Stay Riding Ready In Corona-Quarantine

I’m thankful to be writing this after enjoying an afternoon trail ride with my mare, Honey. Typically, she won’t go out alone, but we are following social distancing recommendations and decided to give it a try. Much to my surprise, she seemed to enjoy herself and never motioned to turn around or cut our trail short!

I know many people aren’t as lucky, and some barns have been forced to close due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That said, there’s a lot we can do as equestrians to keep our bodies prepped for when we can get back in the saddle again.

Before we get started, I want to review all the muscle groups engaged while riding:

Muscular System

  • Hip Flexors, Abductors, and Adductors
  • Groin Muscles
  • Glutes
  • Quadriceps
  • Calf Muscles
  • Shoulder Blades
  • Back Muscles
  • Abdominals

Noelle Floyd does a really nice job discussing how we use each of these muscle groups while riding, but for today’s purposes, I want to simply bring awareness to how much our body works while we’re in the saddle.

My biggest recommendations for riders at home are to:

  1. Stretch daily.
  2. Keep working your riding muscles.
  3. Create a plan with your trainer for when you return.

Stretch Daily

As a lifelong rider, my body talks to me – a lot. My hips are tight, my low back is in [almost] constant pain, and my hamstrings always need time to loosen up. I’ve learned to never underestimate the importance of stretching when it comes to skeletal alignment, posture, balance, and overall comfort. That said, I love this video from Blogilates that walks you through a great daily stretch routine to help relieve stress and increase flexibility in your hips and legs.

If you’re tight and looking for a full-body stretch, this is another video that you may want to cycle into your stretching routine.

Work Your Riding Muscles At Home

You may be worried that all the hard work you put in to prepare for this summer show season is now being wasted in quarantine. Try to push those thoughts out of your mind and focus on what you CAN do.

I am a member of Barre3, and I absolutely LOVE it. It’s a great, low impact way to work and tone my riding muscles. However, if subscribing to a new service isn’t what you’re looking for, there are plenty of exercises we can do at home to stay fit for riding.

In all of my workouts, I incorporate some variation of the following:

  1. Warm-up (get your heart rate up)
  2. Circuit 1 (3 exercises, 3 times through)
  3. Circuit 2 (3 exercises, 3 times through)
  4. Core Work
  5. Cool Down & Stretch

When you’re creating your circuits, make sure you include a variety of upper and lower body exercises. Aim to do 8-12 repetitions of each exercise, three times per circuit.

Upper Body

I also recommend finding other types of workouts to keep exercise interesting. Livestream classes are popping up all over Instagram and Facebook feeds as local fitness studios try to keep their customers engaged – take advantage of those!

Barre3FarmingtonValley has live classes throughout the week.

Bandier, a fitness brand, offers live classes every day at 4:00 pm featuring different kinds of workouts led by fitness professionals.

Barry’s Bootcamp also provides interval and cardio workouts that have become popular in many of our major cities.

Yoga from the Heart has a variety of live yoga classes each day. In general, yoga is another great way to combine strength work with stretching and core stability.

Make a Plan with your Trainer

This last one is to help both you and your horse when you can finally get back into a regular training routine. Depending on your quarantine restrictions, you may need to modify your show schedule for the summer and determine what your horse will need to get competition ready.

Some questions you can ask your trainer are:

  • How many rides should I do per week once the barn reopens?
  • How frequently will my horse and I be able to lesson?
  • Will my horse need any training rides?
  • When is it feasible to start showing again?

Remember, there are many unknowns about how long this pandemic will last and whether or not competitions will even take place this summer. Understand that your horse may lose some muscle if your barn is forced to close, and you will need to be patient with both your horse and yourself as you work your way back as a team.

Everyone’s circumstances will be different, but together we can support one another and make it through this just fine.

Back to the Basics

I recently picked up my life, and my horse, and moved us from Charlotte, NC to a small town outside of Hartford, CT. This isn’t a new place for either of us but it represented a change in our paths and our training.

Earlier this year, I was approached by the head of my former high school about a position in their Admissions Office. At first, I didn’t give it much thought as I had just started working with a digital marketing firm. However, as timing would have it, the position soon became my opportune next step and I am now an Admissions Associate at The Ethel Walker School, which included a stall for my mare, Honey.

Honey seems to like her new stall at The Ethel Walker School Equestrian Center
I think Honey likes her new home – it’s a princess’s life for this chestnut mare!

As I settled into my office, Honey seemed to be taking in the horses around her. Instead of only lesson horses, she was now surrounded by A-Circuit show horses. After spending years as the largest horse in the barn, Honey now lives as one of many warmbloods instead of being the only one. While I can’t say this definitively, it certainly seems as though Honey’s competitive nature and desire for attention have put an extra suspension in her stride and scope to her jump. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say Honey was showing off.

So, how does this culminate into a lesson about going back to the basics?

Sometimes, when in a new place or taking on an uncertain adventure, the basics are where you will gain the most. While jumping the new fancy course or trying your hand at exercises left from earlier lessons may be enticing, the real work happens by perfecting the most basic movements.

Exercise I:

Begin by trotting a 20-meter circle at each end of the ring. Once perfected, modify the exercise by trotting a 10-meter circle in each corner of the ring.

If you pay attention during this exercise, you’ll notice that your horse’s balance may differ from straightaway to circle and from one point of your circle to another. This is an issue of self-carriage and straightness. Many riders, myself included, forget the importance of focusing on the simple things, like making a perfect circle, but it’s the simple things that make all the difference later on.

Exercise II:

Part A: Down the long side of the arena, show three transitions of your choice. Modify this exercise by adding the canter. Transition to a sitting trot around the short side of the arena.

Part B: On the short side of the arena, begin to incorporate shoulder-in and haunches-in, alternating between the two.

This exercise is one that every rider from beginner to advance should have in their tool box. It tells you how well you and your horse are listening to one another and it reinforces lateral movements that help with balance and straightness.

Horseshoe_72dpi_RGB (1)An important thing to remember is to not let your horse get frustrated. If that happens, do something else; figure-eight the arena, and diffuse their frustration before any conflict can occur. Transitions will force your horse to use their hind end so it’s hard work for your horse.

Exercise II:

Just because we’re going back to basics doesn’t mean we ignore the jumps. Instead of working a full course, try incorporating trot jumps in your ride with the emphasis on rhythm and balance.

I’ve included a workout that Honey and I recently did to keep the jumps in our routine but still work on backing off, balancing, and finding our rhythm.

*Our video equipment is still in storage so the iPhone was our only option this time.

Share your #backtobasics videos and photos with me here and on social media @BettaBeYou so we can keep this conversation going.

Linda’s Position Remedies

Every equestrian knows that position is everything and as a young rider, I learned this lesson quickly through a number of training techniques that I will never forget.

#1: How to keep your legs steady and core strong

Try removing the stirrups from your saddle. If this is a new thing for you, do “No stirrup Tuesdays” and every Tuesday remove your stirrups completely (simply dropping them while on leads to cheating so remember to remove them). If you really want to master this, join me in “No stirrups November” where you remove your stirrups from your saddle for the entirety of November. You could always do this any other month but I thought it went along nicely with “No shave November”.

#2: How to keep your shoulders back

a) Using either a crop or a think wooden stick (like a broomstick but shorter) place it behind your back, holding it in place with your elbows so that the crop/stick rests in the crease of your elbows. I had complete lessons like this including W/T/C and small fences but it you choose to do that make sure there is some sort of supervision and if you feel yourself falling backwards or if anything goes wrong, drop one hand immediately to let go of the stick. That said, this is an excellent way to improve your posture and position.

b) If you’re lucky enough to find one of these, get on a horse that stops at every fence if you lean at it. Just a warning, you will fall off (I did about 3 times in one lesson at a trot fence) BUT once you learn not to lean, you’ll clean up at every show.

c) Take a ballet class. If that’s not available, try a barre class. The posture and positions in ballet force you to engage your core and strengthen your back which will aid in maintaining your position while riding.

#3: How to keep your leg in the proper position

Using bailing twin, tie the inside metal piece of your stirrup to the girth. It will be uncomfortable but you will learn where your leg should be. I had to do this for about a month before I learned and every now and then I remind myself by reattaching the twin and riding with it again.

Hope this was helpful!