Balancing your riding with a cross-training routine isn’t about finding a way to squeeze everything into your schedule and having a healthy diet 100% of the time. It’s more about finding the right balance of riding, fitness, and nutrition that works for you and your life.
We like to think of cross-training for equestrians as a sliding scale. On one side, you have the motivated beginner rider who is only able to ride 1-2 times per week and may not have their own horse/pony to practice on. For this rider, we typically recommend a well-rounded cross-training routine with strength training and cardio workouts ~5 days per week in addition to a healthy diet.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, we have the professional who rides 5+ horses per day, teaches lessons, shows frequently, and has very little free time or energy. For this rider, we suggest focusing on a healthy diet and incorporating a stretching routine at the beginning or end of each day. Although we believe cross-training is important, it’s more important to prevent extreme fatigue and burnout. It’s all about looking at the big picture and prioritizing your physical and mental health.
Somewhere in the middle of the scale we see our junior or amateur rider who is in school or has a full-time job. Things can get tricky here, and there is a lot of variables that will help determine what balance of riding, fitness and nutrition will work best for you. Finding time to do strength training and cardio workouts when in school or work all day can be difficult. Try to find 1-3 days per week to do a quick at home workout or stretching session.
Balancing a healthy diet with the equestrian lifestyle can be a challenge. We recommend focusing on a diet rich in whole grains, veggies, fruits, and lean proteins like chicken, fish, tofu, etc. There is absolutely nothing wrong with listening to your cravings and indulging in ice cream, pizza, etc. when you want it! It’s all about finding a balance and not restricting yourself from having the foods you crave. It’s also to remember that we are athletes, just like our horses, and food=fuel. If you find yourself feeling excessively fatigued and low on energy after riding, exercising, etc. you may not be eating enough calories. We recommend seeing a registered dietician or checking out The Fit Equestrian’s 1-on-1 counseling sessions to learn more about your personal nutritional needs.
What works for you right now may not work for you in six months. Changes like transitioning from high school to college, starting a new job, riding a new horse, showing more or less frequently, and more can affect your balance of riding, fitness, and nutrition more than you may think. Maybe you spent all summer riding three horses every day and showing every weekend. Getting to the gym was probably low on your list of priorities. Now, you’re back at college in the fall riding 1-2 times per week on your college team, but eager to continue improving and stay in shape. This rider would greatly benefit from starting a cross-training routine and exercising 4-5 times per week, even though they didn’t need to all summer.
You know yourself better than anyone else, and it’s important to listen to your body! Do what feels right for you and your personal goals.
About The Fit Equestrian: Founded by Lauren Mahr, The Fit Equestrian provides exercise + nutrition guidance for equestrian athletes to help release their full potential in the saddle and inspire a healthy + happy lifestyle. We believe in cross-training and eating whole foods, but we also believe in balance and eating dessert.