As an endurance rider, I love the freedom of riding over miles of the open countryside whilst developing a unique bond and understanding between horse and rider that is crucial to being successful in this sport.
I also enjoy the diversity of training a top endurance athlete, with lateral arena work, hacking, cross-training, and interval training all featuring as part of my regime.
Like many riders, I put 110% into training my horses making sure they are in peak condition to perform. My physical training on the other hand had, in the past, always taken a back seat.
The reality is, we all know how critical endurance rider fitness is. As riders, we need to be fit to ensure we stay light and balanced in the saddle to help our horses cover the miles as effortlessly as possible. Us horse owners are generally fit, especially when it comes to lifting heavy bags of feed, pushing multiple wheelbarrows, and walking many miles, so we are ride fit, right?
As I’ve learned this couldn’t be further from the truth.
A Distance Athlete from a Young Age
At school alongside competing in endurance, I also competed in long-distance running and marathon canoeing. I always considered myself fit and athletic. Despite this, my coach used to comment on my inflexibility and how I struggled with some of the basic stretches.
This was put down to the miles and long hours I rode and subsequent strength of my muscles. In my 20s now focusing solely on endurance, I started Pilates. I found it incredibly relaxing after a hard day at work and my core definitely felt stronger. However, I still struggled at canter in the arena. Not to collapse through my hip and on the longer distances I didn’t feel I was maintaining my seat as the miles went on.
In 2020 I was lucky enough to start working with RiderCise. It is through this partnership with Clare I have learned what endurance rider fitness truly is and what it isn’t.
The Differences I’ve Learned between General and Endurance Rider Fitness
The most important difference I’ve learned is. To perform optimally in the saddle the type of fitness you do has to be targeted to the muscles you use when in the saddle. To have the flexibility and strength (mobility) to maintain your position over the miles requires a mix of strength, HIT, and stretching exercises.
Before I started the RiderCise workouts I couldn’t even sit cross-legged, even as a child. The inflexibility my coach put down to my strong muscles was actually me not using my muscles correctly, resulting in compensation and restrictions. So whilst I was ‘fit’ before I definitely wasn’t endurance rider fit. After a few months of RiderCise workouts, I could for the first time in my life sit cross-legged, the restriction in my glutes and abductors has gone.
Even more importantly I now have the strength of seat to use subtle changes to influence my horse. Be that direction, pace, or cadence. Before I relied far too much on my hands and legs and not my seat. It must be a much more pleasurable experience for my horses being ridden by me now.
What I’ve Learned from Rider Specific Training
It is interesting how we don’t always apply the knowledge we have of horse fitness to endurance rider fitness. RiderCise has taught me that as with our horses it is important to taper your workouts prior to a competition to ensure you aren’t going into the competition with fatigued muscles. Another really important lesson I’ve learned is to ensure your fitness program isn’t detrimental to your riding.
If you push yourself and your muscles too hard in the gym so that you are sore you’re not going to ride well the following day. It isn’t about superhero strength, it’s about training the right muscles at the right time to improve your riding and stamina over the miles.
We also all have weaknesses we need to work on. Any tightness or misalignment in us will influence our horse’s way of going. As they adjust to our asymmetry. This can in time result in reduced performance, schooling misunderstandings, and occasionally, lameness. The RiderCise workouts have helped me to strengthen my weaker muscles, resolve my body compensation and improve my symmetry.
Like many riders, my horses are seen by a veterinary physiotherapist regularly throughout the season. I’d never even thought before RiderCise that I should be paying the same attention to my body! The benefit of a deep tissue treatment to release those restrictions is not only key to ensuring you are working out correctly but also able to ride well.
Endurance Rider Fitness is now part of my Mindset
I’ve also learned that endurance rider fitness is something you have to keep working at. Sadly, unlike horses, we lose our fitness fairly quickly. To be rider fit, especially for endurance, you have to stick at it with regular consistent workouts. They don’t have to be long though, 10-30 minutes five times a week. Having worked with RiderCise since 2020 I can’t believe how much suppler and stronger I am.
The days after an 80km I no longer feel fatigued and sore but ready to ride again. Not being fatigued in the saddle means I’m now able to maintain my mental focus. Not just on our route and the drive to keep going but, I am more aware of how I and my horse is feeling/going. Being able to pick up on any changes early helps us to ‘catch’ them before they become a problem. This is crucial when riding longer distances and/or trickier terrain.
Gaining a true understanding of endurance rider fitness through the RiderCise workouts has been transformational for me as an athlete. Both physically and mentally enabling me to bring my A-game every time I compete be that 30km or 160km.