Fitness Secrets of the Stars

Here's what some top equestrians say about why they work out--and why they think you should, as well.

Steve Archer, trainer of youth world and reserve world champions in Western riding, Western pleasure, reining, and horsemanship; Richmond, Texas. Runs about 4 miles, five to six times per week.

“When I’m fit, I feel so much better-stronger, with faster reflexes. When I have a major event coming up, I bear down a little to increase my fitness level, because I really believe it gives me a competitive edge.

“Exercise also helps you to be more empathetic with your horse. After I’ve run 4 miles, if someone were to ask me to run another 5, I just couldn’t. But sometimes we do the equivalent thing to our horses. Now, I’m more sensitive to that.

“My wife, Andrea, is even more ‘hard core’ about working out than I am. She walks on a treadmill twice a week, and trains with weights three times a week.”

Patty Carter, winning trainer of youth and amateurs, and a judge with the American Quarter Horse Association, the National Reining Horse Association, and the National Snaffle Bit Association; Paris, Ontario. Does 200 abdominal crunches every day, and works out at a gym twice per week or so, using cardio machines for 30 minutes, and weights for 30 minutes.

“Crunches keep my back in shape for riding, and going to the gym is a mental break in addition to a fitness boost-it’s nice to get away from the barn. When I’m on the road judging, I always take my workout clothes with me, because exercise helps me to stay mentally sharp.

“I encourage all my students to work out, too, and especially to tone and strengthen their upper bodies. As a judge, I know that someone who’s physically fit-an athlete-always catches your attention. And I insist that my novice riders stretch before they ride. It puts them at ease in the saddle and reduces their chance of injury. This is especially important for the older ladies-my ‘select group,’ I call them.”

Sandy Collier, 1993 World Championship Snaffle Bit Futurity winner; Buellton, California. Runs or does aerobics with weights for about an hour, four times per week.

“Working out improves your whole life: you look better, feel better, and ride better. As a bonus, increased lean muscle mass means you can eat more without gaining weight.

“I also find that being fit gives me more endurance, and makes me less apt to hurt myself. When you work around horses, there are any number of heavy, potentially dangerous jobs-such as hefting bales of hay. Being fit enables you to use your leg and abdominal muscles to lift properly and otherwise avoid injury.

“Plus, when you feel better your attitude is better, and this is a huge advantage around horses. When I’m grumpy, my horses don’t want to deal with me!

“Best of all, it’s never too late to start a fitness program. I got motivated on my 40th birthday, when I looked at myself in the mirror and thought, ‘This isn’t going to get any better.’ I started working out, and by the time I was 41, I felt better than I had when I was 21.”

Charlie Cole, multiple world champion Quarter Horse trainer; Chino Hills, California. Works out at a gym four to five times per week-2 days with a personal trainer, working on weight machines, and the rest on his own using cardio machines, such as a treadmill.

“Being fit is a definite energy boost. The fitter you are, the better able you are to squeeze everything you want to do into your day. I do a lot of judging, and the hotels I stay in generally have a gym area with at least a treadmill, so I can keep my program going when I travel.

“I’d say the major benefits of a fitness program to amateur riders, in addition to increased energy, are enhanced eye-hand coordination and overall flexibility. The better you are at reacting and using your body, the better rider you’re going to be.”

Al Dunning, world champion reiner and cutter; Scottsdale, Arizona. Does 100 crunches and various back-protecting stretches every morning; works out in his home gym 3 days per week for about 90 minutes using various cardio and weight machines, plus free weights.

“I had a chronic bad back and was going to retire. I’d been through pain clinics, including one at the Mayo Clinic, and even a double laminectomy. Nothing gave me real relief. Then, in 1991, I started working out with a personal trainer who designed a program to strengthen my back and enhance my riding. He calls his program Rider Fit, and it lives up to its name! I’m stronger now than I’ve ever been. My back is healthy and pain-free. I’m not as likely to be hurt in a fall, and my recovery time is much faster.

“For the amateur rider, strength has so much to do with confidence and balance. If you’re strong in the lower body and in your ‘stabilizer muscles’ [the pelvic girdle], you’re going to be a more confident rider. And stretching is vital, too. For the amateur, I’d recommend stretching, abdominal crunches, and strength training for the leg and lower-back muscles-at an absolute minimum.”

Suzy Jeane, president of the National Snaffle Bit Association, world champion pleasure horse trainer; Aubrey, Texas. Runs 3 miles, four to five times per week.

“Being fit makes me a stronger rider, plus it gives me the endurance I need to get through the rest of my day. Yes, it’s a juggling act to find the time for running, especially this year, with my duties as NSBA president. But I’ve learned that when I don’t do it, I tire out more quickly-mentally as well as physically.

“I usually run in the late afternoon, when the horses are being fed. One of the reasons I love running is that no one will go with me-it’s my time alone. It’s a mental break as well as a physical one, and I don’t know what I’d do without it.”

Martha Josey, longtime barrel racing legend; Karnac, Texas. Walks briskly or jogs for 15 minutes almost every day; fits stretching/flexibility exercises into her daily routine.

“I’m very big on keeping fit. To ride your best and be competitive, you have to stay in shape. I have very busy days, but my husband and I find time to walk or jog, usually in the evenings, right before bed.

“I’m also into proper nutrition-lots of vegetables and fruits-and a good vitamin/mineral supplement. As a result of all I do, I almost never feel tired anymore. And I teach all of this at my clinics, too, because training your horse is only a part of it. You have to train yourself, too.”

Andrea Simons, a judge and multiple American Paint Horse Association world champion; Aubrey, Texas. Walks 2 to 3 miles on a treadmill, four to five times per week.

“Western pleasure is a highly competitive sport, and you really need the strength and endurance that exercise gives you to ride your best. I also have disk problems in my lower back, and the treadmill is what makes it possible for me to ride at all. Plus, since I quit smoking, getting my weight stabilized has been tough, and aerobic exercise really helps there, too.

“Our treadmill is in my daughter’s room, and another bonus of using it is the opportunity it gives me to visit with both my daughters. We really enjoy that shared time together.

“For amateur riders, I’d say anything that can enhance the strength of their inner thigh and calf muscles is going to give them a tremendous advantage. Walking, running, squats, lunges-all are extremely helpful.”

Jennifer Forsberg Meyer is Horse & Rider’s editorial director and a former editor of the California Horse Review.

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