5 Minutes with Debbie Rodriguez

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Photos by Patricia L. Worth/Peace Hill Press

United States Dressage Federation bronze, silver and gold medalist Debbie Rodriguez has a side gig as a personal trainer. She helps her students—and anyone who works out with her DVD workout program Success in the Saddle—build core strength to improve their riding. Here, she shares insights and fitness tips for equestrians across all disciplines.

Debbie Rodriguez

On Riding Fit

Being fit for riding means having enough core strength to keep your position stable. This way, the horse’s movement can’t throw you around.

It means having enough stability through your shoulders that they can stay down, back and independent. It means having enough strength in your hips and enough flexibility in your hip flexors that your legs can hang freely. All this and you still must be able to influence with a light aid, like half-halting by just contracting your abdominal muscles.

On Unleashing Your Potential

In dressage, when you hit Second Level and start schooling longer periods at the canter, you don’t want to get winded. The same is true if you’re a reiner or an event rider. Being out of shape limits your progress.

How One Student Changed Everything

I’m a petite person and when I was eventing, my instructors always told me to run or get more exercise, and I hated it. I didn’t see any benefit related to my riding. I had trouble sitting evenly in the saddle, and assumed I just needed to try harder.

One day, my jaw dropped when a student of mine came into the ring. Her position had improved so much. She and I had always had similar physical issues in the saddle. For years I had been telling her to put her shoulders back and sit evenly in the saddle. But, like with me, it never worked. She told me she’d been doing a core-fitness program with a personal trainer. That afternoon I made an appointment.

The Core of Fitness

I started matching up my students and their issues with exercises that had helped me. I also heard a lot of people when I was teaching at clinics saying they didn’t have time for the gym. So I put together a program, got certified as a personal trainer, and later made the DVD series for riders to use at home.

Debbie Rodriguez

No Excuses

Staying motivated is the hardest part of any fitness program. The two years when I was developing the program I was very motivated.

Since then it’s been a struggle, like it is for many people. The most important thing is to make fitness—especially core-strength training—part of your daily life. Pick a type of exercise that you like and don’t accept any excuses for not doing it.

Water Bucket Workout

I believe that a core fitness workout or yoga off the horse has a much more significant benefit than trying to achieve a workout during your ride times.

The only exceptions might be if you’re riding in short stirrups in two-point, riding without stirrups, or doing conditioning rides for your horse. Of course, carrying buckets of water and hay bales is great workout too.

Learn more at www.debbierodriguezdressage.com.

Kitson Jazynka is a freelance writer and children’s author based in Washington, D.C. Her horses enjoy the good life in nearby Potomac, Md.


This article originally appeared in the March 2016 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!

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