Callisthenics – what is it and why does one of the fittest and most successful riders swear by it?

  • The world number seven showjumper Kent Farrington is one of the fittest and most successful riders on the international circuit and, ahead of this afternoon’s Rolex grand prix at Royal Windsor Horse Show, the US rider revealed how his intense fitness regime has helped to give him a winning edge.

    “I can’t say that it’s a core part of the sport these days – it’s just been a core part of my lifestyle since I was a kid,” says Kent, speaking as a Rolex testimonee at a round table event at the show.

    “I always wanted to be some kind of professional athlete – I didn’t know where that was going to take me, but a healthy lifestyle and strong training has always been part of my regime. When I was a kid I did a bunch of different sports, because I didn’t grow up in a horse family. I did everything from skateboarding to martial arts, gymnastics and boxing, so in mixing all those together I created my own routine that I do now – it’s a lot of callisthenics, which are controlling your own body weight and balance.”

    Callisthenics is a form of strength training consisting of movements that exercise large muscle groups and are performed rhythmically and with minimal equipment. Common exercises include sit-ups, push-ups, squats, burpees and dips, all designed to increase strength fitness and flexibility, and Kent regularly posts clips on social media of his intense, sometimes jaw-dropping, gym routines.

    ‘Core strength and balance is fundamental’

    “For our sport I don’t want to be too bulky – I want to try to have as much body control and as much strength as I can, while not putting on too much weight, because ultimately the horses still have to jump the jumps,” explains Kent. “So the lighter I am and the better control I have over my position, hopefully the easier the job is for the horse.

    “Core strength and balance is fundamental for any kind of sport that requires balance and some kind of agility.”

    Young British talent Harry Charles, a fellow Rolex testimonee, says he was inspired to hit the gym after seeing Kent’s posts during lockdown.

    “I thought I better start doing something!” says Harry. “For the past couple of years I’ve started taking it a lot more seriously. I’m quite tall, so for me it would be easy to put on weight so I try to watch what I eat – as a rider, it can only be an advantage if you’re lighter. I do a bit of running and swimming, and a lot of balance stuff in the gym. I’d be embarrassed to work out next to Kent though! He’d put me to absolute shame. I train about three or four times a week and keeping a good diet seems to be helpful.”

    Kent Farrington: credit Rolex/Nick Harvey

    ‘At 16.1hh she’s the biggest horse in my stable!’

    Kent will be riding the 10-year-old mare Orafina in Sunday’s Rolex grand prix at Royal Windsor Horse Show.

    “She jumped her first five-star [at WEF] in Florida this year,” says Kent. “She’s ultra-careful and very fast. She’s new to this level so hopefully she has enough experience from Florida to step up to this, but there will still be some questions – I don’t know if she’ll be used to a crowd like this. But I have high hopes for her – she’s hyper-competitive and already has some good wins under her belt, but this will be the biggest class she’s jumped.

    “She’s 16.1hh – the other riders will call that a pony but she’s the biggest one in my stable! I’m not that big, so for my style of riding and my build, I tend to go with smaller, lighter types of horses, which is what I learned on – thoroughbreds. Usually the question is will they jump big enough to make it?

    “I have a big group of younger horses underneath [my top ones] and I think that’s the evolution of our sport as it’s grown, both in terms of audience and numbers of competitors. Finding horses that can do the sport is part of it – to buy them when they’re younger and put more time into producing them. The amount of training it takes to get a horse to jump round a full 1.60m grand prix course takes years, there’s no way to fast-track that experience.”

    ‘The sport has grown a huge amount over the past 10 years’

    Kent has enjoyed plenty of success at Royal Windsor Horse Show, including the King’s Cup in 2016 and 2019, the class that Holly Smith won again this year, and the Rolex grand prix in 2016.

    “Everyone wants to jump at a Rolex show, everyone wants to win a Rolex Major,” says Kent. “The media exposure has improved a lot since I’ve been doing it and the sport has grown a lot in terms of the number of people that even want to compete or aspire to at the top level. It’s grown a huge amount over the past 10 years. You see it just in the number of shows that exist worldwide and the number of competitors at those shows, at every level.”

    Kent described receiving the silverware from The Queen as “a really special experience that’s bigger than any individual sporting event.”

    “Obviously it’s a great honour to meet The Queen here at her house!” he says. “So I’m hoping to do that again, hopefully we’ll have some luck.

    “To be part of the Rolex family is a huge honour for any athlete, inside and outside of the equestrian world. Finding new young talent like Harry Charles is great for the sport. It’s what keeps us young, keeps us motivated. Up and coming riders like him make us stay on our game.”

    With thanks to Rolex.

    • Horse & Hound will be bringing you all the action from Royal Windsor Horse Show, both online and in next week’s issue of the magazine, in the shops on Thursday, 19 May. 

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