I've found that the busy lifestyles many riders maintain, whether from their professional careers, academic pursuits or other commitments, often make daily riding impossible. Yet these riders have a serious intent to make progress and reach personal goals. I believe these riders can make real progress in their riding achievements even if they cannot afford the two hour plus commitment to get to the stable, if they slightly increase their levels of physical fitness.
Maintaining a high degree of physical fitness is one factor that I believe makes limited riding time more effective. I have taught college students for many years and used to assume that young adults were reasonably fit and supple. I now believe that, more than any one thing, riders of all ages need an unmounted exercise program to augment their saddle time. The person who rides two to three times a week wastes precious saddle time if her body is not balanced and warmed up prior to mounting.
To be in harmony with the horse, the rider's body needs to act as a shock absorber. Just as in the vehicles we drive, the shocks can be too stiff or too soft and not give a satisfactory ride. The stabilization of the core, along with the suppleness of the joints, allows the rider to move in balance with the horse. It enables the rider to flow with the natural rhythm of the horse by allowing the horse's back to come up under the seat so the movement swings through the horse's body and is not blocked.
An effective method to make the most out of your time in the saddle involves a daily, 20-minute exercise program of stretching and developing core strength, along with some coordination exercises that can be as simple as skipping rope. Many programs are widely available to the rider and one should select a program that fits her lifestyle—whether it is Pilates, power yoga, core strength training or working with exercise books, tapes or a trainer. The program should include stretching, coordination and strengthening exercises to balance the rider's body.
The second part of making progress with your riding is the regular work a horse needs to stay fit and supple. If you are unable to work your horse five times a week, you need to seek some assistance from a professional trainer or a friend who can share your horse. You owe it to your horse to consider his exercise program so that you can enjoy him to the fullest when you are in the saddle. I have seen many riders develop and achieve true enjoyment in their riding with limited time in the saddle. Follow my advice and enjoy a more harmonious ride.
Beth Beukema is a U.S. Equestrian Federation "R" dressage judge and a U.S. Dressage Federation bronze and silver medalist. She is president of the Intercollegiate Dressage Association. As associate professor of equine studies at Johnson & Wales University, she directs its Center of Equine Studies in Rehoboth, Mass.