Rider Fitness and Safety
Equestrifit® Rider Rehabilitation program allows riders who are in the course of returning to riding, focus on the initial physical requirements of riding and strengthening their bodies in a safe environment.
Any rider who has incurred an injury requires sufficient rehabilitation before they return to riding. Not only does the rider suffer from the injury, they can also lose the well-developed muscle posture, strength, stamina and coordination necessary for riding. Doctor’s visits and physiotherapy are often needed to reduce the associated pain and inflammation and then remobilize the limbs but what happens next is up to the rider.
After careful and thorough planning, and using various physical tests and evaluations the Equestrifit® trainer will then prescribe specific exercises to practice in the studio then continue with the exercises at home. The riders can rehabilitate their bodies to regain strength flexibility and posture.
The ongoing monitoring of improvements provides useful feedback as the rider regains confidence in their strength, fitness and agility. Furthermore Equestrifit® liaises with physiotherapists and other practitioners to assist rider rehabilitation; the goal being to bring the rider back to full physical health and fitness, safely and with confidence in the shortest matter of time.
Prevention is better than cure..
In an ideal world there would be no rider falls or injuries but until then all riders must be trained sufficiently to cope with the unexpected. The key areas of training focus for riders must be:
A rider who is relaxed at all times is one who communicates “control” and “calm” to their horse. As the rider stays light over the saddle, there is minimal interference allowing the horse to maintain speed, direction and responsiveness. At a psychological level, relaxation is paramount when making quick decisions and following rider commands. A head full of “racing” thoughts or a mind that is too nervous to think will cause the rider to become tense in their body and this can increase the risks of a fall.
The entire Equestrifit® system is built upon the principles of relaxation. In the program you will be taught how to relax and develop breathing techniques that will assist rider movement, application of aids and cope with pressures of competition.
Being in the seated position is the most secure position for all riders, but when the horse moves forward their stability is compromised. Each horse pace generates dynamic force that the rider must work with. Body movement, rhythm with the horse, correct timing and pressure of the aids, must come from a rider who is constantly stable and in control.
Equestrifit® has designed a series of specific tests that challenge the rider’s stability and various exercises that improve muscle strength and stamina. One popular area of the body found to be very weak and underdeveloped in riders is the “core” or lower trunk, and a major aspect of Equestrifit’s early focus within the program is development of core strength and stamina. This area is continually trained and retested so that riders when on their horse feel more upright and protected at all horse paces.
With regards to rider safety and closely aligned to the essential need for optimal rider stability is the necessity for good balance. For example in show jumping and eventing, the takeoff, flight and landing positions see the rider lose and regain the feeling of gravity in less than a second. While the landing of the horse comes as momentary relief, the downward forces of gravity put on the “horse brakes” forcing the rider to counterbalance their body on top of the horse.
Top riders have excellent balance. It always scores high in dressage disciplines and helps them go clear in jump events. Optimal balance on a horse however does not come naturally and must be trained. The Equestrifit® program tests and improves the rider’s sense of balance by targeting the specific muscles involved in unstable rider positions. As the riders’ balance is progressively challenged, strength and stamina develops in the mind and body. The rider is then better able to compliment the horse’ movement and cope with the sheer forces of gravity.
At all times, optimal body softness and lightness are essential observations for the rider when riding at any particular horse pace and maintaining rider safety. Keeping this environment with a calm mind, allows the rider to continually respond to horse “movement feedback” with just the right amount of aid pressure. If the horse suddenly moves unexpectedly, an experienced rider will use their trained agility to respond accordingly and bring their horse back under control in the shortest time possible.
In the Equestrifit® program physical reactions and responses and decision making are just a few of the attributes tested and trained to enhance rider agility. Visual and sensory feedback informs riders of their progress that will assist those momentary movements when on the horse.
In recreational sport, muscle injuries are often a direct result of tightness in the body. Muscle and tendon strains and tears almost always point to inflexibility of a particular limb or body part which hasn’t been exercised and stretched sufficiently to maintain optimal flexibility.
Although there is minimal dynamic movement by the horse rider – when the horse is travelling at any given horse pace, the muscles will be called into action if the rider becomes unbalanced or worse, takes a tumble. In this instance quick thinking and reaction is essential but the muscles and tendons also need to be able to cope so as to minimize danger and damage to the body.
Accompanying the testing and training of muscle flexibility for the optimal rider postures in all disciplines, the Equestrifit® program endeavours to make sure all muscles are flexible enough to maintain all “on horse” body positions whilst promoting sufficient suppleness in the event of a fall.
In the needs of rider safety, akin to optimal body flexibility is good muscle strength. Given a rider’s muscles are continually called upon to absorb impact they must also be strong to take a fall.
As most riders are naturally stronger in one side of the body, particular training focus must be to both sides. The Equestrifit® program tests the strength of parts of the body in isolation and together. Exercise programs are then written to target specific weaknesses so as to improve all over strength and this increases safety.
Equestrifit® takes rider safety very seriously and recognises the need for safe riding practices. All aspects of the program have been designed to help the rider protect themselves when riding at all horse paces in all disciplines.
Undoubtedly the most important area of horse riding without consideration of riding discipline, expertise, experience, gender and age is Rider Safety. Over the past 15 years there have been many studies concerning rider injuries due to falls from horses. For example one particular study conducted in New Zealand between 1977 and 1986 found:
- 54 rider falls resulted in fatality
- 773 riders were hospitalised in 1987
- Riders under the age of 20 were more likely to injure themselves from falls than older riders
The report said that the rate of hospitalizations due to falls from horses is comparable to the rate for injuries from playing rugby!
In conclusion, the study indicated that the wearing of helmets was essential.
(Buckley SM, Chalmers DJ, Langley JD, 1993) “Injuries due to falls from horses” (3):269-71