Being a health & fitness coach is all about helping my riders identify the problems they’re facing & provide them with a solution to help them get to their goals & ultimately reduce these problems!
Just a quick note before we get into this one, as a fitness coach & PT I’m here to get you stronger, make you fitter & help you improve your life when it comes to exercise, nutrition & mindset but I cannot do this for you.
That’s so important to highlight & make super clear to you because at the end of the day you’re the one that’s going to have to take the action & do this for yourself. You HAVE to take responsibility for where you’re at right now, identify your current behaviours & be willing to put the work & commitment in that is needed to get you to your goals & reduce the struggles you’re currently facing.
Yes, I can hold you accountable, provide guidance & lead you to your goals but you are the one that’s going to have to do the work. That’s so crucial to highlight. You have to be wanting to make this change for yourself else in the long run you’re never going to sustain your results or the routine of your fitness & nutrition behaviours.
So what are the 6 most common problems I help riders solve by working on their physical & mental wellbeing?
1-Improving your flexibility & mobility to make you more supple
When I did a survey of what the most common problems riders face were 70% answered that they feel stiff, tight, uncomfortable & know that they need to work on their mobility & flexibility to improve their discomfort & aches. This equally ties in to many people answering that they feel imbalanced & wonky when they ride & feel one sided in daily life activities.
Often, it’s a case of things you do without thinking daily that can cause a lack of mobility and flexibility in the muscles and joints, such a spending too much time sitting! As human beings, we were not designed to sit on our bottoms all day, whether that is on horse, in a lorry or in front of a computer, but with modern life, this is what happens.
How we are built naturally obviously influences our range of movement & flexibility but these can all be improved if we’re aware of working on them!
Move!! Honestly, I know that sounds super simple but movement is the best medicine. Simply start by increasing your movement Get walking more, and then, secondly you want to add in some stretching which will help to lengthen the muscles and reduce tightness which will alleviate soreness.
Stretching is great, but you want to make sure as well you are focusing on your mobility and improving your range of motion in the joints. Add in 1-2 mobility sessions a week to get going, and make sure you focus on movements that work, your hips, shoulders, thoracic, spine and get you moving! Awareness is really important here too & just be being more aware of your movement & either how much or little you’re moving can massively help. If you're a desk worker like me be conscious of getting up & moving every couple of hours. Have a 5 minute walk, maybe add some stretches in, do some arm circles to get some movement in & get your body out of that hunched posture! Typically as riders we’re tight up the front of our bodies particualry in our hip flexor, abdominals & chest muscles so work on lots of stretching of those areas.
2 - Feeling wonky when you ride
This is probably one of the biggest problems all of my riders I work with have faced. Feeling like 1 side of your body is much stronger or weaker than the other, and therefore feeling super imbalanced, which comes out when you are riding in either your horses way of going or the aids & effectiveness you’re able to have.
If 1 side of your body is working more than the other then you’re going to be overworking that side which can lead to that side becoming tighter, more restricted in mobility & lacking range of motion in that particular area & ultimately you may end up compensating for that imbalance in other parts of your body.
For example if 1 leg is stronger than the other & you’re overworking that hip & side of your pelvis your lower back may end up compensating & trying to help that imbalance/lack of movement which could lead to soreness or worst case an overuse injury. Often riders who suffer from back pain & sciata symptoms can be very 1 sided without necessarily noticing.
Obviously if you are imbalanced yourself when you then sit on your horse that imbalance is going to transfer into him immediately. If you don’t think this is you then ask yourself, do you find your horse much harder work on one rein? Do you struggle to get him to bend around your leg in a particular movement? Struggle with a clear strike off?
If you’re really aware of this, it will probably highlight to you that there are indeed some imbalances going on in your body. This exercise below is a great way to find out how your balance is,
Awareness is key here. You need to be feeling what your body is. Chances are if you’re imbalanced you will be aware of it but for some of us when we’ve been imbalanced for a long time it can become hidden. Our bodies will naturally adapt in time to accommodate this compensation & we might not even realise how badly 1 sided we are.
So really focus when you’re doing exercises & riding how does each side feel side to side?
Is there a clear difference in strength & mobility? Is 1 side noticeably tighter than the other? Do you struggle with your balance in lower body exercises L-~R?
Those are pretty good indicators that you may well have a bit of a imbalance and need to focus on improving that. The best way to get that weaker side stronger is by spending a bit more time on it. Stretches & mobility exercises will massively help here & spend a bit more time stretching/mobilising that tighter side if you need to. Adding an extra few reps to that side can help you balance out that difference.
Strength work is going to be your key here! The more you can work on increasing your strength in that area the more balanced you’re going to become. Focusing on unilateral exercises that work one side of the body at a time is the best way to work on improving your symmetry. As humans we are never going to be 100% symmetrical the same as our horses, but there’s a lot, we can do to straighten ourselves out!
3-Suffering from lower back pain
Lower back pain is something that pretty much every rider will have experienced at some point in their journey. Over 75% of the riders I’ve worked with coaching in the last 5 years have come to me struggling with lower back pain. The reason you’re experiencing the pain can be for a number of reasons, but typically they come down to a few things
A lack of movement. The more sedentary your lifestyle is the more likely you’re going to suffer with back pain. Becoming stiff and inactive is never good for the spine and this can lead to pain.
Being overweight is a big culprit of back pain. Think about it; if you’re carrying too much weight you are overloading the structure of your spine which means you are causing more stress to the spine all of the time and therefore it’s being put under more load and pressure which can often result in pain.
Then you transfer that into riding your horse, saying trot, trying to bounce up and down that impact through your seat and into your lower back is not going to help! This is often when sitting trot can become very painful.
Lower back pain can also occur from lifestyle areas such as not getting enough sleep or not drinking enough water so those are simple very cheap fixes you can put in place now to help your back pain. If you’ve had injuries or falls before this may well have caused your lower back pain so making sure you’re aware of where it’s come from to begin with.
Your spine is your bodies control centre, so if you ever experience any pain or problems, my first bit of advice would always be to seek help from a physiotherapist or another professional in the medical space. As a fitness coach, it is outside of my scope of practice to diagnose back pain or issues, but a physio can do just that for you. I always advise all of my clients to do this as you’re going to get a much better outcome if you know what the problem is and where it’s coming from first.
For my clients that work with physios I am able to prescribe the best course of movement & exercise possible as we are all on the same page which is essential.
First of all if you see a physio, follow their advice! The likelihood is they will give you exercises or stretches to work on over a period of time by yourself and I can’t stress enough how important it is to be consistent with your rehab work. Sometimes it can be weakness that is causing lower back pain as well, so starting to work on our own strength and mobility can go a really long way.
The lumbar spine should be stable but if other parts of your spine such as the thoracic area are limited in the mobility and movement they should have your lumbar region may end up compensating & trying to create movement & mobility which is never good. If a joint that should be stable tries to create movement that can often cause problems.
So first things first we want a big focus on thoracic mobility. If you’re T-spine moves as it’s intended to chances are you’re lumbar region is going to function better!
Working on your hip mobility & flexibility can really help as well as if the front of your hip flexors are tight & stiff your pelvis will be being pulled downwards which can put extra tension through the lower back and hamstring muscles which ultimately is going to end up pulling on your lower back.
Strength is absolutely key here and one thing you need to also focus on is core strength. The role of your core muscles is to stabilise the spine so that will go a long way. Focus on movements like dead bugs, plank shoulder taps, side planks and loaded carries that work your core in functional movement patterns. If you’re already struggling with back pain doing multiple situps, taking your back into excessive amounts of flexion is not going to help!
As well as increasing your core strength you really want to strengthen your posterior chain. Riders typically are weaker in the hamstring, glutes and back muscles, so we want to really focus on strengthening all of these areas as a priority. The stronger and more functioning these muscles are the less your lower back is going to try to overwork, and that will reduce your pain!
Being consistent with your mobility and strength over time is the only way you will truly rid yourself of that pain. I’ve worked with so many riders who have seen a physio or spent a huge amount of money on massage or therapy kit & felt a benefit for a few weeks and then end up back at square one. You have to add movement for long-term progression & be consistent with it.
4-Suffering from a lack of energy
This is a big one! When I talk about energy I’m referring to both physical and mental energy. You might think they are 2 different things, but they go hand-in-hand. The better you feel in yourself physically more, awake or energised the likelihood is you’re going to feel more mentally positive and have more headspace to be at your most productive. I think every single client I’ve ever worked with has come to me saying they can improve their energy levels.
For some that is so that when they get home from work they can spend quality time with their children rather than feel knackered and for others it’s just generally having better energy so they can get through the day without feeling exhausted 24/7. I think it’s important firstly to highlight that obviously all of us Equestrians llive very busy lives.
Whatever your profession and home life is we’re all guilty of pushing hard all of the time and trying to get 101 things done every day. If you’re not having regular downtime, your energy levels are going to suffer and you’re going to end up feeling rundown. Much of your energy levels comes down to lifestyle and the amount you’re doing but also a massive impact on your energy is your nutrition. So how do you improve your energy levels?
Try to make sure you have regular downtime or days off before you need them. If you’re getting to the point where you physically need a day off or you’re mentally exhausted you’ve gone past that point of time off being a benefit. So make sure you schedule in rest time for yourself before you actually need it. For some this might be regular holidays, for others, it might be just making sure you have a regular day off every 1 to 2 weeks. What works for you is individual but it’s just important you’re making sure you’re taking that space for yourself mentally & physically.
Sleep is a massive factor of energy levels and in my opinion, it’s one of the most overlooked lifestyle areas when it comes to fitness. The body needs a minimum of 7 hours sleep a night to be able to recover and rest optimally. If we don’t sleep well then our hormones will be all over the place as well as as us feeling physically exhausted. So prioritise your sleep!
Try to get yourself to bed 10 minutes earlier at night to begin with & really focus on setting your sleep environment so that you can relax and have a restful night. If your horse wasn’t getting any rest, you wouldn’t expect him to perform at his best so don’t think the same doesn’t apply to you.
Nutrition is the final piece of the energy puzzle. And it’s a massive component! Your food choices hugely influence your energy levels and there are certain foods that are going to give you a quick sugar spike and then leave you feeling like you’ve come crashing down versus other foods that are going to give you long lasting supplies of energy that keep your levels more stabilised throughout the day.
If you need more information on what a good diet is to have good energy level then you can check out this blog I wrote before. The basics are focusing on your protein, carbohydrates and fats, and making sure the majority of those carbs are complex carbohydrates, such as fruit, veg, potatoes, pasta etc Also, drinking plenty of water is another really important piece, your brain and body is primarily made up of water so if you’re not drinking enough, you’re going to feel funny & things like brain fog will come in as well.
5-Feeling unhappy with your physique & lacking confidence
As females especially in this current day and age I think all of us are hyper aware of our body image and how we look in our underwear & jodphurs. Having suffered myself with body image in the past, I still struggle sometimes looking in the mirror and pinpoint the areas I dislike or what I think could be better. Ultimately, we’re always going to have bits of our bodies we don’t particularly love and hold certain hangups but to be honest being riders wearing tight white breeches, snug fitting jackets, and tight boots often doesn’t help us feel much better about our appearance!
Confidence is a big piece here, and if you’re not confident in how you look you’re not going to be feeling your most confident inside and that is going to affect all areas of your life. Feeling confident in your fitness, work and personal life is really important as then you’re going to make good decisions based on your logic and how you feel. This is so important when you’re riding to, especially if you compete in any Equestrian discipline, because if you’re not confident, you’re going to constantly doubt and question your decisions, and ultimately that could be seriously dangerous.
As females I’m a strong believer that we should all get to a point where we look in the mirror and we are happy with what we see or we look at a photo of ourselves at a competition and admire our position and our horse looks before criticising the size of our thighs. So how to get there?
This is independent to the individual so it’s a bit of a it depends one here. For some of you you might be feeling unhappy as you’re carrying extra bodyweight or fat mass and being overweight is leading you to disliking your body shape & feeling unhappy. So the solution here is going to be focusing on losing weight in a sensible & sustainable manner. A calorie deficit is the only way to lose weight & if you’re struggling with your weight loss journey this blog may be useful.
For some we may actually want to gain some more weight or build our muscle mass so that we feel and look stronger and feel happier in our appearance. Often busy equestrians can end up not consuming anywhere near enough calories and this can lead you to holding a lower body weight which is not necessarily healthy and you ending up on the thin side physically.
If that’s you, you need to focus on eating at calorie maintenance at a minimum if not a calorie surplus and lifting weights is going to be your friend here. Lifting moderate to heavy weights builds and increases your muscle mass and that is what gives your body that toned and defined look. If you don’t know where to start with your training, then work with PT for a few sessions to gain confidence or hire a coach to show you the ropes. That’s the best way to learn!
On the flipside of the confidence peace mindset is a massive part of this. Often our self belief and confidence comes from the values and beliefs we hold & have ingrained in ourselves from a very early age.
This may be from things we have learnt from others, the way we’ve been brought up & the way we see the world and that can hugely affect whether you are that confident person or not. Working on your self belief, which comes down to being open to doing mindset work, identifying your values and what is important to you will really help you to feel more confident and self assured.
I can’t stress how big working on your mindset can be for transforming your confidence and it goes hand-in-hand when you build your physical strength as well. The physically stronger you are the more confident you feel and the more of a growth mindset you will have! Combining those two are pretty unstoppable. Working on your mindset takes time but it’s the best thing you can do to build your internal self belief & confidence.
6-Having that feeling of letting our horses down
It’s never nice leaving a training session or a competition thinking;
“Man I did a really bad job there”
All of us that have horses do what we do so that we can enjoy our passion of riding as much as possible. Maybe that’s working crazy long hours in the week to afford your expensive habit of competing at weekends, or maybe that is spending hours on your own yard so that you can have that one horse of your own to make the most of at your events twice a month.
The problem is when you go out and have a poor result & feel like you’re not riding at your best you end up feeling like you’re letting your horse down, and ultimately this isn’t a fun place to be.
We all compete or go to training sessions to progress, be the best rider we can be and to be as competitive as possible but if you are not enjoying yourself, it’s going to get to a point where you start to not find your riding fun anymore & question whether this is for you.
If you’ve got this point where you feel like you’re letting your horse down or not doing him or her justice then it is time to work on yourself!
Yes, riding will give you a certain amount of fitness just as any activity that we do for a long period of time will but our bodies adapt to that demand and over time it almost becomes autonomous.
If you’ve picked up bad habits such as being a bit one-sided or riding in a certain way you might not notice it until you start to work on yourself physically off your horse. Working on your own physical strength and fitness away from your horse will have a massive impact on your movement & ultimately how you ride & don’t forget if your horse is going as well as you hope or are expecting you’re 50% of the partnership so ask yourself; could I be doing better?
Get yourself into a consistent training routine and start working on your mobility, aerobic fitness and strength. If you can start to improve all these 3 areas you’re going to become much more body aware which will bring awareness to your riding as well, but ultimately you’re going to end up riding better & more at 1 with your horse. Spending time on your weaknesses is really important to and that comes from awareness, if you know you’re struggling with thipping forwards and your back and core strength need work, then work on it!
Yes it’s not an easy fix and it’s going to take some hard work but if you’re willing to put the work in you will reap the rewards and start to get the results your horse is capable of & actually enjoy working as a partnership together & love your show or training days again.
As I explained at the start my job is help you solve your problems & in my experience & time as a coach these are the most common problems riders of all disciplines face. I hope this gives you direction of where to go next if you’re facing any of these problems & confidence that you can get to a better place!