While I was never really a “skinny” kid growing up, I didn’t really struggle with my weight, either. Until my teenage years and heading into college, that is. At that point, I started gaining weight and kinda just…kept gaining. I was riding a couple of times each week, and cleaning stalls 2-3 times per week. I was never into any other sports – and unfortunately, doing art requires a lot of sitting.
I lost about 50 pounds while in Kentucky (just from being more active), and could fit into the same size clothing I used to wear when I was about 13/14. During a very stressful 2013, I gained almost everything back and couldn’t seem to lose anything, even after coming to Vermont and getting more exercise than ever before. No matter what I tried, nothing changed until I cut out gluten and dairy from my diet. (You can read a little bit more about what I did here)
Now, I’m proud of the progress I’ve made and very happy with the results! And this past winter, when I was figuring out how to up my riding game without the chance to take lessons, I knew I needed to address some things through non-horseback exercise.
For reference: I get approximately 30,000 steps per day, working 5 1/2 days per week. About 10,000 of those steps are usually done before 9:00AM, and none of those 30,000 includes any of the riding I do. So, the last thing I want to do is…anything…once I get home! But the fact of the matter is that I know I can make better, faster progress in my riding if I stay fit – and there are some issues that just have to be tackled on the yoga mat.
Because of this, I called an expert.
One of my good friends – Danielle Doth, with Equony Fitness – is a yoga instructor and personal trainer. Also, as an equestrian herself, Danielle knows the things our bodies go through as riders. I called her up and told her what I was feeling in my position and what I was hoping to change. The best part about talking to Danielle was that while I struggled to give her the correct terminology for particular muscle groups on my own body (she had no problem interpreting, thankfully!), I didn’t have to explain to her any of the equine terms I was using – as a rider, she knew what I was talking about.
I spent some time thinking about what I felt while riding vs. what I wanted to feel, and came to Danielle with my list. I wanted to specifically address the weakness in my left leg and the tightness in my hips. My observations:
- My right leg tends to be tighter/stronger.
- Left leg tends to be more relaxed/less gripping, but difficult to control.
- Right seatbone is more “down” and harder to lift. Left seatbone is always more “up”, and harder to engage.
- My shoulders hold tension and want to curve inward.
- I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to engage my abs and release my pelvis enough to move better with the horse and allow myself to use my seat without leaning back in the trot.
- In sitting trot, I often hold my breath and brace too much in order to stay “still”.
As we talked, Danielle was awesome. Besides being an incredibly encouraging person in general, she totally understood my passion for improving myself as a rider and applauded my steps towards becoming more of an athlete (just like the horses I ride everyday!). She put together some exercises and stretches to target the things I was talking about. And, since she is in Lexington and I’m in Vermont, she made a couple of YouTube videos for me – some of which I’ll share with you:
I know it sounds too good to be true, but I’m not exaggerating when I say that I was starting to feel changes in my riding within a few days. It was subtle – namely, being able to tell my left seatbone to engage and find that it actually DID – yet there it was. As the winter came to a close, these are the biggest things I noticed after doing these exercises 4-5 days per week:
- My back was looking/feeling more toned.
- I could “suddenly” do a series of crunches, which has NEVER happened before. Plus, I actually started to enjoy them, and often challenged myself to do more!
- I found the ability to release tension/breathe more regularly in sitting trot.
- IMPROVED SITTING TROT. This was huge, and contains a few parts:
- I found more mobility in my pelvis.
- I felt freer to move with the horse, being more able to create a space for the horse’s back to come up instead of constantly bouncing my seatbones down into the horse’s back.
- I found what I’m calling my “Olympic Sitting Trot“. I had one particular ride on my big-moving Mare Friend where I simply…wasn’t fighting to stay with her. I wasn’t out of breath in the sitting trot. Whether she was on the bit, off the bit, dropped her back, lifted, spooked, or was perfect…it didn’t matter. There I was. It was the most effortless sitting trot I’ve ever done. That Olympic Sitting Trot is the one I’m trying to keep in mind for every ride until it becomes second nature. (Sidenote: it isn’t magically there everyday. Still trying to build that muscle memory!)
And now that I’ve regaled you with all of the awesomeness that came from focusing more on my fitness the past winter, you might be asking, “How are things going now, a few months later?”
Well, the answer is…I’m incredibly, painfully, human. It’s so easy to fall out of the habit of working out, especially when so many other things in life are pressing. And honestly, the results had stuck with me for quite awhile, despite my diving off the wagon. Yet, this past month or so, I’ve noticed a tightness in my hips that I thought I’d conquered, and my legs are creeping up in a way I haven’t felt for awhile. The reality is, I need to recommit. I owe it to the horses I ride and to myself.
Plus, after writing this post and bringing up that Olympic Sitting Trot memory to the forefront again – I’d be crazy not to get back to it, wouldn’t I?
What about you? Is there anything you love doing in order to supplement your riding? Have you felt your own Olympic Sitting Trot? I’d love to hear!
Meanwhile, if you want some more fitness inspiration, I encourage you to check out Equony Fitness and say hi to Danielle on her social media platforms. If you’re in the Lexington, Kentucky area, be sure to find out when her next yoga class is, or set up a meeting with her. If you live too far away for that, shoot her an email and ask about more personalized help! (And let me know how it goes!)
Facebook: Equony Fitness USA
YouTube: Equony Fitness, USA
And be sure to stay tuned for the Dressage Rider’s Journal GIVEAWAY in my next post!