What Exercise Has Taught Me About Horses!
As you may recall, I’m a big fan of exercise. Exercise for me, which happens at the barn, and also EAFTB (exercise away from the barn.) Working out gives me much more than strong muscles and a healthy heart, it’s open up my mind to understanding my horses more, too. They are every bit the athletes that we are.
What I have learned from my own exercise program that applies to my horses:
-Working one side of your body without a break leads to fatigue, pain, and failure instead of success. Imagine doing an entire 30 minutes of exercise on your right leg then moving to your left leg. No legs are going to be happy at the end of your exercise hour.
Now imagine asking the same of your horse - 30 minutes to the right on a circle before switching to 30 minutes on the left on a circle. It doesn’t even need to be 30 minutes - just be aware that drilling the same exercise in one direction can lead to deterioration of the result - not a better result.
Bridget and Jason from BioRider Fitness - they appear to be smiling? From fun or delerium?
-Some days you are just too darn sore to do much effectively. Now your muscles are telling you they need heat, rest, massage, pampering instead of more work. Ever push yourself at the gym, only to not be able to hold up a toothbrush the next day?
As Bridget Braden-Olsen of BioRider Fitness explains, “Soreness from exercising, known as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness ‘DOMS’, is a process the muscles go through in order to get stronger and more durable. We feel it as that burning, can’t sit down to go to the bathroom soreness. It’s the lactic acid in your body being expressed from the muscle tissue itself, like muscle detox.
Making you body workout or ride when you are extremely sore can be very painful, as well as counter productive. Most athletes can rest up to 2-3 days if they need too, not if you have horses! The quality of a riders performance is decreased when lactic acid is present in the body. Regular fitness training will help decrease lactic acid from building up as well as relieve the body of overall toxins, minimizing muscle soreness in the future.”
How does this relate to horses? Know that their muscles can feel just as sore as ours - and part of a horse’s training is building muscles and endurance. It’s up to us to read our horses - do you notice that he flinches when you curry comb him? Does he step shorter with his hind legs as you lead him to the cross ties? Does he resist listening to your leg once you get on? These are signs his booty and body are sore! Adjust his routine accordingly.
Jason from BioRider Fitness on a bosu ball - easy and compact equipment to stash at the barn!
-Some days you just need to stretch. I spend part of my day at the barn, and part of my day sitting in front of the computer creating masterpieces of writing for you. (Just like this one!!) Sometimes all my body tells me to do is roll around on the ground and stretch it out.
Your horse may also benefit from “stretchy days”. A long trail ride, some long and low riding, serpentines and figures to get all of the kinks out. My horses tell me they need a stretch when I offer a longer rein and they follow it down… peanut rolling style sometimes.
-Some days you just need to run. For me, I’ll admit that these days are few and far between. But - I sometimes have the urge to just play the “run like the wind” playlist and go pound it out on the pavement. It often coincides with the weather - much like the “cold weather friskies” that many horses seem to be afflicted with.
I can tell you for a fact that my horses also have these days - they have that “look” in their eye, but it’s also a feeling. They are more twitchy and feisty in the cross ties, they need no prompting to move more forward in the warm up, they are spookier than normal. Maybe that’s your day to do some gallop sets in the field!
-Some days you just need to take a nap in the sun and call it done. I am diligent in working out five to six days a week. Without a day of rest, my body has no chance to recover and recharge. Bridget and the BioRider fitness crew also chime in here, too. “Rest is imperative to an athlete’s performance and if you don’t have that option, create a workout schedule that allows you and the horse to have lengthening days. When you just shouldn’t ride, give the horse time to play on the line. There’s always something you can do, just plan for your work week with you and the horse.”
I believe horses need a day without a saddle and rider. Period. Think of it as their opportunity to play, lunge, nap all day, do what suits them. You can always use that non-saddle time to teach clicker training, go for a hand graze, have fun and build your relationship.
-A little bit every day is better than a lot on the weekends. If I walk/exercise/yoga/train for 20 minutes a day for five days, I will be much better off than if I did 100 minutes of the same on the weekend. Injuries will be reduced, fitness will develop properly, soreness will be decreased, brains will be happier, bodies will be stretchier and more toned and more awesome.
The same is true for your horse. It’s not fair to ask him to work his butt off for two days and then sit around for five days. Sure, he may be turned out during the week to walk around and play and do horse stuff, but he won’t be using the same muscles for the same amount of time on his own. He will also be naked, without tack, without a rider. Sometimes being a weekend warrior is your only option, just be fair as to what you are asking your horse to do for you on the weekend.
PS - Don’t forget to warm up! This goes for you and your horse! Bridget and the BioRider Fitness team have some great (and easy) warm up exercises for riders before they get on. You get a great leg warm up here, on the BioRider Fitness website here.
What has your own exercise routine taught you about how your horse feels?