Horse and rider fitness is a great way to get a head start for this competition season. Rider fitness is important so that you won’t limit your horse - to start with you could focus on your cardiovascular efficiency (how quickly your breathing rate returns to normal after exercise), as well as your core muscles. For your horse it is important they are fit enough because this will reduce the risk of injury, improve musculature necessary for the horse to work correctly and also required to ensure they can canter or gallop for sustained periods (like for cross country).
If you are starting after your horses has had a holiday, start from square one; walking on the roads or walking on hard tracks. This strengthens the horses tendons gradually so that they will be fit enough to undergo harder training later on. For the rider, try to set aside 5-10 minutes a day for a short workout - doing a ‘plank’ during an advert break on TV is an easy way to get into fitness.
Hill work is beneficial because it can be used to strengthen the horse’s muscles as well as improving their cardiovascular efficiency. To start with, working a horse in walk on a long rein (but on a contact) will work the horse over the length of the back, but to encourage hind end engagement, ride your horse uphill in an ‘up and round’ frame. Uphill canter work for your horse will also mean they can canter for longer - try increasing the length of time you canter them for or increase the speed. Hacking doesn’t have to be boring either – in the spring join in on some sponsored rides so you can practice jumping as well at the same time!
During hill work, a good test your balance is to stand in your stirrups - how long can you hold it for? Record how long you can hold it for each day and aim to improve every time you ride.
Improve your reactions by practicing! Start off with short, easier sessions and then increase the length of time as your fitness increases. Pole work is really good for building up fitness and strength for the horses and is beneficial for the rider as well. Riding without stirrups and grid work will also improve your strength and balance. Schooling regularly should help to improve your reactions as well, so you are both mentally and physically fit for this competition season.
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Written by Ella Vincent, a 17-year-old aspiring event rider from the South-East of England. You can follow me on Instagram (@ella_vincent_eventing) to see what I get up to this season!