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Horse Riding Building Better Physical and Mental Strength

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IN-DEPTH NEWS FEATURE:

Horsing riding is a popular recreational activity and sport that burns calories fast. In fact, more than 400,000 Australians are burning some 640 calories or more, per hour, as they gallop off into the distance.

The Equestrian Federation of Australia estimates that there are some 120,000 Australians competing in equestrian events. This may be at an elite, Pony Club or rodeo level. Plus, a further 8,500 Australians are employed in the horse industry. However, these figures do not include those Australians who enjoy trail riding or exploring the countryside on weekends or after a busy day at work. The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates these to be in the vicinity of 300,000 persons.

The average Australian who weighs in at 75 kilograms or 165 pounds is estimated to burn approximately 200 to 700 calories per hour, depending on whether they are grooming, walking, trotting or galloping their horse.

Horse Riding Maintains Health and Fitness Levels

Ivanka Menken, 42-year-old, director, co-founder and business owner of the Art of Service, an eLearning company for IT professionals, Emereo Publishing, an independent publisher of books and eBooks, and Horse-store.com, a health conscious product provider for horse and rider, says that without horse riding she is a grumpy, overweight boss.

“I have a staff of 20, 6 are based in Brisbane, and work has been very busy lately,” said Menken. “This means I spend way too much time at my desk and not enough time riding,” she said. “When I don’t ride I eat more. I have a very sedate lifestyle and my weight goes up as does my fat percentage. This makes me frustrated and grumpy.”

“In addition, when I don’t ride, I get tired because I don’t have that time outside,” said Menken. “Spending 100 plus hours at work, each week, inside and looking at a computer is not a healthy lifestyle,” she said. “When I ride, it gives me an escape. As an entrepreneur, I always think about my businesses. My growth goals my staff  and suppliers and customers. This never stops, that is, unless I ride.”

“When I am in the saddle, I can only think of the horse and what we are working on,” said Menken. “Otherwise if I lose that concentration, the horse will take advantage of it,” she said.

Menken explains how hectic her working week can be.

“I wake up at 4:30a.m. and start work immediately in my home office. Most of our Art of Service clients are in the United States and Canada, and I want to be there for them to answer their emails and eLearning questions while they are still in the office,” said Menken. “I also check in with our United States based staff to see if there are any roadblocks or hurdles that I should be aware of,” she said.

“I then connect with our freelancers and contractors to check on their progress, and after that, I work on our daily search engine optimisation (SEO) and social media content,” said Menken. “I try to write a blog and do a YouTube video each week, and stay in touch with Linkedin, Facebook, Pinterest, and other ‘usual suspects’ in relation to our companies and their products,” she said.

“On a regular basis I deliver webinars for our clients and prospects. These can take some time preparing,” said Menken. “On Monday, Tuesday and Thursday I try to get to the work-based office to have some face-to-face time with the team and to talk through the projects they are working on,” she said. “Also I talk to my office manager about the finances and some red-flags that can pop-up every now and then.”

“Currently we are working on a large customer relationship management (CRM) implementation project, so I am spending lots of time working on that,” said Menken. “Usually I finish doing my work activities around 6p.m. during the week, on Saturday probably around 4 or 5p.m. depending on the projects and short-term deliverables that are needed,” she said.

However, the long work hours can affect Menken’s health.

“When I keep doing these long hours and having no exercise it has a negative impact on my health,” said Menken. “I notice that I am getting stiffer through the shoulder from sitting hunched over at my desk all-day every-day,” she said.

To overcome this, Menken turns to horse riding.

“When I travel I don’t ride at all during the week. But, when I’m home, I ride on average two to three times each week,” said Menken. “I try to keep my fortnightly lessons and I am slowly starting to do some dressage competitions again,” she said.

“When I ride regularly I find my core strength improves, along with my posture and, assuming I get my diet right, hopefully my six-pack will be back,” said Menken. “My waist and upper body looks a lot leaner when I ride a lot,” she said. “Also my aerobic fitness goes up a lot. You need to have some stamina to sit-trot for 30-minutes in a row.”

In a mental capacity, Menken says horse riding is a Godsend.

“It’s an absolute life safer,” said Menken. “It’s cheaper than counselling, and when I am at that ‘burnt out’ stage, a week with the horses puts it all back into perspective,” she said.

” I need to let go of my control-freak behaviour and learn to have patience and work baby steps towards a goal,” said Menken. “Especially this year, when I had to rehabilitate my competition horse back to health after 12 months of illness, that was a massive task,” she said. “Taking it slow and not pushing it.”

“I use these ‘horsey skills’ in my job as well,” said Menken. “It sometimes helps to think of your staff as horses who want to do what you ask but don’t understand what you’re saying,” she said.

“Horse riding has a massive impact both physically and mentally on my health,” said Menken. “My personal trainer said that I was a lot stronger and more flexible in the shoulder, traps and upper body, now that I ride a lot more,” she said.

Horse Riding Builds Better Body Control, Stamina and Wellbeing

Jan Saunders, 50, is a leading senior constable stationed in the Victorian Mounted Police branch and an equestrian dressage coach Level 1 NCAS/EV. Saunders has been riding for 40-years and says that she was drawn to horses.

“I was obsessed by the majesty of horses,” said Saunders. “Their gentleness and size amazed me,” she said.

As a horse trainer, Saunders says that how you behave is the most important aspect of training a horse.

“Being calm, clear, systematic and listening to what the horse is “telling” me are vital. Horse training should never be about ego,” said Saunders. “Know when to stop for the day or the session.  Don’t ride for those watching,” she said. “This is particularly important in the early stages of training police horses.

“I like my horses to have “fun” in their work,” said Saunders. “I never want to frighten a horse. I want them to see new things as a curiosity that needs investigating at worst, and an enjoyable game at best,” she said. “Later, as that trust develops and deepens, when something happens that truly is scary, the fact that I ask the horse to do what I ask, immediately, is what gets us through,” she said.

Saunders thinks fitness levels for riding depends entirely on the rider’s style.

“To ride poorly, not much fitness is needed,” said Saunders. “To ride well, especially in terms of training a horse or competing, the better your fitness and the better your body control will be and your stamina,” she said. “Then you can provide clear and consistent signals so that the horse will not become confused by mixed messages as you tire.”

A herniated disc, however, has prevented Saunders from riding.

“Some people with this condition find riding is beneficial in terms of relieving the pain, but unfortunately in my case it doesn’t. It aggravates it,” said Saunders. “I hope in time this will improve and I will be able to return to the saddle and training young horses,” she said.

“Schooling horses demands having good balance and motor skills, a good level of overall fitness, strength, especially in our trunk and legs, flexibility and co-ordination,” said Saunders. “Core control is very important.”

“To be in tune with the horse one needs to both ask of the horse and listen to his response, then act accordingly and immediately,” said Saunders. “Concentration and focus, being in the moment with your horse creates the best atmosphere for the best results,” she said. “You will not achieve the best result by rushing or being distracted or by not listening to what the horse is “telling” you.  Listen more than tell.”

Saunders feels that horse riding develops a sense of wellbeing for the rider and horse.

“Working with a horse or any animal and achieving harmony and grace is incredibly satisfying,” said Saunders. “Good training will result in a feeling of peace and fluidity during the ride that lasts long after the ride,” she said. “A quiet ride out in the bush, just you and your horse, and maybe your dog, on a sunny-day is one of life’s simple pleasures. Caring for such a large, but gentle, animal is rewarding in itself.”

“Additionally, it is the reward of seeing a tense or a confused horse relax and enjoy being ridden,” said Saunders. “To help that horse find a better future and home because of that,” she said. “To have those jewels of moments when everything is so soft, so fluid and so easy. This is the joy of riding. Connection, harmony and a true partnership.”

Horse Riding Develops Teamwork Skills

Gemma Creighton, 18, a full-time horse rider and showjumper, who is hoping to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games riding team, has been horse riding for as long as she can remember.

“Riding is in my blood,” said Creighton. “My dad was a dual Olympian for the sport and that’s all I knew as I was grew up at showjumping competitions,” she said. “I just love it and always have.”

“Horses aren’t machines,” said Creighton. “They have their own minds, spirits and personalities,” she said. “For me it’s all about creating that partnership, which is based on trust. To get to the Olympic level you need that perfect partnership, which takes years to create.”

Creighton says that horse riding is the only Olympic sport that sees man and animal unite to become one athlete.

“It is not only the horse that has to be the elite athlete, but the rider as well,” said Creighton. “It very important to be at your fittest so that you can both reach your full potential and be the best you can be,” she said.

“Horse riding, especially showjumping, involves a lot of thinking. It is very technical and you always have to be on the job catering for the changing environment around you,” said Creighton. “Horses have minds of their own, so they are unpredictable,” she said. “This means that you must be able to make split-second decisions while trying to get to the jumps in the best way possible, so that you can jump them clear to stay at the top of the competition.”

Creighton says she is happiest when she is around horses.

“The partnership I share with each of my horses is special,” said Creighton. “They are my best friends that can take me anywhere in the world,” she said. “Riding all around the world is a very high profile professional sport making the possibilities endless. Because it is such a large sport any achievement big or small is great.”

“The feeling you get when you achieve something in this sport is overwhelming because it involves so much effort to be at the top,” said Creighton. “It is not only a hobby, but a lifestyle choice that you put endless hours into,” she said. “So when you win a competition, it makes it worthwhile and gives you such a good feeling because you know how hard you and your horse have worked for it.”

However, that feeling does not come without a strong connection.

“It is essential that horse and rider connect, especially if you want to do well,” said Creighton. “If you don’t connect, neither of you will reach your full potential and more damage than good will happen,” she said. “Think of it like a relationship with a good friend. If you’re communicating well, you both understand where you’re at and you can work together to achieve one goal. If you’re not communicating well, it leads to a lot of frustration on both sides, and neither is really happy.”

Creighton shares a working and playful relationship with her horses, as well as teamwork and unity.

“This is essential to success,” said Creighton. “You can’t do it by yourself, and as that old cliché goes, there is no ‘I’ in team,” she said. “I think that by growing-up around horses I developed a lot of skills intuitively. Overtime, you come to realise horses need fun like we do. Living on a property we get to see the horses in paddocks in their natural state and at play, and the joy they can have, and the outlet play can be for them.

“Horse riding  has taught me team work, the glory of winning and losing,” said Creighton. “Horses are great levellers because you can be at the top of the world one week, and at the bottom again the next,” she said. “They are unpredictable and involve a lot of work.”

“You sometimes spend all-day every-day with horses, so you form a type of bond and trust that nobody but the two of you could understand,” said Creighton. “It’s unspoken, but you both get it,” she said. “I think this benefits your health and fitness because it gives you another reason to keep on working towards your goal.”

Horse Riding Competitively is Physically and Mentally Demanding

Liassanthea Taylor, a 30-year-old physiotherapist who dreamed of being a vet, says that she was motivated to work with horse riders such as Gemma Creighton, who are immersed in the world of equestrian sports.

“Firstly, I wanted to be a veterinarian and work with horses, but I missed out on entry to the course by 0.2 of a mark, so I became a Physiotherapist instead,” said Taylor. “However, after 10 years of practice I was still wondering if I should go back to university,” she said. “Then it came to me that working with the unique demands of equestrian athletes was still a good way to achieve that desire.

“Having worked with elite athletes in a number of sports, I realised that a gap existed in the world of equestrian sports for a solid sports-science approach to their sport,” said Taylor. “The positive difference it can make to performance for these athletes is profound. And finally, in a personal sense, I wanted to create a niche where I was outside and active and doing something a little more creative.”

Taylor, assesses, treats and trains a rider to communicate better with horses.

“Working with riders relies on the understanding that the rider’s position is their communication,” said Taylor. “Horses are trained to respond to signals from the rider’s body and placement of the rider’s weight. Therefore, I am assessing the rider for the reasons they might be negatively affecting the horse,” she said. “This is mainly due to asymmetry and poor strength and control of their body.

“I use video assessment and clinical tests,” said Taylor. “We work out the reasons that the rider is having problems and not performing at their peak, or having pain, and put together a treatment program that rapidly gets them back to meeting an ‘ideal’ range of motion and control,” she said. “Then we start to challenge them with high performance fitness training specifically for riding.”

“However, in my opinion, for performance, safety and a competitive edge, riders must do some fitness training off the horse and specifically for their sport,” said Taylor. “Lack of high level physical fitness is not just a hazard to performance, but it’s a safety risk,” she said. “Without fitness, balance and lighting quick reaction time, riders risk falling, especially in jumping events and sadly, that can be a source of serious injuries.”

“Mental fitness is also essential for riders, and working with their coach, physio and sports psychologist is crucial to their performance,” said Taylor. “Riding a horse is a great test of your mental control of tension and arousal because your horse will feel everything that is happening in your mind and body, and he will change and react accordingly,” she said. “If you’ve got even a little bit of hesitation about jumping that scary looking jump and you doubt your ability, then you’ve set yourself up for your horse to not jump it because he feels your fear.”

“Riding a horse is exceptionally good for the rider’s overall wellbeing,” said Taylor. “It’s an opportunity to de-stress and unplug from the constant disruptions of modern life and to become mindful and at one with the horse,” she said. “If you can’t quiet your mind, then you can’t communicate effectively with your horse.

As a trainer of riders, Taylor feels that taking responsibility is vital to performance.

“Equestrian sport has relied on the tradition of how things have always been done for far too long and riders need to understand that they need to be just as strong and as fit as their horse to be effective in the saddle,” said Taylor. ” Better communication from the rider to the horse comes from the rider being able to give strong, clear and consistent commands to the horse and this can happen when the rider is fit, strong and stable without any injuries, pain or trauma,” she said. “Poor and inconsistent communication that confuses the horse very often leads to poor horse behaviour and performance, which can be dangerous and lead to long-term behavioural problems that can be very hard to remedy.”

Horse Riding is a Fun and Stimulating Way to Exercise and Enjoy Nature

Gavin Bartlett, 37, has been riding since he was 10-years-old and is a professional horseman and endurance rider, who runs White Pegasus Enterprises, a business that helps horses and riders to build a better relationship.

“I ride and compete all over Australia,” said Bartlett. “My favourite place to ride is the Mapleton and Kenilworth forest areas in Queensland.”

Bartlett, who owns five horses, Elle, Beau, Honey, Blondie and Mischief, says horses are an excellent way to enjoy the great outdoors.

“Riding is a great way to exercise,” said Bartlett. “It gets the heart rate up. It can be calming and relaxing, and it’s great fun,” he said. “I find it an excellent way to stimulate the mind, which is related to senses. It is also the best way to enjoy the fresh air, see the sights and travel to new places. Plus, the speed allows you to take it all in.”

Bartlett confesses that his life revolves around horses.

“Horses are my whole life,” said Bartlett. “I enjoy getting to figure out what’s going on in their life and possibly causing them stress,” he said. “I want to know what scares them and then help them to break that fear. It is all about getting to understand them.”

“I like being out with nature, just riding down a trail or finding new places to ride,” said Bartlett. “Everything I’m doing with a horse is working to create a bond with my horse, whether it’s groundwork or riding,” he said.

“Fitness comes from riding itself,” said Bartlett. “I also get to stay pretty fit from handling horses and from my time each day feeding,” he said.

Horse Riding is Building a Better Life For All

Chantal Cleland, a 46-year-old equine and human therapist and life coach, developed the Epona Partnership, a counselling and coaching program that helps individuals to shed their excess baggage by developing strong horsemanship skills.

“The Epona Partnership was developed through my love of horses and working with troubled horses, this also included working with their owners,” said Cleland. “I found that many owners would also bring their own personal baggage to the private coaching sessions. These issues ended up being worked upon and resolved, using the horse’s insight,” she said. “Many of the issues that the owner was facing with their horse, was as a direct result of what was going on inside of the owner.”

Cleland, a former lawyer, is a clinical hypnotherapist and psychotherapy consultant and an advanced master practitioner of Neuro Linguistic Programming. These qualifications enable her to help troubled individuals get back on track.

“The main structure of my business is working with troubled horses, or owners and their horses that are not connecting or building a partnership together,” said Cleland. “However, I have, over the last 10-years, developed and expanded into offering counselling and life coaching for humans, using horses as guides,” she said. “My human clients range from the age of 8 to70-years-old.”

“Horse riding and working with horses on the ground, which is what I do, increases stamina, muscle tone, and strengthens core muscles and develops motor neurone skills,” said Cleland. “Horses help humans understand and overcome their challenges. Whether it’s depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), caring for a horse gives someone a job to do,” she said. “This allows the mind to “breathe” and as a result solutions can be found that bring about a healthier more positive mental approach and wellbeing.  Reducing stress levels significantly.”

Cleland believes that horses help humans because they display a natural empathy.

“A horse is a herd animal and is naturally empathic as they go on ‘feel’,” said Cleland. “In other words, they survive on their feelings, as in, do they feel safe, do they feel threatened. A horse’s main survival instinct is flight, and if fleeing is not possible, then they will look to fight,” she said. “Kids, teenagers and young adults have very similar instincts to young horses, which is why equine facilitated learning and equine assisted life coaching works so well with children, teenagers and young adults with all sorts of challenges and difficulties,” she said. “Horses are highly attuned to reading body language and feeling emotions, therefore picking up on stress, anxiety and anger and fear is second nature to them.”

“It has been well documented that just being around horses can change a human’s brainwave patterns,” said Cleland. “People do feel and behave more calmly, and become more centred and focused, finding it easier to make decisions and choices, when they are with horses,” she said. “Even mainstream scientists are giving their tentative approval of the benefits of equine assisted life coaching and therapy.”

Victoria Judge, principal agent at the Expert Agency, a web, social and digital marketing agency, says that horse riding is the ultimate life-balance combination.

“For me, horse-riding is my ultimate escape from daily life,” said Judge. “It’s not just a great workout, it’s also a chance to be completely free from all the normal day to day cares and worries,” she said.

“When I’m out on my horse, it’s just me, him and nature and I love it,” said Judge. “I would probably be in a padded room if I didn’t have the opportunity to ride every week,” she said.

“There is no other bond like that bond between the horse and rider,” said Judge. “It means the world to me that my horse comes when he’s called,” she said. “This says that he loves me too. It’s really quite magical. Definitely spiritual.”

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