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Take your riding to the next level

Whether it’s a gentle hack once a week or speeding ‘round a cross-country course during eventing season, horse-riding is one of the most fulfilling sports that you can do. It’s also one that’s very demanding, requiring high levels of physical fitness, focus and concentration, especially when road riding or competing. If you’re looking to improve your riding this year, start by focusing on your health, fitness and overall wellbeing—both you and your horse will soon notice the positive difference.

Nutrition

Just like you want to feed your horse the best quality feed you can afford, you should do the same for your body. Ditch the junk, cut back on the sugar and make whole foods the foundation of your nutrition. Many people make the mistake of cutting out breakfast, but this is the most important meal of the day, so eat something substantial and tasty like poached eggs on rye bread, porridge oats and a teaspoon of honey, or a parfait of Greek yoghurt, whole nuts and seasonal berries.

Don’t forget to keep hydrated, especially in the warmer months. Dehydration can leave you feeling lethargic, flat or moody, so instead of reaching for a sugary snack, fill up with water first. 2 litres per day is the recommended minimum.

Rest and mental wellbeing

Photo by Wokandapix / Public Domain

A good night’s sleep is paramount

Lack of sleep can have a detrimental effect on all of your body’s functions, including mood, blood sugar levels, emotions and recovery. If you’re having difficulty sleeping it’s going to affect the way you ride, so make it a priority to get some good sleep every night. The average amount of sleep adults need has been calculated at between 7 and 9 hours per night, but we’re all different, so your body may need more or less. More important than the length is the quality of sleep that you’re getting; sleep in a darkened, cool room, and switch off any electronics (like your mobile and the TV).

Posture

A good riding posture is stable, strong and balanced, but many of the activities we do on a day-to-day basis can negatively impact posture. Posture is so important when riding, it’s not just for your own benefit, but also for the benefit of your horse. Slumping and slouching in the saddle turns your body into an unresponsive, dead weight and will cause your horse to fatigue quicker than if you were lifted up out of your seat.

The best way you can improve your posture in the saddle is to build in some key core and spine-focused exercise into your daily routine. Even if you have a busy schedule already, you can still gain plenty of benefits from a short, daily practice. A quick, five-minute yoga flow can have a noticeable effect on your overall core stability when practiced on a daily basis. The one that we’ve linked to above is especially good if you work at a desk, since you can do it exactly where you are without having to roll out a yoga mat.

Another method favoured by many equestrians to improve posture and proprioception is the Feldenkrais Method. This is a slower and less physically-demanding movement practice than yoga or Pilates, but it can really have some transformative effects on your riding posture because it develops your awareness of how you organise and move your body.

Fitness and flexibility

Although you typically engage your whole body when riding, it is one of those activities that places more demand on specific muscle groups than others. No matter how frequently you ride per week, your body is going to become unbalanced if you don’t add in some supplemental fitness and flexibility training.

At a minimum, casual adult riders should aim to take part in 30 to 60 minutes of daily physical activity out of the saddle. More competitive riders should look to add in three to four cross training sessions lasting a minimum of 60 minutes per week. Ideally, you should find a specialist who can build you a programme that takes your body’s specific needs and requirements into account, but if you’re training yourself, focus on muscular strength and endurance, symmetry, cardiovascular endurance and flexibility. During a cardio workout you should be at an exertion level where you are breathing out of your mouth. Also, strength training that focuses on high reps with lower weights will be more beneficial for riding, since you can work the muscles to exhaustion without causing too much strain.

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