Many horse riders put their horses’ fitness above their own, but both horse and rider need to be in the best physical condition possible. This is especially important for competitions and events, and increasing your riding fitness can also help you ride safely and hopefully avoid any injuries.
If you’re already in great shape and new to horse riding, then this extra riding fitness will set you apart from the competition and you’re more likely to enjoy it too. Take a look at our top tips as we show you how just a few simple exercises can help you improve your fitness in the saddle.
Benefits of horse riding
Many people ask, is horse riding good exercise? We are here to tell you that it is! It’s true that your horse will be burning most of the calories, but you will be pushing yourself hard too and working muscles in your body you didn’t know you had! Riding strengthens your core body muscles, tones your stomach and can provide an intense cardiovascular workout.
As a horse rider, you should have flexibility in your joints and freedom of movement in your lower back and hips so you can get on and off the horse with ease. Flexibility means better range of motion and will help you move swiftly when riding.
When you position yourself on the horse your inner thighs and pelvic muscles get the biggest workout and you will also develop better coordination skills, especially if you want the horse to pick up speed or even walk in a circle. When you move your body with the horse, in order to help stay balanced your muscles will relax and contract according to your horse’s movements.
Exercises on the horse
If you ride often, you’ll know just how much of a workout horse riding can be, and just how important rider fitness is to the sport. Just one hour of horse riding can burn up to 650 calories, but it’s not just a cardiovascular workout as you’ll also be improving your balance, posture and coordination.
Whilst riding your horse, you will need to engage your legs, especially the inner thighs during sitting trot and canter. You’ll have to squeeze these muscles in order to stay in the saddle whilst engaging your core to protect your spine simultaneously. There are some simple exercises you can do on your horse to help strengthen these muscles, like standing up in your stirrups and lowering yourself back down again. When you’re in rising trot, you’ll be using the same muscles that you would use when doing squats. This is a great way to exercise your quads and hamstrings to build your strength and develop leaner legs.
Exercises off the horse
Cardiovascular exercise outdoors such as running or cycling are great horse riding exercises and as you get fitter, you should increase the speed and duration of your workout.
Alongside your stamina workouts, you should also look at building your core strength and developing your balance, even when you aren’t on your horse. Simple exercises like sitting on an exercise ball requires your core body muscles to work to hold your body upright and balanced. A great tip is to place your feet shoulder-width apart on the floor in front of you and with your hands on your hips, maintain good posture by sitting upright before you start to rotate your hips.
Other simple rider fitness exercises include planking, sit-ups, squats and lunges which will all work towards developing inner core strength. Squats and lunges are standard leg-strengthening exercises targeting your quadriceps (front of thighs) and gluteals (buttocks). They will improve your horse riding balance and help you to sit on your horse better. Plan to do at least one or two sets of each exercise three or four times per week with weights if you can in order to maintain a good level of fitness.
Pilates for horse riders is not only a form of fitness but classes and exercises like this can also work to helping you ride better. Pilates teaches you better movements, how to control your core muscles so you can be aligned correctly in the saddle and how to make each breath more effective by breathing laterally. Yoga is a similar exercise to Pilates, which also focuses on flexibility, posture and relaxation so you can perform better on your horse.
What if I don’t exercise?
If you aren’t a member of a gym or exercise regularly, you needn’t worry! Rider fitness is undoubtedly important in horse riding, but getting fit doesn’t mean you have to spend hours in the gym everyday.
You will naturally become fitter the more you ride and the more competitions you enter, so you will be able to build up your strength and stamina throughout your lessons. However, it’s always a good idea to support your riding skills by doing your homework, and once you feel that you’ve built up a littler more strength in the saddle, you’ll probably want to start trying a few small exercises at home. Carrying extra weight and generally being unfit will make your riding lessons harder and your horse will be under much more strain too. It’s not just about looking good on your horse though, as horse riding fitness is important for staying safe and avoiding injury whilst riding. Weak muscles and poor balance will make you unstable in the saddle, so more importantly than looking good, rider fitness is important in keeping you safe too.
Tips Towards Success
- Set realistic goals, as this will determine what kind of exercise you do. Don’t feel like you have to join a gym and workout everyday to achieve a little extra strength. If you’re determined to get fit and want to improve your riding then start off slow and gradually build up your rider fitness levels.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help, especially if you want to lift heavy weights. Weight training is a great way to tone up and it’s not just for men! Women can achieve great fitness results by weight training, and it’s an excellent way to build your core strength and develop those muscles needed in the saddle. If you’re serious about weight training and want to join a gym, speak to a member of staff or a personal trainer who can develop a personal development plan for you.
- Find an exercise you enjoy don’t just do it because you have to. Running, cycling and even swimming are great exercises to get you riding fit! The more you enjoy the exercise, the more likely you are to stick at it.
- Don’t rely on the weather or a location; be flexible in what you can do. Is the rain stopping you from your run? Well why not save your cardio workout for a drier day and do some core exercises at home instead.
- Eat proper nutrition especially lots of fruit and vegetables. We all know that exercise is important when it comes to getting fit, but more importantly, it’s the food you consume that will determine your level of health. Combine a healthy diet with an active lifestyle and you’ll be well on your way to upping your rider fitness levels.
Don’t forget that getting into better shape means getting more from your horse. Not only will you feel stronger in the saddle but you’ll be able to get more enjoyment from your lessons, competitions and events knowing that your fit to ride.
What horse riding exercises do you enjoy doing? Let us know in the comments: