July 2016 - Dressage Life: To Be the Best, Train Like the Best

Bosu balls, TRX bands and the dreaded “agility ladder” enable me to work as hard, and be as fit, as my equine partner.

by Genay Vaughn

Just like any other athlete, it is crucial for equestrians to be in top shape so we can reach our peak performance. I believe this is an important topic that is just now starting to surface in the equestrian world. Many of us think of ourselves as athletes, but do we train like athletes? That can be a different story.

It’s easy to go to the barn and ride a couple horses and think, “I’m fine, I’m in enough shape; I don’t have to work out.” But, to really reach our potential it is crucial that we work out just like other top athletes.

The United States Equestrian Federation recognizes this. They now bring in a fitness coach from the Colorado training center to teach us about fitness at the High Performance Developing Clinics I attend.

We expect our horses to work out every day whether they want to or not. It’s only fair we do the same so that we can bring our best performance to the ring.

Getting Started

I began to realize that I should start working out when my brother, who is a professional baseball player, invited me to join one of his workouts. By the end of the workout I was dripping sweat from head to toe and about ready to pass out.

When we got home I thought to myself, oh my gosh, it’s time I start working out! Yes, I was able to keep up in the workouts, but would I be able to walk for the next week? Highly doubtful – it was that tough.

My mom recommended that I and two other students at the barn have a workout class with her personal trainer after our rides once a week. During the rest of the week we worked out on our own, based on a program she gave us.

This was a really fun way to get into working out. My mom’s trainer Lisa would come to the barn and turn our show office into a workout room with all kinds of weights, yoga balls and bosu (balance) balls.

It was incredible how much stronger we got in a short period of time. I learned that one of my legs was way weaker than the other and the strength training we began to do on it with weighted lunges and other techniques really improved it in my riding.

Raising the Bar

Once spring quarter started, I could no longer work out with Lisa and the girls at the barn. My class schedule at UC Davis changed and I couldn’t make the girls’ free time work with my class and riding schedule. I had developed such a strong passion for fitness that I didn’t want to stop, but I also knew I needed a trainer to tell me what I should work on to strengthen my weak areas.

That’s when I found my current fitness trainer, Igor “Iggy” Seriba. I work out twice a week: Mondays and Wednesday at 9 p.m., after riding and classes. Iggy has an extensive background in fitness, filled with three Olympic coaches, two Olympic strength and conditioning coaches, and he was a member of the UC Davis track and field team.

Iggy is very passionate about training. The first time I went to work out with him one-on-one, he meant business. He had me doing so many exercises I didn’t even know existed. We did a lot of work with TRX bands, bosu balls, workout bands, weights and weighted sleds. To get a sense of his program, look at the videos of me and other clients working out on his web site, www.igorseriba.com, which has a lot of other useful videos and blog posts.

It was funny, every time I completed a new circuit I would think, “Ok, we are about to be done.” But then Iggy would yell, “Good job only three more sets.” I would ask, “Wait, like only three more sets of this exercise I am doing, right?” And he would say, “No, silly – three more sets of the entire circuit you just did!”

At first I could not believe it. I thought my body was physically incapable of completing the workout, but the more I kept pushing myself, I felt stronger and stronger each time and my riding began to get better, as well.

My Struggle

I have to admit, I had always thought of myself as very coordinated. I played basketball growing up, did advanced tumbling until my sophomore year of high school, and I considered myself pretty coordinated on top of a horse.

That was, until I met the agility ladder.

The agility ladder is my enemy. I have never felt so bad at anything in my life. It does not require any strength, it mainly just helps you with your speed and coordination, but for some reason it is so hard for me.

I start every workout with about 10 to 15 minutes of drills on the agility ladder and I always dread it. Iggy tells me it is so hard for me because I have a difficult time not over-thinking it. The moves are really simple but it is hard for me to not over-analyze each step – big surprise coming from a perfectionist dressage rider, right? With each workout I have gotten a lot better at the agility drills and now I actually enjoy doing them.

Fitness for Us, For Our Horses

I have begun to love fitness training and how much it has improved me as a rider. I know it can be hard at times to fit in with school, work or just after a long day of riding, but I believe that if we want to be the best we can be, we really have to take our fitness seriously. Our horses do it for us every single day. The least we can do is do it for them.

Genay Vaughn is a full-time college student and active dressage competitor who also trains young horses and teaches students at her family’s Starr Vaughn Equestrian in Elk Grove. Last year she took the first step toward her lifelong goal of representing the United States in international competition when she was selected for the first-ever United States Under-25 Grand Prix team to compete in Europe. Her current equine partner is the Hanoverian stallion Donarweiss GGF (De Niro – Hohenstein – Archipel), owned by Starr Vaughn Equestrian Inc., bred by Greengate Farm, and approved AHS, ISR/OldNA, CWHBA, AWS, and RPSI. Find Genay on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/genay.vaughn.5