My [Horse’s] Fitness Plan

Hello, my name is Sara and I’m a crazy 28 year old living in Baltimore, Md. I have 2 crazy dogs, a very feisty horse, and live with my boyfriend all while trying to maintain a job, keep the house standing, keep the dogs from running away, keep the horse from kicking me, and try to lose a few pounds. Normally I rant all about it at my site:www.belayon.wordpress.com but today I’m going to share something I didn’t outline on my site – my horse’s fitness plan.

Just recently I made the commitment to buy a horse I have been working with for about a year. Circumstances presented themselves and I had just enough pennies in the bank to make it happen. Meet Smash.

Smash being camera shy

She is a 7 year old 17HH Holsteiner Thoroughbred mare. Just to give you a better understanding I am 5’5″ and I’m standing on flat ground next to her in that picture. Being a warmblood breed means she is big, powerful, and agile – AKA a WHOLE lot of horse! Being a mare and young equals a whole lot of attitude. Put those together and you’ve got your hands full! As an experienced rider (I’ve been riding for 22 years) and a feisty female myself  I love challenges like Smash because she has a great work ethic, has the ability to ride up to my level and beyond, and always keeps me on my toes. What does this have to do with 110pound’s theme of healthy living, you might ask? I’ll explain.

I am a competitive person by nature and I love to go to horse shows. Horseback riding is my passion in life. I LOVE it! Currently our ability renders us to the Beginner Novice division in Eventing. Beginner Novice means all of the jumps in Stadium and Cross Country are approximately 2’6″ high. Eventing is the most demanding discipline I’ve ever competed in because it’s like a triathlon for horses. You compete in dressage, stadium jumping, and cross country jumping all in one day. If you or your horse is not in shape it can get pretty ugly pretty quickly! It is essential you and your horse are fit so you are not only be safe at the competition but also so you can kick some major butt and get a pretty ribbon. (It’s all about the ribbon!) At my last horse show I ran into some fitness issues. I completed dressage with flying colors and even made it through Stadium jumping with a clear round (no knocked rails or refusals) but by the time we were done those 2 elements Smash was dead tired. I had to retire from the competition for her safety and ultimately mine. It broke my heart since I was tied for second place but I knew it was the right decision. Now that I’m 100% responsible for Smash’s fitness/well being I have come up with a training plan.

Mondays – Endurance training. Unfortunately there aren’t many horse treadmills in the world so I can’t just tie Smash to a treadmill and tell her to run for 3 miles. Instead this is when I do what are called trot/canter/gallop sets. (trot, canter, gallop are all speeds of the horse) Sets are similar to human suicide runs/sprints. If I’m in a big ring shaped like a square I would walk one length then trot/canter/gallop all the way around the ring until I reach the end of length I started at. Then I repeat until the desired number of sets are completed. These sets work on endurance and heart rate/cardio recovery. Just like in humans – the better your HR recovery/cardio is, the longer you can run!

Wednesdays – Jump training. Jumping can be sort of compared to weight lifting for horses. But only sort of. When jumping Smash needs to use her hind end to balance herself and propel her body over the fence without knocking it over. The set up and take off also help her land correctly on the other side of the fence. Jumping training is important because of the muscle memory it creates, the ability for horse and rider to see take off points easily, and endurance to jump over and over again. Plus, once a horse gets comfortable jumping a certain height it is easier to increase the height and move up in training/competition.

Fridays – Dressage work. Dressage is a discipline that demands the horse perform balanced and use their body to the fullest degree. Here’s an example of what I mean – say you are a swimmer and you like to swim freestyle BUT you only use your arms, hardly any flutter kick, and when you breathe you lift your head up instead of tilting to the side. Now compare that swimmer to one who uses arms and legs equally and tilts their head to breathe. Both are swimmers but not only is the second swimmer faster and more efficient they are getting a much more even full body workout than the first swimmer who probably goes home stiff and sore and extremely fatigued. The same is for horses. Some horses carry themselves with their front 2 legs, shoulders and neck/head. Dressage encourages them to use their core (yes, horses have a core), hind end, and back to propel themselves along with engaging those same muscles to stop, too. Once a horse is balanced they can perform lateral work like a leg yieldshoulder in, and haunches in to name a few. I typically work on circles, sprials, surpentines, transitions, and a few lateral exercises for my dressage work. For beginner novice you must perform a Test for a judge you critiques you on how well you perform each movement. You can view my last dressage test here.

Sundays – Lesson Day. Once a week I train with my instructor. She teaches me new things, refines the stuff I’m already working on, and is a second set of eyes on our progress. Lessons can vary from dressage work only to a day of jumping or both. My Mom and I alternate lessons on Smash.

Ok so now that you have a basic and hopefully not too confusing idea of Smash’s training here’s where MY training comes to play. If I am not in shape there is no way in h-e-double hockey sticks I’d be able to ask Smash to do all of this let alone even keep up with her. I have to have my own fitness routine so that my balance, core, strength, and own endurance is up to par.

Currently this has been my fitness routine:

Mondays – Weight training at Planet Fitness and Riding. For $10 a month you just can’t beat it. I take 20 pound hand weights to the Weight Circuit area so while I’m not at a weight machine I can do another strength training exercise the machines don’t really allow for. Example – I’ll do the leg press machine then pick up my hand weights and do bicep curls instead of just stepping on their stepper for a minute.

Tuesdays – Running. Tuesday is my Weight Watcher meeting and since I live only 2.5 miles from the meeting I run there, weigh in, get some motivation, and run 2.5 miles home. This is my main cardio day.

Wednesdays – Rest or Weights and Riding. Depending on how Tuesdays run went I either rest or do the weight circuit again.

Thursdays – Rest or Ride if weather is craptacular on Wednesday or will be on Friday.

Fridays – Easy run and Easy weights and Riding. The only way you get better at running is to run. So on Fridays I like to do a short, fast, easy run.

Saturdays & Sundays – only riding.

I follow the Weight Watcher plan to help me lose weight (Only 9 pounds left until goal!) and keep me eating lots of produce and whole foods. While I love Weight Watchers I don’t always love what they do or don’t push in terms of nutrition so I do my own thing by eating as many whole foods as possible with a few treats here and there.

You may think after reading this I don’t have a life and that’s true but I still do have and make time to see my boyfriend, other friends, and family. While I don’t really go out all that much, the opportunity to do other normal life things aside from working out or training Smash does exist. Most of my workouts are done at lunch time and riding is done right after work. On the weekends I ride early in the morning so I have the rest of the day to do what I want or need to get done. And don’t think this schedule is set in stone. There are plenty of times I change it or adapt it depending on weather or what my body or Smash’s body is telling us. If I’m too tired, I’ll rest. If Smash is cranky or tired we’ll just do a lighter version of whatever workout we were planning on doing. Life is unpredictable. Horses are even more unpredictable. I can plan it out as much as I want but it doesn’t mean it’ll go that way. 🙂 Heck, most if not all of my plans are usually rewritten! But as long as I have a general outline of what I’d optimally like to happen, I get there eventually 🙂

I hope this was a new way of looking at fitness and how being healthy ties into everything else we do or would like to do in life. It’s not just about a number on the scale or size in the tag of your pants (even though those are added bonuses!) but it’s about being able to do the things we love to our fullest capacity. If you have a passion in life that you’ve kind of been struggling with, consider upping your own health/fitness by cross training to help. Essentially I’m using conventional workouts as my cross training for riding but maybe you love running and want to use bike riding as a cross training exercise to improve your cardio endurance and to help your whole body than just your running muscles. Everyone benefits from cross training – even Smash!

And remember – if you LOVE what you’re doing it won’t feel like exercise at all!

Lisa’s Note: Thank you so much Sara for sharing this with me. I loved horseback riding as a kid and I’m always interested in alternative forms of fitness. 

QUESTION: What is your favorite “alternative” form of fitness? Do you like horseback riding?

12 Responses

  1. Thank you for sharing your story. As a kid I used to go to horse camp every summer. I LOVED it. It’s one of my happiest of memories from my childhood. I never thought about this being a way to work out too. 🙂 Have a good day!

  2. I love how you compare eventing to triathalons for people. It truly is! I loved reading about your fitness plan for Smash. What I loved the most though was your whole paragraph about life being unpredictable and how that relates to your riding and training. Sometimes I have to remind myself that the world doesn’t revolve around my horse! 🙂
    Lisa recently posted..Oct 11, Horse Riding Rental

    1. Wait? The world doesn’t revolve around horses and the barn??? crap. 😉 Yeah it’s hard to separate reality with the horse world and most of my friends get sick of me talking about Smash but…c’est la vie 😉 If only they knew how much fun it was to smell like horse and pamper a 1200lb animal who probably doesn’t even realize how good they have it half of the time 😛

  3. Oh I really liked this post. I am a horsebackrider myself, I do not do eventing, but I do long distance rides with my Hispano-Arabian horse.

    And it is so very very important to train the horse as well as the rider. You don’t do your horse a favour, if you sit on his/her back like a bag of flour, because you lost your power after some minutes…

    I love your plan(s). Go ahead!

    Warm Regards
    Mascha from Germany (http://aaaattacke.blogspot.com/2011/10/immer-wieder-montags_17.html)
    Mascha recently posted..Motivationsschub 😉

  4. It is a great place and really thanks to you Sara for this nice post. I am genuinely inspired to your horse’s fitness plan. I am also professional horse riders. This post is really inspiring to me who have taken the training of horse riding. Thanks for sharing this valuable article……

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