Riding for all ages for the rider
Dressage is a fun and challenging sport, and no matter the age, can be enjoyed by everyone willing to work hard. As an “S” rated dressage judge, I see riders of all ages coming down centerline each weekend. I’ve seen them as young as 5 and as old as 90. I am so inspired by the fortitude and determination on each of these riders’ faces, and the body language they exhibit as they guide their partners from one exercise to the next. But, I must admit that the riders “of a certain age” inspire me the most.
In this age of physical fitness and awareness it is with a great pleasure that I have seen much improvement in the physique of the competitive rider. The sport of dressage is a sport where every muscle and fiber of the rider is used to convey a thought to the horse, producing a desired reaction. Riders have learned that if their body is not toned to the right degree, the messages to the horse often go unheard. It is with this knowledge the successful competitors have hit the gym to build and define their core.
It is no secret that the older we get the more tone and elasticity we lose. For the “mature aged” rider, committing to a fitness program, on top of the daily struggles of adulthood, can be a serious drain on the limited time they already have. Fortunately many riders have found ways to increase their fitness and strength with support from their trainer and fellow barn buddies. There are Pilates and yoga classes, as well as Zumba and dance classes, which compliment the riders’ efforts to gain the muscle tone for our strenuous sport. Becoming one with our horse is the goal and it begins with an elastic, supple and strong body.
Of course developing your fitness is not only important to the competitive rider. As safety is of the utmost importance, a rider in good physical shape with core strength is in a much better position than a rider unable to stay in balance on top a 1,000 lb or more horse. Before we can control our horse, we must control ourselves.
Many adults rejoin their riding careers after having taken time off for careers or family. Often I have adult amateur riders that haven’t been on a horse in over 20 years when they begin lessons. Those rusty muscles and ligaments have to get loose and supple before they can begin to strengthen. Sound familiar? Just like our horses, we have to start out stretching and loosening exercises. Muscles can pull and tear if they are not gradually strengthened and unfortunately this happens too often when riders are not patient with their own progress.
I do, at times, see riders attempting to sit the trot before they have developed the strength and flexibility to elastically follow the horse’s mechanics. I encourage all riders to not attempt sitting until you have this elasticity. It’s neither enjoyable for rider nor horse when the rider’s weight bounces up and down rather than following back to front from the hips.
Horses of all ages
I’ve talked about the importance of fitness for riders of all ages and would like to share my thoughts on riding horses of all ages. The horses of today are living longer more enjoyable lives thru proper care in riding, nutrition and stable management.
I have judged horses in age from 3 to 30 in competitions. It is a testament to good horsemanship that our partners are enjoying their senior years as never before. I can remember when a 20 yr old horse was considered old. Today, many top FEI horses are in their late teens and early 20’s. Horses in their later 20’s often have found new careers as schoolmasters for novice riders.
The commitment to good health and fitness is the secret to a longer, productive life for humans and equines. I recommend each rider start today to prepare for your next decade for you and your horse so that each day of riding is as fun and enlightening as you hope.
READ MORE ABOUT AUTHOR MELONIE KESSLER