All jokes aside, it really isn’t as much our size that matters most when we ride; it’s what we do with the body we have that makes all the difference. Once we really understand and accept this, the better we’ll ride, the easier we’ll be on our horses, and the more fun we’ll have on this glorious trail we all share, regardless of our weight or body type.
If you’ve ever fallen into the trap of thinking that you will only be able to ride well when you get into those size 6 breeches or Wranglers, I’m here to pull you out with the advice of one of my favorite experts, Coach Daniel Stewart, author of Ride Right, and Pressure Proof Your Riding. “Any body shape can ride to success,” concurs Coach Stewart. “You just have to find your own definition of what success is for you — within reason.”
Coach Stewart helps us move away from judgment and toward practical solutions that help us make the most of what we do have going for us and mitigate those things that are, well, less than ideal. He even makes a clever comparison between horse breeds and human body types to illustrate how in our horses we accept physical build and attributes of each breed without question (or any sort of bemoaning) — and then we match those attributes to what we ask that horse to do.
As one of our virtual panel of experts in Riding Through Thick and Thin, Coach Stewart tells us, that regardless of our riding goals, developing our own unique set of affirmations around what we do have going for us is what lays the thought groundwork for future success, however we may define it. “We have to train a rider to find whatever is in her that’s positive,” Coach Stewart says, “and then we can build from there.”
So now that you’ve taken that unflinching and self-compassionate look at your body with an honest assessment of what you have to work with, acknowledging any challenges without judgment, it’s time to make a plan to put yourself in a place where you can do the very best you can with all you have and all you are. With this as our new mindset and mantra, we may be both surprised and delighted at what we can achieve! In Riding Through Thick and Thin I offer readers a self-test to help determine exactly where they’ll be beginning this journey to a better body image; CLICK HERE to download this free self-evaluation form to find your own starting point!
I’d love to hear your success stories — and how making this shift in how you think about your body has made a difference in your riding, your outlook, and your overall sense of satisfaction with your body, in or out of the saddle! Reach out to me on Facebook, Twitter, my website or by email.
This post was originally published by Equisearch.com
“Spending some time learning to separate fact from fiction and truth from ‘mounted mythology’ can make all the difference in our ride.”— Riding Through Thick & Thin.
Do you have a “rider’s body?” You know the one. Long and lanky, legs that can wrap a horse, arms that reach without leaning, flat belly (and chest), strength without bulk, and most likely, a blonde pony tail.
The rest of us spend our riding lives trying to make what we have work, and most likely, bemoaning our short limbs, thick waist, big boobs, or whatever pains us most. To that my Riding Through Thick & Thin experts say, “Snap out of it!”
“You can’t change short legs, a big frame, a long torso, and so on — it’s the body God gave you,” says Susan Harris in Riding Through Thick and Thin, “And while you can’t change the fundamental shape and conformation of your body, you can learn how to work with your body’s characteristics to maximize your effectiveness in the saddle.”
So what does this mean? I think above all it means that any time spent bemoaning our shape and size is time wasted. Instead of descending down that proverbial rabbit hole, I offer up (with the help of some generous experts) another option. What if we look objectively at our own bodies and spend our energy figuring out how to make the most of what we have? And, if there are things we can do to maximize our capabilities, such as increasing our core strength, amping up our upper body, finding a more secure place of balance, or simply incorporating mindfulness habits to help us “ground, center and grow,” in the words of the late great Sally Swift, this is where we can re-engage our noggins in a more productive direction.
Namely, this is where we can set some specific, measurable goals, identify the active steps to achieving each one, and give ourselves a deadline for accomplishing each step. And remember, the smaller the steps you can identify, the more doable each endeavor will become.
Set yourself up for success with objective evaluation, deliberate thinking and baby steps that will add up to big results!
“Be open to change, to acceptance, to whatever it takes to learn what is real, authentic, true and right —and let go of all that’s not.” —Riding Through Thick and Thin
This is truly one of the big ideas behind Riding Through Thick and Thin. It’s just so easy to get caught up in what we think others think, what others actually say — and what society deems acceptable . . . and not-so-acceptable. To make peace with our body image and make changes (or not!) for our greatest good, it’s time to pull the plug on this endless loop once and for all.
Through countless interviews with experts, scholarly and not-so-scholarly articles, scientific journals, and casual conversations with real women facing real struggles over how they feel in the skin their in, here’s what I learned in the process of researching this book:
First, it doesn’t really seem to matter whether we’re talking about a few pounds or a few hundred; the mindset and words used to describe these feelings is shockingly similar — and more often than not, driven by the opinions of others.
Second, to open ourselves to real change in how we think, feel, and talk about our body means turning our focus inward instead of simply internalizing the input from the world around us. It’s time to get quiet and face our body issues squarely, and then do what we need to do to figure out our own best answers.
Finally, sometimes this may mean taking others’ observations to heart and making lifestyle changes that will lead to improved health and fitness. Or it may mean (lovingly) telling them to go jump in the nearest lake.
It’s only when we learn to reach for our own deep truths that we can begin to sift what’s real from what’s not. It’s in there, Dorothy — and it has been all along. Go inside and find it.
“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.
Did your ears perk up at the word “cocktail?” I know mine did. But alas, on the better nutrition front, those frozen margaritas are going to have to go the way of fried chicken if I’m going to get anywhere with this Midlife Horses Fitness Challenge. Probably just as well, but I’m hoping I can still get away with a small glass of wine at the end of the day. No sense getting too crazy here.
But I digress. What we’re talking about here is a daily fitness cocktail.
So how many times have you listened to or read a fitness program or regimen developed by someone who knows what they’re talking about, all right, but it just doesn’t seem like something you could or would want to do for the long haul?
I know. Me too.
I’ve been an athlete all my life and I have enthusiastically (some would say obsessively) participated in everything from tennis to taekwondo to cycling to downhill skiing — and now, of course, horseback riding. So I know all about running, I know about weightlifting, I know about circuit training. I’ve jumped, kicked, run, walked like a duck, hopped like an overgrown kangaroo and crawled like a crab, all in the name of conditioning for something. And, up until now, I’ve never been able to get excited about working out just for its own sake. For me, there has to be a bigger, more tangible purpose for it to stick.
And now I have one. My object now is not winning, getting better, achieving any particular level of accomplishment. My object is protecting my body from injury, getting stronger, staying flexible, and building endurance. Which means leapfrog, while effective, will probably not make the list. I want to be in good enough shape to ride my horse well and keep riding for as long as I possibly can. (In years, not hours, although sometimes that happens, too, like it did to me the day we got lost on a trail)
And, for those of us who have found our thrill with our midlife horses, the struggle here is not only which activities we should choose, but even more important, when and how we will weave this additional commitment into our lives when we’ve just converted all our free time to “horse time.” When we scarcely have time now to do all the things we’re “supposed” to be doing, how in the world can we work in a workout?
Just like elsewhere throughout the book, I remind you again here that the answers you seek are usually hanging out somewhere between your own ears. To coax them out of hiding, however, you have to ask yourself the right questions. Here’s help in the form of our first midlife fitness task. Continuing the recipe analogy, get out a piece of paper and identify your favorite and most readily available fitness cocktail “ingredients”.
Got a dog that likes to go for walks? Put him on the list. Enjoy the mental clarity you get from yoga, pilates, tai chi or some other “moving meditation?”(You are allowed to double dip!) What muscle groups are involved in your regular house, barn or horse chores? With a little focused attention and creative grouping of these activities, regular chores, slightly tweaked, can also become reps of this or sets of that.
When you string these normal daily and weekly “ingredients” together in a more deliberate way over a period of time, you can end up sneaking up on midlife fitness with a cleaner house, cleaner barn, a well-fed, watered, exercised and and shiny horse and rockstar conditioning. We’ve all heard “take the stairs instead of the elevators” (yawn), and “park farther away from the door of the store” (snore), but what about taking those stairs two at a time to simulate a step up into the stirrup from the ground? (Yes, people will stare, but another glorious thing about this time of life is it’s getting much easier not to care.)
The trick is if you can find some activity already in your life that can be amped up just enough to make it useful as a fitness component, you can sneak this new fitness “cocktail” into your life without a lot of drama. And another benefit is, if it’s something you already have to do anyway, you’re less likely to find excuses not to do it. Instead, you’ll start to get weird satisfaction from the routine things in your life that are suddenly doing double duty as fitness tools.
Here’s more big news. “They” (whoever the heck “they” are) use to say that we have to sustain our aerobic activity for 30, 45 or 60 minutes to do any good. NOW we know that five minutes here, three minutes there, ten minutes somewhere else, strung together over the course of a day, gets results just as effective and a whole lot less irritating and disruptive to our routine.
What’s already in your daily activities that could become fitness tools? Let’s help each other by pooling our ideas. Post your list of favorite fitness cocktail ingredients on our Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses Facebook page and get a free set of Midlife Horses fitness flashcards!