Ariel Grald finds flexibility as the key to five-star success

April 17, 2022

Rider Fitness: Ariel Grald finds flexibility as the key to five-star success

Leamore Master Plan and Ariel Grald. USEA/Leslie Mintz photo

For five-star eventer Ariel Grald, fitness is about being as unobtrusive as possible on the horse. Grald’s fitness regimen realistically consists of sitting on about 10 horses each day, but the top athlete says one of her most important fitness elements has become Pilates and stretching.

“I’m lucky enough to be able to spend most of my day in the saddle and I’m naturally quite a fit and strong person,” explains Grald. “One big issue for me, however, has always been flexibility. I started Pilates about five years ago and the resistance training built into it helps me get the most out of the stretch and flexibility. By adding some resistance to the exercises, Pilates not only greatly improved my flexibility but also my stability in the saddle.”

Grald, who suffers from some stiffness in her lower back and hips like many riders, says her time in the Pilates studio has become an integral part of maintaining her body’s health in the saddle and supporting her ability to rise during a workout external factors to react ride.

“Since I started Pilates, my muscles are much happier and I have better body control,” continued Grald. “Most of riding is postural control and the ability to isolate specific muscle groups that are needed at different points in the ride. I’ve noticed that I’m more flexible, but I’ve also noticed that my muscle responses are sharper, which is critical to the sport. For example, if I have a horse that takes a misstep on the field, my ability to react to that horse’s sudden movement and stay balanced over it has improved as a result of my training.”

On the road, she encounters many of the same difficulties as other competitors due to her inability to strictly follow her scheduled training regimens. While Grald’s winter routine is fairly constant, she’s had to travel to events throughout the summer to find quick and easy ways to keep her body in peak condition no matter where she is.

“I try to stretch a little every morning, both at home and when I travel,” she said. “I always have a mat handy to put on the floor and then I just work my way through different movements, including a lot of pigeon poses, to try to release any tension my body is holding.”

However, the one element of Grald’s fitness regimen that never changes is the majority of her day that she spends in the saddle.

“I do all of my fitness work with my horses myself,” she explained. “I know a lot of high school programs have so many horses that they can’t be one on one with them every day, but I try to keep my number small enough that I can actually sit on all of them. I’m the one out there doing the trots and each of the horses cantering, so much of my fitness comes from just doing what the horses need to do.”

When riding, she also focuses on listening to her body’s needs and practicing mindful mobility exercises at the walk as well.

“I walk each of my horses around the yard before I start any of the actual work, and I also use this time to warm up for myself,” she continued. “I make sure I’m really swinging my hips with them and that I can feel every sit bone sitting deep in the saddle. Every time I give the horse a break from walking during our training session, I also drop my stirrups and straighten my hips a bit to make sure I don’t build tension.”m

The other thing she emphasizes, which is an often-overlooked topic when it’s not about the sport’s four-legged mounts, is bodywork. As Grald explains, all of the front runners are experienced with the detailed amount of bodywork and sports therapy that helps to keep the competing horses in peak condition. What they often overlook, however, is the bodywork of the sport’s two-legged athletes.

“In my opinion, getting bodywork on both yourself and your horse is an important part of overall human well-being,” described Grald. “We riders spend a lot of money on chiropractic and bodywork for our horses, but tend to forget that we are also part of the sporting equation.”

Grald herself receives regular massages and chiropractic treatments to keep her body feeling its best and to provide the best experience for her mounts.

“If we, as riders, can’t be flexible and resilient on the horse, we can’t expect them to be able to perform that well,” she continued. “I spend most of my day riding a variety of horses, and of course I’m going to be in some pain, so I’m taking the time to get chiropractic and massage, as well as ice myself. Riders are just as much part of the sporting equation as the horse.”