Guest Author - Susan Hopf
Equestrian activities are athletic endeavors that create challenges for both horse and human. Horses are, by nature, strong-bodied, individuals with active minds that can at times react without thought for any nearby humans. To help minimize the innate dangers of spending time with horses a clear understanding of equine behavior and how it relates to human handling is a must. That and a human form that can actually “handle” whatever the horse may do.
First and foremost you, as the human element, should be aware of the demands put upon one’s body when associating with horses both from the ground and mounted. Physical fitness is a necessity in order to ensure your own safety and ability to deal with a calm horse. Young horses, those that have some behavior issues and green trained mounts require an elevated level of fitness for those working with such animals.
The level of fitness to which a pleasure rider should aspire is one that addresses core strength and balance. Yoga, Tai Chi, pilates along with a good cardio-vascular routine is vital. At minimum, in order to influence your horse, you must be able to maintain your own position (core strength), separate to some extent your left side from your right (flexibility) and to an even greater extent you must be able to separate your seat from your hands (combines core strength with lateral flexibility). Building on this basic level of fitness cardio-vascular endurance will allow you to keep up with the increasing demands from the horse as she increases her level of fitness.
Want to train, compete, trail ride or work at a stable then you must add strength training to your routine. Just the act of sitting on a horse compresses the human spine. Increase the length of time in the saddle and that compression increases. You must develop good core strength to combat the effects of long hours in the saddle. Add jumping, endurance riding, gymkhana, dressage and the lifting and toting of hay, water, bedding material and the abuse your body takes increases again; mostly directed at your spine. Strong muscles, good posture and flexibility throughout your body is an absolute necessity to help waylay the compounded effects of these very demanding activities.
Once fit it is imperative that you keep up with the “off-horse” workouts. The combination of all activities will help you maintain a healthy body as well as minimize the damage from falls, bumps, pulls, dragging, jerking and any other impact events that your horse may deliver to your body as he goes about his day – just being a horse.
So now that you are fit the other half of the safety equation comes from a working knowledge of equine behavior. This is a lengthy subject and one briefly addressed in varying articles linked below. Working with horses can be a dangerous activity but knowledge is your friend.
As a brief reminder you must remember the following:
Firstly horses are creatures of flight – over-face them and trouble will follow. When anticipating new adventures for your horse, such as trail riding, you must prepare them by exposing them to new items in their daily schooling sessions. Take them through a puddle at home before expecting they will ford a stream out on the trail.
Horses do not like to lead. You must secure your role as a confident leader each and every time you school your horse. This comes from the secure knowledge in how best to approach your horse, from the horse’s point of view, as well your ability to maintain your position regardless of the horse’s actions around or underneath you.
Horses respond best to small, repeated, steps forward with a positive outcome rather than discipline over big issues that they are not yet ready to face – make sure you have a clear plan for each day’s schooling – allow for discrepancies in daily improvement with a clear view to your ultimate goal(s).
Prepare yourself and your horse both physically and mentally before each new venture. Human fitness and equine fitness go hand in hand. Strength of body, mind, knowledge and character will take you further on your horse than you might imagine.