Horse riding for beginners - six ways to get fit
As well as eating the right foods, there are certain exercises that will help you be a more effective rider. Horse-riding for beginners isn't too strenuous, so you don’t necessarily need to join a gym. Lots of these exercises can be done during the day when you get a spare 10 minutes. If you can do some of the stretching exercises just before you ride, they work even better. Any exercise that improves your balance, coordination and core strength will help you stay stable in the saddle.
- Step up your everyday. You’re not running a marathon when you ride a horse, but you do need a base level of fitness. Try simply moving more in your every day. Walk to a bus/tram stop further away. Take a walk during your lunch hour. Find an exercise class that you enjoy and that will help you stick to a fitness plan.
- Build in some cardio. Even when horse-riding for beginners, you may find you get out of breath when you ride more intensely, like posting to the trot for a long time or cantering. If this is happening, you may need to add some cardio exercise off the horse to improve your fitness. Cardiovascular exercise is something that gets your heart rate up to about 70% of its maximum. So that’s jogging, running, swimming, cycling, dancing and of course horse-riding itself. Light cardio is where you can still hold a conversation. Intense cardio is where you can say a few words, but you also need to catch your breath. Whichever cardio exercise you choose, the key is to build up gradually, so your ligaments and tendons have time to build strength. Invest in a FitBit to keep track of your steps and start with 10 to 20 minutes, 3 times a week and build up from there.
- Strengthen your core. Controlling the horse is easier if you have a strong core. When you sit on a horse, your pelvis helps you to follow the horse’s movement. And if you sit in an office for most of the day, chances are your pelvis will be a bit stuck and your hip flexors tight. Try to get up from your chair and stretch every half an hour and find tasks that you can do standing, such as making phone calls. This will help protect your core muscles and stop your hip flexors tightening up again. Yoga and Pilates are excellent ways to get your pelvis moving. Use the exercise Pelvic tilt. Sit-ups and abdominal crunches help to build lower back strength and make you more stable in the saddle. Most people know about the exercise Plank which is a good way to strengthen your core. Hold it for as long as you can.
- Improve your balance. You can tune up your balance by standing on one leg when you do something habitually every day, like brush your teeth. If you have an electric toothbrush you can even time yourself. Pilates, yoga and Tai-Chi are all very good ways to learn to improve your balance. Practice playing ball to sharpen up your reactions, which will be invaluable when your horse spooks.
- Check your posture. Think gold medal-winning Charlotte DuJardin when you ride. You should have a perpendicular line from your ear down to your shoulder, hip and heel when you sit in the saddle. Try to get someone to video you when you're riding, so that you can see what your posture is like and see for yourself what the instructor is telling you. Be mindful of your posture throughout your day off the horse and you will help to keep your core strong. That means walking tall, looking ahead, not down at your feet, trying not to hunch over the computer and sitting with your knees at least as high as your hips, if not higher.
- Remember to breathe. Some people get a little bit nervous when they ride, which is understandable. You’re riding a large, unpredictable animal after all. Do some deep breathing before you get on to settle your nerves. Make sure you breathe into your abdomen, rather than just shallow chest breathing. And when you’re concentrating on something your instructor is saying, or thinking about a jump, remember to breathe. Don’t hold your breath as your horse will notice and get tense too.
Follow these simple fitness tips and you’ll be in good shape to make the most of your riding time.