Monday, July 11, 2011

fitness - long and rambling...

Stacey, over at The Jumping Percheron has been posting about physical fitness and the lack of it in the horse world, especially or maybe entirely among amateurs.
I totally agree but I wanted to post some thoughts about it and perhaps end up with some sort of rousing new focus for myself.

To start I have to get my disclaimers out of the way.  If I dump them all at once maybe I can keep from doing a significant amount of whining throughout the post.  And like most people I can whine up a storm about my own (lack of) fitness.
Ok, first up - I am old enough to be Stacey's grandmother, I am 60 and will turn the amazingly old age of 61 next month.
Second - I have done the type of physical fitness that she does, military style.  I was not in the military but for 18 years I worked a contractor job that involved fun and games with Navy Seals and Delta Force and anyone else of their type who said they wanted to come and play with us.  (For 10 years before that I was a police officer.)  That, in my opinion, is not horse sports fitness - it is a lifestyle.  For those guys it is life and death, for me it was a paycheck, but it is not fitness that normal people with jobs and kids and horses and dogs and dental appointments and soccer games.....etc etc etc.... have any interest, much less time, to achieve.
Third - my weight crept up on me when I stopped doing that job, started sitting at a desk and like many many people, let motivation to be fit, also known as FEEL GOOD, slip away.
Ok, so there are the disclaimers/excuses  and I think most of us have our own little list of WHY we are not fit.   When we write them down, they tend to look pathetic.

But I like riding horses, I like jumping, I like galloping across country and to do these things without being fit is stupid and dangerous.
So, not wanting to spend my life in a gym being talked down to by some twit who has never actually DONE anything with his fit body.  (And I have had a real fitness trainer, it is a different world, I just can't afford the trainer anymore.)  And having all the excuses that anyone can drum up, how do I go about getting fitter?  Am I ever going to be my 30 something fit again?  I don't think I can live long enough to get back to that and don't, honestly, want to.

I have radically altered my diet, eating less and nearly all organic.  I am eating less meat than I ever have, more veggies and trying to get my sugar addiction from unconcentrated fruit juices.
I walk as much as possible, but I am a long way from my 10k steps, which is only 5 miles. 
I do not run, 25+ years of daily running ruined my knees and each time for the last 10 years that I have started running it has not been worth it.
What I need is someone to barge into my house on a daily basis, after I get home from work and the barn, and force me to work out.  Probably not going to happen.

I need to be accountable.  When I first started doing anything after cracking my head I was logging distance walked on Nina's training log.  Perhaps that could be a start, hold myself accountable for logging something and shame will cause me to do something worth logging. 
I will work on that, Stacey's posts have been a kick in the pants.

Now I would like to offer some comments about the horse world.  For a SPORT, there isn't much talk about human fitness, workouts, what works and what doesn't to improve riding, it is all about the horses.    There is very little, if any, attention paid to physical fitness for amateur riders.  Those of us who take lessons, ride in clinics and compete at the lower levels are perfectly aware that trainers and coaches are frustrated with dealing with unfit riders.  At least we are if we are not deaf, dumb and blind.
I had ONE upper level event rider that a took a few lessons with, when I was fitter than I am now, who told me 'You need to be fitter, he is big strong horse and you are not going to be able to give him a good ride if you are not as fit as he is."
THAT is the only comment I have heard along that line, directed to me or anyone else in many years.
That's it?  Every clinic I have been to starts with a short discussion about goals and fitness levels for the horses, how about the riders?

HOWEVER, there is an unfortunate comparison made by trainers that causes amateurs to go out back of the barn and throw up.  This is the 'Look how nice she looks on a horse, look how good her posture (or her hair) is.  Look how nice her hunt coat fits."  always spoken about the anorexic young rider who weighs about 80 lbs and can't saddle or unsaddle her own horse because she cannot physically do it.  THOSE lovely comments, made all the time at shows, just justify to unfit riders how, at least they are better than that.  At least they are not dying from lack of oxygen after jumping a few fences, at least they have the strength to pull on the reins when they need to.

So between this nonsense and an overweight/obese society - why is physical fitness not stressed in equestrian sports?  ALL equestrians sports.  I for one was embarrassed that at the WEG our beer belly champion reiners, who won, looked like beer belly champions by comparison with the athletic European riders.  Does THAT promote being fit, being an athlete?  Look we won, beer bellies and all.

Most professional riders stay fit because they ride 8-10 horses a day AND work out - because it is their livelihood. Why don't they promote fitness in their students?
Why do only the old school pros talk about fitness and strength?
Maybe being PC has changed but a charging 1200# horse hasn't and is still just as dangerous - or scary - as it ever was.
Many riders quit riding when they are college age and then gravitate back to it later, only to find that their fitness and reflexes and lack of fear have all changed, and maybe it isn't fun any more, or it is too hard, and they quit again.    That is a loss to the sport with its dwindling numbers.

I think it is time for a change of culture in the horse world.  I am not sure how to go about it.  Helmets4Riders has accomplished a lot just by yelling about it and refusing to shut up.  Eventually the message sinks in.
How do we stop pretending that my fat ass in the saddle is just fine?  That anorexic teenager is not fine either.  Neither are the thin and lovely and soft riders who think that weight is fitness.

Trainers are afraid to offend clients, so it has to either come from grass roots or from the very top.  Nobody stops lining up to clinic with George Morris because he calls a rider fat.  He gets torn to shreds from behind anonymous names but he is hardly not in demand.  Why don't other top trainers follow his example?  Perhaps in a more constructive way, I don't know that he takes the time to explain what being overweight and unfit does to your balance and to your ability to recover after a mistake.

Years ago I was surprised to find that Ian Stark, at the top of his career, riding multiple 4* horses in each competition, trained for and ran in marathons and had a trainer help him with weight training with the goal of staying fit enough to survive those 4* rounds.   It has stuck with me.

Why doesn't this ethic trickle down?  What do we do about it?


  1. Just from what little I have learned online, I assumed that a person should be quite fit to ride a horse. It looks like work--for the rider and the horse! I'm surprised to hear it is not talked about.

  2. I agree with you 100%. The trainer I had back when I owned a Friesian did talk to me a lot about weight and fitness but she is the only one who has. It was also brutally obvious to me that I physically could not ride as large and strong a horse as he was without serious core strength. She hounded me into doing yoga. I'm 51 now, riding an "easier" horse, and still doing yoga. My 62 year old husband does it too. And I still fight my weight. I may take your example and blog on this topic as well - I think its very worthwhile.

  3. It is the same in the horse world as it is in 'non-horsey' land--working out is hard. So then we get on with the 'love yourself!' nonsense, and people are told it is okay to not be healthy.
    Not everyone is going to look like a stick, and frankly, thank god.

    It's hard, but sometimes if I really don't want to run I'll put my shoes on and say, 'only five minutes today'. And usually, once I'm out the door, I'll do the entire run. Once you find what motivates you, you'll be so much better off. The first steps are the worst!


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