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Pro And Non-Pro Reiner Article Series 24 - Functional Fitness for you and your horse

Posted in Equestrian News, Home Page articles, western riding

Pro And Non-Pro Reiner Article Series 24 - Functional Fitness for you and your horse

the rider news sunset two horses and a rider

Functional Fitness for you and your horse

As show season is almost upon us, many of us are dreaming of the hot summer days and hoping the wet and damp and mud season of winter is past us (although you never know). When the weather is good we can start riding outside again and – even look forward to the humidity – until it happens that is...

If you have a seasoned show horse, you may have given them the winter off and you’re now working on getting them fit again. If you have a horse in training, then it’s likely to have been ridden over the winter too – the workouts may start to get longer and more challenging as the horse is readied for competition. 

Your horse needs to be fit enough to handle all the manoeuvres deftly, with the grace and agility that can only come from being in peak physical condition. Forcing a horse to spin at speed or gallop into a sliding stop when they’re not a peak fitness can cause injury and put them out of action for the entire show season.  Building up strength and stamina takes time and planning. 

In this partnership, the horse is the athlete; you, the rider, the competitor.

So your horse is fit, but what about you? 

Photo by Tom von Kapherr Photography

It’s equally important for the rider to be as fit as they can be – I’ve seen people who after finishing a run are huffing and puffing – out of breath. When you’re out of breath how can you possibly ride your best? I’ve seen other riders who clearly don’t have the strength in their legs and others without strength in their upper body to sit properly. 

Notwithstanding any health or physical reason that makes it difficult for you as the rider to be in the best shape you can be, then you owe it to your team – you and the horse – to be as fit as they are. (OK maybe not quite as fit as the horse, I’m never going to be able to gallop fast circles with something weighing up to one quarter of my body weight on my back…)

Riding in and of itself if done regularly will help with developing strong glute muscles but for everything else, the rider needs to consider other forms of activity.

Photo by Tom von Kapherr Photography

Jen: Three important areas that I see for the rider for functional fitness include body imbalance – one side of our body is weaker than the other. Flexibility – tightness of muscles that would make our body more ridged. Core strength – weakness that would cause our body to collapse with no center of balance. All these issues would inhibit our functionally riding. A regular routine of strength training, stretching and core exercises definitely improves our riding.

Sharon: I’d been a gym rat many years ago, but let that slip when I started riding horses again. By 2022, I  knew I wasn’t as strong overall as I had been back then, and my body was out of alignment riding.  In 2023 I saw an ad for cross fit and thought heck… why not…could be fun… so I started cross fit and over the course of a few weeks, saw and felt results – I am now an avid cross-fitter.

My strength has improved: I can easily hoist the saddle on my horse, my riding has improved as I have better core strength and body alignment, and I don’t get out of breath when going to catch my horse in his massive field! I think my horse also benefits from me being able to ride him better as I can carry myself stronger in my seat.

Bottom line: both athlete and competitor need to be fit to give the team the best possible chance in the show pen!

Pro and Non-Pro articles written by Jen Jonas of Jonas Performance Horses (Pro) and Sharon Jones of Be A Better You (Non-Pro). Together, they are J&J Reining Inc. Both Jen and Sharon are believers in continual learning – if you’re not learning you’re not growing.


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