Riding is a great exercise that elevates your heart rate, makes you breathe deeper and requires your muscles work hard to maintain balance and rhythm. However should you only ride to maintain your fitness? Or look to include additional work to improve riding performance and health?
From the journals and books I have read they rightly encourage riding as an excellent way to reduce body fat and improve fitness. Maximum heart rate and the ability to use oxygen improve through riding, this is particularly relevant given that the performance of competitive riders is influenced by their aerobic capacity (how well they transport and use oxygen). Despite this most riding is predominately walking and trotting, but this can obviously vary depending on the standard of the rider and what the rider is training for. It’s not surprising that energy and oxygen demands are higher during jumping sessions than dressage and over time fatigue in the rider will occur. Check out the table below, I was impressed and surprised to see such high heart rates for ‘just riding’.
|HR (mean and SD)|
|Walk||106 ± 15|
|Trot||131 ± 20|
|Canter||144 ± 18|
|Jump||176 ± 24|
|Devienne and Guezennec, 2000|
Fatigue will impact performance, a lack of strength will greatly reduce control and balance, a lack of aerobic endurance can impede your concentration, decision making and, during high intensity riding such as jumping, could lead to significant mistakes. Different riding gaits (the pattern of steps of a horse) require increasing efforts from the rider as they have to maintain their balance. Interestingly, research has shown that movement from the rider can increase the horse’s work rate too. As always riding is a two way relationship and let’s not forget the personality traits of the horse too. A horse that needs to be pushed will ultimately require more effort from the rider!
Whilst it may seem plausible to think that just riding is enough, it is in most circumstances unlikely. Whilst riding can improve a riders aerobic capacity there are two things I would like you to consider. One, if your riding is predominately walking and trotting then it’s probably not high enough effort/intensity to keep/get you fit. And two, if you are riding at high intensities this inherently comes with bigger demand and risks, so why play it safe?
Key take home message
- Additional aerobic training (running, biking, rowing etc.) should be included to a riders training plan to help complement riding performance.
- Strength training should also be introduced given the large demands placed on the legs, hips and back. This will also help reduce the chance of injury.