Rider Fitness: Farm to 5K

Photo via Susan Thomas.

Rider fitness has become a major topic of conversation as amateurs and professionals alike search for ways to further strengthen their riding. Susan Thomas, who operates her own Charbonnet Sport Horses in Commerce, Georgia, takes her own fitness as a rider very seriously, and encourages her students to do the same.

A lifelong runner, Susan and her boyfriend George Daigh created a fitness initiative called “Farm to 5K” to promote cross training and a healthy lifestyle to the students in her program. The fitness challenge lays out an eight week running/walking program which consists of four workouts per week.

Why did you create your Farm to 5K initiative?

I laid the Farm to 5k plan out for two main reasons. I believe that rider fitness is taken far too lightly by many riders. We have very high expectations of our horses to be top athletes, so why are more riders not training to be top athletes? Have you ever heard of a sport in which cross-training for fitness wasn’t seriously advised or required? Being fit improves motor skills, balance, and confidence which makes riders more successful in training and competition.

And the second reason?

I also wanted my riders to take up running so that they could better understand horse care, conditioning, and recovery. In order to be the best rider that you can be, I firmly believe that a strong emphasis needs to be put on horsemanship and basic horse care education. Many young riders know that we give horses light days or weeks after a big event or that we ice legs and feet after a jump school, but they don’t always truly understand why…or how the horse may feel if we skimp on those recovery practices! It’s also tough to understand why some horses struggle so much more to show jump cleanly at an event where show jumping runs after cross country. However, when you get into a fitness routine and begin to feel the challenges of several different types of workouts, as well as the environmental challenges such as temperature and air quality, it becomes much easier to understand the toll that training can take on horses. 

Susan Thomas and George Daigh. Photo via Susan Thomas.

Why did you choose running as your cross training activity?

I chose to encourage my friends, family, and students to try out running (or walking) because it is an activity that can be done anywhere and with very little required equipment. I am also a runner, so I had some background knowledge to help validate my basic plan that I laid out. I believe that improving fitness directly improves riding, both in the saddle, as well as making us more understanding of our athletic partners and their needs as athletes!

#Farmto5K Program:

30 Minutes Hill Day

  • 3 minute jog, 2 minute walk x5
  • 5 minutes run uphill (controlled sprint) and jog down

30 Minutes Speed Day

  • 1 mile easy warm up
  • speed workout (Listed below for each week)
  • half mile cool down

30 Minutes Long Run

  • easy pace
  • walk-jog intervals until up to 30 minutes jogging (starting at jog 5 minutes, walk 1 minute)

Core Day

  • 5 planks, 30 seconds each
  • 5 side planks, 30 seconds each
  • 5 6” leg lifts, 30 seconds each
  • 20 “goblet” squats (holding a 5 lb weight)
  • stretch and relax!

Speed Workouts

Week 1: 2 x 800m at a fast but comfortable pace, 1 x 800m as fast as you can do it! (This will help us target a race goal!)

Week 2: 6 x 400m. A 400 is 1/4 of a mile. Try to do this at your 5K goal pace!

Week 3: 2 x 1200m, 1 x 800m

Week 4: 1 mile at 5k pace.

Week 5: 4 x 800m at 5k pace. (An 800m run is a half mile!)

Week 6: 8 x 400 at slightly faster than 5k pace.

Week 7: 2 x1 mile at 5k pace.

Week 8: 2 x 800m at 5k pace and 2 x 400m at slightly faster than 5k pace!

Susan has plans to kick off another #Farmto5k this fall. If you’d like to get involved follow the Farm to 5K Facebook Page where she posts the weekly program. Happy running or walking!