May 4, 2020 – It was March 13th and I was standing with one of our horses waiting for him to go into the ring for his first hunter derby at the World Equestrian Center in Ohio when all of a sudden someone comes on the loudspeaker and announces that the show was over after the Derby class due to COVID-19. I don’t think we, or the rest of the show, really knew what was about to unfold in the coming weeks. While things may be looking a bit better now, it will still be nothing close to the same for who knows how long.
As a trainer, I wish nothing more than to have my riders back at the barn doing what they love. However, as a strength and nutrition coach, I know there is so much equestrians can be doing at home to improve their riding once they return to the show ring.
Riders, I am going to walk you through various scenarios and options to keep you in the best possible shape while barns are closed. If you have any sort of equipment, I want you to gather it up and get ready to use it! If you don’t have any, don’t worry, you can still get in a good workout. If it is available to you, I would suggest investing in some small pieces like bands and dumbbells/kettlebells!
Ideally, I would like to see each rider train 4 times a week during this time. Each session should be geared towards gaining strength in some capacity. Cardiovascular work is secondary, as that will not be as difficult to get back once riding starts up again. Before we hop in to training, I want to discuss some differences with various riders:
Riders at the beginning of their fitness journey: You may find that your coordination has slipped during this time. It is important that you move slowly through all exercises focusing on form and balance. Strength and cardio improvements will come after the basics can be executed.
Novice fitness level: You may have the largest room for improvement during this time. Your skills in the gym and on the horse may be somewhere between a beginner and more advanced trainee, this is good. It gives us space to focus on strength, balance, and conditioning. Ideally, you advance quickly through all 3 aspects if you put in the work.
Advanced riders: I am going to give you a lot of tough love here because you have put in so much time and effort to get to where you are. You should be taking training outside of the barn very seriously, as you are well developed athletes. Now is certainly the time to improve on strength and conditioning.
If riders are young (pre-pubescent) they can still work out and go through these movements, but it is purely for fun, improving balance, and developing a healthy relationship with fitness. Younger kids typically don’t reap the benefits of strength training until they reach a Tanner Stage IV. This is simply because they lack the hormonal composition to recover from lifting weights, and that is where strength is made….though, there is something to be said for kids that push wheel barrows and lift hay bales!
Ok riders, let’s get into this thing! What should you be focusing on during your time off? I am going to lay out various days of training using bodyweight exercises, dumbbells and bands. I want each and every rider doing something! The exercises within these programs are focused on improving stability, strength and mobility. If riders master all of these exercises and are capable of doing them with the needed equipment then I highly suggest moving towards barbell work for further improvements to riding, strength, body composition and mental toughness.
Day 1 can be done various ways depending on how hard you want to make it. The most simple way would be to perform 3 sets of the given exercise before moving on to the next. Another way would be to make 3 giant circuits, meaning you would do 1 set of each exercise then start all over again until you repeated it 3 times. You could also make this a timed workout using the circuit approach. If you haven’t trained in a bit then I suggest moving slowly and focusing on the movements. Record yourself doing them to check your form, don’t look sideways in the mirror as it will inhibit proper form and concentration.
In addition to the workout, 3 exercises every rider should be working on improving:
Being that riding is either always in a seated or quarter squat position, our hips may end up acting like the hips of the Tin Man. Our thighs are always in adduction, leading our knees to cave when we squat. It is essential that every rider, no matter your age or ability learns to squat properly and in full ranges of motion.
Push-ups can be intimidating. They are hard, but extremely effective! Push-ups are one of the best bodyweight exercises for showing upper body strength improvements. They are also very “scalable,” meaning you can start off with easier variations that will eventually lead you to doing proper push-ups!
Planks are an excellent exercise to begin developing core stability and great to push yourself on each time! There are countless variations of planks, so that alone could keep you quite busy during this time!
These three exercises should be your “flatwork” of your at home training. I could challenge you in many ways with these three alone. For example, 100 push-ups a day (using whatever variation you need), 100 squats a day (holding weights or using a bar would be even better!), or 10 max effort planks a day. Any of those exercises alone would be a great challenge!
Meet The Equestrian Strength Coach
Brittany Cacossa-Aureliano the founder of TESC, has had many years experience as a strength coach as ridden for over two decades starting at an early age with her mother, hunter/jumper professional and judge, Jill Aureliano. During her early riding career, Brittany rode countless young ponies and horses showing in the hunters at local and major competitions throughout the East. She graduated from college in 2014 and began teaching and showing professionally. She has experience working for New York Sports Club as a personal trainer. Wanting to learn even more, she got her Crossfit certification and there, found a true love for strength training. After years of Crossfit, Brittany wanted a more competitive way to train so she began Powerlifting. She competed in many USAPL (USA Powerlifting) meets, winning many. From there, she became a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS). To learn more or interested in a personal fitness program, visit their website.