In my previous blog, I started on the theme of horse riding holiday preparations and the specific consideration of horse riding experience. This blog will continue on the preparations theme and the all-important rider fitness.
Let’s return to the Unicorn Trails brochure (previously mentioned in the blog post: How to choose a riding holiday – Part 1) where there is guidance on what level of fitness a rider should have to participate on specific horse riding holidays. It is important to take heed of this guidance to ensure you select a horse riding holiday suitable for your current athleticism. For example, if you are a happy hacker and ride for a short time each day at slow gaits, you may want to opt for a horse riding holiday where there is fewer hours in the saddle and no fast riding. Alternatively, if you live in the saddle and perhaps compete, you may want an advanced horse riding holiday with lots of fast riding and all-day trail rides.
But what if you don't have a horse? Even a happy hacker can increase their time in the saddle time and up the pace to gain more fitness for longer, faster trails. Well, you could be like me: horseless with not a great deal of spare time.
Right from the start, when I booked my first horse riding holidays to Iceland and Egypt, I knew I would need to at least maintain my current level of fitness, if not raise it a tad. Luckily for me, since I had returned to horse riding lessons, I knew a 30-minute private lesson each week wasn't enough exercise to give me the level of fitness I needed for those 30 minutes let alone on a super exciting horse riding holiday. For the reason that I was determined to improve my level of riding over time, I had started an exercise routine of a couple of light jogs (between 3.5 miles and 4 miles) each week. Weekly lessons to fine tune my riding skills and two bursts of cardio work to increase fitness was a good start. Though, I still had the issue of building stamina for hours in the saddle.
The answer here, particularly for those of us who work in an office or have another type of sedentary job, is a bicycle (and not the type with an electric motor or battery powered - well maybe but be realistic about how fit a powered bike will get you). I have found with a minimum of six weeks to go before a trip, a two-hour cycle every other weekend will increase stamina for long rides and prepare your seat so you are less sore or not sore at all on you well-earnt break.
I am fortunate. I have access to an outside gym: the streets, country lanes and cycle paths in and around my hometown. This outdoor gym comes fully equipped with abundant hills, which tests anyone’s fitness who cares to walk, jog or cycle up them. That said, I am pushed for time most days. I’m also not a natural athlete. So, my two jogs a week are up to four miles long. My cycle around 10 miles on each outing. Both of these cardo workouts are at a reasonably leisurely pace; enough to get your heart rate up (going uphill helps with this) but not hammering around that I end up with an injury. In the warmer months when the pollen count is high, I will set off on a jog with the best intention. Part way along, I will begin to feel fatigued and have no option but to change down to a power walk to get the miles in without too much strain on my body.
If you don’t have access to an outdoor gym and the wind, rain, and sleet it will throw at you on bad weather days (all stamina building forces), then an indoor running machine or exercise bike can get the same results. Don’t forget to use the gradient function. The gradient function will help prevent repetitive strain injury caused by using the same tendons and muscles over and over.
A couple of years ago, I had a riding accident at the beginning of my horse riding holiday. (Yes, accidents happen - I will write about this subject in a future blog.) To help heal my injury, I started weekly yoga classes. I cannot praise this form of exercise enough for anyone who rides horses. In less than two years, I have regained the flexibility of my younger days. My riding skills have benefited. I have better feel and move more in harmony with my horse. Yoga has helped me with all aspects of my life. From my office job to leisure time. I highly recommend it. If yoga doesn’t sound like the thing for you, I hear Pilates can get the same results.
If you are a natural athlete that can gain fitness swiftly, a six-week programme should be sufficient to get you to where you want to be. However, if you are like me and need a bit more lead time, I would suggest starting at 3-months to go.
My weekly programme looks like this:
Week 1 - 2 x jog (up to four miles) / 2 x yoga
Week 2 - 1 x jog (up to four miles) / 1 x cycle (up to 10 miles) / 2 x yoga
Week 3 - 2 x jog (up to four miles) / 2 x yoga
Week 4 - 1 x jog (up to four miles) / 1 x cycle (up to 10 miles) / 2 x yoga
Week 5 - 2 x jog (up to four miles) / 2 x yoga
Week 6 - 1 x jog (up to four miles) / 1 x cycle (up to 10 miles) / 2 x yoga
If the thought of jogging anywhere fills you with dread find an alternative form of exercise to build up your cardio fitness. You may already have a gym membership where you can take advantage of the classes and bike equipment. Or you may prefer to row, climb or hike. You need to find and do what you enjoy; otherwise, you won't keep it up.
Being fit enough for your horse riding holiday is essential. After all, you want to spend your time away enjoying the riding and admiring the scenery most rides will take you through. Instead of huffing and puffing and clinging on to your horse for dear life. Yes, you may experience some tired or sore muscles. But you want to keep any discomfort down to a minimum – a few aches that a soak in a hot tub at the end of the day would relieve.
My next blog post will continue on the horse riding holiday preparation theme and the informative ‘researching your destination’. To be notified of future blog posts and publications, you can follow me on facebook and twitter.