I often here from non-horse riders comments such as ‘you just sit there’, ‘the horse does all the work’ etc. We horse riders know a lot different.
Footballers train regularly with exercises that keep them quick on their feet and agile on a pitch, runners train for their fitness whether long distance or sprint, swimmers spend hours in the pool practicing their turns and their stroke. All these athletes likely have physios and trainers to help keep them in tip top health. And in their training sessions they include a warm up, a cool down and stretches. It is their body they use in their sport.
When your sport involves an animal the game changes a little. We work tirelessly year round caring for our horses, mucking out stables, sweeping yards, carrying water buckets, lifting heavy bales and so on. It doesn’t matter if we have a competition coming up or whether its show season, those horses need looking after, and it’s ALL heavy work. Not to mention the time we put in actually practicing riding just like the swimmers, footballers and runners. Hours in the school, hacking to keep the horses fit, ‘lessons’ with this trainer or that trainer to get our position right and the horses position right. The session includes a warm up and a cool down and perhaps some stretching (for the horse)…
Our horses have chiropractors and physios, we track their diet, have the dentist and the farrier, and we generally make sure the horse is in the best shape he can be. But how many horse riders see a chiropractor for themselves? How many of us track our own diet? See a physio? Get a pulled muscle seen to? Do you warm up before your ride? Do you cool down or stretch? In our sport our emphasis is on the horses as the athletes and we often neglect ourselves. Our focus is on the horses body doing something in the sport and forget that we both work together as a team.
But we mustn’t forget that just as our horses will develop a compensating mechanism for their pain, injury or discomfort, so do we! If your horse has had a lameness he will often come out of it a little crooked, maybe once he’s sound again you’ll get his back checked by a chiropractor or physio, and you will have to work on his stiffness in the school too, with stretching and exercises for suppleness. And us human do the same thing. If we’ve had a pulled shoulder we’ll be compensating by using the arm less, perhaps the shoulder hunches up a little and gets stiff, and the compensating patterns will be there long after the muscle has repaired or the bruising has gone away. But we don’t do anything about it. And we certainly don’t stretch or warm up before we do yard chores or ride.
Then consider that our position affects the horse when we ride. If we are sitting a little to one side our horse will often become one sided, they may get soreness under the saddle from our weight being uneven too, they won’t work so well for us, perhaps they get strong, perhaps they get lazy, or perhaps they fall through a shoulder on a turn and go stiff like a board the other way. As riders we should be taking more care of ourselves. We are athletes. We need our bodies to be on top form, to be able to put in to practice the skills we need to handle our athlete horses. If we can’t apply the aids properly or clearly, if we can’t sit straight, if we are not at our best, then how can we expect our horses to be at their best?
We are athletes. And we should treat ourselves as such.