The Best At-Home Exercises for Horse Riders
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Horse riding is a full-body workout. In order to feel confident in the saddle, you need strength, balance, and stamina.
But how can you train these when you can’t ride?
No matter which riding style you practice, English or Western, being able to use your body correctly is of utmost importance. You must move with your horse and be stable in the saddle. For this, you need a strong core, coordination, and balance. Luckily, these can also be trained off the saddle.
Regardless of your skill level, whether you’re a show jumper, dressage rider, or simply enjoy riding over the weekend, the following home-based exercises can improve your riding and overall fitness. And the best thing about them is that you don’t need any equipment, just your bodyweight and motivation.
But first, why should you take your training off the saddle?
Many riders make the mistake of focusing on the horse’s movements instead of theirs. The way your body is positioned impacts the forces going through the saddle, which influences how the horse moves.
A lack of core stability leads to excessive movement in the saddle, which hinders communication with your horse. Plus, an unbalanced body generates asymmetry in the saddle, which can result in low back pain, stiffness, as well as other discomforts. Thus, core exercises are essential for developing a better riding position and improving rider symmetry.
Through regular exercise, you develop body awareness and improve coordination. By having more control over your own body, you’re able to deliver a clear message to your horse. The better you’re able to use your leg, seat, and hand aids, the more efficiently your horse will respond.
Without further ado, here are our recommendations of home-based exercises for equestrians that will boost your fitness level and give you confidence in the saddle:
Note: Please consult your doctor or healthcare provider before starting any exercise routine in order to prevent injuring yourself. You should stop if an exercise is causing you pain or discomfort.
Plank (& variations)
One of the simplest and most effective bodyweight exercises, the plank will never go out of fashion. Practiced regularly, it will help you build a strong and secure core for riding.
The plank is more of a full-body exercise than you might realize. It targets the rectus and abdominis muscles, but also the erector spinae, shoulder, quads, glutes, and calf muscles. In plank, you distribute your weight evenly on both sides of your body and through your core, which helps improve balance and symmetry.
From all fours, drop down on your forearms, with your elbows slightly more than shoulder-width apart. Come up to your toes, keeping your head, neck, upper body, and legs in one straight line. Engage your glutes, pull the navel to your spine, push down through your forearms, and keep your neck neutral by looking down. Your hips should be in line with your shoulders.
Hold for as long as you can and aim to increase the time spent in plank as you progress.
If holding the plank on your forearms and toes is too challenging at this time, start with a high plank (straight arms, on your hands). Or, you can drop to your knees. In time, you’ll build the strength to do a low plank.
You can also try the many plank variations. Side planks also work the obliques. High plank to low plank is a challenging exercise in which you transition from a straight-arm plank to a forearm plank in an up-and-down movement.
Mountain climbers are a great exercise for horse riders, as they also help with explosive movement. In a high plank, hands on the floor, draw your knees to your chest as if running in place.
Push-ups are a very simple, yet very difficult exercise. Same as with the plank, proper form is key.
A standard push-up will work your pectorals (chest), deltoids (shoulders), triceps, abs, and the serratus anterior (the “wing-like” muscles under your armpits). It will also engage the glutes, quads, and calf muscles.
Start in plank position, palms directly under your shoulders, your neck neutral. Engage your core and with a flat back lower your body by bending the elbows and keeping them slightly back. Go down until you almost touch the floor with your chest. Push back up to starting position. Do 3-5 sets of maximum reps.
If you’re new to push-ups, begin with the modified version by standing on your knees. As you progress, extend your legs and come onto your toes.
There are plenty of variations that you can try. For example, wide push-ups (hands farther apart) are easier for beginners and put more emphasis on the chest and shoulders. Narrow push-ups (hands closer together) will work your triceps even more.
The good old squat can work wonders for your riding. Standard bodyweight squats strengthen the glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, calves, and abdominal muscles. They also help improve balance and stability.
Stand straight, with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart. Lower yourself, pushing your hips behind you until your thighs are almost parallel to the floor. Raise yourself back up and straighten your legs. Throughout the exercise, keep your back straight, feet flat on the floor, chin and chest up. Your knees should be in line with your feet.
You can also try the many squat variations that work additional muscle groups. Sumo squats (feet farther apart and turned outward) tone the inner thighs. Squat jumps help improve explosive hip extensions.
Weighted squats build explosive power in your legs and work your back muscles. If you don’t have a barbell or dumbbells at home, just use some household items, such as bags of rice, cans of beans, cartons of milk or juice, bags of fruit or vegetables, etc.
A very simple exercise that targets the muscles on the back of the lower leg, calf raises help to improve ankle strength, flexibility, and stability, all of which are essential for good leg position while riding.
Stand up straight, shift your weight onto the balls of your feet, and lift your heels until you’re standing on your toes. Lower back to starting position and repeat. Try to do them as slowly as possible.
For an extra challenge, you can do single-legged calf raises by standing with one leg on a stair, yoga block, or a stack of books.
Bicycle crunches, or bicycle kicks, are a very effective core exercise that will help keep you strong when twisting in the saddle. They target both the rectus abdominus and oblique muscles, while most crunches only target one or the other. Plus, the pedaling movement of the legs stimulates the hips.
Lie flat on your back and raise your feet, forming a 90-degree angle at the hips and knees. Place your hands behind your head and lift your shoulder blades off the ground. Turn your right shoulder toward your left knee, touching elbow to knee, while simultaneously extending the right leg, keeping it hovered off the ground. Repeat on the other side and keep “pedaling” for as many reps as you can in 3 to 5 sets.
As the name suggests, this powerful exercise specifically targets your glutes. It also strengthens the hamstrings and core, and helps improve stability and balance. When performing this exercise, you must shift your bodyweight to the side you’re working, all the while keeping a proper posture.
Begin on all fours, palms flat on the floor, knees bent at a 90-degree angle, shoulders aligned with your wrists. Keep your back straight, engage your glutes, and lift your right leg, flexing the heel as high as you can, almost as if you’re trying to place your foot on the ceiling. Take the knee down and then back up again. Engage your core and do not arch your back while moving. Do 10-12 reps and switch sides. Perform 5 to 10 sets.
Opposite arm & leg reach
This full-body exercise helps improve posture, balance, coordination, stability, and hip mobility. It also strengthens and stretches the glutes, abs, shoulders, forearms, hamstrings, and back extensors.
Start on all fours, wrists underneath your shoulders and knees underneath your hips. Reach your right arm forward while simultaneously lifting and extending your left foot back. Make sure you’re stretching both forward and back, keeping a straight line from your arm to your foot. Hold for 5 seconds and switch sides. Do 5 to 10 reps.
Although technically a back extension, superman is also a very popular abs exercise. It’s an easy and effective way to build strength in the lower back and obliques. It also works the glutes and hamstrings.
Lie down on your stomach, bring your arms in front of you, and extend your legs. Lift your arms and legs off the floor. Hold for 5 seconds and release for 5 seconds. Do as many reps as you can.
A popular variation is the alternating superman, a back extension with opposite arm and leg reach. Raise the right arm and left leg off the ground, then switch sides, fluttering the arms and legs as if swimming.
When the time comes to ride again, measure your progress on a horse riding weekend break near you.