Horses are amazing athletes and we have to take care of them as what they are. For that we check their saddles often, the dentist comes by once a year as well as the physiotherapist or chiropractor depending on their needs… We prepare their diets carefully and conscientiously with the advice of an equine nutritionist. We care about their training routine in order to not overwehlm them and to try to work on different aspects such as elasticity, strength,technique, resistance and even desensitization to prepare them psychologically for different scenarios. As you now, the list of cares has no limit and can keep going indefinitely.
We, riders, no matter what level we ride at, must be athletes as well. After all, riding is a sport and, although non-riders might not get it, we don’t just sit up there doing nothing. For that, we need to take care of this points:
1. Practice a complementary sport and/or stretch.
Usually we think that we will get better at riding by riding more and more, but this idea can be counterproductive. Many times, what our body needs is a complementary exercise in order to develop the muscles in a more focused way or a full session of stretching to soften the muscles and relax our position.
There are many entertaining sports that you can practice at least once a week to help strengthen muscles and gain balance and stability on horseback:
- Pilates: Julie Driver's Pilates Tutorial discusses programs specifically for equestrians.
- Yoga: It can be as exhausting or gentle as you require. You may be able to find yoga on horseback clinics in your area.
- Tai Chi: It not only benefits body strength and suppleness but it trains the mind as well, as the focus required to do the sets becomes a moving mediation. If you plan to compete, learning to focus is essential.
- Martial Arts : They develop balance, focus, strength, body awareness and agility. All of these are essential for riding.
Stretching is an extremely important practice to add to your daily routine to be on your way to better health. Take a look at this 5 simple stretching exercises that can improve your riding performance. Even if you are not planning on exercising vigorously, it is still important to stretch in order to receive multiple benefits for your body and your mind. It is even more important for equestrians as the position of riding itself is repetitive and hard for the muscles and articulations. For that, it is recommended to stretch every time after riding to prevent contracted muscles and stiffness.
TOP TIPS: We also recommend to warm up a little bit before every ride, it will help you loosen the joints and increase blood flow to the muscles. Warming up the body prepares it for physical activity and prevents injuries.
2. Eat well and stay hydrated
- Eat lots of vegetables and fruit
This is one of the most important diet habits. Vegetables and fruit are packed with nutrients (antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fibre) and help you stay healthy.
- Choose whole grain food
Whole grain foods include whole grain bread and crackers, brown or wild rice, quinoa, oatmeal and hulled barley. They are prepared using the entire grain. Whole grain foods have fibre, protein and B vitamins to help you stay healthy and full longer.
- Eat protein foods
- Limit high and ultra-processed foods:
Some minimal processed foods are okay. These are foods that are slightly changed in some way but contain few industrially made additives.
- Make water your drink of choice
Water supports health and promotes hydration without adding calories to the diet.
Sugary drinks including energy drinks, fruit drinks, 100% fruit juice, soft drinks and flavored coffees have lots of sugar and little to no nutritional value. It is easy to drink empty calories without realizing, and this leads to weight gain.
Avoid fruit juice, even when it is 100% fruit juice. Although fruit juice has some of the benefits of the fruit (vitamins, minerals), it has more sugar than the fruit and less fiber. Fruit juice should not be consumed as alternative to fruits.
3. Try to have your riding checked as much as possible
We are not perfect and of course we are always learning, not only horse riders but every other human being on this earth.
You have probably noticed that even olympic athletes have trainers, of course they do. We need someone to check us from outside at least occasionally. If we ride alone for too long we will probably develop vices or mistakes in our riding. No matter how good you are, there are things that only someone from the outside can see.
Being in a state of willingness to learn and grow will also change your mindset and will help you in getting better, not only at riding but also will help you to achieve well-being and inner peace in your personal life.
4. Take care of your health
Riders endure too many things: from riding under the rain in the middle of the winter (risking getting sick) to deal with back pain caused by lifting too many buckets or even by a bad movement in the saddle riding a fresh horse.
We work with our whole body, we use our hands for a lot of rough work. We muck out the boxes, lift everyday bales of hay and uncountable essential chores without naming the physical effort involved in riding or training a horse
For that, our body is our most indispensable tool but, we only have one and we have to listen to it. Do not ignore aches or pains, listen to it. As much as it hurts taking it easy or giving up on riding for one day, your horse will appreciate it in the long term as all those contractures or aches will be transmitted to the horse one way or another. Riding crooked or stiff will only make you share the convalescence with your horse. So, as much as it hurts you, take the day off! Go to the physio or just let the body rest in peace, it will thank you later!
Taking care of your health includes caring about your intimate health.The intimate area, pelvis and hips play an important role in our riding. They are in direct contact with the saddle and are the main source of balance while riding. The intimate area is the part of our body that holds more pressure as it absorbs the movement of the horse. Riding with padded underwear is the best reward you can give to your intimate area for all the pressure that it holds.
Learn more about intimate health in... No Taboo: 7 common equestrian intimate health issues.
5. Rest and recovery
Rest is no at all about being lazy or avoiding movement. It’s necessary for our health and for being at our best when we are with the horses.
Rest has been shown to improve cardiovascular health, lower blood pressure and cortisol levels. Vacation in particular has also been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, and increase lifespan.
It allows the body time to repair and strengthen itself. It also allows to recover, both physically and psychologically.
What happens during the recovery period? The body is allowed to adapt to the stress associated with exercise, replenishes muscle glycogen (energy stores) and provides time for the body tissue to repair.
Sleep is another important aspect of rest and recovery. People who are sleep deprived are at risk of losing endurance and may experience subtle changes in hormone levels, which can lead to higher levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) as well as a decrease in human growth hormone, which is active during tissue repair.
The benefits of resting and recovering properly are:
- Better productivity and concentration
- Better calorie regulation
- Better sport performance
- More social and emotional intelligence. That includes the receptivity and quality of the relationship with our horses.
- Preventing depression.
- Lower inflammation in the body
- Stronger immune system.
Let's take care as the athletes that we are!