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Rider fitness (the time i got chubby)

This is something that we often don’t like to address. Being too tubby! It’s a big problem in the horse world and we need to address it! A few years ago, i was dealing with a lot of stuff away from horses. My coping mechanism was food, and I put on nearly two stone. It happened quite quickly and it didn’t take long to see how it was affecting my riding. As well as anything else, you can’t use your body effectively. Your flexibility goes way down and your cardio is shot. Let’s look at the things that we need when we ride.

Muscular endurance - if you’re good with your horsemanship then it isn’t about strength, but you do need endurance. That’s how long your muscles can work without fatigue. Even just sitting to a canter requires muscular endurance in your core muscles. You’ll find a number of muscle groups are used with riding, your core and legs are obvious but people forget about their shoulders, back and arms. The problem here is simple... if you’re working on something and your horse needs help, you don’t have the stamina to keep up with the horse long enough to get them where they need to be. Being fit here is one thing if you ride a lot, but a common problem is that people develop muscles in one area, but not the opposing muscles. For instance, people that ride all the time may develop good strong abdominal muscles, but suffer with lower back pain.

Cardiovascular fitness - this is your ability to keep going and not be out of breath, to put it plainly. I can’t tell you how many lessons I’ve taught when the rider has given up half way through an exercise because ‘I’m tired’. The problem with that is that if you’re working on something that the horses struggles with anyway and you give up before it’s right then you’re telling the horse that what they did wrong was right! Plus, if you can only go for so long, then your horse is never going to get too fit either, as they will never trot more than whatever you can manage.

You also have your actual weight. It’s a pretty universal figure agreed on by most professionals to be the best limit to your weight as well as all your tack and whatever else the horse wears. That’s 20%, give or take a little, of your horses weight. It varies a little on breed and type but that’s the general rule to keep your horses muscles, joints and back out of too much stress.

For me, it was about compromise. As well as feeling disgusted every time I looked in the mirror, I felt bad for my wife and my wardrobe. Half my clothes didn’t fit, and I felt embarrassed for Hayleigh having to be seen with me.

As a kid, I was always sport and fitness mad, but when I found horses it all dropped off a little. Getting chubby felt like an insult to all the fitness instructors, coaches and trainers I’d worked with over the years. So it was time to change something. There’s two things to think about here. Diet and exercise. I started doing some for of activity at least twice a week, the gym mostly, but sometimes running or climbing. There’s a saying in the fitness industry, you can’t out train a bad diet. To lose weight you need to be in a caloric deficit so your food has to match your lifestyle. For the first couple of months I counted calories, whilst also working out and I lost that two stone and toned up a lot. I alternated what area of my body I would put through it’s paces and I feel a lot better in myself as a result. Now that I’m at the weight I wanted I had myself scanned at 9% body fat, I didn’t measure myself at the beginning but I estimated it at around 18-20%. I no longer count my calories but still get in the gym when I can. Moderation is key, and I’m getting better but if I eat healthy all week I will gorge out on a Domino’s or whatever. Treat yourself, just not every day!

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