Skip to main content

Always Training

Years ago, and by years I mean 25 years ago, I was a somewhat accomplished equestrian. I rode, trained, and showed horses in a number of disciplines: hunter/jumper, dressage, fox-hunting, and simple pleasure riding. If you aren’t familiar with the intricacies of training horses for simple riding or competition, you might be shocked at the subtleties that their training involves. Everything from their behavior in the barn to how they respond to simple and more complex commands is the result of constant reinforcement of good cues, positive reinforcement, and an engaged mind on the part of both the horse and trainer. 

Don't get me wrong, they have a mind of their own so you'd better be careful how you ask.
One thing a lot of people don’t understand about horses is how very sensitive horses are to simple body language. Although we all have the impression from cowboy flicks that horses are primarily driven by violent kicks and slowed down with a jerky rein, the truth is, they are capable of taking most of their requests from small changes in pressure and position of the seat and legs of their rider. In fact, they will often respond or not respond simply because you turned your head and got distracted or you are fidgeting with your reins and not paying attention to where you are going. Much like any athlete, a good equestrian delivers most of their control of the horse through their hips and legs. And much like any good athlete, the horse responds to most of those commands by driving from their hips and following through with the rest of their body. This is true whether it be holding a collected posture, changing a gait, taking a jump, or complex dressage moves.

Before I go on, I must give you an example of what I am talking about. Here is a video of world champion dressage rider and horse. Observe how the rider’s center of gravity is set behind the front legs of the horse, how the horse is driving primarily from his hindquarters (which frees the front end to be more precise), and how her hips and legs are in line with the horse’s hips and legs. And most of all, how they are a single unit, working together. It is subtle, for sure, but watching this you can probably see what I’m talking about:

Anyway, I do have a point, let me get to it.

I train people, and I’ve trained horses. People are a lot harder to train. The reason why has a lot to do with our big brains, sometimes the internet, and the inability to be patient.

Here are some very obvious difference between training people and training horses:

1. When getting a horse back in shape or training them for the first time, we focus on good movement and transitions, proper body positioning and drive, and an ability to follow commands. Regardless of what the horse wants to do, it does not involve high jumping, galloping, or doing burpees. Strength and condition first, worry about your sport specific demands later. For horses, this never involves burpees.

2. If you want to do something with your horse besides riding for pleasure or going on some occasional romps through the woods, your daily focus is on teaching and learning. A lot of horses like to be challenged and so a mentally or physically difficult work session can be enjoyable for both horse and rider and horses are usually willing to try most things as long as they aren’t hurting, afraid, and understand what you are asking. Push them too hard and they get frustrated and stop making progress, or buck you off. Don’t worry, they won’t post a video of that to Instagram.

3. Horses can’t read calendars so they are often satisfied with daily and weekly progress in their training sessions. Master a skill, move on and learn another one. Canter a little bit longer. Jump that higher jump. Go on that trail ride without being terrified that the scary tree is going to eat you. Run up that hill, all the way, as fast as you can. They don’t have any expectations so they are often stimulated and excited simply by new accomplishments and experiences so small changes make for a great time. And their horse friends are really happy to see them when they return to the pasture and don’t really care whether or not they posted their workout on Facebook.

4. If you see a horse accomplishing something really advanced on the internet, as a responsible rider, you would never have your horse attempt that same routine without a great deal of planning, training, forethought, and time in the saddle practicing those skills. So don’t make that mistake with yourself in the gym. Physiological adaptation applies to all living things. And yet, I routinely encounter people being put through hard workouts with advanced movements they have no clue how to execute correctly. This is either their own idea or the idea of some misinformed trainer. For long term improvement without injury, form and technique matter a lot more than intensity.

Anyway, my point here is mainly that when you think about training yourself, think a little bit more about what that means. Training is not constantly testing, it is gradual learning which will cause your body to adapt over time. Learning rather than testing, and the adaptation that comes with it, is far more effective in the long run whether you a horse or a human. In other words, do the work and do it correctly. If what you are doing to yourself would get you in trouble with animal control if you were training a dog or a horse, knock it off.  Remember, "First, do no harm".

"Some people talk to animals. Not many listen though. That's the problem." ― A.A. Milne

Popular posts from this blog

When to Stretch and Why

Sara Fleming, BA, MS, ISSA CFT

Stretching is generally viewed as beneficial. However, the type and timing of the stretch can have a positive or negative effect on the person doing the stretching depending on their activity. Dynamic stretching before a work out helps muscles warm up and increases their range of motion and elasticity prior to exercise. Static and/or proprio-neuromuscular-facilitation (PNF) stretching after an exercise and/or during the cool-down phase of a work-out can help restore a muscle’s range of motion after repeated contractions, correct a range of motion for correct form during a lift, and may help reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

It has been hypothesized that static stretching immediately prior to athletic competitions requiring power and force may actually diminish performance. (Shrier, 2004) In addition, Shrier hypothesizes that static stretching can cause an anesthetic (pain reducing) effect on injured muscles, increasing the performance …

Next Level

So, there are those of us who work out regularly to look and feel better and improve our general health.  There are those of us who just like to lead active lives and enjoy nature and the occasional physical activity.  And then there are those of us who like to challenge themselves to push past our perceived physical limitations and see how far down the rabbit hole we can go.  While this last one is certainly an admirable pursuit, as are the other two, I must say it is the one I most commonly see go sideways.

If you are contemplating taking things to the next level with your training, you must first sit down and realistically assess what you are about to take on.  Next level training is not just about pushing yourself in the gym, but also managing your personal life, your recovery, and your expectations.  It also means knowing when to go low and slow and when to go hard.  The most common mistake a lot of people make is that they think next level means going harder all the time.  But,…

Training for the Warrior Dash

Over the past couple of years, obstacle course races such as the Warrior Dash have become insanely popular.  Since I first posted about training for the Warrior Dash, I've gotten a lot of inquiries from clients and other trainers about how exactly one should train for the Warrior Dash or similar short distance obstacle course races.  I've heard people tout everything from Crossfit to P90X to not training at all as being the best way to train for one of these races, but I believe there is a middle ground that can serve far more people, especially beginners, without getting too extreme or requiring a lot of equipment.  Obviously, the best training protocol is tailored for the individual, but with a little information, its relatively easy to tweak a program for your own needs and fitness level.

The first time I saw a video of the Warrior Dash on Youtube, I thought to myself, "Those people are crazy."

I also thought, "I want to do that".  
I watched a few mo…