Bemoaning my fatigue the other day (and blaming it, of course, on this blasted August heat), it occurred to me that the only exercise I was getting these days was a few very short (did I mention that it’s HOT?) rides a week on my horses. As I heard myself start to argue that riding and dealing with horses is a workout in and of itself, I remembered how I debunked this whiny myth (begun, I’m sure by a woman just like me and perpetuated by anyone lacking time or motivation to do anything else but ride) in Chapter Four, “Leg Up!” of The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses.
Obviously, I needed to go back and re-read my own book.
So here’s the crux of it, right in the middle of page 57: “If the only exercise you do is ride, you put yourself at risk for repetitive motion or referred strain injuries in your back, muscles, and joints caused by strength imbalances in your body.”
“So what’s the answer, Ms. Smarty Pants?” I mocked myself. Who has time for all this? Well, as it turns out, finding time for “baseline conditioning” is one of those things that’s very easy to recommend to others, and STILL hard to make your own silly self do. Sufficiently chastised, I continued reading.
Realizing that we all have natural strength imbalances in our bodies (Are you stronger on the left or the right? Do you tend to lean a little bit one way or the other in the saddle? If you’re not sure, watch your horse — he’ll likely reflect your imbalances with his own!), and how those imbalances can lead to injury, I started thinking (this time in highly personal terms) about how to improve my own conditioning without further taxing my already overstufffed daily schedule.
What can I do (and what will I do) to achieve and maintain that ideal baseline of fitness that will keep me strong, flexible and balanced — with enough stamina to ride well and often — and still have enough energy left over to power through the rest of my day without feeling like a dishrag by dinnertime?
And speaking of dinnertime, I also realized that this fatigue I was feeling was making me too tired and cranky by late afternoon to shop for, prepare and serve nutritious meals for myself and my family. Succumbing all too often to the lure of the drive-thru, take out, or pick-up of food that is, shall we say, less than ideal in terms of health, my trap was self-perpetuating.
Clearly, I needed the same kind of fitness and nutrition overhaul I so diligently gave my horse. (I’ve always said if someone would measure my food, add the supplements I need, and make sure I get enough turnout, rest and the right kind of exercise, I, too, would look and feel a lot better.)
So I issue this challenge to you, my Midlife Horse friends. Between now and the end of the year (to heck with New Year’s resolutions, let’s do it now!), let’s all agree to start taking care of ourselves like we were our own horses. Let’s head into Fall (will it bring it on faster if we start thinking about it more?) with the intent of getting fit to ride better and have “after five energy” left over for our families and friends by cleaning up our nutrition, shoring up our baseline conditioning, and correcting our strength imbalances.
Assuming you accept this challenge, as I have, what’s your program going to be? What are your midlife fitness goals? It’s funny to me that being a size 6 is no longer as enticing to me as being able to get on my horse from the ground quickly and without struggle, having enough core strength to stay balanced when my horse starts hopping around like a Texas jackalope, and enough muscle to apply an irresistible leg cue in these instances, even after riding for a few hours. See what I mean about how midlife shifts our priorities — along with our waistlines?
Let’s share our best ideas and explore in greater detail some of the resources I included in Chapter Four (and any others you may know about that I missed)! We’ll call it the Midlife Horses Fitness Challenge. If you’re in, post your top three fitness goals on our Facebook fan page and how you intend to “measure” your success. (Creativity welcome here —remember, midlife gives us the right to change the rules whenever we feel like it! As are “before” pictures and video demos . . .fitness challenges love company) And, if you’ll email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) your mailing address and t-shirt size, there’s a free Midlife Horses t-shirt in it for you, in addition to a new level of fitness that will free you once and for all from the self-perpetuating midlife fitness trap.