Make being healthy easy

We are still going through some really uncertain times at the moment which means many of you may not have got back into your healthy habits. You’re still having a gin and tonic on your 10 am work Zoom meeting aren’t you?


The thing is although this year has been a huge out of the ordinary test for everyone, regardless of that there will always be stressful, testing times to throw you off course. 


That shouldn’t make them excuses to not hit your healthy lifestyle goals.


You just need to make your healthy habits easy to stick to. 


It’s not about being all kale smoothies and daily 10k runs, its about small, easy to stick to habits done consistently.


So maybe start with just one at a time.


  • Buy a reusable water bottle and aim to finish it every day.
  • Try not eating snacks after your evening meal during the week. 
  • Do two 20 minute exercise or stretching sessions per week (I’ve got an online programme perfect for this….) 


Also just because you maybe don’t do as well one day doesn’t mean you’ve failed. You just draw a line under it and try to do better the next day.


Plan your workouts and riding sessions etc. In your diary as if they were important work meetings at the beginning of the week so you know where they are fitting in.


Plan your meals and your snacks. They don’t need to all be “healthy” they just need to stop you steering off track completely. So three proper meals and then maybe 1 or 2 small snacks used tactically as a mid afternoon pick me up and then a pre or post ride one or whatever works for you.


Full disclosure I eat chocolate most days-that’s proper, full sugar milk chocolate not some raw, cocao based healthy option. 


Don’t feel like that run? Go for a walk, do some yoga whatever you choose, just honour the commitment to do something for your body. 


Make it small, make it consistent and it will start to just become what you do all the time.

The devils in the detail

When it comes to riding very often the devil can be in the detail. Something barely noticeable to you or someone watching could make all the difference to how your horse performs what you’ve asked of him.

That’s why having mastery of your own body is vital to improving your performance. 

Particularly in Dressage when the smallest percentage can make all the difference. When getting equal scores for a movement left to right knowing how you behave differently on each rein can be a huge help. 

When you train it’s really important to focus on exactly how your body reacts. 

I always say I can tell how someone’s body reacts whilst riding by watching them squat. Hip shimmy’s, more weight one way than the other, turning from the shoulders, tipping forward…………

If we can get someone to first notice that and then fix it in the squat they have addressed the asymmetry which then transfers over into their riding. 

It’s not just the squat though, whenever you’re performing an exercise really check in to what muscles are working, how they move and travel and how that may be a pattern in your riding too. 


Advanced Old People Training

Sometimes when I'm training clients I do exercises that one of them refers to as “advanced old people training “. Usually this will be an exercise that involves maybe getting up off the floor or standing up from a box or bench. There is another reason for doing these exercises that will be relevant to that clients goals but he has got a point about the old age thing. I tell him he’ll thank me when he can still tie his own shoes at 90!

Maintaining fitness, muscle mass and movement patterns as we get older gives us a much better chance of staying fit and mobile well into old age. I call it “use it or lose it” 

For us that also means more chance of riding and all that entails for as long as possible too.

We start to lose muscle mass in our 30’s unless we actually strive to maintain and build it. A loss of muscle makes us firstly weaker and therefore less able to withstand our activities but also more prone to injury. This doesn’t mean you need to become a body builder but you do need to do some form of resistance training that challenges your muscles. 

Bone density also peaks in our 20’s and if your female declines when you hit menopause due to the loss of Estrogen. A loss of bone density can cause Osteoporosis. As a rider this puts us at a way greater risk of breaking bones. A way of maintaining as much bone density as possible is by doing weight bearing exercise- I.e being on your feet.

Regardless of your overall training goals I’m sure we can agree the plan is to stay riding fit for as long as possible. In order to give us the best chance of this off horse training is vital. 

That’s why I’m so passionate about strength training. It’s not about maxing out lifting as heavy as possible-unless you want it to be. It’s about encouraging your bones and muscles to regenerate, repair and stay strong. It’s about maintaining movement patterns we use all the time but can get a bit lazy with the actual muscles involved -picking things up off the floor, going from sitting to standing unaided, carrying heavy objects etc. 

It’s basically about enabling you to live your life feeling fit and well for as long as possible. Which to Equestrian’s means still being able to put a saddle on, hop on board and go for a ride well into our 80’s…….and beyond. 


Relaxed Activation

One of the problems I see in riders is trying to activate muscles to help them stabilise but actually squeezing so hard they just create tension. 

Like with your horse, you want him to be working, activating his muscles but still relaxed in his way of going.

In essence you need to be strong enough to not need to do a full effort contraction to stabilise. Also you need to learn to dial up and dial down your muscular effort. Then for the piece’ de resistance you need to be able to activate these muscles at adequate tension to perform but still relaxed without having to think about it.

How do you achieve this?

Step 1 is actually getting stronger. 

Step 2 learning to activate muscles all at the same time-which generally prevents you from being able to maximally contract everything.

Step 3. Learn to breathe at the same time.

Do this often so that it becomes second nature.

Ok, great but actually How?

Well I’m a firm believer in there being no one way to achieve anything.

Personally I choose strength and conditioning training. It’s made a huge difference to the stability of my hyper mobile body. Having to lift a heavy weight off the floor or over head requires huge muscular input and you need to breathe! 

However I also like Pilates as this has a huge stability and breathing element. Trying to stabilise, keep everything in line, move and breathe in sync is great training for using your body on a horse. 

Basically anything that makes you stronger whilst using multiple muscles and breathing. 

I use both of these methods across my classes and with 1 2 1 clients depending on their preference. 

I’ve got space in my  daytime Pilates based class -Wednesday 10am.

Thursday Strength & Conditioning class at 6.15pm.

Space for 1 2 1 clients both daytime and limited evening slots.

You don’t need a beasting!

People have visions of working with a trainer as an all out sweat fest in which they crawl out and are unable to move for at least a week, when they inevitably go through the whole thing again. 


Any decent trainer will tell you giving someone “a beasting” isn’t hard. 


However helping someone to move better, use their body better, reduce pain and in my case improve how they use their body on a horse requires more knowledge and skill. 


I don’t want my clients to be unable to ride for days after their sessions because it’s too painful or they’re too weak. That’s counter productive, as the purpose of the training is to improve performance on horse not leave them knackered. 


Sometimes of course you may have some soreness (Dom’s) and yes sometimes the sessions might be tough but that’s not a rule for how every session will be.


Sometimes I can struggle with the fact that people expect to feel really tired at the end of a session and they may not. 


However the key to improving performance for riding is in the subtle shifts that happen. That spook they sat to, that walk to canter transition they nailed? All aided by the training process that enabled them to use their body better.


Sometimes the magic is in what isn’t happening, for example less pain. Often you don’t realise until you don’t train for a couple of weeks and you start to feel old pain patterns creep in that the training had reduced this. 


My job as a trainer is to make you better overall but specifically in relation to your riding. How you move your body as a unit, how it moves under load and how it reacts to outside forces are all part of that and that’s what I focus on rather than how much you sweat or hurt.


Building a Foundation

It is incredibly common in riders to have some sort of pain issue-we’re a broken population! Yet of course we are tough cookies and we don’t let that stop us from enjoying our sport.

Often when I speak to riders about their own exercise programme (or lack of..) I will hear things like “I can’t do that because it hurts my back, knee, ankle…. insert extensive list of body parts”. 

I get it. Exercise particularly when new to your body can be uncomfortable. However if approached correctly can improve those pain issues over time.

Weakness, instability, over use etc. Can all cause pain. So when we exercise the aim should be to build a solid, balanced foundation. 

This then transfers into every day life including your riding. If you are able to support your own body weight, have good muscular control and good endurance this makes the demands of your day much easier for your body.

What should we be prioritising in our training to create a good foundation?

Firstly as I call it “build a bum like Beyoncé “. The glutes are the biggest muscle in the body. They are fundamental to supporting the pelvis and spine which then impacts on how the rest of your body can move and perform. This is even more important if you do suffer with back or hip pain. Build a bum you can bounce a ball off and see how it affects your body-I promise it’s worth the effort 🍑.

Secondly your back. This is often so overlooked in training programmes, particularly with women as we aren’t usually after the big shoulders and lats. However as with the glutes, how can we expect our spine to work well and pain free if we don’t give it a proper support network? The back muscles are also part of our core. The ability to use the abdominals together with the back is what creates a solid core, neglecting one in favour of the other creates imbalance.

The abdominals. Not just the superficial layers that burn when you do lots of crunches. You also need the deep layers, the side of your waist and the lower abdominal and pelvic floor all to be able to work together in order to create true stability and core strength. 

I should also mention the legs, as a good set of thighs will further support the hips, and also the knees. Most glute work will include the legs though so they wouldn’t have to be considered in isolation.

This may all sound quite complicated but for the most part it just involves basic compound exercises and movement patterns. However if you do want some help in building your foundation a good coach can help you, and I happen to know one of those…..


Training for Symmetry

Do you train to improve your asymmetry?

Everyone has some asymmetry but obviously as riders we want that to be minimal. If we are noticeably stronger on one side this can affect how we are sat and how we give aids to our horse. 

As our horses will also have a weaker side, if we happen to have the same weak side we will be unable to help him out and correct him to improve his weakness.

So, how do you train to help balance out these asymmetries in yourself.

Training unilaterally I.e. single arm or single leg will help to identify your weaker side and then training it without having the other side to help out will improve its strength. 

So here’s some Lower & Upper Body Unilateral Exercises to add to your workouts.


Can you Co-ordinate?

This week riding I’ve noticed something. It doesn’t matter which rein I’m on I can’t make my hands do different things. So if I need to flex my inside rein I struggle to check in to what my outside rein is doing-usually it’s gone rogue….. hence the problem. 


Of course that causes problems as I’m sure you are aware the outside rein is vital for maintaining your horses position whether straight or flexed. 


Now if you have a similar problem , maybe hands like me or maybe it’s your lower leg that seemingly has a mind of its own; you will know how unhelpful it is when an instructor tells you to just stop doing it. Your brain is thinking “sure, yeh it’s that easy, I’ll just stop……”  It’s not that easy, if it was we’d have fixed it as soon as we noticed it!


Just because it isn’t easy doesn’t mean you can’t make it better.


You essentially need to wire yourself a new pathway from your brain to that particular body part and movement pattern.


I like to keep the exercises simple. 


Try this exercise to help train your limbs to work together or separately. 


Switch up the movements,moving a single hand forward or our or moving a leg back or out. The whole focus should be on what the other limbs are doing and then whether the moving limbs track the same path left as they do right in the same movement. 

These are the sort of exercises we do in my classes -Space in Wednesday 10 and Thursday 6.15pm.

Are you strong when things go wrong?

When you’re thinking about your own rider fitness do you focus on your performance when everything is going right? Like how you manage transitions, a dressage test, a round of jumps etc?


What about how you perform when it’s not going right? 


How does your body respond if your horse wobbles, maybe trips, sneezes or spooks? How do you cope with a buck or a rear? 


What happens if you’re out on the Cross Country course and it goes awry?


If you ever watch the pro’s out on cross country when things don’t go to plan you will notice they react lightning fast and they stay balanced still riding the horse forward.


If you watch a really good rider as their horse bucks, rears, trips etc again they stay balanced and are able to ride forward. 


Have you got the strength and balance to do that?


It can be an absolute game changer. Not least because you fall off less! 


Of course most importantly it makes you less likely to injure yourself, as even if you stay on you can still give yourself whiplash from an impact you weren’t expecting.


Are you stable and balanced enough to stay with your horse if he zooms off sharply? Are you stable enough to keep riding and not be dragged forward if he pulls his head down or trips? 


When you can do this is you become more in charge of the outcome. 


But how do you get that?


This is where I believe Strength training comes in.  Being able to control more than your own bodyweight  is a great way of training your body to kick in with extra stability when needed on top of a horse.


When I train clients one to one or in my strength and conditioning class we work predominantly on big compound movements that require the body to work as a whole unit. 


For example whilst a Deadlift is used predominantly to improve posterior chain strength, it still requires good core activation, the chest to remain open and the shoulders to actively participate. You may have spotted some absolute bad ass ladies lifting some serious weight over on my social media. They didn’t start at those weights but they’ve put the time and dedication in to improve them and it’ s paying off in their riding with better stability and control. 


We work up to some Olympic Lifting movements that require full body coordination and fast reactions whilst moving a weight. Are you seeing how this might transfer to better riding?


Maybe it’s time to up the ante on your gym work, or if you want a coach to help you get there you know where I am…...


A positive WHY?

This week I listened to a great Podcast with Olivia Towers and Abi Lyle.


Abi was talking about exercising and eating well as an act of kindness to yourself. She discussed how often at the end of long days etc we often “reward” ourselves with junk food when in fact what our body needs is nutritious food to nourish and re energise it. Also how we can view exercise as a punishment to our bodies for the food we’ve eaten when it fact it should be a way of looking after our bodies and keeping it fit and strong.


I really like these concepts and definitely identify with them for my own training and nutrition and those that I try and instill in my clients. 


Often I ask my clients to identify their WHY for training and changing their eating habits.


This is super important as this is what makes people stick with their habits. This why needs to be a positive reason such as improving performance, improving how you feel in clothing etc. 


For me I feel like I have it easy in terms of motivation as if I train to be strong I am in less pain, I perform better for work, I ride better and generally life feels a bit easier. If I eat well I have less brain fog, less stomach issues and have more energy. These are some really strong WHY’s that definitely align with being kind to myself. As I don’t know why I would want to not train and eat rubbish when this would make feel crazy tired, brain foggy and leave me in a lot of pain? That would definitely not be being kind to myself. 


I want you to think about that when creating your own healthy habits. What are your positive reasons for doing them?


Will eating better give you more energy, so you aren’t as tired during the day?


Will going for that run clear your head?


Would some yoga relax you?


Whatever your reasons try and make them positive and come from a place of looking after your physical and mental health. You’re more likely to stick with them and actually feel good about them too.


“Look after your body it’s the only place you have to live.”