“I’d love to be fitter, but I don’t have the time.”
say all of us. We know that the physically fitter we are, the better we ride - and the better our horses perform, but actually getting on and doing the exercise necessary rarely happens. Life is busy, and there are many demands on our time - particularly work,
of course, be that in the saddle or behind a desk - and exercise often gets put to the bottom of the priority queue.
Will Faudree knows this as well as anyone else.
“I’ve always been a very active, fit person, but in my 20s, I never had to do much to keep my fitness up,” says the 39-year-old. “I liked the idea of looking ripped, but the horses always came first. I didn’t always carve out time for my own fitness.”
It took breaking his neck in a fall at Five Points Horse Trials in 2015 for Will to reassess.
“I laid around in a head and neck collar for six months, and when you’re an active person, that’s tough, and I thought of a lot of different things to do. I could use my legs, so I got an elliptical machine, and once I was allowed to do more, I employed a personal trainer a couple of times a week. It grew from there,” he explains.
“For the past six years, I have made fitness a part of my day, not just a luxury when I had time,” he says. “It makes a huge difference; we put a great deal of time into getting our horses fit, and it is only fair to them that we do the same.”
Will turned a little room in his house into a home gym, which now has free weights, a treadmill, a rowing machine, a pull-up bar, and so on.
“If I had to travel to a gym, the whole process would take two hours out of my day, whereas because I can do it at home, it only takes out an hour,” he says. “Until I got a bit of maturity, I would have filled that hour with having a lesson or riding yet another horse, but I have had to make my fitness a priority and part of my everyday routine.”
The big question is, has it improved Will’s riding?
His answer is definite.
Mainly in terms of my core strength, which is so essential to good riding. I definitely feel it has helped my overall position.”
Will says that by having strong core muscles, he can “relax” in his position and stay supple and with the horse - be it in sitting trot or when jumping a big drop fence - rather than having to tense muscles in other parts of his body and become rigid against the horse.
“It’s like jumping on a trampoline - you don’t do that with stiff legs. You are supple and elastic through your joints, yet strong in your core,” he says.
As we all know, riding uses muscles that we do not use in most other forms of exercise.
“I’ve yet to find something in the gym that can hit every muscle I use when riding,” says Will. “But exercise strengthens the muscles that you don’t use when you are riding so that the muscles you do use have support.”
If you are thinking, “But I don’t have a home gym, so that counts me out,” then think again. Doing 20 squats, 20 push-ups, and 20 sit-ups takes about ten minutes.
“We all brush our teeth - or at least I hope we do!” he laughs. “We’re told to brush our teeth for two minutes, so do two minutes of squats while brushing them. There is time, we need to look for opportunities. If I’m filling up water buckets in the barn, I might fill them up and do three ‘rows’ with the buckets. Challenge yourself to do different things.”
It is as much a mindset as anything.
“If I have had a hectic day, I’ll maybe do fifteen minutes’ walking on the treadmill set to the steepest incline while I watch the news,” says Will. “We all say, ‘I can’t face it,' and it’s ok to have a day like that. An old cowboy told me, ‘A rain day makes for good horses and good horsemen’, but rain days are few and far between.”
Will also runs and swims; variety is good for the mind as much as the body.
continues: “Body awareness is something that fitness has taught me, and that flows into the horses. Am I using my left leg more than my right leg? Am I using my muscles in a ‘stopping’ kind of way or in a way that allows my horses to step forward? The more
aware you are of your body, the more you can control it and use it positively.
“The aim is to have a fitness outside and beyond of what I need when riding so that when I am doing what I need to do on a horse, my muscles have support.”
So, pencil in five minutes for personal exercise. Then ten. You’ll feel better - and so will your horse.
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