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Rider fitness- how much does it take to notice a difference?

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  • Rider fitness- how much does it take to notice a difference?

    I've been wondering about this for awhile. There have been many threads on rider fitness, and what we should be responsible for doing off the horse in order to be responsible and fit on the horse. It seems as though there was still much discussion about this after WEG too.
    Now I'm sure it's different for every person, depending on your genetics, and natural fitness base, but what do you find that YOU have to do in order to actually notice a difference when riding.
    Personally, especially now that it's winter and board is expensive, I'm a one horse person now. I could only really get to three a day maybe in the summer but usually there's not enough time for that with a full time job. So obviously I can not stay fit enough to ride by just riding. Most of the time I admit I just skate by on my natural fitness. We are going prelim, but my horse is strong and I am exhausted after a 5 min xc round. Sad. So the winter I decided to set a goal of trying to train for and run a marathon in the spring. This gives me a set schedule of what to run and how far on what days. That helps me stay motivated. I am about a third of the way into an 18 week schedule- and this week I ran 25 miles, with a long run of 13 on the weekend. I was always someone who could go out and run a few miles no matter when the last time I ran was. So it's taken this long to feel a difference to me in my fitness. And yesterday was the first time I noticed it riding. It was easier to stay in two point, it was easier to wrap my legs around my horse etc. Now I won't know for sure until we get to go xc again, but what have your experiences been? How fit do we need to be?
    5, 4, 3, 2, 1, GO - you're on course!

  • #2
    I take a (remedial ) yoga class twice a week and run 4 miles once or twice per week (weather permitting, I hate running on a treadmill in the gym ). I'm also lucky to be able to walk to and from work 30 min each way. But that's more of a treat than real exercise to me. I now ride one (young and very energetic) horse 4 days/week. I feel that the yoga makes the biggest difference.
    "Reite dein Pferd vorwärts und richte es gerade.” Gustav Steinbrecht


    • #3
      I've been wondering about this too. We renewed our membership at the gym so I'm planning on finally starting a yoga or pilates class. I'm thin and in fairly good shape, but I probably need to be fitter and have a stronger core.
      T3DE Pact


      • #4
        For me, riding multiple horses daily makes the biggest difference, but I think that's more confidence than fitness. I run between 25 and 45 miles a week, and have for the last couple of years. I do feel a difference, but it's not super dramatic except on days when it's in the 90s-- in the past I would come off xc and feel sick, and now it doesn't really bother me. But I just have one horse, going Training, and while he's quirky I wouldn't really say he's difficult to ride. Maybe if he pulled like a train, I would really *need* the fitness.


        • #5
          If you feel like your horse is getting strong with you, especially at the end of the course, the two things you should work on are (1) anaerobic fitness and (2) strength.

          Anearobic fitness means High Intensity Interval Training. The good news: you'll be doing 20 seconds of intense activity followed by 10 seconds of rest for a total of 4 minutes. The bad news: see above. It's intense.

          This article gives the basics: Can You Get Fit in Six Minutes a Week?

          Endless cardio doesn't necessarily improve fitness, especially when done at low-mid grade. To improve fitness, you have to get up in the higher ranges.

          If it's strength and power you're looking for, this article has a good summary of how to get strong quickly: A New Way to Work Out. The workout plan doesn't take much time, you just need to be consistent and willing to put the effort in.

          Good luck and have fun. This stuff isn't easy but it's rewarding.


          • #6
            I really like weight training. I think it really makes a difference. I used to do Tae Kwon Do for general fitness. Talk about speeding up my reaction time! That is important when you are jumping so you can react quickly.

            I would think you have the cardio part covered. You might think about the weight training. TKD took a lot of time and dedication on my part. Don't have the time anymore.


            • Original Poster

              Yea- I have been doing some weights 2x a week but I would like to ramp it up and also do more core exercise. I think I will do some more interval training during some of my runs- keep it interesting and work on anaerobic.
              5, 4, 3, 2, 1, GO - you're on course!


              • #8
                Since I sold my horse in Nov 09, my fitness level has gone downhill. But when I was riding regularly, I found (the hard way) that I needed weight training to counter the muscles horseback riding was giving me - my inner thighs were way stronger than the average person, and that muscle across the top of my shin was way too used to contracting as a result of heels-down.

                Even after not riding seriously for a year, I have these imbalances, and they have caused some problems in my ability to get/stay fit now that I'm not riding - my knees and hips pop almost every time they bend, and the physical therapist says it comes from lack of balance in the muscle groups. I'm still trying to find comfortable ways to exercise, and riding seems to be the best one, probably because my muscle groups are still a bit out of whack.

                The best things I've found are isometrics, since it cuts down on joint movement for me. I also did notice a big difference when I was doing pilates regularly.


                • #9
                  I tend to have a little higher "base" fitness than most, but I also ride for a living, so I'm not trapped behind a desk all day. Just my general day to day life gives me a little more fitness than most. However, I do truly try to add more as I don't think my day to day fitness is enough. I felt a huge difference in my seat and posture and core strength when I was regularly attending yoga (shame on me for not keeping up with it). And I know I am much stronger and can ride harder when I am on my bikes plenty.

                  That being said, I did not do well on my fitness going into the three day this fall. With moving the horses, myself, and a good friend all in very short order (well, the horses is never an easy move and took a better part of two months), then settling in at the new farm, dealing with construction projects and remodeling, etc, I struggled to find enough time to do anything meaningful. While I was hardly unfit and a different level of fitness would not have saved me from biffing it (only thing that may have saved it was if my legs were longer), I do think I would have felt better had I done what I wanted and been on my bike more.


                  • #10
                    Agree with JER.
                    If you are able to run 13 miles and are still out of breath while going crosscountry, you probably aren't stressing (and therefore building) the correct systems.

                    Read Hilary Clayton's "Conditioning the Sport Horse" - yes it is for horses but it does a fabulous job explaining the aerobic and anaerobic systems and why/how each should be addressed.

                    For myself, I also have to look at my breathing. I can feel winded not only because of a current lack of fitness but also because I tend to hold my breath when I'm on course - and tend to take shallow breaths when I'm nervous.

                    I feel a difference when I can comfortably run about 5K.


                    • #11
                      The times when i notice that i'm fit, or somewhat... is when my horse takes a big buck and my legs dont even flinch. Or when i'm jumping and coming up to the jump i can feel the strength in my legs and body to help control(lol)/"tunnel" my horse to the jump. I love the feeling!!
                      Why walk when you can ride?


                      • #12
                        Although I am only doing 'rehab my horse' riding right now, I feel a difference in my sense of stability on my horse in a very short time after having started regular weight lifting. Color me sold on weights, after just a couple weeks.

                        I can't explain it, I just feel more solidly balanced on my horse. My mare has had some quite silly moments in the last month, and although I haven't done much riding in the last 5 months or so, I felt rock steady and nowhere close to coming off.

                        This could of course simply be a consequence of being pathetically unfit before I started my workout routine. But I think weights (for me, Cybex machines) are supposed to improve balance as well as strength.
                        I tolerate all kinds of animal idiosyncrasies.
                        I've found that I don't tolerate people idiosyncrasies as well. - Casey09


                        • #13
                          It is completely based on your body and natural fitness base. I am freakishly strong, and keep a high base fitness without much work. I am a desk jockey so sitting at a desk from 6am-3pm, I currently only have 1 horse (although I do admit he is on the exhuberant side right now, so quite a workout), also a small daughter, so no gym (actually never been to one). I have a ton of endurance, and even if I get tired it isn't until much later that night, but I am prone to muscle soreness because my body doesn't typically tell me to quit. When I used to run I was one that could not run for weeks, then go run several miles on hills and be barely winded. I have no idea where I got it from, trust me my family genetics wouldn't point that I would be this way. If I am trying to get fit for an occassion I also see results quickly, as in a week or two, but I think that ties into the above in some way.

                          My friend however rides 6-8 a day, and constantly has to work on fitness because she tends to be more wet noodle and has to try harder. I think some days it is quite possible she wants to kill me for it!


                          • #14
                            For me jogging two days in a row I notice a difference. On the other hand I jog 50 feet and I'm popped. I spend a day at the gym and I notice a difference the next day even if I am not sore. Although my cardio is something of a disaster I am pretty fit orherwise. It is very easy for me to change my body, so working out a few days in a row make a huge difference. But since there are not 30 hours in a day, college, work, and riding my 2 horses have put the gym on the back burner for now.


                            • #15
                              My trainer has said that running a lot is bad for riding as it makes your hips tighter. Have the runners out there noticed this?

                              I, too, am looking for a better base of fitness. Is combining cardio and strengthening exercises the best routine? Currently I'm running 3X or more per week, 5 miles per day. About a 9 minute mile. I do crunches and other strengthening exercises every weeknight. Hopefully that will be sufficient!
                              Last edited by halfhalt896; Feb. 16, 2011, 05:07 PM. Reason: punctuation problems!


                              • #16
                                I run a lot and it is an issue with tight hips, especially for dressage. I combine the running with quite a lot of yoga and pilates which offsets it somewhat. Bicycling or swimming would provide good cardio with less of an issue, but I love my running so I just do the other work so I can get my leg where it is supposed to go, but I am definitely still on the tight side.
                                OTTBs rule, but spots are good too!


                                • #17
                                  Originally posted by HER View Post
                                  Now I'm sure it's different for every person, depending on your genetics, and natural fitness base, but what do you find that YOU have to do in order to actually notice a difference when riding.
                                  An hour a week on strength/balance/agility with a personal trainer and 1-3 hours a week of cardio. (I prefer to do an hour a couple of times a week rather than the "30 minutes a day" some people suggest.)

                                  With only one older horse that I only ride occasionally, I'm not getting any kind of workout from the riding itself.
                                  ... and Patrick


                                  • #18
                                    Hmm.... very interesting

                                    I wonder what would work best for me then? I'm thin (though starting to get thicker in the middle! Egads!) and what I would consider fairly fit. But I have no "wind". As in, I can barely run for 5 minutes without feeling like I'm suffocating.

                                    I've started running and now that the weather is cooperating, I'm getting more consistent, but still can only jog for about 6 minutes, walk for 4, then jog for 5. I do squats and lunges twice a day while I brush my teeth. But that's about it. However... I'm getting back into it!

                                    What do you guys recommend? I've only got one horse and plan to move up to prelim sometime this year.

                                    Running? Not so much? Biking? Weights? Everything? I can see about finding a pilates or yoga class. What do you guys think about doing it on the Wii?



                                    • #19
                                      pilates changed my life

                                      Seriously - in December 2009 I started doing Power Pilates on a reformer twice a week and by the following April had lost over 18 inches and 40 pounds - and I did not change my diet. I just recently started lifting weights again twice per week and that makes a huge difference as well (I don't have great upper body strength and I'm focusing on that since Pilates and riding takes care of my legs). I also am upping my cardio (which I do before Pilates and lifting) so I can get my endurance/wind up and my weight down.

                                      I also recommend Oxygen Magazine if you're serious about working out. One of their regular cover models, Monica Brant, is a rider.
                                      Most people don't need a $35,000 horse. They need a $1,000 horse and $34,000 in lessons.

                                      "I don't have to be fair… . I'm an American With a Strong, Fact-Free Opinion." (stolen off Facebook)


                                      • #20
                                        Originally posted by mjrtango93 View Post
                                        If I am trying to get fit for an occassion I also see results quickly, as in a week or two, but I think that ties into the above in some way.
                                        Are you somehow related to me? (I should add that in no way do I claim to be at all fit right now - my arthritis has my general activity level horribly low, and it shows.) My dad and I both do the same thing - we do an activity 2-3 times, and poof, distinct change in muscle development in response. It's like the muscles go 'oh, we're going to be doing more of X now' and then carry on developing themselves in that direction regardless of what specific activities I may actually be doing.

                                        (That said, I have also noticed that this seems to make it CRITICAL that I get enough protein when I'm actually putting an effort into getting fitter and eating more reasonably. I'm not talking about Atkins all-fat and protein, but if I use the standard guidelines for a woman my size to determine calorie intake breakdown - how much protein v. carbohydrates v. fat - I get nowhere fast past the initial change. I HAVE to make sure I'm getting protein more in line with the recommended diet for body builders - ~1g per lb of body weight - or it's like my entire body throws a hissy fit and refuses to cooperate. I have no explanation for why this should be - my mom isn't like that at all - she struggles to put muscle mass on.)