Yes, I’m a big believer in cross training for my horse. I school him on the flat, stretch him out with some lateral work, take him for a brisk gallop and ride up a few big hills.
Then there’s me. I know that I ride better when I’m in better shape. Even though I ride five or six days a week, toss around hay bales and muck out stalls and paddocks, that’s not enough to make me fit.
Earlier this year I was both inspired and embarrassed by a post I read on The Barb Wire, On the Road Again, where Tamara writes:
One of my favorite ways to prepare a horse for its first rides out of the round corral is to do a lot of in-hand roadwork, first walking, then driving, then trotting. The benefits are both physical and mental — and not just for the horse.
I can imagine walking my horse. But running with my horse while it trots? Not in this lifetime. I’ve never been coordinated enough to run. In fact in college the folks at the infirmary asked me to stop running because I kept twisting my ankle.
For the past nine years minus one, I’ve been a swimmer. I had always loved to swim but I made the physical and metaphorical plunge and joined a Masters swim team because I wanted to swim harder and better. While I require little encouragement to ride my horse — even to school my horse — most days I don’t have the self discipline to get into the pool and swim 3,000 meters and really push myself without the support of team members (hey, if they aren’t going to give up in the middle of a set, I guess I can’t) and the stop-watch clicking gaze of my coach who reminds us periodically that his grandmother can swim breastroke faster than we do.
About a year ago, I stopped swimming. It started with an injury (yes, horse related) and then life just got busy. I have had a lot of excuses and some real reasons why I coudn’t get to the pool. The problem is, that swimming adds a lot to the quality my life. When I swim several days a week the pinched nerve in my upper back goes away. My weight stays under control. And, perhaps most important, I ride better.
Once I started swimming I realized that my core strength and body control improved. My trainer noticed the difference right away and my horse probably appreciated it too.
There are lots of ways to cross train to improve your riding. Several of my friends take pilates classes that cater to riders. Others run, and several of them lift weights.
As for me, I’m back in the pool trying to swim faster than my coach’s grandmother.
How’s this for timing? Tamara just wrote a great post on rider fitness, and the responsibility of riders to maintain their fitness, on The Barb Wire. It’s a great read — Straight Sailing — Thoughts on Fitness for the Endurance Rider.