With the Winter Equestrian Festival and the 2020 Polo Tournament right around the corner, we took the time to chat with expert equestrian trainer, Diego Piriz. Diego has been training riders since 2007. He worked for the International Polo Club for more than six years and now works as a personal trainer trainer serving individual clients.
How did you come to specialize is training equestrian athletes?
My first job as a trainer was in Wellington at the International Polo Club where I trained the riders. I worked with polo, dressage, and show riders. I worked for Alejandro – director of fitness for the polo club. The job kept me six months in Florida and six months traveling. I would be in the Hamptons during the summer season and also Aiken, SC, Franklin, TN, and Lexington, KY. I would travel with the equestrians and train the riders to make them as physically fit as possible.
How should an equestrian athlete train who wants to be at the top of their game?
For an equestrian rider the number one thing is always core strength. In addition, in order to be in top shape they need stability, lower body strength in each leg and both legs, and upper body strength, especially in their back. Flexibility is also huge so that they can recover faster. I recommend implementing stretching in every session combined with cardiovascular in order to get in the best shape.
The horse is the athlete but the rider has to be the best athlete as well. They are a unit, so the rider needs to be in the best shape possible. They have to work out like any other athlete. Functional training is one of the keys for riders. In functional training, the athlete uses their own body weight for resistance, along with equipment like bands or balls. The main focus should be functional training because it requires the athlete to use the entire body. Then, equestrian athletes can also do weight training, but not with heavy weights. A rider who tries to deadlift 200 lbs. won’t be able to ride the horse the next morning. Then they need to implement all kinds of different stretching and focus on recovery as well. Their goal is to be limber and flexible and strong at the same time.
How is training different for riders in show jumping, polo, and dressage?
The job they have to do on top of a horse is different for each sport. It requires different muscle engagement. For example, polo lasts for 90 minutes and is played by 4 players. A show jumping course will last one minute with one rider on a course with different obstacles. Dressage is one rider on stage in an arena riding to music. The horse has to go to the beat.
All riders need a lot of flexibility, a lot of core strength, and a lot of lower body strength. The back is the main muscle and it’s part of the core. Then specifically, dressage is all about posture — the rider has to be completely straight. In show jumping, the rider has to lean forward with their back straight. In polo, the rider has to lean forward and rotate. They also have to hit the ball while riding on a horse at 30-40 mph. This requires a lot of stability and balance.
What is your philosophy of training, health, and wellness?
I believe that proper nutrition is the most important part of training, along with recovery and sleep. I know that might be surprising coming from a personal trainer, but without those things, you won’t see the most benefit from your time in the gym. Then you have to be consistent. You can’t just train once or twice a week. If you’re seeing a trainer, you need to be in the gym 3 or 4 more times during the week. Finally, an athlete must be able to manage stress. This can be done through quiet times, breathing, journaling, meditation, and other things.
What do you love most about your work?
I love to be able to touch people’s lives, to have an impact, and to be able to bring them up. As a personal trainer, I can touch people in so many different ways. Ten years will go by and they will still remember the day I helped them to succeed — whether it was losing weight or finishing a race. I love that.