How Cardio Fitness Impacts Riding

Do you have enough cardio fitness to canter through a Dressage test? Cardiovascular training can have a big impact on your riding performance. Click here to find out the ins and outs of what it is, how to build it, and how a Doctor of Physical Therapy can help. 

What is Cardiovascular Fitness?

Cardiovascular fitness refers to your body’s ability to take in and use oxygen while exercising. It’s also referred to as aerobic fitness. Typically, when working on building cardio fitness, the average human uses 70 percent of their maximum heart rate. So, if your maximum heart rate is 220 beats per minute, a cardio workout would place your heart rate at around 155 bpm. 

Cardio is intricately linked to the overall health of your body. As your cardio fitness improves, your heart becomes leaner and the muscles that help you breathe, such as the diaphragm, become stronger and more efficient. Cardio helps you go from couch potato to lean mean fighting machine. Weight lifting may help you bulk up, but it won’t reduce blood pressure, minimize stroke risk, or increase oxygen intake in the same way that cardiovascular fitness will. 

Cardio fitness is one of the pillar stones for your health and has a huge impact on your ability to be a good partner to your horse. The better your cardio fitness, the more efficiently you’re able to move oxygen to your muscles and the more stamina and finesse you’ll have in the saddle. After all, it’s difficult to remain balanced, focused, and strong when your lungs feel like a fish out of water. 

When Do We Rely on Cardio Fitness?

Different equine activities will require varying levels of cardio health, as well as general fitness. A walking trail ride on a calm horse will require minimal exertion, in regards to both your muscular and cardiovascular systems. However, a round at the Kentucky Three Day event on a fiery thoroughbred is an altogether different story. 

In the average training session for a mid-level horse and rider, a moderate degree of cardio fitness is required. A good way to think of it is in terms of speaking while breathing. When walking along on a trail ride with a group of friends, it is very easy to carry on a casual conversation with no change in your breathing. But say you pick up the trot. Now you’ve been trotting for a good 5 to 10 minutes. Is it as easy to carry on a conversation? Or do you have to take breaks to breathe? How about at the canter? Are you discussing topics as calmly?

Could you image high-level eventers casually chatting as they pelt around a 5* course? I certainly can’t. At least, not without a fair amount of gasping involved. 

A horse can feel a single fly landing on their back, well before it bites. Such a sensitive animal relies on the steady breath of their partner to help regulate speed and maintain a calm, focused disposition. Cardio fitness offers one more tool to communicate with your horse– breath. Instead of gasping in the saddle, and struggling to focus on everything else as well as breathing, cardio fitness means you can maintain steady deep breathing to help you and your partner focus. 

Building Cardio for the Equestrian

While horseback riding relies on cardio fitness, it does not help to build cardio as quickly as an activity such as running. As necessary as they are, very few people actually enjoy cardio workouts. Pounding pavement on a hot summer day isn’t my idea of fun either. Luckily, there are more ways to build cardiovascular fitness besides just running. 

Other common cardio exercises include swimming, cycling, and hiking. If none of those sound like an activity you would enjoy, think outside the box. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workouts can be good cardio, depending on what exercises you do in between intervals. You can also try throwing it back to gym class and spend some time on the jump rope. 

Whatever exercise you choose, be sure to start slow and always stretch before exercising. Your goal should be to maintain a higher heart rate. Roughly 70 percent of your maximum beats per minute. Different factors will impact your heart rate, including age, health, weight, medication, air temperature, and emotional state. A hot humid day will spike your heart rate much higher than on a cool winter day. As a general rule of thumb, most people aim to keep their heart rate between 100 and 160 beats per minute when doing a cardio workout. 

How a Physical Therapy Professional Can Help

Before embarking on cardio training, it’s important to be evaluated by a Doctor of Physical Therapy. A physical therapy professional can evaluate your strengths and weaknesses and advise you on the best way to build cardio fitness for your biomechanics. For example, someone with a knee that is prone to hyperextension probably shouldn’t take up running. The added concussion could blow out the joint. But swimming is just as good a way to build cardio without the added concussion on your joints. 

Outpatient physical therapy can help you train your cardiovascular fitness over time. Working with a physical therapy professional allows you to build your cardio in a safe and effective way. It’s important to have balanced fitness. The right ratio of muscle power to cardio fitness will help you and your equine partner reach your riding goals. Work with a physical therapy professional today to take your riding performance to the next level. 

Write me a note here. Let’s get started. 

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