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My very wise friend said something the other day that really resonated with me.

“In order to change the horses body language we need to change the riders body language.”

If you’re stiff, tight and full of tension when you ride how do you think that transfers to your horse? It’s probably also tense and stiff. 

If you’re weak, a bit wishy washy and lacking some oomph what do you think that says to your horse? It probably means he’s meandering along not really moving with purpose. 

I completely accept and understand that a substantial element of this can be related to our mental state. If you’re feeling tense, stressed or lethargic it can be hard to hide that within your riding.

That is certainly something we need to deal with before we get on if we don’t want it to affect our ride.

  • Have a pre ride routine. A physical warm up is good to prepare both body and mind to ride well.

 

  • Pack away all your other thoughts into an imaginary box-you can unpack them and deal with them after your ride. 

 

  • Have a plan for your ride so you really focus on what you want to achieve. Often the simplest thing can be just focusing on accuracy-I said simple not easy! Ride the straightest lines you can, make transitions or movements right on the letters. This will help to focus your brain on the task in hand.

 

However it is not just the mental state that affects how your body reacts and feels when you ride. 

If you aren’t balanced you will either be wobbling all over the place or tense and clinging on. 

If you aren’t fit enough to sustain your effort for the full duration of your ride, you won’t be giving clear, intentional aids. You will perhaps feel like a heavier weight to your horse which means he will have to work harder to carry you.

This is why it’s important to be fit and strong enough to ride. 

If you ride light, well balanced and with enough muscle tension to have control of your body this will transfer to your horse. If you can also get your head in the game you’re going to be a winning combination.

 

Become a master beginner

I heard a saying on Warwick Schillers podcast-”Beginners take intermediate lessons, intermediates take advanced lessons and advanced dancers take beginners lessons with an advanced perspective”. Or words to that effect. 

Basically once you have learnt the basics of a skill the way you get better is not with new moves but by being better at the original moves now you have more experience of them.

This is true of your horse when you’re riding and in how your body works whilst riding.

If you haven’t established a balanced walk, trot and canter you’ll come unstuck further down the line when you try to change the gears up and down within a pace, collection, extension or you try to go sideways. If you don’t have a balanced canter you won’t be able to canter well over a fence etc. 

In terms of your own body whilst riding if you don’t have a stable seat, good rein contact and at least a near grasp at symmetry you’ll come unstuck further down the line. For example an unstable seat can’t ask for and maintain collection and extension or land well after a fence ready to ride on to the next one. A huge difference in asymmetry left to right will make one rein much better than the other, it will make your lateral work harder or your balance a bit funky on turns to and from fences. 

If you think of the Spanish Riding School riders spending two years on the lunge with no stirrups before they are allowed to ride independently, they have truly mastered the basics so that when they begin to ask for more advanced work their position is so ingrained and secure that doesn’t hold them back. 

Now I’m not suggesting you go and spend 2 years riding on the lunge, although some lunge lessons would definitely help. I hope my instructor isn’t reading this……….

What I am suggesting is that when you’re planning your own fitness don’t be fooled into thinking you need evermore elaborate and complicated exercises, particularly when you haven’t spent a solid amount of time mastering some basic exercises. Watching people wobble through exercises with terrible form pains me as I know those people aren’t really going to improve from that suggestion, at best they’ll feel some burn at worst they’ll end up injured. 

Master some simple movement patterns and I mean really master them.

For example with a Squat.

  • Is there equal weight through the feet?
  •  Do your knees stay aligned over your feet?
  • Do you hips travel straight up and down without a left right shimmy?
  • Does your core stay strong to support your back?
  • Do your shoulders stay down and back?
  • Did you breathe?

That’s a lot to think about in just one move! So if you’re rushing through them, then adding weights, instability etc without ever really mastering at the start you’ve skipped the beginner lesson and it’s going to come back to bite you at some point in intermediate or advanced.

This is why my online programme isn’t all out hardcore 5-6 days a week. It’s 1 strength and 1 stretch with some solid foundation building exercises with progressions and regressions were necessary. I give you the cues you need to keep good form and we don’t rush to try and fit as much in as possible. It’s always quality over quantity. It’s short sessions of no more than 30 minutes, so it’s easy to fit around work, horses, family etc and it’s just £5 per month!

 

https://www.equestrianfitness.co.uk/online-classes/

 

10 Years of Small Steps

This week marks 10 years since I started my business. I got my first client and was still working my full time legal job. In fact I still have that very first client and yes I have sent her a gift!

This week also marks a new chapter as I bought a new Pony! It’s been 9 years since I had my own pony to ride (bar the bits I was backing and then swiftly retiring my mares). So be prepared for all the Gwydion spam on my social media-he is gorgeous and needs to be appreciated!

However how gorgeous my new pony is will not be the subject of this blog. But he is gorgeous!

It’s about starting new journeys and taking the first steps.

At  the start of my business I took small steps. I started with one client and consistently made steps to grow, and at times they have felt like incredibly slow steps and often even backwards steps.However 10 years later I’ve built a little studio, almost finished the gym, built a 121 and class client base of amazing people many of whom are now genuine friends. All of that has just weathered an absolutely monumental year and is coming out the other side still intact. For that I feel incredibly lucky. 

 I imagine the same will happen with Gwydion. He’s not used to being in a school or doing things without fellow Fell ponies about so it’s all a bit new to him right now. We’ll just take small steps so we don’t over face either of us and who knows where we could be in 10 years? I’m aiming for happy as a partnership above all else.

If you’re embarking on a fitness journey or a journey to improve yourself to improve your riding it can feel monumental taking those first steps. It can be tempting to try and take all the steps at once and then feel disheartened when it doesn’t go to plan. 

Starting from zero on the exercise scale to 5-6 days a week of HIIT will quickly leave you burnt out and sore. So start slow and give your body time to adapt at each stage.

Accept that there will be set backs. You may get injured, that doesn’t mean you’ll never exercise again it just means you may need to take a step back and address your weaknesses. 

You might get ill and find that few weeks out feels like starting all over again. Just take a step back in and build it up, you’ll get there quicker than you think if you don’t rush.

If you can just keep taking small steps, accepting that sometimes you hit rocky patches but you keep travelling; you will look back on yourself in 1,2,5 and even 10 years and realise how far you’ve come just taking all of those small steps.

If you want someone to take those steps with you, keep you on course when it feels like you’ve veered off and generally just have someone hold your hand I’ve got space for 121 clients online and in person, and live classes will be back 29th March under the barn for now and there’s a couple of spaces free. Let me know if you want to be part of my next steps so I can help you with yours.

 

Move your Hips

I saw a study this week using gym balls that showed the ability to move the pelvis on the ball correlates to moving the pelvis on the horse and facilitates better riding. As opposed to the ability to remain static on a ball which did not facilitate better riding. 

I use both modalities of movement and static work on gym balls with clients as I am training different things with each. 

An important element of good riding is stability. Amongst other things stability can be described as the ability to demonstrate mobility under load. 

An unstable pelvis often appears stiff or tight on a horse as the horse is now the load. As mentioned stability allows the mobility so we both to move with our horse well.

Back to moving the pelvis on those gym balls though. Just being able to move the seat bones independently, or slide forward, back and side to side is much trickier than might first appear. If you try this you might notice one side is easier than the other, perhaps you can’t move symmetrically left to right or even stay balanced with your feet on the floor when you move one hip. 

If you’re struggling on the floor on a ball, what do you think happens when you give an aid with your seat on your horse? You may not notice the instability as acutely on your horse as on your gym ball -as in you may not fall off the side! However you may be unbalancing your horse as he compensates for you and your aid will be unclear or indeed lost as your pelvis moves to re-establish stability. 

I recommend a gym ball as a simple yet very effective way for riders to improve their performance. So dig yours out and get it pumped up!

Start with these simple exercises.

  • Slide the ball forward and back.
  • Slide it from side to side.

What happens to your hip bones? 

What about the rest of body?

Did you manage to stay on the ball…….

Now try this.

  • Push the button. Imagine there are buttons just in front of your knees and slide your knees individually forward to push the button. 

Again, what happens to your hip bones? Do they move symmetrically? How’s your balance and control? 

Let me know if you try these out and what you find!

 

Fit for the Season

So it looks there may be some sort of competition season on the horizon. 

Which means some of you have to start getting your horses fit. 

Now I don’t think for a second that means you’ll all go out galloping straight away. You will slowly start to increase his workload, build a solid foundation of strength and endurance in him before you begin the serious competition training. 

However what I see so often with riders is immediately going full throttle with their own fitness 5-6 days a week hiit workouts, running etc whilst still trying to fit in the riding. They end up worn out, frustrated that their riding isn’t improving and worst case injured. 

Why do we treat our own bodies with so much less respect than our horses bodies? 

If you’re starting to think about getting yourself in shape for the competition season give it the same well thought approach as you would your horse.

Start slowly, work on building a well balanced, strong foundation. Build up your endurance in steady increments.Take your time with building that foundation. If you build it well at the start it’s harder to break further down the line. 

Focus on building a strong foundation that will survive a full season intact rather than focusing on peak fitness for the first event. 

A coach can help you with the exercises that will build that foundation to improve your riding so you aren’t wearing yourself out on things that don’t give you the most bang for your buck. They can help you identify your weaknesses that may be affecting your riding so you can address them and improve your performance.They can also help you with planning and periodisation around your competition season to ensure you reach each one in tip top condition.

I’m currently working with clients 121 outdoors and online for those further afield so send me a message if you would like some help with being as fit as your horse this season.

 

There’s more than one way to get riding fit

There are various opinions on strength training for riders and whether it's necessary etc.

As you'll probably know if you're a follower of mine I'm very much a fan of weight lifting and resistance training and use it with my clients in order to improve their performance.

However that isn't to say I don't believe other forms of training aren't effective. I also use Equipilates and Sports Yoga in classes and with online clients so I definitely feel like they have potential to improve performance too.

Being strong enough to ride is not a set in stone number of weight required to lift.

Strength for riding relates to being strong enough to be in control of your own body when it's on a horse. We need to remain balanced and co-ordinated to give clear aids.

Our bodies are individual as are our horses and what we are trying to achieve with them.

I'm hypermobile so my body is pretty wobbly just on the ground, add to that I've been predominantly riding baby or weaker horses recently means I need to be extra strong to try and remain in control of all of that.

However someone with a much more naturally stable body may not find they need to work so hard to stay in control of their limbs.

Perhaps it's just a fine tuning you require, work on asymmetries and patterning. Pilates may well do that for you.

If it's your mobility and body awareness that's an issue Sports Yoga could help you with that.

Our aim for rider fitness should be mobility, stability and body awareness that then is ingrained enough to maintain under load - i.e on a horse. How you achieve that is actually up to you.

 

 

What’s your learning style?

I listened to something the other day that talked about training by feel, as in you shouldn’t need a mirror to exercise with etc as you should be able to feel what your body is doing.

Whilst I get the principle I have to say I disagree. 

Whenever I see someone performing an exercise and they aren’t quite lined up right or using the correct muscles they often have no idea that they are doing it wrong. I also may find when I ask them to correct it they have no idea how. They can’t send a message to the brain to get their body to move like that. 

If they could they’d already be doing it right? 

Also if they have no idea how to get their body to do it they have no idea how it feels? 

This plays into how we learn as individuals. Some people learn by listening, others by watching or by doing. 

So, if you’re struggling with something in your own body when you ride and you can’t figure out what you are or aren’t doing try a different way of tackling it. 

The reason my training has great results 121 is that I’m there to spot movement patterns that may be a little off kilter for riding and help people address them. 

This won’t be the same technique for everyone. 

Some people can be told what’s wrong and fix it, others need to see themselves do it and then work from there. For some people they might need help getting into that position. For all of those scenarios the person needs help to find what right feels like. They couldn’t get there on their own. 

If you’re having trouble trying to fix a movement pattern that affects your riding, try considering how you learn best. 

Do you need to video it and see it?

Do you need to try things out in front of the mirror so you can see what happens when you adjust?

Do you need something that gives you feedback-like a trainer or going through movements on a gym ball/wobble board etc? 

Or maybe a combination of the above? 

How do you think you learn best? 

Change the Method Not Goal

 

With so many things we would never tackle them on our own, for example plumbing or electrics yet so many other things despite having zero expertise we do a bit of reading and swiftly declare ourselves an expert and capable of doing it ourselves with zero expert advice.

I’ve definitely seen this with people and exercise,  more frustrating those that struggle with injuries. I usually hear “I tried …….and it didn’t work/made it worse” They may then try the same thing again, maybe something else or eventually give up and declare the problem unsolvable. 

( I’m not even going to go into my frustration with those that do 1 maybe 2 sessions with an expert and because the results are not instantaneous or requires them to do homework that they don’t actually do they also declare that as not working……) 

The thing is the human body is a complex bit of kit. Whilst in theory we are built the same our bodies have not had the same experiences or history, they do not lead the same lives or move in the same patterns. They are also not powered by the same brain. 

This means making it move and perform better is not a one size fits all approach. If you’re struggling an expert can help you see why, they can tweak exercises to make them fit you better and tell you when you may not even be doing them correctly at all. 

They can give you the confidence to keep going when you panic that the injury has come back or your pain is still there. Having someone to say it’s ok I’ve seen this lots of times it’s completely normal, just keep trying; can be the difference between pushing through to the next level and giving up. 

An expert will have spent time and money learning about human movement, they will have seen lots of different people with lots of different problems all coming from a different head space and been able to use those hard learnt skills to help them. 

You don’t declare yourself a Plumbing expert after 1 YouTube video so if you’re struggling with your body treat it like your plumbing and get an expert in to help you. 

You have a trainer to help you and your horse work better together so why not have one to make you and your body work better together.

Totally unrelated I’ve got space for 121 in person training if you’re local to my studio - WN8, and I’ve got space for Zoom training if you’re not 😉.

 

Dedicated to Better

I started reading Charlotte Dujardins autobiography last weekend. I think whilst it’s clear that she has a natural gift and as she says herself in the book instances where she just happened to be in the right place at the right time (I’m a believer in fate) there is something else that she talks about that I think we can all learn from, and that is her constant desire to assess her own performance and continue to learn and grow as a rider.

She talks about watching Carl’s dvds over and over when she was young, watching other people’s tests and trying to pick up training tools and ways to be better. 

She would watch back her own tests, review the score sheets and see what her weaknesses were. 

She also talks about how she would constantly (and I imagine still does) practice, practice, practice until she got things right or taught her horse something new. She didn’t give up and get someone else to do it when it didn’t go right.

She talks about riding Valegro in his early years and realising she wasn’t strong or fit enough to do him justice-so she hired a Personal Trainer and got herself stronger and fitter; and we know where that partnership ended up! 

All of these things have made her a Champion at International, European and Olympic level. 

You may be feeling that you’re lacking in the natural talent department-I definitely am! But you aren’t lacking in the ability to learn, to practice, to assess your weaknesses and work on them. 

That’s definitely the mindset of the clients I work with. They have decided that they don’t want to be the weak link in the partnership. That if they want their horse to be a better athlete then they have to be a better athlete too. 

Having a Personal Trainer doesn’t have to be about getting sweaty and wanting to cry during your session. 

It can be about working with someone like minded who understands your goals and is dedicated to helping you become a better athlete for your horse. 

I’m now working both online and in person so you don’t even need to be local to have access to my Equestrian Fitness obsessed brain! 

Resilience

I’m sure you will agree that 2020 has tested our mental resilience, and 2021 appears to be doing the same.

I’d say Equestrians are already a pretty resilient bunch. We constantly deal with setbacks such as horses going lame, competitions not going well and generally just bad horse days.

Physically though how resilient are you? I reckon throughout your Equestrian life you’ve hit the deck, been pushed and pulled around so many times you daren’t even remember. Which since you’re still riding means you’ve got a fair amount of physical resilience but I imagine to go with it you have your fair share of aches and pains.

I know we kind of accept them as part and parcel of our sport but it doesn’t actually have to be that way. You see the stronger your body is the better able it is to deal with the knocks and bumps.

A body that is able to absorb force, move load AND has a good range of movement is not only less likely to injure but if it does it will recover a whole lot quicker than one that does not.

That should be a key reason for training if nothing else, just to be free of aches and pains and to recover quicker if you do take a knock.

That’s why I like to cover several bases with my clients. We improve their flexibility, their movement patterns, stability and ability to tolerate loads.

This is why no one exercise is the definitive best one for riders. Its dependant on your current strengths and weaknesses and what you already do as part of your lifestyle.

You may need exercises that help you with particular aspects of your riding but above all else you want your body to be able to keep you riding.

Build a resilient body to go with that resilient mind and this year we can tackle anything!