Getting Un-Stuck

You’re STUCK!stuck-in-a-rut

You just can’t seem to get the timing for that flying change right, you can’t seem to quite make that jump from First Level to Second Level, you can’t quite see the striding for a 3′ course, but you can jump 2’6″ just fine, or you just can’t stop feeling anxious about the canter transitions, and your horse subsequently tenses up and bucks every time you ask for one! We’ve all been there, and will likely find ourselves there again at some time in the future, but how do you get UN-stuck? Read on, because I’m going to give you some powerful suggestions to help get you unstuck when you’re “in it”!

What does being Stuck mean?

Let’s say you have been polishing your 1st level Dressage movements for a couple of years now, and your instructor is encouraging you to start working towards 2nd level, but every time you attempt a shoulder in, you get tight, your horse braces against your hands, and you end up in a tug of war. No matter how much you try, you just can’t seem to get your body and your horse’s to cooperate for that all-important introduction to collection. You’re so frustrated that you’re about ready to resign yourself to staying at 1st level for the rest of your life.

Or maybe your horse bucked in a canter transition and got you off a few years ago, and now every time you ask for the canter depart you unconsciously tighten up, no matter how hard you try to relax and “go” with the transition, and your horse, sensing your tension gets tight in his back and it feels not only awful, but it make you anxious, and if you’re really honest with yourself, you’ve actually stopped looking forward to your rides.

That’s being stuck… when something physical or mental is diverting you from having enjoyable and successful experiences with your horse, and you don’t see a way to work through or past it.

So how can you get past what seems like a hopelessly impossible obstacle to your advancement in your riding, and continue developing a joyful partnership with your horse? Well, first, it’s really key to identify the “thing” that is keeping you stuck. Is it physical? Is it mental? Is it a missing piece of your training? Is it a combination of these? Let’s explore what your thing might be, and see which ones resonate with you.

Being stuck due to Physical reasons

Let’s say you had an injury at some time in the past, and it’s left you with low back pain, which you guard against when you’re riding. It doesn’t really seem to affect your riding all that much, you can still do the basics as competently as you ever did, but when you ask for certain movements, it starts to twinge and you can’t quite commit your body fully to your horse’s movement. Over time your horse has gotten more and more sour about being ridden, but vet exams haven’t uncovered anything that could be causing your horse’s issues.

Or, maybe you have one leg that’s shorter than the other, and you can’t feel one of your seatbones, so that every time you try to ride a shoulder in or leg yield, you can do it really well in one direction, but it totally falls apart going the other direction.

Yet again, you might have gotten stiffer and stiffer with age, and you just don’t move the way you used to when you were younger, so you think there’s only so much that you can achieve now that you’ve reached a certain age.

If you’re physically stuck, I have some really good news for you. No matter what your challenges, YOU DON’T HAVE TO STAY STUCK! There are exercises that you can do that will improve your body for riding no matter how injured or tight, or uncomfortable your body is in the saddle. What are these exercises? They are riding sport-specific exercises that you can learn by downloading one of the free exercise guides on the Ridefit home page.

Being stuck Mentally

If you’ve ever had an accident on your horse, you know how it can affect your mind. You may not even be aware of feeling anxious, but when you come close to whatever you were doing when you had the accident, your body might tense up all on its own. Your mental state may be anywhere from unconscious tension to full-blown panic or dread. This can leave you seriously stuck and unable to fully enjoy your riding for a really long time, if it’s not consciously and energetically addressed.

How can you get unstuck mentally? I think these types of issues require a two-pronged approach. By working with a qualified sports/performance coach, you can learn mental exercises that will help you work through your level of anxiety, and by working with a riding fitness coach, you can build muscle memory into your body that can reduce the amount of physical tension your body will unconsciously create, by training it to relax in movement. Because of the unique nature of the riding sport, training the brain AND body together is a really effective way to get unstuck fast!

Being stuck because of Gaps in your Training

If you’re moving up to 3′ Hunters, and you can’t quite see your distances, taking a step back to cantering poles to train your eye for distances for a few weeks could really give you the bump you need to get unstuck.

Or, perhaps you aren’t truly bending your horse correctly before you ask for a shoulder-in, and that’s why your horse is bracing against you when you ask. Taking a step back to perfect riding a truly round and steady 10 meter circle might just give you the feel you need to make your shoulders-in successful.

If you feel stuck even when you’re taking lessons from your current instructor, maybe taking a clinic with someone completely different will give you some light-bulb moments that you can bring back to your regular lessons and “unstick” your progress. That different perspective can be all that we need to find breakthroughs.

If you’re anxious and nervous or tense when riding your own horse, borrowing a friend’s “packer” for some fun rides will most likely allow you to relax and enjoy the rides, which is sure to boost your confidence and give your brain the ability to relax again when you get back on your own horse. Taking lessons on a school horse can help, as well.

Don’t Stay Stuck!

Whatever the reason you are feeling stuck in your riding, you don’t have to stay there! There are many ways to “un-stick” yourself, if you are willing to get creative and think outside the box a little. For more ideas and tools for getting unstuck, a one-on-one strategy session can get you on the right track. You can schedule a free one-hour session here. We love helping riders break through their limitations and start reaching their goals!

Until then, ride fit!

~Tammy

Founder of Ridefit

The 4-Inch Difference

At a Ridefit clinic I taught recently, one of the riders was a fit and flexible woman who regularly participates in ballet classes. Her balance on the ground is highly developed, and so I expected her balance on her horse to be equally impressive. Yet, her balance on her horse simply did not measure up to expectations. Her ear, shoulder, hip, heel alignment was completely skewed, and she had to struggle to keep from falling behind the horse’s motion. Knowing that, all things being equal, this woman should have had beautiful alignment on her horse based on her excellent balance on the ground, I started looking for reasons for this disconnect. What I found was that the thigh blocks of her very fine Dressage saddle were preventing her body from finding its own correct balance.

This is a very common problem I find when riders first try Ridefit. The large thigh blocks on the most popular brandsLarge Thigh blocks of saddle make many riders feel more secure, by preventing their knee from slipping forward on the saddle flap. This can very helpful for riders whose balance is not yet developed enough to have a truly secure seat, and because this is the vast majority of amateur riders in the world of Dressage, it has become the standard in dressage saddle design. Yet, when I work with these riders to develop their balance, remove physical restrictions and tension from their bodies, and increase their core stability, they often find that the thigh blocks ultimately interfere with their body finding equilibrium in the saddle. For some, the thigh blocks push their knees outward which puts their hips into tension, limiting their ability to move freely with the horse. Others find that the thigh blocks keep their upper legs too far back, causing their pelvis to tip forward, restricting the movement of their lower backs and placing their center of gravity too far back – and the rider behind the movement. Whenever I see this, I check to see if we can remove the thigh blocks. When we can, the riders find that they actually feel much more secure, and balance themselves with much greater ease. When we can’t, we have to find other ways to help the rider sit over the horse in balance.

Such was the case with my ballerina student. Her thigh blocks were forcing her upper leg and hips too far back, making her have to try and compensate with her upper body and lower leg (both coming forward) in an effort to stay over the horse’s center of gravity. The only other way to correct this is to have the rider put her lower leg back about 4 to 6 inches, which brings the lower body into balance, and allows the upper body to settle into a much better state of equilibrium. As you can see from the photos, the difference is dramatic, and the rider is suddenly able to flow with the horse’s movement. Consequently, the horse is able to stay more actively forward and will exhibit fewer losses of balance him/herself – which generally results in less “falling” out of the canter…

Karen Before Canter_cropped          Karen After Canter

This is still not ideal, because it still leaves the lower back with a necessarily shortened range of motion, as it is restrained between the thigh block and the cantle of the saddle, but it is tremendously better than the alternative!

For the thousands of riders out there who look like the first picture, please try removing your thigh blocks, and see what happens. If they are not removable, before you start looking for a new saddle, try moving your lower leg back and see if your body will find its own balance more easily. Finding a saddle that fits your horse properly can be a true test of one’s patience and perseverance, so having an option to adjust one’s body to give your horse a better ride can be a real life saver!

Until next time, ride fit!

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

Holy Hamstrings!

Do you suffer from tight hamstrings?

It has been well established in the medical community that tight hamstrings are a primary contributor to low back pain. So, it’s critically important for riders to address these tight hamstrings and build greater mobility into our lower bodies.
 
Let’s take a look at why tight hamstrings can present such a problem for riders. The “hamstring” is actually a group of three muscles that stabilize the knee joint and allow for the extension of the leg behind the body (as we must in order to propel ourselves forward in walk). These muscles attach at the base of the pelvis, with the larger of the three muscles running down and attaching to the outside of the knee, while the other two attach at the inside of the knee.
If these muscles or the attaching tendons become shortened or lack normal mobility, it puts both the pelvis and the knee into tension, contributing to a tilted pelvis with reduced mobility through the entire lower back region. An individual may compensate for this tightness by bending over at the waist instead of from the hips, putting the low back under abnormal strain.
Add to this the complication that we sit on the actual muscle attachments at the pelvis in a chair, and we set ourselves up for a congested hamstring/pelvis attachment area, with reduced blood flow and nerve activity likely if you sit for long periods of time. This results in both weakness and lack of flexibility in these muscles and joints!
 
Why is this so important? Because as riders, we must be able to allow the movement of the horse to flow through our hips, pelvis and low back. Tightness in these areas will result in tightness in the horse’s back, and an inability on his/her part to move in a relaxed way while carrying us. Ideally, the every-so-slight momentary “holding” of our lower body (aka, half-halt) should act as a communication aid to the horse, so it’s got to be something we can also release or the horse will stiffen against the tension and lose its balance.
 
So how does one ensure that one’s hamstrings aren’t contributing to a tight seat in the saddle? By focusing on increased mobility of the entire lower body, including light static stretching of those muscles specifically. Too much static stretching of this area is not advisable, but any stretching through movement (such as during the “Crescent Pose Flow”, or the powerful “Hip opener” exercise) will be most effective for releasing tightness in the hamstrings. Fortunately, there are numerous exercises in the Ridefit program that address this tension and bring these joints into mobility. You can download some of these exercises here in our FREE exercise guides.
 
Pay close attention to your form during those exercises to ensure that you are getting the maximum benefit to those hamstrings! I’d love to hear from you what changes you notice in your hamstrings – and general lower body mobility – once you’ve tried out the Ridefit exercises. Release tension in those tight hamstrings, and ride fit!
~Tammy

The 4 Key Elements All Rider-Specific Fitness Programs Should Have

Equestrian FitnessYoga, spinning, Pilates, CrossFit®, P90X®, Zoomba®, the Bar Method, POUND… there are as many fitness programs and fads in the world as there are people to use them. Each one has its unique appeal and touted benefit, though all provide essentially the same underlying benefit – they challenge the body’s habituated movement patterns, develop muscular strength and improve cardiovascular stamina.

Many equestrians have realized, quite rightly, that they ride better when they are stronger and have greater cardiovascular stamina. However, while there are fitness programs based on the inherent physical demands of cycling, dancing, running, kick boxing, wrestling, etc… there are no mainstream fitness programs that fully address the physical requirements of riding horses.

Many riders try whichever program appeals to them or their friends recommend, not knowing if the program is really making them ride better or not. Some of the popular fitness programs actually train the body in ways that are entirely counterproductive to riding! In some cases riders resort to creating their own programs – combining different fitness methodologies and hoping that if they put the right things together they will cover their fitness needs. Still others try to explain what they need to a personal trainer so he or she can develop an appropriate fitness program for them. Sometimes personal trainers come along who are themselves riders, and develop programs targeted to riders, but these are often not widely accessible to the average rider. It is highly unlikely that a Rider Fitness class will ever show up at the local gym, and until it does, riders are pretty much on their own in figuring out the best way to train their bodies off the horse.

What is a rider to do? How can you know if your favorite fitness program is actually helping you ride better? What should you look for in a fitness program? To help you answer these questions for yourself, I’ve identified four key elements a fitness program must have in order to make a positive and lasting impact on your riding. These four key elements are Balance, Coordination, Stability, and Mobility training. Let’s take a look at each element.

Balance

Anyone can stand on a wobble board, do squats on a Bosu, or practice balance-challenging yoga poses, but as an equestrian, you need to be able to balance on your seat, on a moving object, with little to no control over how that object is going to move from moment to moment. No amount of standing balance is going to properly train that. However, balance training on a stability ball – both sitting and kneeling – will train your brain and body to respond to instantaneous balance changes that you have little control over. Training on the ball also brings a tremendous amount of awareness about how even the smallest changes in your upper body affect the horse’s balance, as the ball moves in response to every tiny shift you make. This type of training is invaluable, and there are numerous exercises that can be performed with the ball, that will greatly benefit your ability to balance in movement with the horse.

Coordination

We all know the feeling of doing our best to keep our heels down, knees soft, seat deep, arms relaxed, hands just above the withers, eyes up, and still be trying to apply the correct aids in the correct timing, listening to the instructor’s next directions, and steering the horse all at once! This takes tremendous physical and mental coordination. Coordination training for the rider makes the physical coordination more instinctual for our bodies, so we have enough attention left over to be aware of what’s going on around us, feel what our horse is doing, and listen to the instructions we’re being given.

What does coordination training look like? Doing several things at once in an exercise will train our physical
coordination and expand our capacity for mental focus. For example, a side-to-side crossover exercise where one leg crosses in front and then behind the other will challenge coordination slightly, while adding a twist of the upper body, swing of the arms, and eyes following the twist at the same time, will begin to approximate the coordination your body needs for riding. Another, more advanced coordination exercise would be kneeling on a Side crunch on ballbalance ball while juggling balls. A good exercise program for riders will include many combination exercises such as these for optimum coordination training.

Stability

Many of the more popular exercise programs encourage a lot of explosive “power” exercises: power crunches, power jumps, power burpees, etc… There is no point at which this type of movement is needed on the horse, however. Rather, a supple and stable body that is under your complete control and capable of tiny, subtle movements despite being “tossed about” by the horse is what a rider truly needs. This type of fine muscle control comes from slow and controlled strength exercises, with excellent breath support. A good example of this type of exercise is a side crunch on the ball. It develops the strength of the oblique muscles from hip to ribs, while requiring the body to adapt to balance changes, developing fine movement control of the upper body. Another great example of this type of exercise is a V-sit with a pelvic tilt. This exercise isolates the psoas muscle – the rider’s best friend – creating very fine control of the position of the pelvis, while strengthening the psoas muscles through movement.

On the subject of stability, one cannot avoid discussing the “core”. Most riders know that they need a more stable “core”, and yet the vast majority of riders think only of their abdominal muscles when the term used. They might do lots of crunches, sit-ups and boat poses, thinking they are developing a strong core. However, they completely overlook the back and sides of their bodies, and even if they do some training of those muscles, they often isolate just a few. There are many small and overlooked muscles that provide “core” stability, which cannot be addressed by only working the abs. A great rider-specific workout will work all of these muscles evenly, from shoulders to hips, rather than isolating just a few.

Mobility

I like to say that without mobility there is no relaxation, and without relaxation there is no feel on the horse. I would add to that, without unrestricted mobility of the rider’s body, there is no swinging or freedom of movement in the horse. It would probably surprise you how many riders have tightness and restricted mobility in their hips, without having any idea that they do – even thinking they are very flexible in the hips. It might surprise you even more how many “lazy” horses are actually being restricted from going forward by their rider’s lack of mobility. One thing that I see with nearly every horse and rider combination in my clinics is that after the rider does several mobility exercises, the horses start to really move out with impulsion.

What does mobility mean for the rider? It means that the joints in the rider’s body are free enough of restrictions to allow the motion of the horse to move through them, equally, from head to heels. When there is one area of the body that is restricted, another area must become hyper-mobile in order to allow for the horse’s movement and prevent the rider from bouncing uncomfortably against the horse’s back. We often see this in bobbing heads, bouncing heels, or even hyper-mobile lower backs. These areas of hyper-mobility are at risk for stress injuries, while the areas of restriction cause the horse to have to compensate for the lack of mobility in some part of his own body.

The best mobility exercises for riders are done in movement, rather than through static stretching. Static stretching has its place in fitness, but there is nothing static about being on a horse, so it has only limited benefit for a rider. An example of a “mobility through movement” exercise would be a hip opener exercise that I like a lot, which mobilizes and removes restrictions from the hip joint through small circles and rotational movements of the joint. Another great mobility exercise is what I call a hip and shoulder twist, which mobilizes the entire spine in a rotational movement, while simultaneously releasing tightness in the hips and both engaging and stretching the core muscles all the way around the body.

Try Ridefit Now! Watch sample Ridefit videos, subscribe to the online Ridefit program, or find a Ridefit class or clinic near you.Try it NowThe bottom line is that a great sport-specific fitness program for equestrians that actually improves fitness for riding will put equal emphasis on all four of these key elements. Without mobility and stability, there can be no balance or coordination. Without balance and coordination, the rider cannot hope to ever develop an independent seat, good timing or truly effective aids.

With a fitness program that combines all four of these elements, your body can actually be prepared for the challenges of riding off the horse, and time spent in the saddle can be utilized for refining your skills and advancing your training program, rather than continuously working on basic equitation! Furthermore, this type of complete fitness program will greatly increase your longevity as a rider, since it provides much more than simply better riding fitness – it provides better fitness for all of life.

Try Ridefit Now

Want to try Ridefit for free? Download one of our brand new FREE exercise guides:

Sitting Trot Bootcamp-Mockup-HD or Canter-with Confidence mockup-HD

Team Challenge

Ridefit 90-Day Rider Team Challenge

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Get fit, ride better, and win great prizes all at the same time!

 

How it works:

You and at least two of your fellow students (with the same riding instructor/trainer) can challenge each other to see who can earn the title “Most Improved Rider” by signing up for the 90-Day Ridefit Challenge. Here’s how it works:

  • Sign up for Ridefit’s 90-day Unlimited online group classes program ($199/mo. and for a limited time and get your first month FREE).
  • Work out at least 3 days per week utilizing Ridefit’s 30-minute online fitness classes – LIVE training with a Ridefit Instructor, from the comfort of your own home! All you need is a stability ball and a mat.
  • Ride and take at least one lesson per week with your normal instructor.
  • At the end of 90 days, your instructor will judge between you and your teammates, the “Most Improved Rider”
  • Win one of three great prizes from Ridefit if you are the “Most Improved Rider” – a customized saddle pad, quarter sheet, or Ridefit t-shirt

Get ready for the 2016 show season, and get into the best riding shape of your life, with Ridefit!

 

Sign Me Up!

Download a Team Challenge flyer to post at your barn: Ridefit 90-Day Team Challenge Flyer

Why Riders Need Fitness Training

 

Barn choresI’m a professional, so I stay fit by riding all day.

Between feeding, cleaning stalls, turning out horses, blanketing, grooming, bucking hay & shavings, and working around the farm all day, I stay plenty fit.

I take lessons to ride better and get more fit.

I play recreational sports on the weekends, and that keeps me plenty fit for riding.

These are just a few of the reasons I hear regularly for why people don’t cross-train for fitness off their horses to improve their riding. They all sound really logical and rational on the surface. So the question becomes, “why should I cross-train if I’m doing all this other physical activity?” This is a common question that I’d like to examine with you, today.

In nearly every other sport, the athletes cross-train their bodies. Think about it, football players don’t just do ball handling drills and run plays, they do tons of cross-training; wind sprints, agility drills, and weight training. Cyclists don’t just ride their bicycles, they run, lift weights, and work on coordination exercises off the bike. Swimmers don’t just swim, they train their bodies for optimum cardiovascular, strength and flexibility out of the pool in order to give their best performances in the pool. No matter the sport, no matter the level of play, if it’s organized and competitive, athletes have cross-training routines that enhance their performances when they are on the court, field or mound.

I could go on and on with all the various sports, but you get the picture. And yet, we riders as a whole, continue to believe that it’s not really necessary for us to do the same. Or, even if we do believe it’s important to our overall health and well-being, we don’t necessarily prioritize it as part of our riding training. Why is that?

Perhaps the reason riders are quick to dismiss athletic training off the horse is because riding is such a coordinative, proprioceptive activity. Many of the best riders seem to be naturally gifted with an incredible sense of balance and coordination, and because of that seem to spend very little physical effort in effectively riding many horses. They don’t really see the need for a lot of additional fitness training to stay at a high level of skill, so they don’t tend to promote that to the riders who follow their training methods or take lessons from them.

This, however, is a very important point to understand, because the vast majority of us are NOT gifted in that way. Yet we are basing our need for fitness cross-training on the advice of riders who are far more physically capable than we are, by the luck of the draw (genetics). For the average rider, that is about as effective at helping us achieve our goals as taking lessons from a “gifted” rider who has never had to develop a full awareness of their body on the horse, and just does things instinctively, while we struggle with figuring out what body part to use to elicit the same responses from our own horses. The results are frustrating for both rider and trainer, at best!

The danger in not cross-training, for even a very gifted rider, is that none of us are actually perfectly balanced or perfectly symmetrical. Just like our horses are fundamentally crooked from birth requiring us to train them to be evenly developed from left to right, we are also all just a little crooked… to varying degrees. We don’t think twice about the fact that we have to cross-train our horses, to develop ever more stable balance, strength, cardiovascular fitness, and even emotional stability. But many of us never think to do the same for ourselves.

To understand why this puts riders at such a disadvantage, we must first understand what cross-training provides. There are a few very key things cross training does for athletes:

It gives us a “fitness cushion” to draw on.

A fitness cushion means we have physical reserves – more strength, more cardiovascular capacity and more flexibility than we may actually need in order to perform at our optimum level in our chosen sport. This is very important for several reasons:

It gives our bodies protection from injury, since it is conditioned to greater stresses than it would typically experience in the course of normal play. This allows for longevity in physical endeavors – it allows the athlete to “play” at a high level without breaking down.

Second, it allows for a higher level of precision. A body that is quickly fatigued loses fine motor control – something critical for riders. A body that is conditioned beyond what it needs to perform optimally can maintain that high degree of precision for longer – the whole game instead of just half of it, or the warmup and two classes instead of being pooped after the first 10 minutes of the warmup…

When the chips are down and we need to push ourselves to our limits, we can! If you have prepared for a competition all year, and when you get to the show grounds and come down with a terrible cold or don’t get a full night’s sleep, your performance is NOT going to be what it would if you were healthy. However, if your body is conditioned and in optimum shape, you WILL be able to put in a better effort than you would otherwise, because you have physical reserves to draw on that you otherwise simply would not have. Not to mention, if you are in top physical condition, you are less likely to contract that cold in the first place…

Cross training balances out our asymmetries.

Over time with repetitive movements of any type, our natural asymmetries, strength and flexibility imbalances tend to become exaggerated until they become real barriers to our continued improvement or advancement in our chosen sports. Cross-training not only can make us aware of those asymmetries, but helps to even them out so that we aren’t having to constantly fight against our natural tendencies.

Cross-training counteracts accumulated injuries and aging…

The reality is, not one of us can trick time. Over time our bodies’ repair mechanism, which is powerful when we are young, inevitably slows down. Every small strain, fall, yank by a naughty horse, misstep on uneven ground, and ache of the back from lifting hay, adds up to eventually substantial loss of function. Scar tissue builds up, which limits mobility and range of motion. Aches and pains result in guarding and spasming muscles, causing undue tension in joints and corresponding restriction of our horse’s movement. This is just how our bodies work, and though we think we can ignore the signs when we are young, we all inevitably pay the price in the end…

Anytime we do sustain strains, injuries, or just over time with age, wear and tear, our bodies need more support, conditioning, and frequently rehabilitation, to stay strong, supple, and fully functional. All of these things lead me to the following conclusion: Not cross training is the worst thing a rider can do for the sake of his/her long-term riding capability – especially since we tend to do much more than riding that is hard on our body, such as the above mentioned hard physical labor involved in keeping and managing horses.

What is a rider to do?

Over the past 20 years or so, we have started to see a positive trend towards training for high level athletic performance at the top levels of our equestrian sports. Many countries have started requiring riders who qualify for their national teams to engage in fitness training to stay at their peak riding levels for as long as possible. However, this training is not just your normal CrossFit or Pilates training. This training involves specialized endurance, balance and coordination training, along with mental performance training, developed with the unique requirements of riding sports in mind. Countries like Great Britain and Germany have developed really targeted programs based on extensive biomechanical study of the rider’s body in movement with the horse. They have made it easy for the top riders to train their bodies AND minds for peak performance.

Unfortunately, in the United States, as is the case in many of our riding related endeavors, we have stayed behind the curve in the area of rider fitness. Many of our top riders do cross-train, but they have either developed their own personal programs, or they are using several fitness program modalities to accomplish their goals, such as pilates, weight training, running and yoga. They know, without a shadow of doubt, that in order to stay at the top of their game, they MUST keep their bodies in top shape off the horse.

The degree of importance and priority these top riders have placed on keeping their bodies in peak physical condition has yet to really trickle down to the masses of riders that are not competing at that international level in this country, and so it has been very slow to catch on. There simply has not been the kind of national effort to educate riders about the need for fitness cross-training, nor the programs developed so specifically for riders, like other countries have developed.

That is the purpose of the Ridefit program, however. We have developed, and continue to refine and improve our fitness programs to address the fitness needs that are unique to riders. We are taking a great interest in the research coming from our European counterparts, and are very excited to start making this high-performance rider training available to the average rider, at affordable prices, and with convenient options that can fit into almost anyone’s super-busy schedule, no matter where in the country you are.

Whether you are an amateur simply struggling to sit your horse’s trot or find your balance over fences, or a professional with international competitive sights, a rider-targeted physical cross-training program is going to help you get there faster, with greater ease, and with reduced risk of injury. Barn chores aren’t going to do it for you. Specialized fitness training will!

Until next time, ride fit!

~Tammy Prevo, creator of the Ridefit program

If you’d like more information about the Ridefit program, and program options, feel free to e-mail us at info@ridefitnow.com, or call us at 206-713-6761.

Revolution Smoothie

If you are one of the millions of people who don’t get enough fresh food in their diet, especSmoothie - blueberry kaleially fresh vegetables, this smoothie will be a game changer for you. It may even save your life! Revolutionize your health, with this vitamin and nutrient packed smoothie:

Revolution Smoothie

Put all ingredients in a high powered blender such as a Vitamix and blend until completely smooth. Pour into a glass and enjoy immediately!

The Energy Equation

Do you have as much energy as you would like?

Have you ever thought that if only you had a little more energy, your life would be different? Do you find that you can’t wake up in the morning without a cup of coffee? Do you work during the day and by the time you get off work you feel like something sucked all the energy right out of you, just when you finally have time to go do things you enjoy? Do you wish you had more energy to spend quality time with your kids, or riding your horse, or even working out? If you answered “Yes” to any of these questions, listen up! I’m going to give you 3 tips to help you maximize and keep your energy high, no matter what!

Tip #1: Get Plenty of SleepSleep with hound

We all have the same number of hours in the day. Some of us prioritize sleep down on our list of things we should really do, but don’t. We put everything else ahead of sleep, but we are just shooting ourselves in the foot by doing so. Lack of sufficient sleep actually impairs our brains, slows down our metabolisms, and is just as dangerous as one drink of alcohol when we get behind the wheel. It goes without saying that lack of sleep and horses are a very bad combination!

But wait, what if you suffer from insomnia? Many people would give anything for a good night’s sleep, but the reality is that no matter what they seem to do, their mind and body seem bent on preventing healthy sleep. There are many reasons for insomnia, from simple dietary indiscretions to serious medical conditions, so determining your underlying cause will be a critical first step if you suffer from insomnia and would like to have more energy by getting enough restful sleep. As a health coach, this is something I can often help with.

For those of you that don’t suffer from insomnia, but simply don’t get enough sleep or feel that you have so many things to do that you can’t get enough sleep, I encourage you to take a step back and see what it is that you are doing instead. Do you stay up and watch TV? Perhaps having more energy during the day would make it worth skipping the late night show. These days, you can watch almost any TV show online, at your leisure, anyway, so you won’t be missing out if you watch SNL on Sunday, instead of Saturday night… Do your kids keep you up late? Perhaps they need an earlier bedtime. They need to have good sleep habits too, so the younger you establish those for them, and set a good example, the better off they will be. Maybe you have trouble falling asleep, or are a light sleeper and wake up at the smallest noise. Well, there are plenty of safe and effective sleep aids out there, some of them completely natural, such as chamomile tea, melatonin supplements, and even meditation music that can help you fall asleep. If you wake easily, try wearing one earplug (we want you to be able to hear if the horses get cast in the barn, or the kids wake up from a nightmare, but one earplug will filter out the smaller noises that might otherwise wake you unnecessarily).

Tip #2: Eat Energy Enhancing Foods

People often hear that carbohydrates are for energy, but there are limits to that. Too many carbs (which is a large part of the Standard American Diet) will actually deplete energy in a big way. So, what are energy enhancing foods? Fresh vegetables and fruits. Dietary recommendations for fresh vegetables and fruits are as many as 10 servings per day. And yet, many Americans don’t even get a single serving in a day. A diet without these foods is an energy sucking diet, because they have nutrients and enzymes that are required for healthy cellular development and energy production, that proteins, starches and fats simply don’t contain.

SmoothiesIf you are one of the millions of people that don’t get enough fresh foods, there are many ways that you can get those things into your diet in easy and convenient ways. Smoothies are my go-to favorite. I have developed a fresh fruit and veggie smoothie that I call the Revolution Smoothie (click for the recipe), which supplies all the nutrients of 10 servings of fruits and vegetables, in one delicious glass! It does take advantage of a couple of power-packed whole food supplements, which are concentrated and nutrient dense, as well as including fresh fruits and dark leafy greens in the form of kale. It tastes fresh and delicious and will give you a serious energy kick, as well as supplying enough protein for a whole meal. Add one of these to your diet each day, and you will notice the difference immediately!

Tip #3: Exercise!Runner Lunge Image

You knew I was going to say that, didn’t you? And you may be saying, “But Tammy, I don’t have enough ENERGY to exercise! Exercise makes me more tired. This is no solution! What are you smoking?!” Bear with me here, there is a VERY GOOD reason you MUST exercise if you want more energy. In the simplest terms possible, muscle tissue produces usable energy, so the more muscle tissue you have in your body, the more energy your body will produce.

Now, for the longer explanation… Our bodies literally have the “potential” energy to power an entire town for a week. But, that energy is produced through “catabolism” – one of the two types of metabolism that occur within the body’s cells. Catabolism happens when calories are converted from food into heat. While this metabolism does take place in nearly every cell in the body, it is more concentrated in the muscle tissue. This is why diets that don’t include building lean muscle mass as the foundation to fat loss, are so damaging to the overall metabolic function of the body – because simply eating less will reduce the entire body weight – muscle mass included, which actually reduces the rate of energy production (and thus fat-burning potential).

Just like with any other thing that you do in life, you start small, push your limits a little, and the potential grows. Same applies with energy. Spend more energy in the form of exercise, and your body’s capacity to produce energy grows! This does require greater muscle mass, however, so it’s not just enough to do cardio, you must do some amount of strength building in order to enjoy these benefits. But, enjoy the benefits, you will!

We can’t increase the hours in the day, but if you are serious about getting more energy, applying these three tips could change your life. And, as always, we are here to support you in whatever way we can. We’d love to hear from you. Post your comments and suggestions below and share what works for you, as well as ask any questions you like!

Until next time, Ride fit!

Three Tips to Letting Your Body do the Riding!

Happy Rider and HorseWhat would you say if I told you “Your body rides better than you do!”?

You might say, “Say what?! How can my body ride better than I do? That’s silly. I *am* my body, aren’t I?”
Well, let’s take a look at it, shall we?
First, for clarity, let’s define a few different mental concepts:
  1. Your Brain – the physical organ that, through chemical and electrical impulses, controls your voluntary and involuntary nervous system.
  2. Your Mind – the part of your brain that synthesizes thought – conscious and unconscious, instinctual and rational.
    • Your Unconscious mind – the accumulated collection of experiences, thoughts, feelings and triggers that your brain uses to filter, categorize and respond to external stimuli.
    • Your Conscious mind – that part of your mind in which you rationalize, use logic, think consciously about external stimuli.

I’m going to use these terms to differentiate between the various ways your physical grey matter can function.

Let’s look at a scenario where your Mind can sabotage your Brain, and ultimately your Body:

You’re totally relaxed and confidently riding your horse down the arena wall, and you notice that you’re coming up on the corner of the arena where he (or she) *always* spooks. Your unconscious mind collects this data, remembers that this is where the horse is likely to spook, and immediately turns on “Protection Mode”. Your brain then sends out the signal “Danger, Will Robinson! Defend! Defend!” in an effort to protect you from potential harm, and your breathing becomes shallow and quick, and your body tenses up in preparation for having to “hold on”. Your horse, feeling your muscles tense up around him, starts looking for the danger, spots the corner, and… spooks!

Your body responds to your brain, and your brain controls every impulse that your nerves, joints and muscles receive. Your *mind* (conscious/unconscious, id, ego, whatever you want to call it) can muck up the works by holding on to fear, tension or stress. And, we all know that horses respond to our “intention”, which is the same as our mental state, and that’s where a lot of things can go wrong. It doesn’t matter how fit or balanced or relaxed you can be on the horse, if your brain takes over and jumps into a fight or flight mode, you have no chance! So, let’s talk about how you can train your mind right along with your body, so it doesn’t sabotage your relaxation.

How do we prevent the above scenario from happening? By training our minds (both conscious and unconscious) to stay in a state of equilibrium while we are riding, so our bodies can stay relaxed. Here are 3 strategies that professionals use, and that you can start doing TODAY to achieve that mental state:

Learn to Breathe

Have you ever noticed that you hold your breath while you’re riding, or that at a certain point in your ride you start panting? That is a sure way to make your body tense, and your horse to start looking for monsters! Go to a yoga class that focuses on the breathing practice (pranayama). Get good at your yoga breathing and bring it to your riding. As you are warming up your horse and/or taking a walk break on a loose rein, practice breathing.

Once you’ve become really comfortable with that, start bringing that breathing practice into any situation that you think might be scary or that you might normally tense up in anticipation of. It’s impossible to hold onto tension and fear when you are breathing really deeply. It physically changes your brain chemistry. You will be amazed at how your horse responds to just that one change!

Talk to Yourself

You read it right… your unconscious mind has been programmed by years of experience and the influences of other people in your life. When the chips are down, it takes over and uses its full complement of experiences and negative messages to protect you from whatever you fear – failure, pain, injury, embarrassment, etc.

Problem is, it’s always responding to the PAST. Your body is no longer the same as it was 6 weeks ago, so your unconscious mind needs an update! So… talk to yourself! Whenever you are looking at a scenario where your horse might do something that, in the past might have unseated you, or scared you, consciously give your brain a message:

“Hey, brain! Listen up! My body can move with the horse better now, I’m NOT going to tense up and risk falling  just because 2 months ago I might not have been able to recover from a spook, so let it go! Just breathe, and everything is going to be perfectly fine! It’s a beautiful sunny day on the beach… somewhere! Let’s be there, right now!”

Do this every time you come to any situation that might make you feel even remotely anxious, and eventually your subconscious programming will start to shift.

Ride The Next Stride

This might sound like anticipation, and it is, but it’s anticipation of the perfect stride, not a spook! So, here’s what it looks like: Look ahead, somewhere other than the scary place, and ride the next stride as though it’s going to be the perfect, most balanced, relaxed stride you have ever ridden. You’ll be setting your brain, and your body, and your horse up for success instead of failure.

In fact, don’t just do this when you are anticipating something scary, do it every stride! Let your imagination run wild with how beautiful, relaxed and joyful every stride on your horse can feel, and then keep that in your mind every single moment of your ride. Your brain will send *those* signals to your body, and your body will communicate *those* feelings to your horse. It’s a win-win, and will give you many more balanced and relaxed strides than tense, unbalanced ones.

Your body is capable of whatever your brain allows it to do, so start controlling your brain by controlling the mental process that trigger it into action, and let your body do what it’s learning how to do best!

Until next time, Ride fit!

P.S., if you haven’t been training your body to move freely with the horse in a relaxed and balanced way, then get on it! If you’re not sure how to start, go ahead and schedule a FREE 60-minute strategy session with us, and we can help you not only map out your path to success, but offer you some really simple, yet powerful strategies to get started, and stay on track! There’s literally nothing to lose, and everything to gain!

A Bit about Balance

Are you a “balanced” rider?

Have you ever gotten left behind or fallen forward when your horse changed gears suddenly or unexpectedly (or expectedly)? Have you ever been told that you are sitting or leaning to one side or the other, or have trouble with uneven stirrup leathers? Gotten “jumped” out of the saddle? Then you have met the Rider’s Best Friend “Balance” – or at least the lack thereof!

What is balance, really? Balance, or “Equilibrioception” is a result of elephant-balanceyour brain comparing sensory data from your skeleton and muscles with those of your eyes and inner ear in relation to the gravitational pull of the earth. It processes these data faster than you could possibly be aware, and then sends signals to the muscles, tendons and joints to adapt to changes in speed, angle, elevation, direction, etc. Since our brain is the processing center for all the information as well as the transmission center, it behooves us to ensure that it is as healthy as possible. It is critical that we keep the communication pathways strong and clear, so that our muscles and joints don’t miss those extremely important signals! This is why balance training is so very important for riders.

Why is balance so important, anyway? Well, there are many very good reasons that you may not have thought about, such as:

  • Your balance directly affects your horse’s balance. Horses being prey animals have a very keen instinct to keep themselves in balance. Horses that are out of balance are vulnerable to predators, and therefore tend to feel fearful. It is not uncommon to see a horse feel completely secure and confident under a very balanced rider, but get worried, upset, spooky or even dangerous under a very unbalanced rider. People often assume this is because the former rider is also the more skilled rider, but it has much more to do with the balance than the rider’s skill. A completely novice rider who has excellent balance will instill much greater confident in the horse than a very skilled rider whose balance is compromised.
  • Your brain controls your balance, and if your balance is weak or unstable, it is a clear sign that your brain is not properly communicating with your body, and both need training.
  • One out of every three adults age 65 or older falls each year. And 1/5th of those falls result in serious injuries. As we age, and especially if we have had previous injuries, our balance is compromised more and more each year, unless we actively work to counteract that trend. Balance training is critical for overall quality of life, not just riding!

It is equally important to ensure that our inner ears and eyes are healthy. Congestion from a cold or chronic infection can completely upset our brain’s ability to manage our balance appropriately – the brain will process the data, whether it’s right or wrong, and will make incorrect adjustments based on the flawed data. For this reason, if you are an individual who often suffers from vertigo when you are sick, it is safest to stay off your horse during those times. Support your immune system by eating a “clean” diet full of fresh vegetables and fruits and lean sources of protein, avoid allergens which can cause inner ear congestion, and stay well hydrated in order to support a healthy equilibrium!

One final thought on balance. Balance is your body’s position relative to the ground – or the gravitational pull of the earth. Balance on the horse is no different than balance on the ground. Many people think that they must stay in balance “with the horse”, but this is a misconception that results in many a rider leaning with their horse, collapsing in their bodies, and further upsetting the horse’s own balance. The rider must “move” with the horse in order to stay in balance, but balance is ALWAYS relative to the ground. If the rider remains in balance with the ground, the horse will have a much easier time of balancing himself, and in fact will learn to “stay with” the rider, as much out of a sense of self preservation as because it is simply easier and more comfortable.

So, train your balance! Appreciate the challenges you experience as you do so, knowing that in this way you are helping your horse, as well as your own body!

‘Till next time, Ride FIT!

When Saddles Attack!

My job as an equestrian fitness trainer is to do more than just make a rider more physically fit. It’s also to make the rider’s body more balanced, more stable, more mobile, and more athletic. To understand exactly what that means, read last week’s post. This week’s post is all about what happens when the rider’s body reaches that state where the neuro-muscular pathways have been created or re-connected, and the rider’s body is now in a state that it*naturally* wants to stay in a balanced position… only to find that the saddle is interfering with that naturally balanced position.

Large Thigh blocks

This saddle creates a “channel” for the rider’s leg with large thigh blocks, but sits the rider behind the horse’s center of balance, removing the rider’s ability to adapt to changes in longitudinal balance along with the horse.

Let’s take a step back and talk about saddles… dressage saddles, specifically. Other types of saddles have their own issues that we can talk about in another blog, but Dressage saddles have traditionally been designed to allow a rider to sit comfortably, in a relaxed and perfectly balanced position, and move freely with the horse. Their seats used to be somewhat flat, knee rolls and thigh blocks virtually nonexistent, and flaps were angled slightly in such a way that the rider’s back could relax into a neutral position without tension on the lumbar spin or the hip flexor, without sliding over the front of the flap.

With the influx of amateur riders into the Dressage sport over the past 50 years, it became clear that without a natural (or trained) balance for riding, riders were struggling to keep their legs in place and keep their seats in the saddles, and so saddle companies started making the seats deeper and deeper, to help stabilize the riders’ pelvis. Then thigh blocks came into the picture, to help secure the rider’s leg so it didn’t slip around quite so much. Then, even blocks at the back of the thigh were added to further prevent the rider’s leg from slipping out of position. Amateur riders around the world have hailed this as an advancement in saddle fit, and love the secure feeling they can get from these saddles. Until they meet me…

We previously talked about what it means to be a fit rider, and so keeping in mind that we are talking about creating that “natural” balance in a rider that has previously not had it, guess what happens when their bodies have started to make that adaptation, become more capable of sitting on a moving object in relaxation and with greater self-stability and tremendously greater mobility, and then are put up into a saddle that is intended to restrict that mobility. Suddenly, the saddle is the restriction keeping the rider from balancing naturally with their horse.

The unfortunate reality is that these large thigh blocks are often coupled with a saddle that is fitted behind the horse’s shoulder in such a way that the deepest part of the seat is behind the horse’s center of balance, making it impossible for the rider to ever sit in balance with the horse, and if they manage to sit in balance with gravity, their legs are back about mid-ribs on the horse, not “at the girth” where the horse is naturally narrower, and which the legs will always attempt to migrate back to (causing a chair seat). So, the catch-22 for these riders is to either ride in actual balance, fighting the saddle, or ride in the balance the saddle sets them up for and never be properly balanced.

It is exciting to be able to help riders find a natural neurological balance when they have never felt that before on a horse! And, equally distressing to help a rider make such amazing changes in their body only to have to tell them, “Well, you are going to have to put your leg in an incorrect position in order to maintain your balance in this saddle.” or, “Unfortunately, you are not going to be able to balance in the way your body has now become capable of, in this saddle, because the thigh blocks are preventing you from finding the correct alignment.”

Saddle buying can become a nightmare, with the saddle fitting both the horse AND the rider becoming Relaxed Rider Seat with Perfect Alignmentan elusive mirage when saddle after saddle doesn’t fit quite right. But, as much as it is a dreaded thing to look for yet another saddle, I encourage riders to consider your saddle choice very carefully. If your goals include becoming a more skilled rider, look for saddles that will allow your body to develop, not just the saddle that makes you feel comfortable and secure right now.

Stay away from the saddle that makes you feel like you’re sitting on your pubic bone, because that one will ultimately prevent you from riding in that relaxed, tension-free position. Especially avoid the saddle that “locks” your leg into position, because that one will prevent you from developing proper neuro-muscular control of your body. A really good idea might be to do some Ridefit mobility and stability exercises BEFORE you sit in a potential saddle, so that your body is optimally balanced and you can truly feel what the saddle is going to do for you or against you. It only takes about 15 minutes if you use our Rider Warmup video.

You CAN ride better, and a properly designed saddle will allow that to happen much more easily!

Becoming a “Natural” Rider

Helen LangehanenbergWe’ve all seen them: those beautiful riders that just seem to naturally “flow” with the horse. It seems to require no effort for them to stay perfectly balanced on top of big moving horses and over crazy jumps that everyone else struggles with, making it look easy. Their horses never seem to fall on their forehands because the riders just instinctively keep them steady. These are the so-called “natural” riders… riders that have never known a moment of imbalance on their horses’ backs. Riders that, either through natural talent or years of training, seem to have been born to sit on a horse. Definitely not anything an average amateur rider could ever begin to achieve… Certainly those of us not born with this innate talent could never actually develop it, could we? It’s “God-given” talent, not skill… or is it?

Before we can answer that question, we must first explore what it is that makes these “natural” riders different from you and me. What is it about these people that makes the movement with the horse seem so easy, and why are so many of these types of riders good at nearly every sport they try? The simple answer is, neuromuscular coordination. That basically means these folks are more coordinated, and with a better brain-body connection than others of us. It’s not a special talent, it’s how the brain and body were intended to function. Little is known about why some people are seemingly “born” with greater athletic facility than others, but there is one thing for certain: all babies are born uncoordinated, and must learn to crawl before they can walk. Which means, that seemingly natural “talent” was DEVELOPED, not inherent. These riders’ brains simply developed better, faster, and more effective connections with their muscles than some others’ did as they were learning to crawl and walk.

Jumping horseIt’s not that these riders are somehow “gifted”, although it may seem so. It is simply that their neurons are functioning optimally, while the rest of us have minor disconnections or miscommunications. If you’ve ever felt like you can trip over your own feet, walk into doorways, or fall up stairs, you know what it feels like to have sub-optimal neuromuscular motor control… You understand the feeling of being left behind in the saddle one moment, and falling forward the next, as the horse’s balance changes. What hope could we possibly have of riding in a relaxed, balanced way, when our bodies are in this state? Turns out, while there is certainly a genetic predisposition at work in our neuromuscular development, there is also a lot of hope for those of us who didn’t develop into super-athletes on our own!

The brain is an unfathomably powerful machine. It is constantly processing through billions of signals and communication pathways every second. It runs your entire body, and yet it still has the capability of growing and learning. Research has shown that even the brains of stroke patients with significant permanent damage can create new neural pathways and re-learn motor function that should have been permanently lost because the parts of the brain that normally control motor function have been completely destroyed! This should give the uncoordinated, unbalanced, and less than perfect riders everywhere hope.

The truth is, “natural” balance can be LEARNED by the brain! Coordination can be significantly IMPROVED! Exercise is a powerful brain booster, and special exercises that target the brain’s function can take neuromuscular coordination to a heightened level that we previously thought was limited to people “born” with it. No matter how old you are, or how uncoordinated, your brain can be induced to create new neural pathways and regenerate pathways that have become damaged through injury or disuse.

This is the difference between being generally fit, and being riding fit. Being riding fit means that your brain and body work together to balance and stabilize themselves automatically, without special conscious effort — a sense known as proprioception — while also having the physical capacity (strength and flexibility) to maintain that state. Ridefit was created to address not just cardiovascular capacity, muscle strength, and flexibility, but to actually address these brain/body connections that allow for a smooth integration between the horse’s movement and the rider’s balance. The effects are powerful, and sometimes surprising to riders who aren’t used to feeling that sense of natural balance.

Our bodies and brains are inextricably connected, and Ridefit has put the pieces together in a whole body/brain workout for riders. What are you really capable of? Are you ready to find out? Contact us and find out.

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!

Do You Ride Asymmetrically?

Every horse is naturally somewhat asymmetrical, and as riders we are always working to help the horse become more symmetrical in its own body. But, what about our own body? Are you actively working to make yourself more symmetrical, or are you unwittingly making your natural asymmetry worse? Find out as Tammy Prevo, creator of the Ridefit fitness program for riders discusses the ways we can improve our natural asymmetry on a daily basis.

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!