Usually our primary focus is directed towards the well-being and fitness of our horses, but we must also take into consideration that riders are just as important, and must be in peak condition, as both participants in horse sports are athletes, and both need special preparation.
Being at optimum fitness and on top of your game will give you a huge advantage in the ring, as your thought processes and your reactions will be sharper, enabling you to make fast decisions on approach, direction and stride, and you will also feel more confident in your ability to do the job of jumping.
Mobility in the saddle is paramount, and if you are supple and adjustable, you will be able to cope with any sudden unexpected movements underneath you, and have less chance of being unseated. Certainly, on competition days, adrenalin runs high, but this can be draining, especially if you are in multiple classes and/or have several rides. Although each round lasts only up to about two minutes, just consider how many decisions you make and how much physical action is required each time to realise what a lot of effort is packed into a relatively short time. This makes show jumping a very intense sport, and will be physically exhausting if you are not fit and prepared.
Our bodies are fit for what we do on a regular basis, so if you ride eight to ten horses a day, you will be fit for riding! If, however, you are a one horse owner, you probably need additional fitness training from other sources. Regular pilates, yoga, jogging and swimming are all excellent activities to improve core muscles, stamina and suppleness, providing you are careful to remain consistent.
Added to regular riding and stable work, this should see you through to being a healthy, fit adult with no weight problems. You probably select the best feed for your horse and design a well thought out diet for him, but you must do the same for yourself. We all understand the basics of healthy eating these days, so drink plenty of water to keep your fluids high, and ensure your snacks are protein bars, not from fast food vans! Start the day with a good breakfast to get the metabolism going, and prevent hunger pangs setting in too early.
All your preparations will stand you in good stead if you find yourself at the end of a long day, tired with a long drive home, and waiting for your turn in the last jumping round at a show, which is often the most important challenge, and you want to do well. Your reserves of energy must be high enough to respond to your desires; your brain is your most powerful tool, and if you can apply mind over matter you won’t go far wrong if you have a fit, healthy, responsive body.
Jenny Richardson is Equestrian Centre Business Manager at Ireland’s Castle Leslie Estate, a venue that offers luxurious equestrian holidays, including flatwork and dressage breaks, in the heart of Ireland. Visit www.castleleslie.com