So let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that you are over that 20% rule of thumb (that actually has nothing to to with thumbs at all). You know the one. We’re not supposed to weigh (including tack, which for a Western rider can be upwards of 30 pounds) more than 20% of our horse’s body weight.
Now behold the larger riders winning world class events in reining, eventing, even polo. Not to mention the beefy cowboy bulldogers on 15.2-hand quarter horses. Or the ancient Greeks, arguably some of the greatest horsemen of all time, in full armor — or immense Vikings astride sturdy Icelandic ponies, charging into battle. Not one to argue with statistics — and being the very last one on earth to want any horse to be harmed — I still have to ask the obvious question:
What makes a horse able to carry a little more weight?
Polling several key experts, including Dr. Joyce Harman, DVM, who happens to be both saddle fitter and equine vet, the consensus seems to be that what riders need to know when they and their tack top the 20% mark is this: we must take into consideration the horse’s basic build (broad back, sturdy legs, and sound feet), his level of fitness for the job you’re asking him to do (treat him like the athlete he is with specific conditioning regimens, good nutrition and health care, body work including stretches, massage, and chiropractic as needed with careful attention to any soreness or injury), your own level of fitness (see above and do the same for yourself!), and how well you are able to use your own energy to lighten the load (become a student of body mechanics, balance and breathing). Studies using pressure sensitive electronic magic also show that a 250-pound rider with good rider biomechanics can actually feel lighter to a horse than a floppy 120-pounder!
Now if all this education and effort this sounds like a whole lot of trouble, it is. And there is nothing we can do as equestrians of any size that can make a bigger difference in how we ride. Once we begin to educate ourselves on these three important areas, we begin to see our partnership and connection with our horses in a whole new light. Give it some thought and let me hear from you if you’d like to have some good additional resources for this invaluable information (beyond Riding Through Thick and Thin, of course!) — not only are our horses worth this time and effort; so are we!
“This is a really good newsletter- right along the same lines as what we are doing/promoting. While it is probably focused toward riders who are already knee deep in a fitness and riding program, it is also good for the not-so-serious riders to hear (I can relay it as, “See? there ARE times when you can take a break from regular riding and planning and stretching! Just not 51 weeks out of the year 🙂
I also appreciate the emphasis here on maintaining hip mobility. This seems to be an issue many of us struggle with. It’s nice to see that so many others are on the same page as we are!”
The fabulous resource Denise connects us with here is equifitt.com. Go there and click on the blue box on the upper right portion of the home page (scroll down to the bottom for the free stuff, but there are some cool things to purchase on the way to the sign up box!) to sign up for their free monthly tips and articles — and then click around this great site to explore the many fitness ideas and opportunities there to fit a variety of needs and interests!
Meanwhile, Denise shares their November newsletter (couldn’t find the link for you, so here it is in all its glory!) that got our attention after our recent Pilates enlightenment. Enjoy!
EquiFiTTip November 2011: Make the Most of Your Time
Forward to a friend, subscription to monthly FiTTips is free.
It’s that busy festive time of year again when many riders find themselves torn: you really want to be at the barn, but there is that office party/social event/crammed holiday schedule and they just have not perfected cloning.
It can be a time of year when fitting in ‘extra’s like your own fitness plan really fall by the wayside.
Relax. The beauty of a yearly training plan is that it’s understood there are times of the year when optimal training cannot occur. In fact, there are times when it shouldn’t- your body needs to recover. I usually view the month of December as a maintenance only/alternative period of time. There is no point in fighting it- you need to have the balance of being able to connect with friends and family, and enjoy the general hum and extravagant well-wishing of the major holiday season.
Before you get ready to put on the fuzzy slippers and pour yourself something that warms you, you really do need to know that recovery period does not mean it’s time to slack off completely. The purpose of a recovery period in your usual training regimen is to help you loosen up a little; to let muscles recover from long periods of use in order to avoid strain, and to let your brain unwind so that you can bring creativity and freshness back to the ways you are thinking about your sport. Letting yourself sink into a comfortable chair for the season, or run around with elevated blood pressure from shopping and socializing with no time for yourself, do not count as legitimate recovery.
Keep the end goal in mind: going into the New Year, picking up where you left off, having thought about your goals for the new year and ready to give it your best shot.
Total slacking or stressing for a month will not set you up to walk into this picture.
Recovery periods in an athlete training schedule are often referred to as ‘active recovery’. When you think about the concept applied to your horse, it makes sense. For example, in the off season (if you compete) you may take him out hacking, or play with gymnastics (if you are a dressage rider) or work on your dressage (if you are a hunter/jumper). You will generally give your horse some work that is light to him, and a little different from his usual routine. You’ll bring the fun back in. If he is injured, you don’t leave him standing in a stall. You keep him moving. In some areas, riders just turn their horse out for the winter where he can stay exercised going through snow and up and down hills, but otherwise get a mental break and just be a horse to get re-energized.
You both need a period where your horse’s training is lighter. This is a good season to do it, and there is a hybrid solution that can help normally busy riders, go through the busy holiday season and still be physically and mentally recovered and ready to pick up where you left off when your normal training seasons begins again.
You do not need to feel torn about not maintaining your training schedule, if you have planned to ride less, or make your rides shorter. You do need to plan in short segments of activity for yourself to replace the lost riding time. Luckily, it does not take nearly as long to go for a 20-minute walk as it does to head to the barn and back in an evening: you can fit in the walk AND the holiday party in on the same day.
Short bursts of intentional and fun physical activity will help keep you riding fit when you can’t ride as much or as long. They will also help reduce stress, build proprioception and neuro-muscular vocabulary (increase your ability to move and follow your horse), and even help you avoid potential strain issues that could be caused by your riding and are typically prevalent in middle-aged and older riders.
It doesn’t really matter what activities you choose in your recovery period as a rider. However, they should be selected to meet specific goals that help your riding, such as:
Maintain bone density and improve ligament strength(impact activities).
Examples: walking, jogging, kickboxing, aerobics, skiing, snowshoeing, training with weights or bodyweight/resistance tubing
Maintain hip mobility (for following the horse’s motion).
Examples: walking (probably the best one), cross country skiing, snowshoeing, skating, yoga
Build core strength.
Examples: core exercises, martial arts, swimming, dance (jazz, hip hop etc..) pilates, integrated training with exercise tubing
Improve rhythm and connection.
Examples: dance- especially social dancing with a partner, aerobics or other music-driven group classes, ‘mirror’ motion games with a partner
Maintain or build cardio-vascular stamina.
Examples: many of the activities above, as long as your heart rate is elevated for 15-20 minutes. If you are an Eventer, your cardio training should be twice as long. Using intervals of more intense activity are the most efficient way to train. For example, walking on hills or walking the dog with intervals of faster or slower walking; or swimming lengths with fast/slow combinations that you can keep up.
To get the most out of your exercise time as a mental break and for proprioception, it is best NOT to multi-task. Proprioception, or the finetuned control you need as an athlete and a rider, needs to be constantly honed. Stay focused on what you are doing so that you can give it 100% even if it’s only for 5-10 minutes.
If you have a busy family holiday season in addition to your riding and other commitments, 5 minutes may be all you have at a time.
Equifitt training draws on multiple sport and fitness disciplines to help riders of all ages and types balance their bodies and reach their riding and fitness goals. Heather is a certified personal trainer and Level 1 Centered Riding® Instructor. Equifitt offers online eCoaching, clinics, personal rider programs, and Centered Riding® instruction.