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How fit do you need to be to rider?

Katie Hancox

21 Mar 2023

How it do you need to be to ride?

This is question I get asked quite a lot so I felt the need to summarise some key points here.

We as riders are a little guilty of perhaps concentrating too much on our horses’ fitness and training and fail to consider our own.

So how fit do you need to be to ride? Well, research suggests that riding requires a high level of isometric muscle activity (where muscle is under tension but not changing length). What this means is that HR increases disproportionately to muscle activity.

Therefore, most riders can happily do a little schooling but ask them to run 5k in a decent time and they will struggle (me included!!), as CV fitness and endurance although important, is secondary to muscular endurance when it comes to riding.

Perhaps most interestingly in a study by Douglas (2012) comparing elite vs non-elite event riders. Results showed, following physiological testing, the only significant difference between the groups was length of time the plank could be held.

Elite riders were able to outperform the non-elite riders in this exercise alone, suggesting that core stability and muscular endurance is a key element to rider performance.

​Quite striking seeing as the difference between elite and non elite in most other sports is wildly different!

It also important to note some subtle differences between disciplines. The jumping disciplines can be seen to be more physiologically demanding as there is more dynamic/isometric activity. Polo again can be seen to illicit a greater physiological response in athletes in comparison to dressage. 

When thinking about rider fitness it is therefore important to understand the physiological demands of the discipline in which you are going to be performing, in order to tailor your training a little more specifically. 

However, it is key to understand that any form of training off the horse is going to significantly benefit performance on the horse. The fitter you are the better you are able to cope with stress (which let's face it is a good thing with horses ) and will be able to maintain a lower HR during activity which will Improve your time to fatigue.

So if you want to see improvements in your riding take a look at what you're doing off the horse to address this.

Click the link below to see a systematic review into the physical and physiological demands of equestrian sport.  

Just remember...a fit partnership is a successful one!


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