I am generous, she is generous.

Here are some of my favorite exercises for riding:

good mornings (with a band, with a PVC pipe just to warm up, with a bar -whatever!)
-Romanian deadlifts
—both of these stretch AND strengthen your hamstrings – so important! Riders tend to have tight hamstrings and I can tell you that both of these exercises have helped me lengthen these muscles.

-front squats (or goblet squats if you don’t have a barbell)
—ANY squats are good! But front squats are pretty fantastic for engaging your core, without directly hammering out sit ups. You get a great leg exercise in addition to learning how to stabilize your core while doing something else – which directly relates to riding.

Speaking of…core…GHD sit-ups, Russian twists, PLANKS, sit-ups, leg raises…ABS.
–I don’t do enough core work (is there ever enough?) but I like to keep it up so my abs are always a little sore. Not debilitating, please-don’t-make-me-laugh sore, but just enough to remind you that they are there. This helps me engage and find that “pull” – especially when I am sitting the trot.

-Box Jumps
–I don’t really care for box jumps. They are kind of scary because I am not very coordinated and the possibility for injury is high. However, that’s exactly what gets them to this list — because I’ve become a lot MORE coordinated doing them. They don’t have to be big! I generally don’t jump higher than 16″, and step down most of the time. Focusing on landing lightly on the box and keeping it a controlled movement translates to the saddle in the same way – light, controlled.

For overall leg strength (half-seat for days, anyone?), squats and lunges. Squats and lunges.

-And of course, the ever popular yoga and pilates.
—There was one point in time where I was going to hot yoga twice a week and would occasionally do pilates as well. I hope that at some point I can find time in my schedule to do these things again – at least once and awhile – as they are great full body workouts that focus on stability and core AND stretch everything out.

While all of the movements above can be done individually or together, just doing them doesn’t really address endurance. I love Crossfit because you get shit done, and you get it done quickly. I’ve said on many occasions “I do Crossfit because I’m lazy!” I hate exercising. I hate sweating. If I’m just exercising to exercise, all I can think about is how much I’m sweating and how I just want to go home and eat donuts. And take a shower. When I do Crossfit (or ride, obviously) I don’t have time to think about those things.

Also, Crossfit workouts are generally fast. Yeah, occasionally you get into your 20 minute…even 25 or 30 minutes! But most of the time? TEN MINUTES DONE. It is the best.

(Sundance Dressage, June 2014)

(Dressage clinic, February 2015)

And just in case you forgot where we started…
(Photo taken by Ellis Photography)

Rider Fitness: Part Two

2 thoughts on “Rider Fitness: Part Two

  1. I love this! You are both really coming along wonderful. Thank you for sharing – I always find it inspirational to read things like this.
    In my own, I struggle too. We all struggle…
    With all cardio you can shake a stick at – I’m a runner – I really struggle with stiffness. It constantly comes back to bite in the saddle, and progress had been slow.


  2. Thank you! There will always be things to work on (will my shoulders ever get back?) – but so excited to have photographic proof of some progress being made 🙂


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