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“Sore, or Sorry.” Ugh, the words of a fitness buff. I used to cringe a little at the thought.
Don’t get me wrong – by no means have I ever had a habit of spending much time sitting around on my keister, but for many years, I just wasn’t so inclined to participate (on a consistent basis) in the kind of physical activity that didn’t leave me in the end with cleaned pens, hay bales moved, or horse’s ridden.
If I’m exhausted from a killer workout, I might as well also be enjoying the sight of a barn full of neatly stacked hay.
Taking our barrel racing to the highest level though, calls for some new awareness, and a shift in perspective.
It’s great that we, as horse people, tend to get our fair share of physical activity in. But there’s something special, something different, we gain from specifically targeting why and how we exercise.
In our sport, the majority of the focus is placed on the horse. The truth is however, that we, as barrel racers are also athletes. So many of us miss the boat when it comes to realizing just what a huge difference strength and fitness can make.
Because gaining strength in your body, makes you stronger (and quicker) all-around.
In Secrets to Barrel Racing Success, I explained that horses are our mirror – in more ways than one. What we get back from them, is a reflection of what we put in.
This is especially true when it comes to how we use our bodies (and minds) as we are riding.
- If we want our horse to bend at the rib cage, we should do the same in our body.
- If we want our horse to be calm in the alley, we must be calm in the alley.
- If we want our horse to have balanced, four-wheel drive movement and not lean to the inside, we must work on being better balanced as a rider.
- If we want our horse to engage their abdominal muscles and round their back (a body position necessary for rate, collection and wickedly fast turns), we must first have the ability to engage our own core muscles and maintain a similar position.
Now of course, this doesn’t mean that if we develop a workout routine for ourselves, that our horse’s will magically become more fit. It does mean though, that as we’re riding, our horse’s ability to position his body, is related to our ability to position our own.
In addition, science has proven that we operate more effectively when we exercise. Not only is exercise is absolutely critical to physical health, but also mental sharpness and emotional well-being.
As Dr. John Ratey, from Harvard University states – “Exercise is really for the brain not the body, it effects mood, vitality, alertness and feelings of well-being.”
There are just too darn many benefits to receive from regular exercise, NOT to do it!
To take it even further, it’s possible to receive even more specific benefits (and results) though including targeted forms of exercise that benefit us most as barrel racers.
This is why I enjoy an exercise routine that focus on Pilates-type moves that will strengthen my core, and I encourage you to do the same. While the focus of Pilates is on developing core strength, it trains the body as an integrated whole. The popular choice of a variety of athletes, Pilates is a great foundation for the requirements of any sport.
Let’s face it, excessive long trotting is not the best way to get a horse in shape for barrel racing, and cardio workouts aren’t the best to develop strength that will benefit you the most as a rider. Though these types of exercise each have their benefits, to achieve the greatest results we need to be specific and take a targeted approach to conditioning.
So although I also enjoy walking with my iPod blaring in one ear and a horse and/or dog by my side (it’s the form of exercise I enjoy most – did I mention I feel strongly that exercise should be enjoyable?), I definitely target those areas that will create the most noticeable results in the arena.
Specifically, I love the 20 minute workouts provided in the Success In the Saddle DVD series – a fitness program designed specifically for riders.
The first three DVDs (six workouts) focus on developing the areas that are so important for balance, strength and flexibility – all necessary for good riding.
These workouts create strength and balanced muscle development, in addition to flexibility and range of motion – now THAT is something I’d like my horse to have!
You know, if we’re really aware, we’ll start to notice connections everywhere…
- The way we interact with our horses on the ground, really does transfer over under saddle.
- What we do with our horses away from the barrel pattern, affects what happens on the barrel pattern.
- Physically strengthening our core, strengthens our mental/emotional core as well.
Of course, I also do my share of cleaning pens, moving hay, and more. Will I do all three (walking, Pilates, and big chores), every day? Not likely! But I’m always striving to strike a balance that keeps me moving in some way, each and every day.
No doubt, there are times when this is challenging (especially on the road), however body movement (sounds better to me than “exercise”) is no longer at the bottom of my priority list like it used to be now that I’m better informed.
When we finally realize how critical fitness is to our general health and well-being, and that it can give us a huge competitive edge, it becomes an everyday essential, right up there with brushing our teeth.
To this effect, I’m reminded of a quote from one of the winningest football coaches in history, Vince Lombardi …
“Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all time thing. You don’t win once in a while, you don’t do things right once in a while, you do them right all the time. Winning is habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.”
Last month, I wrote about the time, energy and money parasites, that little by little, steal our barrel racing dreams. My challenge for you, is to continue making radical changes.
This web site, and the BarrelRacingTips.com book series, were developed for barrel racers deicated to being their best.
I won’t accept anything less, how about you?
Daily, targeted exercise will take your barrel racing, and your life to a new level.
I’m certainly not going to let the edge I can gain in competition slip by.
I’m having it, and you can to.😉
Consider committing twenty minutes a day to “body movement.” It could be in whatever form you enjoy most, just be sure to include a good sprinkling of core work to target those specific areas where you’ll receive the most benefit as as rider.
Also, keep in mind that dance fitness or Zumba can help improve timing, playing racquetball or volleyball improves hand-eye coordination, and yoga or Piyo can be great for balance, flexibility and mental focus.
Will you be sore? Probably, at first anyway. But nothing great was every accomplished without experiencing at least a little discomfort. Growth, change and expansion means making shifts that are sometimes uncomfortable.
To help you get started, I’m including a couple awesome tips for strengthening your core muscles any place, any time – even while on the road, or at a desk! To top it off, I’ll describe some amazing (unmounted) core strengthening exercises for your horse as well!
Activate YOUR Core
- Pull your belly button back toward your spine and then up. Hold this position (to the max) for one minute. If your mind drifts and you return to your natural position, just start again. As you gain strength, hold the position for longer, up to ten minutes.
- Imagine your pelvis area is a fish bowl with the rim at your waist. You don’t want to tip your pelvis too far forward or back, causing the water and fish to spill out. Stand in a comfortable position and look at yourself in the mirror from the side. Do you need to be more conscious of the position of your pelvis? Remember your ability to position your own pelvis properly will affect your horse’s ability to do the same! Make a conscious effort, whether your sitting, standing, walking or riding, to keep the water in your fish bowl level.
- Contrary to what your mother might think, good posture does not involve throwing your shoulders back, and your rib cage out. After you’ve been practicing the “stomach in and up” exercise above, add “knitting the ribs” to engage your upper abdominal muscles. Think of your rib cage as evenly stacked on top your level fish bowl.
Again, pull your belly button back and up, and then pull the sides of your rib cage together, without pulling them down or slumping. Your back will push out slightly, but this is good, your ribs are now aligned with your pelvis. If you think it’s hard, remember, this is similar to the position your horse must maintain for collection!
Activate your HORSE’S Core
*Do these exercises after each ride when your horse’s muscles are already warmed up.
Unless you’re a highly experienced equine bodywork professional, for safety’s sake don’t attempt this on a horse that hasn’t been properly desensitized, or that you’re unfamiliar with.
Even with your own horses, proceed with caution in case they become startled by the new sensation of lifting and rounding their back.
- Standing directly behind your horse, use your index and middle fingers on both hands to firmly push into the large, round muscle of your horses hind quarters, about half way between the tuber coxae (the side of the pelvis above the flank) and the tuber sacrale (highest point of the pelvis).
Pull both fingers down your horse’s rear, toward you as you maintain pressure. You’ll hit a “sweet spot” that will cause your horse to engage his core muscles, tuck his pelvis under himself and lift his back. Repeat three times, being sure to give your horse a moment to relax in between each stretch.
- Now, stand off to one side of your horse’s hind quarters, still facing your horse. Use your fingers (or a hoof pick) to apply the same kind of moving pressure but start near the opposite tuber coxae (bony point of the pelvis above the flank) of the side you are standing on, and pull diagonally across your horse’s hind quarters toward the head of your horse’s tail.
This will cause your horse to lift and engage his core, while also bending laterally (bulging his rib cage) away from you. Repeat three times on each side.
- Combine both of these exercises for an even greater effect by performing exercise #2 while you reach under his abdomen and apply pressure around the area of his belly button with your fingers while you pull back and maintain even pressure.
This will cause the horse to bend laterally and lift his back and engage his core muscles to an even greater degree. Again, make sure your horse is comfortable and confident about being touched all over his body before executing these exercises.
(Click here for an image showing the skeletal anatomy of a horse’s pelvis.)
Perform these exercises consistently yourself and with your horse, (for more “Equine Pilates” check out Activate Your Horse’s Core) and you’ll soon be convinced of even one more way, that what we do away from the barrel pattern, effects our performance on the barrel pattern!
Until next time, I’ll leave you with another great quote, this one by Tom Hopkins…
“Your mental energy is limited by your physical energy. How do you develop more energy of all kinds? You start by putting your body in top physical condition. Unless you do that, all your other activities won’t help much – you’ll be stuck with the mental and emotional energy you have now.”
If you enjoyed this article, you’ll also enjoy…
- Five Cold, Hard (not-so-obvious) TRUTHS Why You’re Not Winning
- Train Like an Athlete – WIN Like a Champion! Fitness Tips from the Top 15
- Fit Rider Interview with Barrel Racer and Best-Selling Author, Heather Smith
In the comments below – let us know what YOU do to stay fit!
How has your fitness routine made a difference in your life and barrel racing?