Winter riding feeds your soul, but in order to stay in shape for winter riding, you might need to tweak your fitness program. You might add exercises to strengthen your core, your middle and upper back, and, of course, your legs. Of course, before you begin or change your current practice, check with your doctor to be sure the changes you make are good for you. 

Body Basics 

Any healthy movement will benefit your body, but exercise experts recommend we incorporate three key elements into every workout for maximum benefit; weight, time, and intensity

Weight refers to the load you must use to accomplish a task. When you’re lifting a hay bale, it’s a no-brainer, but when exercising, adding a dumbbell or ankle weights can help you gain strength and balance. Adding time to a workout can improve aerobic capacity, critical for jumping a course, riding a dressage test, or running a barrel race, all disciplines requiring a rider to be aerobically fit.  Finally, adding intensity, running just a little faster for a minute or so, make it easier to push yourself harder in the saddle.  

Healthy eating is a key component of any fitness program. Instead of counting calories, keep healthy fruits and vegetables in the house. Make reaching for an apple much easier than reaching for a muffin. Cold-weather veggies include cabbage, broccoli, and brussels sprouts. I have to confess, I love roasted brussels sprouts drizzled in olive oil with just a few crunchy bacon bits sprinkled on top. 

Mind and Soul 

We tend to focus on the physical when we start or tweak our fitness program, but your mind is an integral part of your training regimen. Even if you can’t ride, you can improve your ride by enlisting the help of a mental coach. Even a few sessions can unstick that sticky problem you’ve been having while riding. Many work online with zoom calls or via telephone. 

Practice visualization, mental rehearsal skills, and use centering. Mindfulness is simply the ability to stay in the moment. It’s the single most powerful psychological skill any athlete can possess. You can practice while on your horse, but winter is also a great time to practice staying in the moment when you’re doing mundane things, like brushing your teeth. You might even practice brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand. 

That’s going to feel a little uncomfortable and awkward, but it’s a super-brain exercise that can train you to stay in the moment as you approach a jump. Solving puzzles like Sudoku, crossword puzzles, and even learning a new language can strengthen your brain for problem-solving, another useful skill for riders.

Winter isn’t a season most of us associate with getting fit, but it’s actually a perfect time to start a program or ramp up your current program. One side benefit is that exercise is proven to stave off the winter doldrums. So, have fun with your fitness program and we’ll see you in the spring!

Winter Riding

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Karen Elizabeth Baril

Karen Elizabeth Baril all sorts of subjects, including equine and animal wellness, the writing life, motherhood, marriage, and what it’s like to be a woman in the 21st century. You can find out more about Karen on her website.

December 6, 2022