"And felt that old familiar pain
And as I turned to make my way back home,
The snow turned into rain."
Dan Fogelberg's song played as I painted one of the guest cabins, new beetle-kill pine, tongue and groove ceilings and freshly painted walls. Every time I hear those words, I acknowledge the pain, feel it.
Snow turning into rain, in the literal sense, brings more meaning to me now that I live near Steamboat Springs. The Mountain relies on its snow, and when the weather brings rain in the winter, we get ice. Nasty ice. January has been unseasonably warm and dry. Some are thankful for no plowing, and some need snow desperately to make their living.
But, the more I listened to the song (I have a hard time playing it only once), the more I remembered that I'll be rejoicing once that snow consistently turns to rain. Dude ranch season will be among us. That means warm days and cool starry nights, it means line dancing to the tune of Boot Scootin' Boogie, exploring trail rides, and most importantly, it means doing what I love most. Giving people the gift of dude ranching, helping folks to relax, step back and enjoy the beauty that's around us. Giving people a place to call their home-away-from home.
In How to Physically Prepare for Horseback Riding: Step One, we established that exercising your TA (Transverse Abdominis, the deepest core muscles that provide you with the ability to keep your body stable) should be one of the beginning steps in your effort to prepare for horseback riding. And, now that you've learned to target and activate your TA by repeatedly performing the exercises in the last video, you're ready to move forward in your training.
Here are three examples of exercises you can do to improve your abdominal strength (Click on each for a descriptive video). As you perform them, remember to activate your TA throughout the movements. Also, remember to breathe!
1) Plank Exercise
2) Plank Leg lifts (low and high), Plank arm lifts
3) Side Planks
These three exercises are very basic, but the better you get at targeting your TA and other abdominal muscles, the stronger your core will become for horseback riding.
Stay tuned for our next blog about functional leg exercises that will help prepare your lower body for sitting in the saddle.
As we discussed in the previous blog "How to Physically Prepare for Horseback Riding", your core (transverse abdominus, in particular) plays a major role in your ability to balance well while horseback riding. What I did not explain to you is why preparing your body for horseback riding is especially helpful when visiting a Colorado dude ranch.
The answer is pretty easy. When folks come out and visit us, they feel like they're paying for a certain amount of horseback riding since the vacation is all-inclusive (folks are more than welcome just to sit on their porch with coffee and listen to the river, participate in our other activities, explore Steamboat Springs, etc.). Many ride every day of the week during their vacation, morning and afternoon. For our six nights stays, that often means 11 horseback rides in seven days. And, those rides aren't piddly.
We trail ride in the Routt National Forest through meadows, aspen forests, up and down mountains. Whether folks are doing our most beginner rides or our advanced, they get a lot out of the experience. Oftentimes, though, unless our guests are use to riding everyday, those 11 or so rides take a toll on them, and by mid-week, they like a little break for their bodies.
Some believe that unless you're going for that rockin' hot bod for your beach vacation, there's no reason to exercise specifically for vacation. But take it from me, your dude ranch vacation can not only provide you with a benchmark for getting into horseback riding shape, but also can make your stay with us less sore and more happy on the trails.
Horseback Riding and Movement
Exercising for horseback riding appears to be a non-issue considering that the physical exertion from riding is understood to be, and rightly so, much less than other sports, such as basketball, football, and even golf. In fact, much of riding depends on our ability to decrease extraneous movement. Danielle Rowland, creator of the "Fit to Ride" program acknowledges, "The less outside movement--weight shifting--we produce in the saddle the easier the horse can maintain balance and perform the movements the rider asks." She continues to say, "With all the leg and hip motions that are used to cue the horse, the core needs to be engaged to maintain balance and stability on the horse."
What Exactly is Your Core?
A common misconception is that people with a six-pack have a strong core. The fact is, you have muscles (not just the visible ones) all over your trunk, and the visible ones, while important, do not have as much to do with your stability on the horse as the invisible group, the transverse abdominis muscles. These are the deepest of the abdomen muscles and wrap around your spine to provide the protection and stability you need to control your own body.
Step One: Target/Activate Your Transverse Abdominis
Before hopping in and performing a bunch of plank and ball exercises, it's important that you first learn how to activate the TA--that way you ensure your exercises are being performed properly and performed in a way that is most effective.
Here's a starter video for you from the Aurora Sports Medicine Institute: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dgIhzlp474A&list=PLE9644A536F614101
Keep working on targeting your TA and stay tuned for horseback riding exercises that focus on strengthening your TA and movements such as your hip abduction with hip external rotation and your hip adduction with internal rotation.
Most of the horses we use at Elk River Guest Ranch are quarter horses and therefore don't have the smooth, Cadillac-style trot like gaited horses. So, we ride and teach our guests to ride in a way that provides comfort to both the horse and rider while the horse goes into the "jogging" gait. Though, "posting" hasn't always been around. In fact, in trying to find the history behind the technique, I stumbled across three different stories.
While each of the stories may have an element of truth (not quite "myths" as the title of the blog suggests), one story appears to hold more weight than the others. Thus, in an effort to give you the back-story to posting, I'll give you each of the three, and then you can decide for yourself. Feel free to post your opinions about which holds the most validity in the comment box below. We'd love to hear from you!
1) The Postman-This story suggests that postmen carrying mail throughout different parts of the world would prefer using big, long-strided horses for speed. Unfortunately, these fast horses were also bouncy forcing the men to learn how to ride the trot by bouncing up with every other stride as opposed to bouncing with every bounce of the horse.
2) The Cavalry Man-The second theory implies that posting was invented when the cavalry men posted the trot for endurance's sake. Posting up as the horse's right leg was stretched out front would work one side of the horse's hind legs more than the other. So, the rider would ride on the right diagonal (up as the horse's right front leg was forward) for a while and then switch to the left diagonal in order to optimize the amount of work each leg was expending.
3) The Postilion-The last story says that the fanciest of European royalty and aristocracy would opt to have a horseback rider driving the carriage/coach's team while mounted on one of the pulling horses as opposed to a low-life coachmen riding up top with the rich folks. Eventually, these "post boys" discovered it was much easier to stand up in their stirrups with every other bounce of the horse as opposed to getting jostled around. "As time went by, 'posting' became the accepted way for aristocrats to ride their fancy horses up and down the urban bridle paths like Rotten Row in London or Central Park in New York City during the Victorian era."