Me riding my trainer’s mare, Molly, during my last active show season. Even when the dressage coat diet works, I’m still unlikely to tuck my shirt into my breeches, which is a bit of a dressage fashion faux pas. I’m not alone, am I? Photo: Courtesy
Me riding my trainer’s mare, Molly, during my last active show season. Even when the dressage coat diet works, I’m still unlikely to tuck my shirt into my breeches, which is a bit of a dressage fashion faux pas. I’m not alone, am I?
Photo: Courtesy Natalie Perry Dressage
The fact that I’m willing to wear white breeches—in public while being judged, no less—is proof that I love the sport of dressage.
You see, I’m what you might call an “easy keeper.” If I were a horse, I’d be the Welsh Pony on the dry lot banging on the gate at dinnertime or sadly wearing a grazing muzzle when out on pasture. And, like my metabolically challenged Hanoverian, Marathon, I require measured meals and a structured exercise program to stay dressage fit.
(I also understand Marathon’s enthusiasm when he sees green grass: The look on his face is the same one I’d wear if facing a cupcake buffet.)
During the winter I tend to curl up, hibernate, and inevitably pack on a few extra Christmas-fudge-fueled pounds. Come spring, though, I ramp up my own exercise program, eat better, and get ready for show season. That means getting back into my dressage coat before our first entries are mailed.
I don’t know if you know this, but nice dressage coats are expensive, so fitting into the one I have has long served as encouragement enough for me to my shed winter weight. Not only that, but improving my fitness improves my horse’s performance. Go figure—a fit rider is a better rider! Plus, research shows that excess rider weight affects movement and poses a welfare issue as well.
My perennial routine of yo-yo weight gain and loss was all fine and dandy until I broke my foot early last summer. Like a horse on stall rest, I got limited exercise, became antsy, and lost my previous conditioning. Boredom led to snacking, and my lost muscle tone killed my already sluggish metabolism. Needless to say, the dressage coat spent the year untouched in my closet.
My foot took a long time to heal (again, like our imagined horse on stall rest, I maybe wasn’t the most compliant patient when it came to following doctor’s orders). It’s taken nearly nine months to build up my riding fitness and regain my balance lost on the injured foot, both on the ground and in the saddle. Marathon, too, has required time to return to our previous 3rd Level schooling work, but we’re getting there one ride at a time.
Unfortunately, though, I’ve struggled to dump the weight I gained while on rest, and I have to tell you that even just a 10% increase in body mass makes riding lateral movements and extended gaits harder. I just plain feel wonky in the saddle at times, and don’t even bother expecting me to tuck my shirt into my breeches. Forget it.
So, here I am, just over a year since I broke my foot, and that dang dressage coat isn’t even close to fitting. Earlier, I wrote about creating a “Happiness Plan” for my Quarter Horse, Jack. Having a plan with set goals and strategies worked for him, and I realized I needed a plan, too. Here’s what I’ve come up with:
There’s a reason the U.S. diet, exercise, and weight loss is a $20-billion-a-year industry. Have I figured it all out? Absolutely not. But by implementing a fitness and nutrition plan I can live with, I’ve shed 5% of my starting weight at a slow and steady rate. What’s more exciting is that my sitting trot feels stronger, suppler, and more balanced and coordinated than ever, and the strength I’ve added in the weight room has made my aids truly independent.
The dressage coat is still a ways from fitting well, and I’m not sure I’ll ever celebrate pulling on a pair of white breeches. But, I am appreciating the health I’ve gained through this process. And, after spending the better part of a year hobbling rather than walking, I will never again take mobility, my physical body, or the ability to ride for granted.
Do you pay as much attention to your own fitness and nutrition as your horse’s and, if so, how do you stay riding fit?