Why I exercise away from the barn (EAFTB).
- Many moons ago, I believed that my work at the barn was all of the exercise I needed. I was riding two or three horses a day, I was on my feet mucking, feeding, hand walking, fixing fences, stacking hay, you name it. Being a Groom was a full-time PLUS job. I started at 5:30 am and finished when we finished, usually about 4:30 or 5 in the afternoon. Six days a week.
- CLEARLY, I was in shape. And I was. But not “correct” shape. I was one-sided. I usually always mucked stalls the same way. I had a right leg that liked to drift away from my horse. I was almost locked on my left shoulder and my right elbow had a mind of its own. I was also working about 65 hours a week PLUS taking care of my own horses, so that put me at close to 90 hours a week at the barn. I was hitting a brick wall with my brain, burn out was setting in. I’ll also add that I ate poorly, making bad food choices out of convenience and not long term health. This has since changed, but it’s all related.
- I decided to try an introductory yoga class, designed to teach you the most basic elements. It was love at first downward dog. I returned the next day and took my first hot class. I wanted to die, to pass out, to vomit, to keep going, to do more, to do another class right the same night.
- I found something that helped me realize how I was not using my body correctly in the barn. This correlated with how I was using, and not using, my body in the saddle. No way the horses could be straight if I couldn’t be.
Unimpressed with my upside-downness
- Over the years, the yoga obsession has helped me with stress management and body awareness. It has also developed me into a person who craves exercise – both for the mental aspects as well as the physical aspects. I also love cross fit, pilates, running, surfing, trampoline (don’t laugh, it’s HARD), you name it. All of this has made me a better rider.
There are two awesome things that EAFTB can teach you. Breath control and body awareness.
- In order to develop these two critical items, you must have an open mind and be cognizant of yourself and your body to notice what’s going on.
- Having total control over your breathing can help you beyond your wildest imagination in the saddle. Your patience level will increase, your heart rate will decrease, your stress levels decrease. Your horse knows this and your rides get better, and better, and better, and better. Imagine this: You are sitting on a fire breathing dragon and you hear the very loud trash truck pull behind you and suddenly a family of rabid plastic bags is flying by. You can control your breathing, your horse will notice. Or, you can forget all about your breath control, and your horse will notice. I can’t guarantee that he won’t freak out if you maintain a calm breath, but at least then one of you will have your head on straight.
- Next is body awareness. When I first started to EAFTB, I was horrified to discover how unequal and unbalanced I was. Even a simple bicep curl was easy for the right, horrible for the left. Not only in terms of strength but also form. When you notice these things as you are exercising, you will also start to notice how you really sit in the saddle. Training with a certified trainer to help you with your form opens your mind to begin to notice when you are dropping a hip, turning this way, slumping a shoulder in the saddle. Do you think that one stirrup is always longer? It’s probably just your spine and hips. And yes it could be that family of tack room elves playing tricks again.
A few more thoughts as to why I love EAFTB….
- Job burnout can be banned. Exercise is a stress dump. Clear your mind, carry on.
- You will meet wonderful people and learn new ways to exercise and have fun. Some of these people may have never seen a horse in real life. Mutually expanding horizons. Love that stuff.
- You will sweat. I personally think this is the best feeling on the planet. Aside from pony muzzles.
- Exercise wakes you up and gives you energy. Much needed for a long weekend of horse showing!
- You will have fun. And isn’t that what this whole mess is about?
It’s also fun to climb big things!
If you are interested, the video below has some yoga-type exercises and stretches that you can do at the barn! I also have a list of suggestions for other things that equestrians can do for self care. Put yourself at the top of the list!