Friday, July 24, 2015

The Fitness Difference

I have ridden in many different bodies over my lifetime.

There was the "Fearless Kid Body" that could do an unplanned flying dismount at a full gallop and have very little to show for it other than a few tears and a very wounded ego.

There was the fluctuating College Body. In photos it looks pretty normal by middle aged standards. But I thought I was HUGE. But thanks to my Fearless Kid Body years, I was actually pretty competent, even if I wasn't always the prettiest one.

When I was in my early 20's I had a horse and was trying to be a Very Serious Dressage Rider. I fought a losing battle with my weight. I thought exercise outside of riding was some kind of medieval torture conspiracy. I never did learn to sit the trot. But then I go the Very Scary Warmblood and I hated riding him. I sold him and mostly quit riding for the next 12 years.
Somewhere in the middle of that long hiatus, when I was at my heaviest I did a very short term lease on a very nice little black thoroughbred gelding. When I got to the barn I discovered I couldn't get my boots on. I was winded after doing very little and I felt like I was flopping around. Then 9/11 happened and I lost my job and I had to end the lease.

I tried to get more fit at various points Before Kids and After Horses. But I had a bum knee that kept deteriorating and kept me from running, then biking and finally from walking more than a half hour at a time.

Then I had kids and my body and lifestyle completely changed. My son was a very active baby once he was mobile. It was absolute hell to sit at home with him watching him tear the drywall from the walls. So we would go "Run the Baby." Between chasing him, pushing the stroller and getting out every chance I got I became stronger.

When he was about 18 months old we spent a summer living in the first floor apartment of my parent's triple decker in Cambridge.  I saw it as an opportunity to finally get my knee fixed. The surgery was a horrific experience and then I got pregnant again and ballooned up to about 230 by the end of my second pregnancy, so I didn't really get to appreciate the affects of the surgery until after my daughter was born. Fortunately, the weight mostly slid off after she was born and suddenly I had two working knees!

Then I discovered yoga. This made me relaxed, stronger and focused. It enabled me to start riding again without debilitating muscle pain 12 years after I sold the Very Scary Warmblood. I was amazed at what a difference my new leaner, stronger body could do on a horse at Almost 40 then It could do at 25. That whole "on the bit" thing that had evaded me completely during my Very Serious Dressage years suddenly came easy (at least on a horse that understood the concept). But jumping still felt much more hit or miss.

Then last  year, when my son was 10 we decided to do the Couch to 5k together. I ended up getting very sick last August when were were in week 7 of the program and was too weak to continue. Then last winter was, well last winter and we didn't start again until Spring of this year. But we completed the 8 weeks of interval training and I'm running about 2-3 miles at a time. I wish I could time travel to my old self an say "Look what I can do!!" Running was absolutely inconceivable when I was younger. I didn't understand why anybody would do it, or why. But now I am loving it. There really is a fabulous buzz that comes with a good run that I never even dreamed of.

Here we are at our first race.

But the really amazeballs part of this whole thing is how much my riding has changed since we started the program this spring. Suddenly my leg is where I want it to be when I jump. I don't get (as) tired when working on my sitting trot without stirrups. My dressage trainer (who I don't see nearly as often as I would like) noticed something really different with me last lesson. Then my jumping trainer said the same thing. Jumping my position feels super secure (well relative to how I felt before I started running). I'm doing much less "grab mane and hope for the best" when I can't quite see my distances and just sitting up and waiting with my leg on knowing I can stay with him if we get a big spot.

So when your riding instructor tells you that fitness is a integral part of this sport, listen. I've ridden in so many different types of bodies in my life and this one (even though I'm kind of old and decrepit) is definitely the most effective.

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