#ForTheRider - We definitely do not just ‘sit there’!

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Why should you be fit to ride? And how can you do this?

There is always a lot of emphasis on getting your horses fit for the relevant disciplines you are competing in, however, only recently, has the importance of the rider being ‘fit to ride’ started to come into the spotlight. Those of you who do ride, will know that we definitely do not just ‘sit there’ whilst riding, but how important is it that you are actually fit to do the discipline you are asking your horse to do?

I’ll start with some potentially surprising information on horse rider heart rate, oxygen consumption and lactate levels. Most people could probably guess that whilst you are riding, all three of these are likely to increase, in fact, a study done by Devienne & Guezennec (2000) showed that oxygen consumption and heart rate increased during dressage and jumping, and whilst show jumping, heart rate increased to around 176 beats per minute. Given that maximal heart rate is around 220 – age beats per minute, for a 20-year-old, such as myself, this is then around 88% of my maximum heart rate.

Another study done in 1990, by Art et al., found that heart rate could increase to almost as much as 191 ± 3.8 beats per minute – around 95% of my heart rate max! And that’s just for jumping Surprised yet? A much more recently study in one start event riders, by Robert et al., (2009) showed that the mean dressage heart rate was around 151 ± 15 bpm, for show jumping this rose to 180 ± 11bpm and during the cross-country phase 184 ± 11 bpm. So whilst there are slightly different figures from each study, all show that riding, specifically dressage, show jumping and eventing can cause your heart rate to increase to 79% + of your maximal heart rate, and that’s not even having looked at potentially higher intensity sports such as polo or racing. After all, given that our resting heart rate is around 60-100 beats per minute (lower in fitter people), this is a pretty dramatic increase for people who just ‘sit there and do nothing’.

Obviously, it won’t just be the riding that increases your heart rate, nerves and stress will also have a role to play, but I think it’s definitely safe to say that it’s pretty important to be fit to ride. So now we’ve established that horse riding is a physically demanding sport, or at least form of exercise if you don’t compete, here’s a few reasons why it’s important to be fit to ride:

·       Your level of fatigue will decrease – i.e. you will be less tired at the end of a competition and whilst competing you won’t be so tired that you make a mistake, not only potentially costing you the place in the competition but also the risk of injury is greater the more tired you are.

·       You will almost certainly ride better – not just because your level of fatigue will decrease but also you will be able to ride your horse more effectively and, therefore, exercise them much more efficiently and for longer (helping to get them fit too).

·       You are likely feel much better within yourself – from personal experience, as I got fitter, I was generally more motivated to do things that needed to be done and on a daily basis, I felt much more energised and actually felt ill much less than I used too! Obviously, everyone’s bodies will react differently so don’t assume that just because this happened to me, it’ll happen to you too but I am almost certain you’ll feel a few benefits from it!


Lastly, here are a few tips that I’ve learnt over my year and a half studying at Harpury University Centre, that’ll help you to get riding fit, quicker:

·       Drink plenty of water – keeping hydrated aids the reduction of fatigue and keeps you able to concentrate on the job at hand.

·       Eat as healthily as possible – ensuring that aspects such as protein are a big part as this will help your muscles recover.

·       Exercise off the horse – whilst riding will work the muscles that it uses (if you ride correctly which I’m sure you do), muscles often come in antagonistic pairs, resulting in some muscles being tight and weak if you don’t exercise those as well. I could write a whole other article on the muscles that are often weak and tight in riders, but that wouldn’t be as interesting, so instead, there are many off horse, rider challenges, such as the 30 Day Event Fit challenge, that are off horse exercises, designed to get you fit to ride. And if you can afford it, I’d very much recommend hiring a personal trainer who specialises in rider fitness, the advice they can give you is invaluable!

·       Look after your health! And this includes reducing smoking. I’m sure you’ve heard all the health warning, but, it does reduce lung function, as well as potential issues with your heart and circulatory system, which, given that we’ve established that the heart rate increases quite dramatically from riding, this wouldn’t be ideal would it?

·       Exercise by taking part in other sports as well. One of my lecturers recently mentioned that she’s a firm believer that horses should do cross-discipline exercise, for example a dressage horse jumping occasionally or a race horse doing flat work training, as it really does help strengthen them, keep them balanced and keep them interested too. And this got me thinking, why shouldn’t this apply to riders too? So take part in other sport/exercise activities that you think you’ll enjoy, not only will it help you get fitter in general, it can also be a great way to socialise with new people!

·       Lastly, look after yourself. By this I mean, if your broken, fix it. How many of you will immediately call the vet, physio, massage therapist, farrier etc. if there is something wrong with your horse but won’t do the same for yourself? How can you expect to ride to the best of your ability if you don’t look after yourself? I’d recommend seeing a physio or sports massage therapist etc. if you have regular muscle pain or joint pain as they can do wonders to helping get back to where you once were!

 I hope this has all been useful in some way shape or form and that you enjoyed reading!



A bit about me:

I’m a second year University student at Hartpury University Centre, studying a BSc (Hons) Equestrian Sports Science degree. From my time at Hartpury, I have already found that I am particularly interested in horse and rider fitness and performance as well as therapy for the horse and rider. I’m also the photographer behind Beth Hicks Photography (although that isn’t so relevant here) but I took all the images within this article and if you would like to find more of my work, feel free to visit www.facebook.com/BethHicksPhotography!






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