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Posted by on Oct 7, 2014

Jody is a neighbor for whom I have done some consulting. After a recent discussion on nutrition, she sent me a lovely letter. Here is an excerpt:

Jenni, it is no wonder that you have such a faithful following of people who admire you personally and trust your wisdom.  Your consideration and kindness are a wonderful part of Who You Are! 

Your program covers all the areas of greatest concern to us– healthy heart, cancer prevention, diabetes prevention, to name only a few….

How grateful I am that you are at work in people’s lives!




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Dick and Kathie

Posted by on Sep 29, 2014


When Kathie and I finally achieved Emeritus status in 2006 by selling our business, we had just moved to Austin, and knew that we wanted to get back to some sort of fitness routine. We were introduced by a friend to Jenni Westerfeld, and we rededicated our fitness program during that summer.


I was 65, in good health, but needed some supervised fitness work. In the initial interview with Jenni regarding goals, she uncovered a couple of my hobbies which are done more easily/safely with better balance, more upper body strength, stronger legs and a much stronger core. One of the hobbies is ham radio, which in my case involves being able to climb 100’ towers. Once ‘at altitude’, work must be done which involves good balance and strong shoulders/arms. The other hobby is street rod cars. No climbing involved, thankfully, but still a lot of lifting and effort with one’s core.


After about six months or so, I began to notice how much better I was negotiating treacherous paths thru all the radio and auto parts on the workshop floor. I had fallen in this garage just after we moved and managed to land with my hip on a blunt steel rod. It took several months to recoup from that, but fortunately, nothing was broken. After all the balance exercises and work on my core, no more falls and much more sure footing.


 The other thing that I noticed was how much more easily I was able to lift relatively heavy objects over my head and then hold them for a spell. This made my tower work much more predictable and a whole lot safer. And as I began to do more work with the stability ball and on the Pilates Reformer, I noticed that my abs and back had become much stronger.

Jenni’s knowledge of anatomy and physiology has enabled her to ‘work around’ small injuries that Kathie and I have had in the past 8 years. In that way, we were able to continue at least with some limited (read safe) exercises and not have to lose ground thru dormancy.


To sum up, Kathie and I are pleased with how much better we’re functioning, now in our early seventies!

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Posted by on Sep 27, 2014

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I came to Jenni about ten years ago at the recommendation of a friend. I was in my 60’s, and scheduled for a double knee replacement. My friend had advised me to do some “pre-hab” with Jenni as she had done, strengthening my legs and core as much as possible before surgery in order to accelerate recovery time.

The surgery went well, I made an excellent recovery, and was soon back to playing racquetball 5-6 days a week. I continued to train with Jenni. We had a couple of agendas: continue to stretch and mobilize the legs to maximize range of motion and proper joint mechanics, and improve strength and agility for racquetball.

Through this process, I have madeDSC03416 some discoveries. For one thing, even after 50 years of injuries (starting with a shoulder injury sustained in high school football), the body can learn to overcome limitations and actually perform better through training. Also, it is possible to make significant strength gains into one’s 70’s, and presumably, beyond.












How do we achieve results?

We set goals. At the beginning of each year, we look back at what has been accomplished or overlooked in the previous year. We look at what we want to happen in the upcoming year and make a prioritized list. Then periodically we revisit and determine if we are meeting our goals, or if we need to adjust our course.

We work on fundamentals. After knee surgery, I had to relearn how to jump and run backwards. My center of balance had changed. I had to gain confidence in my “new” legs after my old ones had started to fail, making me fearful at times. Balance exercises, lots of single leg work, and footwork drills put me back in action. Core training has added speed and stability to my racquetball game. Specific upper body work has improved my backhand and made my forehand more powerful and more efficient.

We keep records. We have created spreadsheets that track the workouts chosen to best fulfill our goals, and log metrics on each exercise; weights, reps etc.

We do research. Whether it is nutrition, biomechanics, or the latest in heart or hormone studies, we investigate a variety of pertinent subjects. Together we explore how to translate these studies into better health choices.

All in all, I have learned to open my mind to a focussed workout, and to benefit from creative and intelligent exercise plans. I am stronger at 74 than I was in my 60’s, and more important, I still win racquetball tournaments against 20 year olds!

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Flexibility: the Base of the Pyramid – Part I: Lower Body

Posted by on Sep 24, 2014

This post has good information and stretches for anyone, not just riders!

In the previous post, I put Flexibility at the bottom of our Riders’ pyramid, because without it, range of motion is limited and proper musculoskeletal development depends on freedom of movement. Muscles work by pulling two bones together across a joint. If a muscle cannot contract and stretch according to its design, then the function of the joint it influences will be limited.

Each individual is different, but many of us share typical restrictions that prevent us from optimal performance. I will go through the most commonly found tight muscle groups and discuss some root causes, as well as the influence of the restriction in riding. Then I will offer some stretches to help alleviate the problem. Sometimes the issue can be the result of specific weaknesses, in which case the root cause will be eradicated by some strengthening and activation of muscle groups. More on that in a later post.

Hip flexors/ internal hip rotators: The muscles crossing the front of the hip joint and down the front of the thigh, stretching over the knee to attach to the the lower leg all serve to lift the thigh or close our hip angle. When these (psoas, rectus femoris eg.) are tight, we cannot stretch our legs down and sink into the saddle. They can also keep us from opening our hips to move the pelvis with the horse’s movement. This tightness often comes from seated work hours, driving, or weak abductors (muscles that pull the legs apart).

There are many approaches to this issue- here I will give you 3 variations of a basic quad stretch. I will add some internal hip rotator stretches in a later post.



















As you can see, the goal is to drop your knee straight down below the hip and bring the heel as close to the buttock as possible. You will need to squeeze the buttock to help straighten the hip angle. The range you see here is the ideal- you may not come that close, but with time and practice, your flexibility will improve. Short holds of 5-10 seconds, about 6-8 per leg will be plenty to start.


Hamstrings/ calves: These muscle groups are hip extensors; they bring the back of leg toward the buttocks. The hamstrings, 3 in all, attach to the pelvis (ischial tuberosity), run down the back of the leg, and insert into the back of the lower leg (tibia). If the hamstrings are tight, they can pull on the lower back and inhibit pelvic movement with the horse. They can also cause us to draw the leg back and up, in essence shortening the leg and pitching us forward onto our pubic bone and off the seat bones. Weakness in the gluteals and stabilizer muscles is associated with tight hamstrings. More about strengthening later.

Tight calves can result in difficulty dropping the heel and weighting the stirrups. There are 2 main calf muscle in the back of the leg, one which crosses the knee joint and one that is attached to the back of the tibia. They both insert into the Achilles tendon, shortening the distance from heel to knee.

Here are a couple of basic stretches for each. 

Calf: hang off a step, holding a post, and sink your heel down as far as you can. Try to take all the weight off the other leg. Again, with time and practice, your flexibility will improve.  Holds of 10-20 seconds, about 6 per leg will be plenty to start.



Hamstrings: This stretch can be done standing or prone. The most important thing is to maintain a neutral spine- do not round your back, rather arch your back and bring your chest forward. In standing, keep both hips facing the bench or table. If you struggle with these instructions, do the floor version, actively lifting your leg as well as using a rope to pull it forward. Flex your toes toward your head. Short holds of 5-10 seconds, about 6-8 per leg will be plenty to start. Future posts will expand on the hamstring stretch.


















Gluteals/ external hip rotators:  Gluteal muscles are also hip extensors; they open the angle of the hip, allowing the leg to stretch down. They attach to the pelvis, sacrum and tailbone on one end and the upper leg (posterior femur) on the other. They can become tight when a variety of muscle imbalances are present, and are often weak in those seated at a desk or driving for long hours. Even when weak they may require stretching. These stretches also target the external hip rotators (specifically piriformis), which can tighten in response to or resulting from sciatic pain.

My favorite stretch for the glutes and piriformis can be done in a couple of positions as seen below. If you have a partner handy, they can assist by gently pushing your extended foot toward your head in the supine version below. Otherwise, just pull back on that leg without lifting your hips off the ground. Holds of 10-20 seconds, about 3-6 per leg.



Thank you, MV, for posing for these photos.

Not all exercises are suitable for everyone and this or any other exercise program may result in injury. Any use of this exercise program assumes the risk of injury resulting from performing the exercise and using the equipment suggested. To reduce the risk of injury in your case, CONSULT YOUR DOCTOR BEFORE BEGINNING THIS EXERCISE PROGRAM. The advice and instruction presented are in no way intended as a substitute for medical counseling. Jennifer Westerfeld and Westerfeld Fitness disclaim any liabilities or loss in connection with the exercise and advice herein.

Feel free to post questions and comments below, or contact me via email: jenni.westerfeld@gmail.com for a personal consultation or fitness plan.


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Fitness for Riders: an Introduction

Posted by on Sep 14, 2014

This article serves as a basic introduction to fitness training for the dressage rider.  Future articles will will expand on the concepts introduced below. They will include stretches, mobilizations and exercises designed to improve performance

We all want to perform in that seemingly effortless way that we see when watching a ride at the highest level of our discipline.

What does that take? Along with years of study and endless hours in the saddle, it requires some extracurricular activity. 

I propose that it is almost impossible to be a really great rider, or even a pretty good one without some training outside the barn. My purpose is to provide some direction to those who would like to maximize their efforts in the saddle by doing a little “homework”.

Let us first break down the qualities we need as riders to achieve our goals for our horses. 


We define those goals as the elements of the Training Pyramid: Rhythm, Relaxation, Connection, Impulsion, Straightness and Collection.

If we are to expect our horses to master these elements, we must also master them ourselves. As their athletic partners and guides, we need to work as hard on developing our own physical abilities as we do on theirs. Think of it this way: if you were part of a competitive dance team, would you expect your partner to do all the rehearsing?

In a wonderful article on the Dressage Academy website,  http://www.dressage-academy.com/dressage-riders-seat.php , the essentials of a good seat are broken into three factors: Balance, Relaxation, and Following the Horse’s Movement. Remind you of the Training Pyramid?

All three of these factors depend on certain physical abilities. Some of us are gifted with more or less of these abilities, but we all need to work on and refine them to become better riders. Let’s create a Rider’s Training Pyramid.

Screen Shot 2014-09-13 at 7.52.06 PMFLEXIBILITY

I have put Flexibility at the bottom, because without it, range of motion is limited and proper musculoskeletal development depends on freedom of movement. Muscles work by pulling two bones together across a joint. If a muscle cannot contract and stretch according to its design, then the function of the joint it influences will be limited. 


Core engagement is next, as its essential to stability during movement. Not only does this create harmony with the horse’s movement, but it provides security in the saddle and allows us to use our legs and arms independently. More on developing the core later.


Muscular stamina is a general term to define basic fitness, or the ability to sustain the effort of riding long enough without fatigue to accomplish our daily goals. This requires a certain amount of cardiovascular conditioning, but also some attention to basic strength. Strength can be achieved with a good weight training program, with particular attention to exercises in multiple planes. All our movements can be broken down into six “Primal Patterns”: Squat, Lunge, Pull, Push, Twist, and Bend. Sometimes we need to isolate weaker muscle groups that need strengthening before we can practice these patterns correctly. Learning new movements should be done with little or only body weight first.


Posture and balance are achieved by developing the first three elements mindfully. The proper alignment of the spine should be foremost when working on flexibility, the core and strength through movement patterns. When in good alignment, the practice of balance exercises will be gratifying and contribute greatly to one’s ability to follow the horse’s movement.


Now that we are optimizing our muscle’s stretching potential, learning to engage our core (rather than relying on gripping hands or legs for stability), and we have developed rudimentary strength and stamina throughout our gross muscles through movement skills. This should make our saddle time much more under our control and hence more pleasurable. Wouldn’t that make you more relaxed? You are not wasting energy using the wrong muscles for the job! After all, you watch your horse stretching into the contact, you feel him relax as he finds his rhythm and bend, maybe chewing on the bit. The same quality that enhances his performance does the same for yours.


At this point, our bodies are functioning at the best of their current ability because we are attentive to our own physical training, and we are able to relax because we have reduced stress by assigning the appropriate tasks to each supple, engaged body part. That leaves us free to focus on the training of our horses. Moment to moment, we can be precise about our aids, responsive to our horses’ responses, and clear about what we are asking of our partners. Our minds are available to communicate our intent.

When we are able to work in all stages of the Rider’s Training Pyramid, we will continue to refine all those elements as we ride. In fact, the pyramid turns into a circle. 

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In future articles, I will go into detail on each of the elements, breaking them down and offering some stretches and exercises to get you started.  Try them and enjoy the process of getting fitter. Your horses will thank you!

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