As we count down the last couple of months to the true 'bikini body season' we thought it might be helpful to look at some of the ways South Cumbrian locals think outside the box to keep themselves fit.

This week we take a look at dedicated horsewoman and showjumper Elysia Faye Harvey, 25, of Helvellyn Walk, Barrow to see how her hobby keeps her bikini-ready all year round.

Miss Harvey, an Optician at Specsavers in Barrow, currently keeps two showjumping horses at Tarn Foot Farm in Leece. The older of the horses, Jack, a 13-year-old black gelding who is 17 hands and 1 inch (enormous to anybody who doesn't understand the equine metric system) and Darcie, a six-year-old dark bay mare who is 16 hands and one inch.

There has been much hype around the idea of women getting in to horse riding and the impact of the sport upon fitness after gold-medal winning British cyclist Victoria Pendleton turned her hand to national hunt horse racing in 2015. After never having sat on a horse before, Miss Pendleton went on to be placed fifth of 24 riders in the world's most competitive amateur steeplechasing race - The Cheltenham Foxhunter Chase.

Miss Pendleton went through rigorous training with top trainers to reach this level in just 12 months and parts of her regime would probably have been similar to the way Miss Harvey works with her owns sports horses. 

Of course, you don't have to be the owner of two pedigree sports horses to get the benefits from riding. It can be something slotted in to a weekly or bi-weekly fitness routine to add some extra coordination, balance and core stablity. If you begin to take riding a little more seriously, it can add some terrific strength gains. Miss Harvey said: "I try to ride one of the horses each night. As they are so finely bred they can't go out in the field when it's cold or they will catch a chill, this means they have a lot of pent up energy and need regular riding.

"Horses are strong animals and it takes a lot of upper body strength to control them. My arms are actually incredibly muscular for a girl who does no weight training. I used to go to the gym but now with full time work and two horses to exercise I just don't have time for it.

"Constantly gripping the horse with your thighs gives you tremendous muscle tone in your legs too, the different gaits of the horse work different muscle groups so you end up with an all over result."

It's true, the inner thigh muscles, called adductors, grip the horse's sides and then the quads, hamstrings, and glutes all work to support this. The motion of 'rising trot' on a horse is basically constant squatting using your own body weight and there is a lot of rising trot involved in flat work for horses.

What many people do not realise is that riding is also great for honing different areas of your core. If you want that six pack then you need to combine lots of different exercises. There are plenty of exercises in the gym for hitting muscles such as the obliques but they will get a pretty good workout as you try to stabilise your upper body on a unpredictable animal, on uneven ground and at continuously different paces. 

Posture is also key to horse riding and slouching will hinder your control of the horse. Your centre of gravity will constantly have to move with the horses's fluid paces but your upper body will remain upright, targeting your inner obliques, external obliques and rectus abdominis.

Miss Harvey said: "My boyfriend plays rugby union for Hawcoat Park and I often find I'm stronger than he is in some areas. He is quite a big lad but obviously I am used to controlling half-ton, highly-strung show jumpers."

Miss Harvey, who is a very petite size eight and 5"7 goes to take care of her horses before work at 6.30am and then after work at 5.30pm to make sure they get the love and attention they deserve. She said: "Having two horses is a full time commitment, Jack and Darcie are my life and I wouldn't have it any other way. I would recommend riding to anybody who enjoys being in the outdoors and it's good to start off slow. You will start to feel it hit your rear and thighs immediately and the more strenuously you ride, you will feel the burn in your core too.

"Riding once a week could be a great, fun addition to any bikini body regime."

Miss Harvey currently competes in British Showjumping classes most weekends, travelling up and down the country. She enter classes with 1metre jumps for her younger horse Darcie and jumps 1.10metres with Jack.


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