I remember being a little girl when my love of horses began, her name was Blondie and she was a gorgeous Clyde cross with a heart of gold. My dad used to walk her up to a fence and I would climb it to get on her back, she was that big, or I was that little! The love affair with horses continued throughout my life along with my love of playing sport. I chose to study Physical Education and early on in my degree I knew I wanted to work with athletes.
19 years later I feel very lucky and privileged to work with a wide level of athletes from amateur through to the Olympic level. Nearly 4 years ago I moved to Canada from New Zealand and immersed myself into the equestrian community while continuing my career as a strength and conditioning coach. The more I did this the more conversations I would have with friends at the barn about injuries in particular and fitness. I would give them tips and advice on how to manage the injuries and how being strong and fit would help their riding. Those friends planted the seed for me to take my skills as a strength and conditioning coach and apply them to riders.
The more I talked to people the more I realized there was this massive gap in knowledge of strength and conditioning and its benefits for riding. The most glaring fact was that as riders we invest so much in our horses, the best care they need. If they need the dentist done, farrier done, chiro done, massage done, trainer done…. You get the drift but when I would ask riders what they did for themselves, there was a deafening silence.
With regards to injuries (part of horse riding) They got treatment if they couldn’t ride, that seemed to be the deciding factor, otherwise it was just hoping it eventually went away. It actually made me sad to hear riders were riding in pain, some from obvious injuries, others not as obvious and they had just accepted that riding caused them pain, lower back, knees etc. That really drove me to start my business, I wanted to help show equestrians that they didn’t have to ride in pain, that investing in themselves would enable them to be stronger and fitter in the saddle, and so The Strong Rider was born. Hearing the success stories of my riders when we have those breakthroughs and they have recovered from an injury or an ailment causing pain is the biggest reward as a coach.
Riding should be fun, it should be pain free, yes accidents happen, we all fall off, but if we want to be still riding into our golden years then we need to start treating our bodies with more love and respect just like we do with our horses. Initially my goal was to get riders fitter and stronger with an emphasis on education, But I realized there was still a gap and that gap was the why? What was causing some of the issue’s riders were having in the saddle, that lead me to create the Rider Audit, a two-part assessment looking at how the rider moves on the ground with various assessments and then assessing them in the saddle. I then use the information from the first part to help connect the dots to what I am seeing in the saddle. During the Rider Audit we talk about issues they are having with their riding, what movements they find hard etc. I would confidently say that whenever I see and imbalance in their bodies on the ground it shows up in the saddle.
We know that our horses will have their ‘issues’ but we work hard to try and keep them as healthy and balanced as we can with different modalities like saddle fit, massage, chiro. The reality is and this might be a little harsh, is that you are wasting your money on those modalities if you do not look at your own imbalances and ‘issues’ as a rider.
How you move in the saddle affects how your horse moves and their bodies. My hashtag for The Strong Rider is #beabetterteammate and that is because I think we owe it to our horses to be the best that we can be so that they can be the best they can be, but also because they do so much for us, that the least we can do to make their jobs easier is become a fitter, strong and balanced rider and that work has to happen out of the saddle. I know a lot of riders still believe that the only work they need to do is in the saddle, but I think slowly that viewpoint in the equestrian world is starting to change as we see more high-profile riders working out and talking about their strength workouts and fitness routines.
I love the quote "Knowledge is Power" by Sir Francis Bacon, because I wholly believe in it. I have seen my riders transform into strong, fit and confident riders with greater body awareness and connectivity with their riding partners. So, ask yourself, “what do I do to be a better teammate for my horse?” if the answer is nothing, then the time is now to change that.
So, to get you started these are my Top 5 Tips:
1. Stretch, your body and horse will thank you for releasing those tight muscles
2. Get your body assessed, find out your imbalances.
3. Any movement is better than no movement, even if its only 5 minutes, that’s 5 minutes you invested in you and your horse
4. Warm Up before you ride, you wouldn’t not warm your horse up!
5. Resistance training isn’t just about lifting big heavy weights, find a good trainer.
Nardine Oakes - The Strong Rider