Ashley Kehoe: How important is rider fitness?

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American Team Horze professional rider Ashley Kehoe recently gave an interview on fitness. Here’s what she had to say about this important topic. 

Topic: I am preparing for my upcoming show season, how important is rider fitness? Does it vary based on the riders’ competition level? 

Answer:

Rider fitness is one of the most overlooked important factors when preparing for an upcoming show season!

For event riders like myself, being physically fit is as important as keeping your horse fit and in regular exercise. As riders, we need to be able to comfortably ride multiple phases in one day. Or if you’re a professional like myself, you need to have the stamina to ride horses all day long. But riding alone won’t give you the cardio workout you need to be properly prepared for the cross-country phase of a three-day event.
I have noticed what a huge difference strength and fitness has made in my riding just in the past few years. Before I started my fitness routine, I was noticeably out of breath by the time I finished my cross-country course. My legs felt like jello and I was always red in the face!  Now, after almost a full year of CrossFit and other daily exercise, I can cross the finish line and am ready for round two. I have to say I realize that riding is tiring, and finding motivation to workout outside of riding can be hard. Personally, I struggle with weight lifting but I force myself to do it because I know it makes me a better rider and makes things easier for my horses. Other types of cardio and exercise, like running, I find relaxing and very enjoyable. I recommend finding a workout program that you can look forward to! Whether it’s kick boxing, yoga, gymnastics, CrossFit, etc. Whatever it is, make sure it’s enough to get you going and out of bed in the morning…that is a good start!

With upper-level riders, I recommend a combination of cardio and strength training (hot yoga is my favourite!). This will keep you lean, but also fit enough to be a good pilot for your horse. I don’t believe lifting heavy weights (which can add unnecessary bulk) is absolutely necessary for riders. Hundreds of sit-ups and 5-minute wall squats are more productive for riders than heavy bench presses or dead-lifts. It is important to do push- ups and other exercises that balance out our bodies and strengthen the muscles we don’t use as much when riding. I workout five days a week and like to do three days of cardio and two days of strength-training.

It’s not much different for pleasure or amateur riders. The stronger you can make yourself over-all, the stronger you will be when you ride your horse. This can help tremendously and can help you reach your own goals quicker. I would suggest doing wall-sits, and sit-ups! As a professional rider, I can’t stress enough how important it is to have a strong core. I do most of my work to make my stomach stronger, and I have noticed what a huge difference it has made for me being able to sit the trot in dressage!

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It is extremely important to find classes – maybe join a gym where they have cycle classes and strength training classes.  Or, you can try the most extreme, CrossFit, and see if that’s for you. I think it’s safe to say, all of us aren’t as good at making exercising a priority when we’re not signed up for official classes. Going with your team, or a buddy is a good way to have some accountability and keep you going. When you just have a gym membership you’re less likely to push yourself – it’s just too easy to step off the treadmill when you get a little winded. So, find that workout buddy that can help push you!

Lastly, to supplement your workouts, eating right is essential for success (And, portion control is a major component!) I try to surround myself with only good food options. If it’s 3 o’clock in the afternoon and all I have in the tack room is a box of Cheeze-It crackers, I’m probably going to eat the Cheeze-Its! But if I can grab a handful of carrots or an apple, it fills me up in the same way and I don’t get hungry 20-minutes later like filling up on empty carbohydrates can do.

Some barns skip lunch entirely, but I don’t recommend that! If I did that I would get so “hangry” by 5 o’clock I wouldn’t be able to think straight! This really can affect your riding in a negative way because you need to be mentally and physically fit to produce a good ride for your horse.  To avoid this, I keep yogurt, carrots, almonds and apples in the tack room, and don’t even buy “junk food.”

 At the end of the day, rider fitness is important for all levels of riders! Set goals for yourself; find an exercise you enjoy doing, grab a workout buddy and eat healthy. Do this, and I am confident in a few months you will notice an improvement in your riding and strength!

More About Ashley: Ashley Kehoe is an upper-level event rider who has competed Internationally through the Advanced-level of Eventing.  Growing up in Malvern, Pennsylvania she was involved with the Radnor Hunt Pony Club eventually earning her “A” rating. In 2005 Ashley started as a working student for Karen and David O’Connor. She continued to train with the O’Connor’s and Emily Beshear while finishing her BBA at James Madison University. She then rode for upper-level riders Debbie Adams and Sharon White. Ashley currently works as the head rider at Pollard Eventing under Michael and Nathalie Pollard.  Ashley and her young mare D.A. Vittoria, “V,” are currently competing at the Intermediate-level of Eventing and she has goals to be a future member of the US Equestrian team, so keep your eyes peeled for this duo! To learn more about Ashley, visit her web site: www.ashleykehoe.com.

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Written by: Tara N. Shegogue of Mythic Landing Enterprises, LLC

Tabby is Public Relations and Social Marketing coordinator for Horze. As well as being the company's journalist, she holds contact and promotes our Team of sponsor riders, negotiates editorial material with magazines internationally and drives our various social media outlets. She is originally from England, and has lived in Oslo for the last year and half.