Getting saddle fit

How to Get Saddle Fit for a Riding Holiday

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horse riding holiday in Tasmania, Australia

If you’ve signed up for a horse riding holiday, you’re going to want to make sure that your body is saddle fit. Let’s face it: there’s nothing worse than being saddle sore from day one of your much-anticipated trip. Of course, there is always a glass of wine and some ibuprofen to soothe the aches and pains of an evening, but it’s not ideal. You don’t want to be gasping with pain whenever you’re in the saddle, or limping around when you’re not.

On most of our holidays, you can expect to be in the saddle for at least four hours a day. And if you’re headed to one of our more intrepid destinations like Namibia, Kenya, Botswana, Mongolia, Catalonia, Andorra, Iceland, Big Horn USA, the Canadian Rockies, Patagonia or Morocco, you can spend up to seven hours in the saddle, especially on days when you’re moving from one camp to the next. Put simply, if you’re not riding fit, it’s going to affect your enjoyment. Just think: every trot and canter, you’ll be wincing in pain rather than appreciating your surroundings and your surefooted steed.

So do yourself a favour and put some time into preparing your body for the rigours of globetrotting. You’ll be glad you did!

Training in the saddle

I’m very aware that some globetrotters may not have ridden for many years. I totally get it, and that’s why you’ve booked on a horseback holiday: you’re desperate to feel the freedom of riding again. Regardless of which ride you’ve signed up for, I strongly urge you to do some riding before your holiday begins. Even if it’s just for a confidence boost, to confirm that yes, you can ride, and you love it!

(That said, if you can’t ride at all before your trip, fear not – we’ll get to that!)

If you’re stuck in a city, there are plenty of riding stables where you can hire a horse or pay for a lesson. I recommend calling them first and asking what type of riding they offer for intermediate to advanced riders. Ideally, the best training for a riding holiday is trail riding, rather than a lesson in an arena.

If you’re fortunate enough to have your own horse and are riding two to three times a week in the lead up to your riding holiday, you’re more than prepped. If you have access to a horse but haven’t ridden for a while, make sure you block out some time on the weekend and mid-week to ride. You’ll need to start at least a month out from your horse riding adventure.

When in the saddle, make sure you post to the trot for at least seven minutes at a time. And also spend seven minutes or more at a slow canter. If you normally sit in the saddle at a canter, start practising cantering out of the saddle, balancing on your stirrups with light hands (don’t hang off your horse’s mouth). This helps take the weight off your horse’s back, which will be a welcome relief for your mount.

Training off the horse

If you CAN’T ride regularly in the lead-up to your trip, or if you want to combine on- and off-the-horse training, here are some ideas for you to add into your fitness routine prior to departure. If you can’t ride, aim to work on your fitness for 30 minutes a day, three to five days a week (depending on which holiday you’ve booked). I guarantee you’ll feel a whole lot more prepared and excited when your ride begins!

Strength training
Kelly Altschwager of Western Workouts recently taught us the immense value of strength training for horse riders. Turns out it’s by far the best way to improve your body control, balance and spatial awareness, increase and balance your strength left to right (no more lopsided saddle seat!) and increase your bone density so that should you fall, you’ll be more likely to brush it off than break something. For all of Kelly’s tips on rider fitness AND an exclusive discount code for a personalised fitness plan, check out our article and video here.

I’m a huge advocate of Pilates and I’m super fortunate to have a brilliant teacher and studio a ten minute drive from me. Whether it’s a reformer or mat class, both work on your core strength, which is imperative for posting to the trot and cantering. While riding, you engage your upper and lower legs and your biceps to control the horse, and Pilates is brilliant for honing in on specific muscle groups while still being low-impact. If you can’t notch up enough hours in the saddle before your riding holiday, I wholeheartedly recommend doing a Pilates class at least once a week. There are some great Pilates exercises for riders on the Kerrits YouTube channel.

Yoga and Pilates work in very similar ways to get you fit for horse riding. One of the major benefits unique to yoga is the focus on your ability to maintain deep, steady breathing while your body is working hard. Since horses are SO receptive to our state of mind and body language, being able to keep your breathing and heart rate low and remain physically relaxed and ‘soft’ rather than stiff really does set you up for success. Physically, yoga is especially great for strengthening and opening your hips, promoting correct core posture and working those specific muscle groups (such as your inner thighs!) that are hard to focus on in most other forms of training. This 30-minute yoga practice is a great place to start, whether you’re new to yoga or an old hat.

Getting Fit at Home
Whether you have access to a horse or not, there’s really no excuse not to be ride-ready if you make the most of your time at home! We’ve written a whole ‘nother article with our favourite online resources to help you physically and mentally prepare, and we strongly recommend giving it a squiz. Here’s the link.

Do you have any more tips to add? Share them with us in the comments!

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