As an extension to Dale’s post about the correct use of the seat, I want to emphasize rider fitness. By increasing my own fitness levels, I gave myself an advantage when I was put in an optimal position to train for the sport. Here is how I did it:
First, I adopted this attitude: No pain, no gain! I am a believer in cross-training your body for your sport.
I was without a horse for a number of years, waiting for my next opportunity to dive into dressage. Being the stubborn type, I was not willing to ride for the sake of riding. I would only get back into the sport of dressage under three conditions: The first was the ability to begin training in dressage full-time with the right instructor; the second was to do so with the right horse; and the third was to be able to afford it all.
Well, as you can image, having no instructor, no horse, and no way (yet) to afford my beloved sport, I went through a long lag time of not riding at all.
But, though I am stubborn, I am also optimistic! I looked around and wondered what I could do to prepare myself for this sport off the horse. I wanted to be ready to shoot out of the cannon the minute opportunity struck. With this determination fueling me, I dove into a physical fitness program that focused on core strength, flexibility and cardio. By golly, when I did get on a horse, I wasn’t going to be out of shape. Though I knew my skill was deficient, I wasn’t going to allow that shortcoming to be exacerbated by a lack of general fitness!
Thus entered core conditioning and all the grueling mat exercises I could stomach (no pun intended, of course). 😉
I did every kind of strengthening and stretching known to man. I did so much that I went overboard and strained a muscle or two. I then got smart and began working closely with a certified Pilates instructor and physical therapist who helped me wade through all the garbage exercises out there (just look on YouTube–you will find them in droves!). What I found were exercises tailored to the sport of riding; they were easier on the body and really did work to tone and strengthen the core. I soon developed a very fit core and when that opportunity to ride with Dale arrived, I was ready! I couldn’t believe how fit I felt. Skilled…well, no… but prepared…YES! I could easily stabilize myself on the horse, even on her Grand Prix mount Galoni as he guided me through a canter pirouette (what a wonderful soul that guy was!). It made my rides that much more enjoyable to feel stabilized and fit enough to do the sport justice. No, my skill had not come along just yet, as that takes years (7-10 years to make a Grand Prix rider), but at least there was no lack of fitness holding me back.
So this is why I believe so strongly in the value of core strength. It’s worked for me, and as I teach my students, I see it working for them in a way that cuts their training in the saddle back so they can move on to the “fun” stuff so much quicker.
So, much more to come on fitness. In the meantime, go buy yourself a stability ball!