Getting Riding Fit

By Terry Golson

On Sunday, Tonka and I entered our first dressage competition since this past August. We spent most of last year dealing with difficult to diagnose and treat pain – it started in January of 2016 with bursitis in the poll, moved to damage to neck vertebrae, and continued on to sacroiliac joint inflammation. Tonka was ridable for some of last year, but most of that time he was inverted, trying to protect what hurt. This past winter the issues subsided and I slowly brought him back into full work, making sure that he carried himself in an ergonomically correct (and beautiful) way. We slowly built up his stamina and muscles.

What we did paid off. Yesterday we placed first in our Training Level Test 3, Open Division class at a schooling show with a good score of 69.5. Our first halt was perfect. You can’t get that balanced by just moving the feet. The whole body has to be able to square up.


Along with the physical work, I’m always aware of the mental component. Tonka arrived relaxed and happy. You can see how interested, yet unfazed, he is by the commotion and the tacking up. This isn’t just due to his good nature. It’s because I’ve carefully given him many positive experiences away from home.


He ended the day with the same expression.


In between, he cheerfully warmed up. I allow that enthusiasm before asking him to get into a more “dressage-y” frame.


Our test was good, but not as good as our warm-up. Each of the 13 pieces of the dressage test pattern are scored on a scale from 1 to 10. We got our lowest mark, a 6, on the collective marks of impulsion. This was frustrating! Why does Tonka lose his sparkle in the dressage ring?

To find the answer, I looked at the video and photos that Steve took. There were some nice moments.


But look at my face. I’m huffing and puffing!


I should have applied Tonka’s exercise regime to me!

Tonka was doing exactly what he thought I wanted. When I compete, I get tense. That affects my breathing. By halfway through the test, I tire and lose the ability to ride with the finessed communication that I do at home. Also, without meaning to, I pinch with my knees and bring my heels into his sides. Instead of moving forward from that, Tonka braces against it and slows. He tries to calm me down by going as relaxed as he can.


Relaxed isn’t all bad. We had this comment from the judge. “Lovely rapport with this team.” That’s my ultimate goal, always, so I was pleased that the judge recognized our relationship.

Still, I should be able to have that rapport and ride effectively! I’ve already been doing a ten minute daily stretching routine. Obviously, that’s not enough. It’s time to finally get serious about my tight glutes and hamstrings. I’m also going to add an aerobics workout to my day. I’m sure Tonka will appreciate a fitter rider on his back.

Do you stay fit for your horse. If so, what do you do?

Also, if anyone has a last-minute at the show, get the yellow travel stains off of the white hocks trick, would you let me know? Thanks!

7 thoughts on “Getting Riding Fit

  • nikki negrea

    Impressive trot, Terry!! I wish my lenghthenings looked like yours.
    For hock stains:
    1. Get a set of tall shipping boots that cover the hocks!
    2. See 1.
    3. Use the purple whitening shampoo or the dry shampoo in a spray bottle at the show.

    • Terry Golson Post author

      Hock boots are a good idea. I need some for his stall… Tonka finds the warmest, biggest pile to use as a pillow for his hocks at night 🙂

  • Kim

    Congratulations! I love the judges comment too. You can’t have good teamwork with a good rapport!

    I must say that it’s easier for me to get my workout in on the treadmill if I have ridden earlier in the day. I tell myself that my horse willingly got his workout in so I must as well!

  • Rosemary Corning

    I think i remember you mentioning yoga (maybe?) in the past. If you approach the search for the right yoga class in the thoughtful and methodical way that you do other things in your life (very well, i might add) you will find the right fit – like hunting for the right couch or new winter coat. The details matter, so i would recommend looking for Hatha style yoga practice that includes breath work. Yoga With Adriene on You Tube is also an awesome place to start. These photos are beautiful, your connection to Tonka a very is obviously a real and special bond, and you are already doing yoga – your awareness of the need to become more able to be comfortable during this work, and the effect that your ease will have on your horse, that an amount of perception has you already moving forward in the process. I wish you well, and look forward to future posts (intentional horse pun)

    • Terry Golson Post author

      I already use the Yoga with Adriene videos on YouTube! I like her, and appreciate there’s no background music (which I find beyond annoying.) Intended horse puns get bonus points in the comments 🙂

  • John Schaller

    I get regular aerobic work running my dogs, but have found actually slightly upping the mileage (still pretty low) helpful with rising trot in particular. I also have begun doing some wall sits, and if I can get a non-lesson ride or two in per week I try to spend at least one ride doing as much two-point as possible. Finally, as a beginning rider I also struggle with remembering good posture and with not getting forwards while riding. I try several times a day to focus on getting my shoulders back and spine more or less straight..

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