Rainy days, lost shoes, frozen footing: You’ve heard every excuse in the book for your students to skip a lesson. Be prepared to counteract their whining with the suggestion of an unmounted lesson. You probably can’t charge your usual rate for the session, but both you and your students will benefit from a series of rainy-day exercises.
Julie Peterson, Pilates trainer and owner of Equestrian Fitness, works with riders on improving their strength, stability, and body awareness in order to better communicate with their horses. The muscle groups riders need to target, she says, depend on the riders’ skill level and discipline. “Beginners need to strengthen their hip adductors (inner thighs), lengthen their calf muscles for ‘heels down,’ and work on general strength and stability through the torso (or core, an area targeted by Pilates work),” she says. In addition, pelvic awareness and pelvic and shoulder stability are important for beginners.
More advanced riders already have strong hip adductors, so Peterson works on strengthening the opposing muscle group, the hip abductors. Time in the saddle makes muscles tight, so all-around flexibility is also an area of concentration.
No matter the discipline, riding requires the strength and coordination of several muscle groups. So, for your next rainy day, put together a workout session that will benefit your students. Consider including the following six exercises. You can do these in the barn aisle, the tack room, or your home. Before you begin, have the essentials on hand:?a bottle of water, a towel or blanket for floor exercises, a chair with a tall back, and hand weights.
1. The Pilates Hundred
To work your core, Peterson suggests a slightly modified version of this common Pilates exercise. Lie on your back with your legs in the air, bent so your knees are in line with the top of your head. Your arms are at your sides with your palms facing the floor. Lift your head, neck, and shoulders off the floor—all in one motion, not pulling with your head—and pump your arms up and down while inhaling for five counts and exhaling for five counts until you’ve reached 100.
2. Isometric Inner Thigh Squeeze
Sit on the floor facing a chair with your head stretching toward the ceiling. Put your legs in front of you with your knees relaxed. Rest your palms on the floor at your sides. Curl the arches of your feet around the legs of the chair, squeeze, and hold for a count of ten. As you get stronger, lift your legs off the floor to maximize this exercise.
3. Pelvic Rotations
Pelvic rotations result in pelvic stability, leg strength, and stretching of your spine. To begin:?Kneel in front of a chair. Hold the back of the chair with your arms straight in front of you and relax your body and neck. Slowly move your right hip as far as you can to the right, come back to center, move your left hip as far as you can to the left, and come back to center. Be careful not to arch your back to compensate for the awkward movement. Repeat ten times.
4. Standing Calf Lift
Holding onto the back of the chair for stability, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, keep your abdominals tight and your neck straight. Slowly rise onto your toes and hold for five seconds. Repeat ten times. As you get stronger, do this calf lift with one foot at a time, keeping the other heel slightly off the ground.
5. Side Bend
To work the muscles in your upper and middle back, shoulders, and arms, you’ll need light hand weights. If you don’t have weights, you can use supplement containers with handles or 16-ounce plastic bottles filled with mud as substitutes.
Stand with your legs six to eight inches apart and knees slightly bent, weights in your hands at your sides with palms facing inward. With your abdominal muscles tight and head upright, slowly bend your body at the waist to the right, sliding the weight on the left toward your left armpit. Return to the starting position and repeat on the opposite side. Do ten on each side.
6. Basic Front Lunge
Holding your hand weights, stand in the starting position for a side bend. Lunge forward with your left foot, keeping your left knee directly over your left ankle. Raise your right heel slightly off the floor as you move forward. Slowly return to the starting position and repeat with the right leg. Try ten repetitions with each leg to work your thighs and hips.
Exercise is good, but only if you understand the goals and are up to the exertion. Be aware of the following:
- These exercises aren’t meant for building muscle mass. A rider’s goals are strength, endurance and flexibility.
- Remember to stretch before and after any workout, including riding, to increase range of motion and decrease risk of injury.
- While these exercises are a basic starting point, riders with health conditions or who have never entered an exercise program should consult a doctor before attempting any serious exercise endeavors.
With these cautions in mind, why not try a new kind of lesson the next time the rain is pouring, or a client’s horse has come up lame? Or, perhaps you can create a weekly fitness hour for clients. Get a few workout videos and books to vary your routine and produce a well-rounded workout. The benefit for both horse and rider will be obvious.