Muscle Memory v. Fitness

While Eli is still okay’ed to walk under saddle and have limited turnout, all last week I only hand-walked him. His shoes are definitely a bit loose, and if I can avoid the setback of him stepping right out of a shoe, I will. The farrier should be out this week.

So of course all Eli has done is walk. I have been fortunate enough to catch a ride on my trainer’s mare every so often, so I have had a little trotting and cantering, too. But I haven’t pointed a horse at a jump since April.

brown bay mare ears

I am not sure how much apprehension I truly have about this. Superficially, I have none. What is there to worry about? Presumably, Eli also has zero apprehension right now about jumping. If he has apprehension, I think it’s along the lines of “will I ever be turned out again” (poor guy).

slightly obsessed with her canter

But how deeply ingrained is my muscle memory? Riding the classy little mare on Sunday morning, it felt functional enough. I haven’t forgotten how to post; I can still hold a two-point the entire time I’m cantering. I can still use my seat and core for adjusting speed. Nothing feels off. Nothing would stop me from pointing a horse at a fence.

loaf of bay bread

My fitness, however, is another matter. As is Eli’s. He’s getting chunky, and I definitely could stand to tone up a bit more. We are going to need every minute of the gradual upping of our workload to get back in shape. And then of course I realized those programs for rehabbing injuries are just as much for reintroducing the exercise itself, as for the healing of the injury successfully.

working on making faces at the phone camera

As I think about this, I know I am just not that hard of a worker. When I ride Eli regularly, most times it’s just for about 20-25 minutes. Having some previous experience with rehabbing a soft tissue injury, I am prepared for the vet at some point to say, horse is okay to trot 5 minutes each way. Just as we started at 15 minutes of walking and added 5 minutes a week, I also hit a limit. Could we walk up to 30 minutes at a time? Yes. But did we? I’ll be honest, after about 25 minutes of walking in the heat, I say enough. And I’m thinking, 10 minutes of trot is about what we might normally do anyway; what could I add to that?

“hill work”

I am rethinking our fitness. Does every ride need to be 45 minutes instead of 25? Probably not. But it could be if we warmed up at the walk for longer. So maybe I do need to suck it up and walk for 30 minutes for now, until we can add more gaits. I can’t say I think we need much more trot at 10 to 15 minutes, but we could spend more time cantering. And work more on transitions.

These things are still a bit far off, and there is no guarantee any soft tissue injury will heal well enough for a return to full work. But I can at least think about it in advance. Eli obviously doesn’t, so it’s up to me to make sure our fitness gets built back up just as much as Eli’s injury heals with healthy tissue. Something tells me the thoroughbred very much has the advantage over the human in this endeavor.

7 thoughts on “Muscle Memory v. Fitness

  1. I’m dealing with a similar situation right now too. I hadn’t ridden since last June and I have been on a horse 3 times this year. I 100% remember how to ride and feel comfortable on a horse, but my muscles are dead for days after a ride. My horse is slightly more in shape than I am, but hes still coming back into work himself. Starting from the bottom of the fitness pyramid is not my favorite.

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  2. I got to ride an extra horse this weekend and he’s been rehabbing. He’s up to trotting 15 minutes, cantering 10, then 5 more of trot. (With ample walking on either end; 10 minutes at the beginning and until cool when done.) And it really made me realize that some days, I don’t do nearly that much with my horses who are in full work! 15 minutes of straight trotting kind of feels like forever. Granted he’s just going around and around the ring, as he’s not doing any real flat work yet. But I had to keep checking my watch and there seemed to be a LOT of time left each time I checked.

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  3. I stopped riding in my second year of university. Other than a couple of short rides out with my cousins I did not ride for 30 years. I leased a horse for my daughter and thought that a couple of days during the week when she was not riding I could ride. The instructor put me on a lunge line. When the time came to trot , the mare picked up a trot and I started posting. After 30 years it was just as if I had never stopped. She took me off the lunge line and I went on to canter around the arena. I think it is like riding a bike. You never loose the muscle memory. And I remembered how to jump too. So will you.

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    1. It kind of is like riding a bike, but maybe even better because the “bike” is a sentient creature that doesn’t need a kickstand to stay upright. Thank you for the encouragement! 😊

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