Sidelined? Don’t Let Your Riding Suffer!

We all get sidelined from riding, from time to time.

Handwalking HorseWhether it’s because our horse is on the DL, or life happenings coming to bear, we all have those times when we are unable to ride due to circumstances beyond our control. During one such layup, I remember thinking that if I just had 2 horses, then I could ride one when the other one got sick or lame… until I had 2 horses, and they were both out of commission at the same time. It can be so frustrating and discouraging to be sidelined from riding, especially if you have made great progress and you are facing a sudden step backwards due to unforeseen challenges.

Whatever your reason for not being able to ride right now, you do NOT have to lose your forward momentum. By incorporating the right exercises into your daily non-riding routine, you can ensure that your body will be balanced, coordinated, stable and appropriately relaxed and mobile when you get back in the saddle.

How is this possible?

There are exercises that move your body in similar ways to how it Side crunch on ballmoves on the horse, creating and maintaining muscle memory and neuro-muscular pathways that your body uses for riding. By doing these exercises, you can keep your body primed for riding activities, even though you aren’t currently riding. Balance training will maintain or even improve your inherent sense of balance when you’re back on the horse. Coordination training will improve your ability to multitask when you are finally able to mount up again. Stability training will keep your core muscles toned and ready to go when you get back in the saddle, and Mobility training will prevent your joints from tightening up so that when you are back in the stirrups, you can feel relaxed, confident, and move easily with the horse.

Not only can you maintain your riding ability off the horse, you can also improve on it! Everybody can improve their riding, and these same exercises that maintain balance, coordination, stability and mobility, challenge your body to become even more proficient at these things… likely resulting in you coming back to riding after your time off an even better rider than you were before! What could be better than that??

Tell me more…

It doesn’t take hours, and it doesn’t even have to be every day. Using the unique, sport-specific exercises created just for equestrians, in the Ridefit program, you can maintain and improve your riding no matter how long you or your horse are sidelined. Don’t waste that time, get started with one of our completely FREE exercise guides, which you can learn more about here. Or, we can create a personalized program just for you, with 90 days of exercises and accountability, if you seriously want to keep yourself riding fit! Choose from a self-directed program or a Ridefit Instructor-led program, and not only maintain your riding fitness, but take advantage of your time off to make a big change in your riding.

So, sidelined or not, don’t worry, we’ve got what you need to ride fit!

~Tammy

Break Through Your Limitations!

What’s stopping you from reaching your riding goals? Tammy Prevo, creator of the Ridefit fitness program for riders, talks about how you can improve your riding despite some common limitations faced by many riders. You don’t have to stay stuck, even if you can’t ride regularly!

Barn Chores and Rider Fitness

Does working hard at barn chores make you fit enough for riding? Find out why you may not be doing yourself or your horse a service by limiting yourself to just barn chores for exercise!

Healthy Rider, Healthy Horse

Rider with VeggiesAfter being heavily involved with horses for nearly 30 years, I have long noticed a disturbing trend: when it comes to the horse’s health, we horse people will do just about anything – suffer any inconvenience, pay any price, use any equine specialist, buy any hay/grain/supplement, special saddle pad, saddle, boots, bit, bridle, training, lessons, boarding, etc… to maintain and/or improve our horses’ health. Yet, when we are asked about our own health, we “don’t have time”, “can’t afford to”, or “don’t have the energy” to take care of ourselves. Say what?!

How can we, as the caretakers of these magnificent athletes, justify not taking care of ourselves? Who’s going to take care of the horses when we get sick? How long do we really think we can keep up with the horses if we aren’t physically fit? Entropy is a law of nature: “Use it or Lose it” is just as much reality for we horse riders as for every other human being on the planet. And, injuries? They are part of the territory, AND they have significant consequences for the long-term sustainability of our equestrian activities. Even the fittest individuals can be taken down by injuries.

Top riders nearly always have a health and fitness program beyond simply riding – even though they  may ride 8 to 10 horses (or more) a day! They understand that in order to stay at the top, their body must perform at its absolute best. Improper nutritional (fast, cheap food) and lack of cross training just won’t cut it. They recognize that their own physical conditioning is just as important as that of their equine partner’s.

What about when our health impacts the horse more directly? Every weak, unstable, crooked, out of balance step we take on our horses directly impacts their physical health just as surely as if they aren’t eating the right food, getting proper shoeing, or wearing a properly fitted saddle. If we ride with pain, our bodies automatically “guard”, creating imbalances we may not even be aware of. Over time these imbalances create compensations in the horse’s body as they try to adapt to our weakness, injuries, lack of mobility, or guarding behaviors. Ultimately, we may end up treating them for lameness that started with our own lack of physical fitness. How insane is that?

The reality is that we all have the same amount of time. It’s up to us to prioritize our own physical health right along with our horses’. It is in the best interest of ourselves as well as or horses to maintain physical fitness and health/well-being, so that we are the best riders and caretakers for our equine companions. After all, if we aren’t healthy riders, our horses will never be truly healthy horses!

Start taking your own health and physical fitness seriously today! Ridefit can help. Contact us to find out how!

“Word” to Your Back!

Rider Spine ImageAccording to the US Department of Health, 75-80% of all adults will experience back pain. Indeed, low back pain is the leading cause of disability in adults under age 45.(1) Due to the concussive forces inherent to riding and the potential for falls from height, equestrians are particularly susceptible to back pain and injuries. Incorrect riding posture and postural weaknesses most certainly are contributing factors to riders developing chronic back pain. To complicate matters, saddle type and stirrup length can play a role in increasing the potential for back pain.(2)

The body’s natural response to pain is to protect the area that hurts and compensate by relying on some other muscle or joint to take up the slack. This not only upsets our ability to ride freely and without holding in our bodies, but also sets us up for secondary pain in the compensatory muscle or joint. It can be assumed that if the rider’s body is compensating and not evenly seated on the horse, the horse’s back is also going to experience negative effects.

So, how do we riders prevent back problems before they begin? And what do we do if we already have back injuries or pain? Here are some strategies to prevent back injuries and strain, improve or alleviate already painful backs for riders:

Strengthen, Strengthen, Strengthen
Every rider needs a stable core to ride correctly. Even more importantly, a strong core protects the back. Many fitness programs do a lot of work on abdominal muscles, but only some directly strengthen the back. For greatest core stability, choose a workout program that has the following elements:

  • Addresses the low deep abdominal, psoas and hip flexor muscles, as well as the muscles of the lower and mid-back.

  • Incorporates balance exercises where core stability is challenged – on a balance ball, for example.

  • Includes whole-body core exercises such as planks rather than targeting individual muscles for high burst-strength training.

If you have a current injury, work with your doctor or chiropractor to develop an appropriate physical therapy plan that will bring you back to full function before starting a workout program.

Mind your Ps and… Rs
Posture and Relaxation are critical elements in not only protecting your back, but also in riding well. In some Western riding disciplines you might see professionals slouching in presumed total relaxation, but if you ask them, they are often riding with back pain. It has become quite popular in the Hunt Seat as well as the Saddle Seat rings for the rider to be “posed” with a hollow back, a recipe for future back pain. Event riders often show a rounded (often called “roached”) back during the cross country round. This is a symptom of fatigue, which will ultimately result in back strain without greater strengthening.  For all disciplines, good posture with relaxation is critical to protecting your back from strain. A strong core allows for both good posture and proper relaxation.

According to Dr. Jason Ablett, Doctor of Chiropractic in Kirkland, Washington, yoga is the most effective spine health habit one can practice. As it turns out, yoga is also extremely beneficial for riders in many ways, and will help protect the rider’s back from strain while riding. It has the added benefit of developing great riding posture. We have incorporated some of the most powerful yoga poses for spine health into the Ridefit program, making it a fantastic whole-body workout that is perfect for helping riders protect and improve their back health!

None of us should have to suffer pain while riding, especially pain that can be as debilitating as back pain. Fortunately, it is possible to improve your spine health and reduce, eliminate, or prevent back pain while riding. Here’s to your back!

1 Source: Bigos S, et al. Acute Low Back Problems in Adults, Clinical Practice Guideline No. 14. Rockville, MD: U.S. Public Health Service, U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, AHCPR Pub. No. 95-0642, Dec. 1994.

2 Quinn, S., & Bird, S. (1996). Influence of saddle type upon the incidence of lower back pain in equestrian riders. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 30(2), 140–144.

What’s Stopping You?

img01Through the years I have often heard that the only way to become a better rider is to ride more. I never questioned that statement, because it seemed completely logical and rang of truth. However, as an amateur rider with a full-time corporate job, home and family to care for, and struggling just to have the time and energy to ride my one horse every day, it was also a terribly depressing thought. Even riding every day wasn’t always possible, much less riding more than one horse! My finances certainly wouldn’t support owning (boarding) more than one horse, sometimes two, but unless I gave up sleep, there was no way I could make the time to ride regularly and consistently. So I despaired of ever becoming the rider I have aspired to be my entire life.

During this time of my life I had the opportunity to audit a clinic with the German biomechanics specialist, Eckart Meyners. He spent an entire day watching rider after rider for about 2 minutes in walk, trot and canter, had the riders dismount and perform a couple of very simple exercises, and then had them mount up and ride again. The differences in the way these riders rode after the 5-10 minutes of exercise was nothing short of miraculous to my eye. I believe the riders also felt much the same. The exercises were so simple, and seemed completely unrelated to riding, and yet they had an enormous impact on the riders’ ability to move with the horse without tension, and ultimately ability to influence the horse’s way of going.

At the time I wished desperately that I could go to Germany and work with Herr Meyners, but alas, my personal situation was such that it would have required a sacrifice I was unwilling to make at the time. After all, I had a job and a horse, and pets that I couldn’t just give up and leave to pursue this crazy dream…

Fast forward at least 10 years, and I found myself at a crossroads in my life, my riding, and my career. I had spent many years working out to be stronger and more fit, finding that while it helped my riding tremendously to be fit, it didn’t really make me a better rider – I still had the same issues with one side being stronger than the other, a pelvis that seemed permanently tilted and slightly twisted, tension still crept in at the slightest provocation, my body still didn’t move as fluidly with the horse as I would have liked, and I still couldn’t influence the horse in the harmonious way that I dreamed of being able. I knew there had to be something more that I could do off the horse to improve my riding.

So on sort of a whim, I decided to pursue certification as an Equi-Yoga instructor. That act opened up a whole new world for me. I realized that what was missing from my fitness routine was all the exercises that actually would improve my body for riding, in a way that I actually could look forward to. I studied the work of people like Eckart Meyners, Suzanne von Dietze, and Mary Wanless.

It finally hit me that I had all the pieces to allow me to create the Ridefit program. And that is what I set about doing towards the end of 2014.

The more I teach the program, the more effective it becomes, as I find and try new exercises to add to the program. Recently, I had the opportunity to instruct a shortened Ridefit session during a clinic, in which a local Dressage trainer offered herself up as a “guinea pig” to try out the program for the first time. The clinician didn’t join in, but he observed very carefully all the exercises that we did. After the workout, the trainer got on her horse for her clinic ride.

Several times during her ride, the clinician came over to the spectators and made a note of some way the trainer was using her body on the horse, and pointed out which exercises we had performed on the mat or the ball that had mobilized or simulated that exact way of moving. Towards the end of the trainer’s ride, the clinician asked her how she felt in her body. Her answer was that she felt like she was riding her second horse of the day, instead of just the first – the Ridefit class had warmed up her body in the same way that a ride on another horse would have. This was precisely my intention when I created the program. I have finally realized my dream of being able to help riders become better RIDERS, even without more time in the saddle.

Just one Ridefit session will result in noticeable improvements in a rider’s body, but as with every fitness program, the truly lasting benefits are in the consistent repetition. There is literally nothing to stop any rider from breaking through the amateur “glass ceiling” and taking a giant leap towards becoming a better rider. The tools are all here, now all it requires is you to make a commitment to yourself and your horse.

Are you ready for the ride of your life? What’s stopping you? Make a choice today, to ride better tomorrow!

The Hardest Part is Getting Started!

Committed to Get FitIt’s the beginning of the new year. Show season starts in a few months. You have goals and ambitions, and you know you have to step up your game to reach them. Your trainer is asking more of you in each lesson. Your back is sore, your body aches after each ride. You know you need to lose that 10lbs you gained over the holidays so you can fit into your show clothes. But, your job has gotten more demanding, and your already limited riding time is getting more limited. It seems impossible that you could possibly add time to go to the gym. How do you get off this roller coaster and really focus on your true passion – riding?

Here are a few strategies that can help you get out of a rut and get on track to reaching your goals for this competition season.

Start gently. Health and fitness experts agree: diets are temporary fixes, and exercise must be consistent over time. Diets do work if they are adhered to, but once they are “over” the weight usually returns within a year, if not sooner. Workout programs rev up your metabolism, increase lean muscle mass and lower body fat, but jumping into a rigorous workout often ends as abruptly as it begins. Workouts hard enough to effect health are painful at first. If you are sore for two days after each workout, you are not going to be motivated to continue for the long haul. The only sustainable way to lose and keep weight off is committing to a true lifestyle change. But, lifestyle changes can be daunting. So, start gently.

Bring your diet into the 21st century slowly. Switch out one unhealthy item in your diet for a healthier alternative each week. Keep in mind that “low fat” foods and “sugar free” and sweetened with artificial sweeteners are NOT healthy alternatives. Healthy alternatives are fresh fruit instead of a blueberry muffin, chocolate Yerba Mate tea instead of a Starbucks mocha. Eat protein at breakfast instead of carbohydrates like cereal or a bagel. Choose organic, non-GMO, and locally grown whenever possible – especially for corn, wheat and soybean.

Many of us eat reasonably healthy, but simply eat too much, so strategies to help reduce caloric intake can be quite useful. Drink an 8oz glass of fresh clean water before each meal to reduce your appetite and make you feel fuller, so you are less likely to overeat. Eat vegetables before you eat any meats or starches. Vegetables contain more fiber and can make you feel fuller than starches and meats, and help you control your portion sizes when you do get to those foods.

There are many ways to reduce your calorie intake and eat more healthfully that can be incorporated into your daily routine, without upsetting your life balance or causing hardships. Start experimenting, and before you know it you will start noticing that it’s easier and easier to make healthier choices.

Find a fitness program that is fun and challenging, but not so difficult that you can’t walk afterwards. You can build up to a tougher workout over time, but start slowly so that you can sustain the momentum long-term. Remember that a rider needs cardiovascular fitness, core stability, balance and a great deal of flexibility.

Be careful of programs that over-strengthen the large muscles of the legs and arms. It is common for riders to rely on those muscles to compensate for losses of balance on the horse – which prevents the rider from really learning to use their stabilization muscles correctly. You don’t need to be a bodybuilder to ride well… in fact, bodybuilders are often too inflexible to move freely with the horse. Programs like Crossfit are not recommended for riders either, as they can put one at risk for fatigue related injuries.

Zumba is a fun workout that really turns up the heat on your cardiovascular fitness. Pilates is a good strength training program for riders, as it focuses on isometric strength and stability rather than short-twitch/explosive strength. Flexibility and freedom from restriction in the joints of the hips, shoulders and spine are critical for riders. There is a saying that you are only as young as your spine is flexible. Yoga is a powerful practice for maintaining your spine health; something riders often take for granted until they start experiencing back pain while riding. Yoga also provides great balance and proprioceptive benefits, as well as being a great way to release the tensions and stresses of the day before going to see your horse.

If you feel overwhelmed by the idea of having to do three different kinds of fitness programs to reach your riding goals, the Ridefit program might be your best choice. Ridefit addresses all four areas of full body fitness critical to a rider performing optimally on the horse — strength, flexibility, cardio, and balance/proprioception – in one fun workout that can be done at the barn, in your riding clothes, with minimal equipment, and it’s GUARANTEED to improve your riding. Learn more about the Ridefit program here.

Putting it all together: It doesn’t take a drastic overhaul of one’s diet and exercise to make sustainable changes that will ultimately result in dramatic improvements in your health and wellness. If your riding is being limited by your current health and fitness, try making small changes over time. Be willing to experiment, try new things, and have fun with it. Small changes consistently practiced will allow you to reach your riding goals in 2015!

I Hate to Exercise!

Hate Exercise ball“I hate exercise just for the sake of exercise.”

How many people can relate to that statement? Maybe you’ve said that yourself, from time to time… when someone asks you if you exercise aside from riding your horse. That was my excuse for 20 years. I loved “activities” – team sports, working in the yard, riding horses – but the pain and discomfort of exercise was too much to deal with when I had nothing else to think about except the pain and discomfort of the exercise! And to bore and torture myself for an hour a day? Forget it! I’d much rather go groom my horse!

One day, though, I could no longer escape the hard reality: despite my riding and horse activities, without a regular exercise program my lack of exercise was very quickly going to become a medical condition. I was depressed, 20 lbs overweight, hypoglycemic, in constant pain (fybromyalgia), and suffering from adrenal fatigue. Perhaps just as compelling for me as a rider, I knew that my lack of fitness was not only affecting my riding skill, but was actually making it dangerous for me to ride. I simply did not have the fitness to deal with a riding “mishap” and could have easily been injured if the chips fell the wrong way. My life circumstances brought me to the point that the pain of not exercising was becoming greater than the pain of exercising, and I made a long-term commitment to my personal fitness.

I could tell you that it was wonderful, I felt great, and I’ve not looked back since, but that would be a lie. It took SIX months of nearly daily workouts before I ever experienced the feeling of being energized from working out. It was excruciating for those 6 months, and I vowed never to allow myself to get that out of shape again.

Yet, a few years later I moved away from the gym where I worked out, and, too busy with my new home to bother finding a new gym to workout at and not wanting to spend the money, I let my fitness go to the back burner. I had at least 10 great excuses why it was ok for me to let it slip. Within a few months I had gained 20lbs back and become so out of shape that I sprained both my ankles tripping over a rock in the driveway, and another month later suffered from a more serious ligament tear in one of the ankles stepping wrong off a step. My body was telling me that it couldn’t protect itself without help!

So, back to “exercise for the sake of exercise” I went, painful as it was.

Now, I am absolutely certain that I am not the only person in the world with a love/hate relationship with exercise. In fact, I’m sure that there are more people in the world who hate to exercise than there are who love it. That is clearly visible in the show ring, as I have watched professionals riders/trainers who ride many horses a day becoming heavier and heavier each year. And riding breeches are being made in Plus sizes as the norm, whereas 20 years ago you’d have to have your breeches custom-made to get them in plus sizes. Our entire society hates exercise, and we are paying for it with our health across every ethnic, social and economic boundary.

It is because of my love/hate relationship with exercise that I created the Ridefit program. I wanted a workout for myself that didn’t feel like a workout. I wanted it to be conveniently located at the barn, where I was going to be anyway to groom and/or ride my horse. I wanted to not have to change clothes in order to ride, and I wanted the workout to actually IMPROVE my riding at the same time. It wouldn’t just be exercise for the sake of exercise – it would be exercise with a purpose that I am already 100% invested in. And that is exactly what Ridefit is: a workout that works for everybody’s fitness level, convenient to where we already are, and with the added benefit of making us better at what we love to do already.

Does it get any better than that?

If you’re a rider who hates exercise, but you know that you are going down a dangerous road by avoiding it, or perhaps you already are experiencing the effects of years of exercise avoidance, give Ridefit a try. You may just find you learn to like exercise after all!

Let Ridefit help you look better, feel better, and RIDE better in 2015!

To find or schedule a Ridefit session near you, check out our News and Events page, or e-mail info@ridefitnow.com.