As riders we often work hard on our horse’s fitness, but how much attention do you pay to your own? At last week’s World Horse Welfare webinar, Pippa Funnell and Mark Todd discussed the importance of rider fitness and how they keep themselves fit.

“Even if you’ve only got one or two horses, you need to do something for your own fitness,” says double Olympic eventing champion Mark Todd, who is a big advocate of practising yoga.

“You often see people working their horses on the flat and they are not fit themselves. You can’t expect your horse to go well and in a proper way if you are not fit.

“If you are working on getting your horse fit and supple then do at least the same on yourself.”

Mark finds that doing regular yoga helps to build core strength and flexibility, as well as helping your mind relax.

“Rider fitness is not really about strength, it’s about suppleness, using your body and being part of the horse,” he adds.

“A few years ago at Badminton I was nearly tipped off Leonidas on the cross-country. I know if I hadn’t been doing yoga and working on my core strength I wouldn’t have stayed on.”

Both Mark and three-time Badminton champion Pippa Funnell admit to not doing much personal fitness work when they were younger, instead relying on riding multiple horses to keep them fit.

However, as they have got older and the sport has become more professional they have incorporated fitness into their daily life.

“I do a lot of pilates and I am also a big believer in anything that helps core strength,” says Pippa.

“I’ve got a very nice team of horses this year and I need to be really fit, so for the first time in my life I’ve started running every other day and doing a strengthening circuit on alternate days too.”

Breathing exercises

The former Rolex Grand Slam winner suffers from allergies to tree and grass pollen, which can make her breathless, particularly on the cross-country.

“I now spend time thinking about and working on my breathing every day, which has really helped,” says Pippa.

“I made myself aware of my breathing on the long gallops on the cross-country at Burghley and that really helped me to get oxygen into my lungs.

“Through anxiety, pressure or nerves, riders often hold their breath when competing or breathe only from the top of their lungs. Practising breathing exercises can help to avoid this,” adds Pippa.