Stay tuned for upcoming features from:
Beth Austin, renowned physical therapist
Christina Savitsky, founder of Buckaroo Balance
Editor’s Note: It’s easy to harp on rider fitness if you’ve never been heavy. Most advanced horsemen have never
struggled with weight. They’ve never had to face what many say is the challenge of a lifetime. Here are two riders, Russ and Marsha Jones, who have met the challenge and triumphed.
Russ Jones, 6’2”, 180 pounds
Marsha Jones, 5’5”, 140 pounds
Russ and Marsha Jones picked their daughter’s wedding day, in June, 2013, as the first day of a new beginning for their health and rider fitness.
At the time, Russ weighed 280 pounds and Marsha tipped the scales at 200.
Throughout their 34-year marriage, they had always been fit. But in their 40’s, body weight crept up. The owners of J Bar J Ranch knew it was high time for a change.
“When we were young and dating, I’d have two Whoppers and a milk shake,” recalled Marsha, 53. “I got to thinking, ‘What are we doing to ourselves, our bodies, our kidneys,
With the help of their doctor and a nutritionist, the couple began a journey of self-improvement. It involved exercise and an entirely new eating regime including smaller portions and more attention to nutrients.
“Russ kept saying, ‘keep it simple. Avoid processed foot. Exercise.’ Writing down calories was very eye-opening, too.”
Russ and Marsha now weigh 180 and 140 pounds, respectively. Russ had taken cholesterol or high blood pressure medicine for 12 years. No longer. BestHorsePractices spoke with them by phone in their Wolverine, Michigan ranch where they also practice cowboy ministry.
Russ: The weight we were carrying was affecting our horsemanship. Our legs would tire and we had trouble getting up and down. During a day, at a clinic, we might mount up 15-20 times. At the end of the day, it was all we could do to get up in the saddle.
We always ate pretty healthy but it was about controlling portion size. We reduced our calorie count to 900 per day. We had six small meals. We had to recalculate in our brains what it meant to be full and what a full plate of food looked like. At first, we thought we were starving ourselves.
Instead of each having a burger and fries, we would split it.
We exercised more. We started slowly, with 30 minutes of walking, Monday through Friday. Nowadays, it’s three miles running on the treadmill and we use a home gym. Flexibility is important, too. We’ve learned some balance exercises, too, and we do a lot of core exercises.
I want to be able to throw a rope. That’s my motivation.
Marsha: Where I noticed it the most was with Russ and his horse. His horse’s complete body position changed. Before, when Russ was heavier, the horse’s legs were stretched out. Now he’s collected. His face is energetic and doesn’t look stressed like it did when Russ was heavier.
I always thought I was healthy, but getting up in the saddle was suddenly so much different. When the weight came off, it was night and day compared to before. I was just about throwing myself over the saddle. ‘This is so easy!’ I said to myself. I know the horses appreciate it. They’re not stumbling around anymore.
The horse does not want its rider to plop in the saddle. He wants us to set in the saddle, to lower ourselves.
There is definitely a connection between confidence and weight: I remember back when I was heavier, I was at a fun show. I came out of the saddle and bounced very hard. It was intimidating. Now as I look back, I think about how unpleasant it was to try to control that mass. Now, I can focus on other details. It’s so much more pleasant.
If we can do it, anyone can do it.
Marsha watched as her husband’s horse, his movement and attitude, changed with his rider’s weight loss:
The change was dramatic enough that everyone was talking about it a year later at the Randy Rieman clinic hosted by Cross S Ranch, in Alanson, Michigan. Dado used to stumble a lot and be all hollowed out in his travel. People said they could even see a change in Dado’s expression on his face. Russ used to dismount all the time due to hip and back pain, but he rode all day the next year and had very little discomfort.
Dado had improved in all areas from roping responses to his overall travel posture; he was so springy and collected with a much straighter back. For roping, Russ has a challenge with range of motion due to shoulder surgeries. He needs to turn his whole body to accomplish some of his shots and with the room in the saddle, he gained by losing the weight, he had all he needed. At the final roping before Dado’s retirement, their team took fastest timed run and they scored 3rd overall for the event.
Both Dado and Russ just were noticeably happier no matter what they were doing. That’s why people kept asking us how we did it and Russ would say, “keep it simple”, and we’d proceed to share about; resource your doctor, no empty calories, need protein to not feel hungry, fluids important, count your calories, six small meals a day keeps the metabolism burning. The weight loss and exercise made for better results for both horse and rider.