Kelly Geiger is a traveling trainer based in Portland, Oregon.
Her specialties include dressage, jumping, and natural horsemanship. Kelly believes in using core dressage fundamentals in a variety of disciplines to improve strength and balance in both the horse and rider.
These values, combined with foundation principles of natural horsemanship, help to develop strong connections between horse and rider.
I had often referred to my Haflinger as a total gym. He was a horse that used to require a lot of focus, leg, & patience. To me the art of riding is very much a sport even though I do not typically compete for ribbons.
I feel pain
I know my body
I challenge both my horse and myself, and to some degree, I win every day.
I’ve been asked many times if riding horses is a good workout. My answer is always this:
“It depends on how you ride”.
The exercise of horseback riding actually grounds the rider in the saddle. The hips of the rider are pushed into the saddle and reinforced by the movements of the horse. The movement from the core of the horse will help your core, coming from the hips being ground into the saddle, to get stronger. The muscles, such as the postural muscles around your body’s core, will become strengthened through the process of horseback riding.
As the horse moves, you will need to utilize strong muscles to stay in place and to keep in control of the horse’s movements. This pressure will make those muscles stronger and more controlled, helping keep your balance in the saddle and maintain that balance during the various speeds of the horse’s trot. Throughout this, you will also be using your coordination skills to move your body as the horse moves and reposition yourself and your hips in the saddle as the horse approaches different speeds or as it turns different directions.
This type of exercise calls for good overall muscle tone and good overall flexibility. As you try horseback riding as exercise for the first couple of times, you will begin to be aware of different types of pain in various muscle areas. This will pass, however, as you continue. Your muscles and joints will adapt to the new forms of impact being placed on them and will become stronger in the process. This type of strengthening of the muscles and joints is as effective as typical weight-bearing exercise, as experienced in many gym exercise programs.
The regions that benefit from using horseback riding as exercise are typically the buttocks, back and legs. The ankles, knees and hips are also affected by horseback riding, as the joints are strengthened as the riding styles change. The participation of the entire body’s muscle and joint groups are needed, so there are many minor muscle groups that will also get a significant workout from horseback riding. If you already have high muscle tone, you may find that learning to relax some of your muscles while you ride will benefit your exercise program more.
In addition to riding, I also go to the gym at least 3x per week just to keep my strength up and consistent. Since I ride different horses every day, all with different problem areas, it is important for me to stay physically balanced. I try to keep my strength evenly distributed throughout my body so one aid doesn’t overpower the others. I also throw in a 10-15 minute morning & evening yoga routine to stretch out sore muscles before and after a days work, this helps my muscles and mind stay fresh!
This week I had the pleasure of working with Scooter, a well rounded middle-aged quarter horse mare with a WINNING personality. Previous to her new owner, Scooter had a spat with heaves last year during her time in a dusty barn. The vet prescribed her to be pastured outside where there was more airflow and less dust to infiltrate her lungs. She made a full recovery going into Spring but now, with light work, she has started to indicate that the heaves may be coming back by wheezing during her training. Heaves is also known as a lung condition called COPD, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. COPD is often called “Equine Asthma” because it is similar to asthma in people. This condition accounts for half of all lung diseases seen in performance horses.
Fortunately, living in the Northwest, COPD is not as common because of our temperate climate. COPD is most likely to develop in colder climates in mature horses (over 6) that are stabled in the winter rather than pastured. A stable can host a wide variety of allergens (straw bedding and hay being the most common). Even clean hay can contain small amounts of mold, dust mites, pollen and other debris. If conditions are humid or damp, bacteria and mold can grow. These conditions can be especially risky to a horse diagnosed with COPD.
In Scooter’s case, she could just be having a reaction to an air borne allergen that she is more recently exposed to, as she has not been medically diagnosed. The wacky weather of Spring is sure to trigger allergy issues, as I am sure anyone with allergies will tell you!
My own horse, Baron, had a similar allergy issue. He hadn’t been exposed to too many locations/climates during his 13 years of life so it could be that his immune system isn’t as strong against different allergens or it could also be the nerves which weakened his system for the same reason. After about 2 weeks of having Baron at his new home, a temperature shift hit and all of a sudden it was at least 15 degrees warmer (per day on avg.). The airflow in the barn where he was stalled wasn’t enough for him, as he developed a wet mucus cough and a runny nose. He didn’t seem to have a fever, but I called the vet out of worry. I just got this horse, he can’t be broken!
Turns out, it was just allergies. Now, instead of being stalled inside- Baron is enjoying the outdoors in a covered run-in situation and is completely allergy free!
During my appointment, I picked up a few helpful tips from the vet. If your horse is sick, or you think he/she may be sick but you are unsure of how much exercise they should endure; use the three cough rule. If your horse coughs more than three times during your warm-up, call it quits after ending on a good note at the walk. The other tip is more of a trick, and that is getting your horse to cough. Sometimes when trying to diagnose your horse, you need to narrow down what kind of cough they are having. Is it wet or dry? Can you hear it in their lungs? By pinching the throat up near the cheek where the throat latch falls, you can make your horse cough instantly. It is important to do this ONLY once or twice as coughing inflames the throat and could worsen your horse’s condition.
Remember, a healthy horse is a happy horse!
Reference article: http://www.equinawellness.com/equine-respiratory.html