bodybuilding, dressage, Equicube, riding as exercise

Riding = Bodybuilding

I’ve been wrestling (pun intended) with riding fitness. I ride my horse three days a week and a mountain bike three days a week. I’d like to say that on the 7th day I rest but that’s generally not true — the 7th day is usually for hiking or kayaking. (Skiing or snowshoeing in winter.) In short, I’m not a couch potato yet I find myself gasping for breath throughout my riding lessons.

Look how hard I'm working here!  Who says riding isn't exercise!

Look how hard I’m working here! Who says riding isn’t exercise! Photo by Andrew Martin.

I can ride 20 miles on a mountain bike and, while there are moments when I’m short of breath, there’s always a downhill or flat section of trail when the effort is minimal. (My husband says I’m not pushing myself hard enough, but that’s another story. He’s the guy with fractured ribs and scars on his legs, so his credibility is limited on this topic.)
While the term ‘downhill’ is inviting on a bicycle, it’s a negative when riding dressage. Just ask Micah. When left unattended, Micah will use all 1,000 pounds of handsome horseflesh to drag himself around on his front end. It takes a lot of leg, seat, and core to fully engage his hindend. In reality, there is never a break in dressage, where you (ideally) actively ride each and every stride.
I once had a discussion about riding mountain bikes vs. horses with professional mountain bike racer Lindsey Voreis. Lindsey did show jumping earlier in her career.
“When you’re riding a bike, you’re a heavy object moving a lighter object,” Lindsey said. “When you ride a horse, you’re a light object moving a heavy object.”
This, in part, explains why trying to influence a horse can be so difficult. They have the weight advantage. Those who say riding isn’t exercise should try dressage.
Mari Valceschini, one of the trainers at our barn, put things in perspective for me the other morning, when I was complaining about the lack of fitness carryover from one sport to another. “Riding is more like body building,” Mari said.
Having just used the Equicube (see my earlier blogpost “What Dressage Trainers do When Bored” in my warmup, my abs ached in agreement. I felt as if I’d been doing crunches.
While cycling is an endurance event with cardio moments, riding is more of a concentrated effort: pushing the horse forward and holding with the core … like weight lifting while gasping for air.
I’m ready to add some riding-specific training exercises to my lifestyle, simply in self-defense.
If you have an exercise program that works for you, I’m all ears — the only part of my body that isn’t sore from this morning’s ride. There’s nothing like working out with a 1,000-pound weight to make you feel like a mere mortal.