The first leaves have started to fall from the trees in Georgia, college football is in full swing and the sun-bleached summer coats are being replaced with deeply-colored-not-quite-furry winter coats on horses. This can mean only one thing: Summer is out and Autumn is in. While denim jacket weather is usually a welcome season for horse riders (it beats the heck out of fly season), it can also signal the approaching unwelcome increase in colds, coughs, bronchitis and the flu.

What’s a barn girl to do when she faces the inevitable winter cold or sinus infection? Climbing under the covers and watching daily talk shows is hardly an option with a farm full of horses and chores-but what about the rest of our daily workouts? Should you forego your daily investment in rider fitness while you starve a fever or feed a cold? Does congestion above the neck mean all systems go, while congestion below the neck means a few days of R&R (while begging friends or family to handle the ponies)?

Exercise When Sick

Should you exercise when sick?

Before answering, it is important to understand the difference between physical activity and a purposeful, intentional workout. What we do all day when caring for our horses, dogs, cats and family would be considered daily activity for most horse or farm owners (unless of course you have hired someone to manage these activities while you relax on your deck overseeing the projects). However, most daily barn chores do not reach the definition of a purposeful, intentional workout. Of course, during certain seasons some farm activity could actually escalate to that increased level-just ask anyone who spends a day stacking hay-but let’s save that conversation for a future article on truly functional fitness!

A well-rounded and complete rider fitness program goes beyond leading the horses in and out, filling a water trough, preparing hay bags and picking up piles in the stall or paddocks (the bare minimum most of us can get away with when under the weather). A rider fitness program is going to involve 30-60 minutes of a cardio workout, strength training or a flexibility training workout that could very well reach strenuous levels.

While moderate exercise can actually boost the immune system, intense exercise can actually stress it. Does this mean you are stuck on the sofa until you nose gives you an all clear? Not necessarily.

Depending on how sick you feel, low intensity, non-strenous activity can actually be beneficial during a cold. The downside for fitness freaks is that you are already doing just that by giving your horses their basic daily needs. Examples of allowable low intensity exercise would be walking, easy biking, light gardening or practicing a more meditative activity like Tai Chi. Depending on how you farm, a couple of those activities sound pretty close to leading the horses or slowly cleaning out stalls.

The bottom line? Most riders and farm owners already have built-in required daily activity-regardless of health. So when you body is already under the stress to fight something even as simple as a cold, take a few days off from the gym, slow down a little and enjoy the extra free time taking your ‘kids’ for a long walk. Your horse will thank you for your investment in your health and fitness and patiently wait for your turn to your rider fitness program.

Do you need some direction in developing your complete rider fitness program? Contact me! I would love to head you in the right direction.

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