TO ME, WAKING up early to go to a gym workout at 7 a.m. — on a Saturday, no less — sounds as enjoyable as eating crawfish pie.
Yet to Freedom Farm’s equestrian center owner, Mary Gallagher, and her Rider Fitness Class groupies, 7 a.m. is just right.
“It’s early enough we can be finished by 8 a.m. and get on with our day, and some people who work on Saturdays can still make it,” she said.
She started the Agnew farm’s Rider Fitness Classes, or “Boot Camp,” as she refers to it, about four months ago to help her students who were trying to get ahead in their riding.
She’d already been doing her early morning workouts three times a week for three years.
She said it improved her horse/rider connection so much she thought her students would enjoying see its benefits, too.
“The specific training exercises we do are helping my riders with balance and stability,” she said.
“I can see it in their equitation, and they can feel things now they couldn’t feel before. I’m sold on it.”
Keep in mind that Mary rides at a much higher level of expertise and spends more hours than most riding and training both dressage and jumpers/hunters, so she already is pretty fit.
So I thought it interesting she felt she needed to be more in shape to ride.
Her coach at Sequim’s Anytime Fitness is exercise physiologist and personal trainer Kenny Hall.
Mary said the routines he developed focus on core stability, balance and strength training specific to riders.
She added that early on when working with Kenny, she “couldn’t believe the changes in my horses just from me working out.”
She would inform him of certain weaknesses or problems she was having with riding, such as being “really good at riding to the right but not so good at riding to left,” and he’d show her exercises to help her overcome her imbalance, along with developing her core strength and flexibility.
Her own horses are not the farm’s lesson horses but powerful warmbloods.
Before her workouts with Kenny, she said, there were times she was fearful of getting on some of the younger ones with “independent movements that are pretty explosive.”
“While I still have to be smart and prepare that horse well before riding, I’m so much stronger now, I’ve quit worrying whether or not I’m able to ride a certain horse,” she said.
“Safety-wise, I think you can do a lot to protect yourself from injury by getting in shape and learning how to fall.”
In better control
The classes include learning how to tumble.
Mary said she is more “flexible, stronger and just that much more in control, and it just feels really good to ride,” which is why she likes to “encourage other riders to think about working out and see if it doesn’t help their riding.”
I like her way of thinking — might even agree with her train of thought; however, I think most of us feel we’re doing well if we just get on our horse once a day.
That said, I agree that I, too, could greatly benefit from her boot camp — someday.
“As an instructor, people often come up to me to say they want to ride to get in shape, but really, it shouldn’t be that way,” Mary said.
“You need to get fit to ride because if you’re not in good shape, you could be in danger because horses are so unpredictable.”
It is true that horses will sometimes get spooked and shy away from the most commonplace things, such as a simple dark rock or a white piece of paper.
“I really wanted my riders to find out they can ride better without riding more, through these exercises,” Mary said.
“Exercise in itself is going to make you healthier. So not only does this class help your own health, but these particular types of exercise also help the horse out because you’re riding better. So it’s a double benefit.”
Better balance, connection
Mary said her students are enjoying the classes and getting into better shape because they are seeing huge improvements in their riding and feeling for themselves that they are more balanced, confident and connected with their horse.
She described one of her newer students as being older and “pretty athletic but had poor posture due to working a desk job most of her life.”
After joining the early morning workouts, Mary said, the student now is standing up better and is more focused.
Three months ago, another student had difficulty mounting and throwing her leg over the saddle.
Dismounting also was a problem.
“Now, she can now easily get on and off, and she’s jumping. She’s 60-something, and she’s jumping,” Mary said.
“It’s amazing how quickly physically you can improve just by working on your own condition.”
When I mentioned shyness about going to such a class while being overweight, she assured me the classes are a big group of horse people who are there for the horse and not self-conscious about weight.
“Not everyone can do a somersault, but everyone can rock on their butt. It’s all about getting in shape and seeing the connection with your horse,” she said.
For more information, contact Mary at 360-457-4897 or Kenny Hall at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.freedom-farm.net.
Located at 493 Spring Road in Agnew, Freedom Farm’s upcoming events include:
■ Noon to 2 p.m. Sunday — Mini Beats Ride and Charity Drive.
■ Noon to 3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 17 — Cow-working class.
■ 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 23 — Show practice.
■ Noon to 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 24 — Adult workshop.
Karen Griffiths’ column, Peninsula Horseplay, appears every other Wednesday.
If you have a horse event, clinic or seminar you would like listed, please email Griffiths at email@example.com at least two weeks in advance. You can also write Griffiths at PDN, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362.