Riding for old crocs

More and more middle-aged and older people ride now. In fact there are more of us than ever before, you only have to look on Facebook and see just how many groups are dedicated to women over a certain age (sorry guys) who ride horses! And although some of those ladies will have had horses their entire lives, many of them are only getting their first horse now their children have grown up, or they have retired and have some time!

Unfortunately riding on its own isn’t enough to develop or maintain the core strength and flexibility we need to become the riders our horses want us to be. As we grow older it becomes harder and harder to get fit, or even just to maintain our fitness and suppleness. Even taking into account the amount of general exercise we do just looking after our horse, it still isn’t enough when we are in our 40s, 50s, 60s or beyond. Those years of working at a desk, sitting at a computer or behind a wheel have taken their toll.

Whether your interests lie in just hacking or trail riding or in dressage or endurance riding doesn’t matter. We shouldn’t be a burden for our horse when we sit on his back and unless we sit in balance and alignment in the saddle our riding will be detrimental to our horse.

As a Rider Biomechanics coach as well as a Pilates instructor, the most frequent “problem” areas I see in the older rider are tight hip flexors, lack of core muscles and postural imbalance (sitting more to one side than the other). Tight hip flexors in the rider restricts the movement of the horse’s back, causes the rider’s knees to creep up and can cause pain in the rider’s lower back. A weak core in the rider can create balance issues, causing the rider to be left behind the movement or pulled out of the saddle. Postural imbalance may cause the saddle to slip, affect the way the horse moves on a straight line or circle and even more alarmingly lead to back problems for the horse.

As riders, most of us have to juggle time spent riding and looking after our horse(s) with all the other aspects of our daily lives, but investing a little time in an exercise regime such as Pilates for your body will be hugely beneficial for both yourself and your horse.

Pilates is an excellent way to help the rider become more aware of their body and to teach them how to isolate and use specific muscle groups. Targeted exercises help improve the rider’s core, suppleness, flexibility and alignment.

If you haven’t done Pilates before it is a good idea to start with a Pilates for Beginners course as you really need to learn the fundamentals, otherwise you might like to  look at one of the courses aimed specifically for riders, be they on the mat, at the yard or on a Swiss Ball.

Once you start your course it is important to remember that you need to do the sessions regularly. As we grow older improving our fitness and suppleness takes time but losing condition and fitness seems to happen virtually overnight.

You can start improving your core strength by just sitting on Swiss Ball whilst you watch TV  – as you need to use your core just to stay balanced. Other exercises that are really beneficial for riders include Pelvic Circles on the Ball, Abdominal Curls, The Bridge, The Plank, Oblique Stretch and Scarecrow.

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