Tag Archives: rider fitness lancashire

Quantum Woo Woo for Riding

As part of my groundwork with my new Fell pony Gwydion I’ve been doing some breathing exercises. Gwydion has a tendency to hold his breath and then when he can’t contain it anymore he has a little “tantrum”. He’s not being naughty he’s just anxious about the changes that have occurred in his life this past few months. So when I sense him stop breathing I stop and face him then I start to breathe more purposefully. I take a deep breath in for a count of 4 then out for 8, directing that out breath towards his nose. On that out breath he finally releases his breath and starts to calm and breathe again. (Don’t ask me why I started doing this, I just followed my gut instinct at the time!) 

I think breathing is such an underrated part of working with and riding horses. Without this going too woo woo, breathing patterns have the power to change the energy within us and around us (it’s quantum physics stuff if you need the science). 

I can feel the energy between me and Gwyd change when he stops breathing and I imagine it’s the same for him if I do. This creates tension in him which he then has to release in his little display of head flinging that follows. If I stop breathing properly, I get tense and then potentially overreact to a situation I.e. When it gets too much I release the tension with a little tantrum. 

If you’ve ever heard the saying “Your horse is your mirror” I think I’ve just highlighted mine and Gwyd’s similarities right there…….

Whether you’re on the ground or on board the principles stay the same. 

Your breath has the power to change your energy and therefore your body and how it feels and functions. If you don’t breathe deeply and fully whilst riding you will feel tense, your body will not move freely or fluidly and that tension will transfer to your horse. Which means he will feel tense and won’t move freely or fluidly. 

Practice breathing with movement off horse with things like Yoga and Pilates-Weightlifting also has a breathing practice. 

When you’re working your horse either on board or on the ground notice how you breathe. Are you taking full breaths and really using your diaphragm. Is your horse? 

Try the pattern I used above of in for 4 and out for 8 and see if you can feel yourself change and then maybe your horse. 

Also next time your ride or groundwork isn’t going to plan check into your breathing pattern and see if you can make some changes there and then try again. -Let me know what happens…….

 

Tweak Your Training

Whilst there are some fitness fundamentals that should be the focus of your programme there will be some areas that need tailoring to you.

Maybe now you’re back out competing you’ve noticed there are still a few areas for improvement.

There are things in competition that you just can’t prepare for at home.

Firstly, there is the excitement and nerves on the day. How you deal with this mentally can have an affect on you physically.

Shallow breathing as a result of nerves means you aren’t sending enough Oxygen to your brain to enable it to focus or your muscles to provide them with power.

If this is you maybe add a breathing focus into your training. Adding a breathing cue to movement can make it a more natural thing for you to do in moments when you aren’t fully focusing on it. Yoga, Pilates and Weightlifting have a coached breathing element to it.

Perhaps you noticed that your body wasn’t up to the extra effort you put in on competition day.

You rode the round of your life but you finished it breathing harder than expected. You may be already doing cardio sessions but could you change them up a bit if you feel like you still weren’t fit enough to perform at your absolute best.

If you’re running or cycling for example you could try training at Threshold pace. There are formulas etc for calculating this if you’re using heart rate monitors but in it’s basic form its training at a pace that’s just harder than your regular pace but not so hard you can’t sustain it. Basically it feels really, really hard! Or you could try interval training-short bursts of high efforts followed by a short rest period. These can be done for set timed efforts or more sporadically if you are outside and just run/cycle faster then slower between different points.

Maybe you lost power in your legs and core so weren’t riding as well as you could for the full round. You need to work on your muscular strength and endurance. This could be adding more volume to your weight training sessions; maybe adding in some isometric work or time under tension training. In simple terms increasing the length of time the muscle is contracting during the exercise.

If you’d like some help with tweaking your training I’ve got space for 121 in person and Zoom training.

Competition Planning

The competition season has finally started, at least in part anyway. 

Athletes in sports like Triathlon have fitness programmes that build them up to peak fitness just before the event and then they may have a taper leading up to it so they are fit but well rested for competition day.

Of course sports like football, rugby etc similar to equestrian sports run across a season with one or two events per week. This means tapering isn’t an option-nor is it necessary. However their training may be scheduled and planned according to the competitions. 

For example a heavy training session wouldn’t happen the day before a game. You wouldn’t have a heavy x country schooling session the day before your ODE because your horse would be tired.

The same should apply to you.

Leading up to a weekend competition you may do a mid week heavier workout then the day before some mobilising, activation and general preparation. 

Then post event some stretching and relaxation before training harder a day or so later.

This enables your body to “peak” on the day so all your hard work pays off.

You’re aiming for your body to feel strong and limber on the day, then recover well ready to get back to training a day or so later.

If you plan your own training as well as you plan your horses training you will both be ready to perform at your best on competition day.

Seriously, you can learn it on a Space Hopper

Last week you may have seen my clients hopping around and even over poles on a Space Hopper.

Of course this looked like lots of fun and like we were just messing about. It’s actually a tougher cardio workout than you realise!

However there were some serious lessons being learnt here. Most notably in relation to your internal spring.

When an advanced rider asks for more collection, extension, impulsion even a half halt it can be almost invisible to the rest of us. If asked they might say something like they used their seat, maybe their core ……..but your brain still asks “but how?”

Now the answer is via a serious of muscle contractions and relaxations both from your abdominals, your back, your glutes…….yeh I know “how?”

The thing is its quite a big combination of things going on that unless you can actually narrow all those finite movements down it’s not really a learnable thing by directing muscle contractions.

Enter the Space Hopper!

Bouncing on a Space Hopper gives you feedback on your internal spring system. If you bounce from your middle rather than your legs you can feel how much higher you can go with less effort.

You can feel what it takes to absorb the movement of the hopper (or your horse) underneath you whilst remaining balanced and without tension.

You can play around with height (Collection), distance and speed (extension) and then when you’ve got the hang of it try upwards and downwards transitions and half halts. It sounds really silly and kind of wishy washy to say to just think it, try playing around with taking a breath using more or less tension in your middle and glutes. See what a different feel it gives you. Which is exactly why it works! You can play around with it and the space hopper will give you a different feeling.

You can do most of this with a regular gym ball you just might struggle to move forward -it’s not impossible just tricky without the handles!

I’d love to know if you give this a try and see what you can discover about how your body can affect your horse.

 

I bet your horse eats better than you ……..

Most riders will give lots of thought into their horses diet, researching different products perhaps even seeking advice from a nutritionist. 

Yet when I speak to the riders about their own diet, they are usually running on caffeine and chocolate! 

This leaves them:

  • Lacking Energy 
  • Constantly tired
  • Feeling weak
  • Aching muscles 
  • Not getting enough nutrition to enable their bodies repair and recover
  • Struggling to focus

Riding and looking after horses is physical work.

if you have a desk job, one horse on full livery so it’s just the riding element you’re doing, that takes less fuel than someone who mucks out a couple of stables, carries buckets and feed etc. Then there’s the professional who possibly rides for several hours a day and still will do some yard work. 

Whichever situation is yours it’s still up to you to fuel yourself properly to keep up your end of the partnership with your horse. If you lack the energy to use your body effectively and to think clearly your horse isn’t going to be able to perform at his best.

I get that we can be super busy people and it’s just easy to grab bars of chocolate or packets of crisp, drink another coffee for some energy but it’s not helping your performance and it’s definitely not helping your health. 

So instead of viewing eating well as an all encompassing thing taking hours of your time preparing absolutely everything from scratch; make it easy for yourself. Do a little cheating and just aim to make better choices rather than perfect choices.

Think about including a protein source in every meal-lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, nuts, legumes or beans.

Then add either fruit (most commonly at breakfast) or vegetables at every meal and that’s a really solid foundation. 

Then you can add your starchy carbs -oats, rice, pasta, potatoes, bread as necessary. 

Yes you can still have a little treat just not at all meals all day. 

I promise you will feel and perform heaps better with proper fuel.

Here’s some of the stuff I do to make healthy eating a little easier.

 

  • I buy pre prepared soup for lunch so I just have to heat it up.
  • I have a fortnightly fruit box delivery on subscription so I always have healthy snacks. 
  • I pour oats and milk into a microwaveable tub and take breakfast with me to eat mid morning as I don’t tend to fancy it or have time first thing. You could do this with granola and yoghurt or make a smoothie or protein shake……..buy it pre made if you want to!
  • Pre prepare- make breakfast and lunch the night before. You could batch cook mid week meals and make all your lunches etc in one go. Tupperware is your friend! 
  • Scrambled eggs on toast is an excellent fast meal. Packet rice, cooked chicken, whatever it takes to save time and still eat healthy meals.
  • Drink more water.
  • Swap some of your caffeine for herbal tea. There are zillions of flavours so just experiment to find some you like.
  • Plan when you’re going to eat if you have packed days. I have to do this to fit it in around clients, making sure I know I may have to eat lunch earlier or later, or if I’m recording online workouts to do them earlier so I can eat breakfast afterwards otherwise I’d be too full! 

 

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.