Rider Fitness

Riding for UTM at Auburn, 2007.

I rode hunt seat in college for my school’s NCAA equestrian team. When I tried out and signed on, I thought my exercise and diet program would stay the same as it had when I evented: pretty much nonexistent. I was not prepared for the rigors of collegiate athletics! Two very early mornings a week, I met my teammates and the school’s athletic trainer in the special athletics gym for weight training. All areas of the body were conditioned-after all, riding is the type of sport where all muscle groups are engaged! Leg press, calf raise, leg curl, bench press, shoulder press, bicep curl, leg raise, back extension- you name it, I was probably doing it at 6 AM Tuesday and Thursday mornings from 2005 until 2007. Of course, I also had riding practice two to three times per week. It always included lots of riding without stirrups, sitting trot, and two-point. I received diet advice from the athletic trainer (which, as far as I can remember, included things like “eat as much salsa as you want, but don’t eat the chips” and “protein, ladies, protein!”). Factor in kickboxing and mixed martial arts two to three times weekly, and you have a relatively lean, extremely strong rider.

Fast forward four years to January 2011. A lot of fast-food, a lack of regular exercise, and far too many chips have packed on the pounds and the muscles have nearly given up. Instead of cranking out fifty push-ups, I struggle to complete five. I haven’t ridden in nearly a year. Riding at a brisk trot causes me to be winded after ten minutes. Two-point feels uncomfortable. Somehow, my calves are too fat for my tall boots. Worst of all, it feels like I don’t know how to ride any more. Everything feels wrong. I know my heels should be down, but they keep creeping up. I’m pinching with my knees, despite my best efforts to use my thighs and calves. Two point feels really bizarre, like I’m rounding my shoulders and roaching my back. I shudder to think of what George Morris would stay about me in Practical Horseman‘s “Jumping Clinic”. I have never had these problems before. I used to be strong, confident, and extremely secure in the saddle. Huge fences never scared me, because I knew I could stay with my horse. I wasn’t a perfect rider, but I knew damn well I could stay aboard Moe while jumping a 3″ oxer bareback. No problem…except now it was.

I’ve been struggling with this out-of-shape feeling all year. It’s been especially noticeable while riding Gina. She’s the sort of horse that you really have to ride. Yesterday was the first time I’ve felt comfortable and confident in the saddle in a long time. It’s one thing to hack on the program horses- they’re bombproof and reliable. Gina is neither of these. Maybe that’s why I feel so accomplished. I rode my horse well. Anne commended me on it. I could feel it. My leg was secure. My heels were down. My upper body was turned toward the next fence. I was riding well. Not spectacularly. Not as well as four years ago. But I felt good. I felt fitter than I have in months.

I attribute the change to eating healthier (limiting caloric intake, adding more protein, eating fast-food less), riding more often (2-3 times per week), and exercising more (weekly- hey, anything is more than nothing!). I feel inspired! I’m going to work hard to get back to a healthier weight and make my body stronger. I owe it to Gina- and myself- to be the best, fittest rider I can be.

Author: Stephanie

Equestrian, amateur cook, people person.

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