Girls whose riding training was axed for 12 weeks because of Italy’s Covid-19 restrictions put on weight and lost key elements of their fitness, researchers report.
Sabrina Demarie and her fellow researchers set out in their study to analyse the fitness level of young horse riders before and after 12 weeks of training restrictions introduced because of the Covid-19 emergency.
Their study, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, centered on 66 girls aged 9 to 18 with an average age of 13.87. They were all recreational horse riders who participated in either endurance, pony games or show jumping.
To be included, they had to have been regular participants in rider training, taking equestrian classes at least twice a week for 12 or more months.
During the 12 weeks of riding restrictions, they were asked to train on their own at home for 45 to 50 minutes at least two days a week, involving a warm-up, no-load isometric and elastic-band-resisted exercises for the core, and upper and lower limb muscle strength training.
Riders were excluded from the study if they failed to comply with home-based training during all of the 12 weeks of training restrictions, had tested positive for Covid-19, or had suffered injuries or illnesses during the test period or in the three preceding months.
In all, five were excluded, leaving 61 participants equally distributed among the three equestrian disciplines (20 in endurance, 20 who competed in pony games, and 21 showjumpers).
The girls were assessed in the three weeks before the riding restrictions were imposed. Their height and weight were taken, and their body mass index was calculated. They each underwent eight motor fitness tests, which included assessments of hand grip strength, abdominal strength, leg strength, arm strength, hip mobility, as well as aerobic fitness, which involved a 12-minute run. Speed and agility were measured in a shuttle test.
They were all re-evaluated with the same tests on the first day back of normal training, following the 12-week layoff.
The results showed no differences in height, but body weight increased by an average of 3.9% during the 12 weeks, and their BMI was up by an average of 8.5%.
“It can thus be argued that equitation training apparently allowed the subjects to keep weight and BMI under control before training restrictions intervened,” the researchers said.
Hand grip strength fell by 15.4% on average, while abdominal strength dropped 6.9%. Hip mobility was also reduced.
Furthermore, results from the shuttle tests were down an average of 3.5% and the results from the aerobic fitness run were down an average of 11.5%.
The researchers, discussing their findings, said the results showed that 12 weeks of training restrictions decreased the fitness level of young recreational horse riders.
“Even though pupils were instructed by coaches to practise home-based physical activities, it can be argued that either general and unguided exercise assignments of 45 to 50 minutes two days per week were insufficient to retain adolescent physical fitness or that assignments’ compliance was not respected, if not both.”
Further, it could be suggested that equestrian activities could produce a higher fitness level in riders in this age group, whilst home-based, unsupervised training during the 12 weeks of restrictions might be insufficient to maintain it.
The authors acknowledged that the limitation of the present study was the lack of a control group, which meant they could not determine if pre-test fitness levels were attributable solely to horse riding or if other aspects might have been involved.
“Additionally, during training restrictions, physical activity was entrusted to individual responsibility, giving rise to different sorts of fitness outcomes.”
The study team comprised Demarie and Emanuele Chirico, with the University of Rome; and Cecilia Bratta and Cristina Cortis, with the University of Cassino and Lazio Meridionale.
Demarie, S.; Chirico, E.; Bratta, C.; Cortis, C. Puberal and Adolescent Horse Riders’ Fitness during the COVID-19 Pandemic: The Effects of Training Restrictions on Health-Related and Functional Motor Abilities. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2022, 19, 6394. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph19116394