With winter now firmly settling in (I am not a fan of these dark evenings!) it is suddenly flooding back to me how challenging it is to keep our horses fit during the winter months. However it has got me thinking about the importance of rider fitness and how we need to put just as much effort into our own fitness as well as our equine partners. During Winter, I find myself doing more lunge work with Skip, especially if I am fighting the daylight, but obviously the reduction in riding means I am losing my fitness. Granted there does seem to be more chores to complete during the winter, such as the endless mucking out etc, but perhaps we should focus on other ways to keep in tip top condition for our horses. We don't want to feel out of breath at the end of a strenuous lesson once a week or struggling to get round the cross country training at the weekend!
Of course eating well and staying active is key to a healthy lifestyle but we all have those days (especially during the winter!) when you don't want to move far from the sofa or the chocolate. I am not a fair weather rider but if it's too miserable to face riding outside, or the snow and ice means it's not safe to do so, here are a few suggestions that might help with your rider fitness.
· Pilates for horse riders - There has been an increased emphasis on the benefits of pilates for horse riders and recently I have heard of classes designed specifically for horse riders in my local area (East Anglia). I am actually hoping to do one of these courses soon but there is currently a waiting list so others obviously have the same idea. One of the great benefits of pilates is its ability to help strengthen your core which is crucial for horse riding. If you can't find a class near you or don't have the spare pennies at the moment there are a variety of books and dvds on the market and I am sure you can pick some up on ebay, Amazon or perhaps post a wanted advert on your local horsey Facebook group to see if anyone has one for sale.
· Personal Trainer - If you are finding you are not spending money on competing or lessons as much during the winter you could put your pennies into keeping fit with a personal trainer. You can exercise in the luxury and comfort of your own home and you can have a tailor made plan put in place to develop the muscles and strength needed for horse riding. Again I have seen personal trainers offering packages for horse riders so it's worth looking around in your local area to find the right person for you.
· Horse riding machines - You might think I have gone mad here (and I will assure you that happened a long time ago!) but I am also quite a fan of my horse riding machine - see photo below. With various settings you can sit and watch telly in the warm and build up your core muscles in the comfort of your home. Now I won't promise its exactly like riding a horse or as effective but it is a step in the right direction and can help if you can't get out to ride or your horse becomes injured etc. My other half bought me mine when Skip was injured and off work for months. You can pick them up second hand like mine so keep an eye out on ebay and preloved etc.
· Join a gym with a friend - if you struggle to exercise alone then joining a gym can be a good solution for many people. If you can find a gym buddy then even better as I find I am much more likely to stick to my plan and go! However it is really important to consult a professional trainer at the gym to make sure you are developing the right type of muscle, to ensure flexibility and suppleness when you increase your time spent in the saddle.Now I am not expecting anyone to read this and instantly rush out and spend a fortune on gyms, personal trainers and classes, but hopefully this blog has helped give greater consideration to your fitness as a rider throughout the year. Fingers crossed we can keep on track during the upcoming cold months which will benefit us and our horses now and when summer returns. Plus if nothing else it means we can have a few extra mince pies at Christmas!