Riding involves much more than ‘sitting there’

Cassie Elia rides her horse, Dundee, during an October cross country lesson at Peppergrass Farm in Newburgh.
Courtesy of Jesse Schwarcz
Cassie Elia rides her horse, Dundee, during an October cross country lesson at Peppergrass Farm in Newburgh.
Posted Jan. 06, 2012, at 5:33 p.m.

Recently I was having a conversation with one of my riding students about the lack of riding time we have had. This means that when we do get time to ride, things are not as easy for us or our horses. Basic maneuvers become labored and to do stuff that was easy a month ago is now like trying to tie your shoelaces with one hand. The reason is because we, and our horses, lose fitness.

Riding is most definitely a sport. By riding, I don’t mean taking a public trail ride where the horses mosey along head to tail on a beaten path. The riding I’m referring to will cause both horse and rider to sweat.

If you’ve never ridden a horse before, you may be scoffing at that statement and thinking, “How can it be a sport? All you do is sit there.”

Those of you that have ridden more than a mosey are nodding your heads and saying, “Yep.”

Riding will use muscles in a person’s body that were hitherto lounging around in their bathrobes, not even bothering to brush their hair and eating cheese puffs. Suddenly, put on the back of a horse, those muscles are forced to do crunches, squats and jog an eight-minute mile.

English riders (by “English” I’m not referring to riders from the UK, but rather riders who ride in an English saddle as opposed to a Western saddle) have the added challenge of posting to the trot. Posting is standing and sitting in rhythm with the horse’s gait so that bouncing is

eliminated. Imagine doing deep knee bends while straddling a coffee table. That’s posting.

It takes fitness to stay in balance with a moving horse. Core strength is invaluable and joint flexibility is a must. The inner thigh muscles keep a rider upright and in contact with the saddle.

Calves and abs provide stability. Aerobically, requirements are less than a Tour de France biker but more than a volleyball player.

The horse is an athlete as well. If your horse has done nothing for the past few months but see how much hay he can eat in one day, it wouldn’t be fair to take him out for an hourlong ride. He may survive the experience, but will be sore and irritable the next time you want to go for a ride.

More importantly, he could sustain serious injury to tendons or ligaments if asked to perform beyond his fitness level. It is as important to keep your horse in good physical condition as it is to keep yourself fit.

Some interesting trivia regarding the equestrian sports … There are three equestrian events in the Olympic games: dressage, show jumping and three-day eventing. The three-day event includes dressage, show jumping and a cross-country jumping course. The cross-country course is ridden at 25-30 mph across fields, through water, up and down hills and over obstacles four to five feet high.

Equestrian sports are the only events in which men and women compete equally.

Looping back to the sweat comment, horses are the only creatures, other than humans, that sweat over their entire bodies.Those of you that said “Yep” to the previous statements are excused from the next challenge. Those of you who scoffed are invited to come take a riding lesson and see just how much “sitting there” is involved. Ibuprofen is on the house.

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