Are we fit for purpose? Exploring event rider body shape and balance
This title has many connotations when applied to a rider. A competition rider needs to be fitter than someone who hacks twice a week, and the higher the level of competition the higher the level of fitness required. But defining required fitness for each level of equestrian sport is hard.
For other sports such as rowing, cycling and athletics it may be relatively simple to do. But for a rider there are so many variations in technique, the requirements of our horses, and so on. There are also so many skills required to ride well.
Balance of the event rider
Key amongst the skills required to ride well is good balance. Apart from being able to stay on the horse, without the maintenance of balance, cognitive function is impaired and decision making becomes haphazard. Balance also influences the jockey’s relaxation and therefore their flexibility and ability to follow the horse’s movement. All of this has safety and performance implications.
Some riders have impeccable balance, others cling on or flop around. So, what enables ‘good’ balance? Is it something inherent within us, or is it fitness, or something else altogether?
Finding your balance
William Fox-Pitt, Jesse Campbell and Mark Todd are all well over six foot, but all are renowned for their balance and ‘stickability’. Equally we watch and admire Piggy French, Ros Canter, Izzy Taylor and Ben Hobday, who don’t have the same in height as the aforementioned.
It’s not shape either. There are many top riders who all have different conformation.So what is it? I think flexibility, core strength, and weight are the key components that influence balance. We can influence all of these things and therefore balance is, to an extent, a trainable part of our skill set. After a serious accident eight years ago involving a broken pelvis I worked with John Pitts, fitness and conditioning coach, during my recuperation. I learnt so much from him about flexibility and core strength that I felt a better athlete after the accident than I was before.
A weighty issue
Rider weight is a more emotive issue. But we should take it more seriously. It not only affects our performance, but also has welfare implications for the horse. This is a hot topic in showing circles for both horse and rider, and I can foresee a time when riders or horses that are grossly overweight will not be allowed to compete in any sport, which is right and proper from a welfare perspective.
It is a serious matter for our safety and our horse’s welfare, never mind our competition results. So even if you are not feeling quite the athlete you would like to be, it’s not too late to improve.
First published in the May/June 2017 issue of British Eventing Life online, original words by Johnathan Chapman