Are you fit to ride? By Dannii Cunnane

Let me just start out my saying that I am in no way, shape or form a fan of the gym – fitness for me used to consist of fittin’ dis whole pizza in my mouth. I’ve had gym subscriptions before but I just couldn’t find the motivation to go and on the rare occasion I did attend, I found that if I was left to my own devices, I wouldn’t push myself.

The one form of fitness I really do enjoy though is riding my horse Dexter and I dedicate as much time as possible to train him and myself in the big Dressage sand box. I’ve taken this horse from a wild off the track Thoroughbred to a mild mannered Novice Dressage horse.

Like most owners, I’ve fussed over his feed and paid top dollar to ensure his nutritional needs are met. I add linseeds and the best vitamins and minerals I can afford to his feed as well as spending countless hours planning and undertaking riding sessions to build up his topline and stamina.

This year we started competing Elementary and while my horse was ready, to my horror I found that I was not. For a start the whole first level Elementary test requires to be completed in sitting trot. This is not my strength and Dexter needed my support to set him up for success for each movement. In my current fitness state, I was unable to provide him with that.

I found that I needed frequent rest stops in my lessons and I was always a hot sweaty mess after each ride. I wondered how my instructor rode multiple horses a day without being puffed out and then it hit me – I was completely out of shape and holding my horse back. With the pressures of working full time and a busy lifestyle meant that I ate junk on the run and I’d let my fitness suffer. After spending all that effort on making sure my horse was the best athlete he could be I’d let down my end of the bargain by not focusing on myself.

After my disastrous past at the gym I was reluctant to sign up to a local place that didn’t offer classes. I felt that in a group environment I’d thrive. A new fitness centre called Functional 45 (F45) had been brought to my attention that offered high intensity group workouts for a duration of 45 minutes. It was a short drive from home and the best part was they offered a free two week trial –perfect! It was just what I was looking for – what could go wrong?!

I signed up for my first class and I didn’t really know what to expect. I was able to catch a glimpse of the class before mine and it was a mix of people all pushing themselves to be the best they could be. It also looked like bloody hard work. For 45 minutes I sweated my buns off doing cardio and weights – 45 seconds to complete one set of exercises doesn’t sound too hard but with 10 second breaks in between burpees, planks and box jumps with squats I could hardly catch my breath. It was intense and I was feeling the burn, but I pushed through and survived my first class. It was also great to be encouraged when I wanted to give up, the team environment was definitely for me.

I went four times that week and gave it everything I had and started making healthier food choices. I guess when you’re pushing a ten kilogram sled with sweat dripping into your eyeballs you curse any bad food you have eaten that day.

A few days later I booked myself in for another riding lesson and I couldn’t have been more surprised. While I didn’t really notice a huge difference in my fitness while working out, my horse certainly did.

My long suffering instructor was pleasantly surprised when Dexter pulled out some brilliant collected trot work and I finally felt like I was able to set him up and help him into the movements with my legs and upper body. I thought I’d also test out a little bit of sit trot and to my amazement I was able to feel my core, control my seat and not bounce like a sack of spuds. I had so much more control over my body and for the first time in a long time, I felt strong.

I was able to sit trot for 20 minutes and wasn’t dying for a rest. I think that’s when it had finally sunk in. I had been letting our team down by neglecting my own fitness and unfairly had been expecting my horse to carry my dead weight. Something had to change –I had to keep as much of an interest in my own personal fitness as I had in my horse.

I’m now several weeks into my new fitness regime and while I curse the exercises and the burn of tired muscles, I know that it is making my partnership stronger with Dexter. It’s a nice feeling knowing that I’m pulling my weight and I continually see improvements in the way I ride and I encourage all riders to invest in their own fitness.  Choose a gym and fitness routine that suits you – if you can’t afford a gym fee there are plenty of online clips and exercise instructions that you can download free of charge. By building up your cardio and strength you’ll have more stamina and ability to support your horse when they need it. You’ll also be a better partner to your equine sidekick.

This is after 6 weeks at the gym. I’m no longer bursting out of my jacket
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